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An Exchange Of Gifts

poetry

An Exchange Of Gifts

 

As long as you read this poem
I will be writing it.
I am writing it here and now
before your eyes,
although you can’t see me.
Perhaps you’ll dismiss this
as a verbal trick,
the joke is you’re wrong;
the real trick
is your pretending
this is something
fixed and solid,
external to us both.
I tell you better:
I will keep on
writing this poem for you
even after I’m dead.

Alden Nowlan

Image from here

Happy New Year!

meme3

No, I haven’t gone all philosophical on you! It’s just that today is the start of Country Walking Magazine’s walk 1000 miles in 2017 challenge, which I’ve pledged to complete. It actually works out at 2.74 miles a day (about 4750 steps) Some people are only counting ‘proper’ walks (those that require boots and OS maps) but quite a lot of us folks with illnesses of one sort or another, or who are starting off as complete couch potatoes, are going to be counting every bit of movement possible! I’m actually hoping to get closer to the recommended activity goal of 5 miles a day (10,000 steps) but it will mean a big increase as I’ve only been averaging 5764.

I was considering splashing out and buying a fitbit but in the end decided to stick with the pedometer to record my mileage, it works fine – provided I remember to clip it on! The model I use has a cover, which I can recommend, as there’s nothing more annoying than losing data when the clear button is accidently pressed.

I’m hoping that by taking part in the challenge I’ll be inspired to take more walks, and in particular to make more of an effort to travel out into the countryside. What I could do with now is finding a pagan walking group!

As it’s the first day of 2017, I’d like to wish all my long suffering readers a very happy and kind New Year. I dropped off the blogging radar for a few months at the end of last year following a bout of illness, which resulted in a hospital stay and a pretty intense period of investigations and appointments. I’m now on medication, and will be working part time, so I’m hoping that this year things will be a lot better – for me and for the blog!

Stoatie xx

shrooms 1

Last night we held our Samhuin ritual, as usual, on Lindow Moss. It seems a bit weird to say ‘as usual’ as it only feels like we started the group a few months ago, but this actually our third Samhuin together. I really think we ought to consider ourselves an established Grove by now!

The pathways across the Moss are always a good place to spot Fly Agaric toadstools and it’s lovely to find them left to go about their business. Too often any found near ‘civilisation’ tend to get kicked over and destroyed. We spotted quite a few but the most jaw dropping was a cluster of seven, which was pretty apt as there were seven of us in total. The largest – in the photo above – was the size of a dinner plate!

We set up the circle on the junction of two paths which was a T junction rather than a crossroads, with one path going through the circle east-west and the other arriving from the North. We found that there was quite a lot of spirit traffic along these routes last year. It’s a liminal spot because of the tracks, and also because we’re surrounded on all sides by the Moss, which is a few feet lower than the roads, hidden by the darkness and the mist, brooding in the background. There is the constant sound of trickling water which at times became voices having a conversation just out of earshot.

samhuin 2

I decided to bring along a pumpkin, it’s practically a Samhuin ritual tradition for me now! The rite itself was unscripted and after opening the circle we offered bread, salt, wine and honey to the departed and remembered our loved ones together round the fire. Penny kindly brought along offerings of yew and rosemary which were cast to the flames. Unfortunately our tiny fire couldn’t really cope with them, and almost every time Paul had to coax it back to life. Once we had said goodbye to the dead we took the opportunity to cast those things we wished to get rid of into the fire – by imbuing sticks with our intent and burning them. Offering them up to the Calliach so that she can scour them from our lives as surely as she scours the leaves from the trees.

It was a beautifully mellow and poignant ceremony, lightened by fellowship and fun.

samhuin 3

 

Drefach Felindre

In early September we set off for our main camping trip of the year, two weeks in West Wales. Needless to say we’d been looking forward to this for months! About three days before the trip Mr Stoatie fell off his bike, literally. He didn’t get knocked off and he didn’t run into something, he just came to a junction, couldn’t get his foot out of the clip and fell over sideways. Unfortunately he caught his thigh between the frame and the floor and ended up with an interesting collection of bruises but he was feeling well enough to drive down to Ceridigion where we’d booked four nights at a campsite at Drefach Felindre.

The drive down, once we’d got off the motorway at Wrexham was really scenic, especially the road along the river valley into Aberystwyth. This was a very inviting route, popular with motorcyclists, which Mr Stoatie attacked with gusto despite the van not really responding with the aplomb of a rally car. I had visions of arriving at the campsite with one of Jane’s heads.

I was excited to see a couple of red kites on the way down, but as we drove past Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest we were amazed to see tens of kites circling over the visitor centre. Apparently they feed them once a day and it seems we’d passed by just at the right time! It was an absolutely incredible and uplifting sight.

We stayed at Pant Y Meillion (Hollow of Clover) campsite. This is a small Camping and Caravanning Club site on level ground, with a fantastic view over the surrounding countryside. The owners have a selection of shetland ponies, donkeys and pigs which were lovely. We had the site entirely to ourselves which was great and (disregarding our wild camping) was a first for us. There was a very new shower and washing up area, and, incredibly, fast and free wifi. The only drawback was the length of the grass, I spent the entire time in shorts and (damp) sandals because with the dew, and the little rain we had, jeans and boots would have been permanently wet through.

We set up the pop up tent to store most of the van contents which makes it much easier to pack up and go out for the day. When we bought the tent we had envisioned using it as an awning – putting it up with one entrance against the van, but experience has taught us that it’s really more trouble than it’s worth like that. The van door catches on the tent, there is an annoying gap between the van and the tent which lets in rain, there is the hassle of precision parking and the dogs jump in and out tangling their leads both on the tent and it’s contents. I also miss being able to  look at the view, so now we tend to pitch it to one side.

Charlie managed to find the only pile of fox poo on the field within an hour of arriving and had to be washed, which was a bit of a performance when you only have a washing up bowl. Needless to say he was watched very carefully after that!

We had a day in Camarthen but didn’t get the camera out, so I can’t show you any photos.  The next day we went to Castell Henllys which is a reconstruction of an Iron Age Hill Fort, with the buildings erected over original foundations. This was the location for the BBC series “Surviving the Iron Age” which was aired in 2001. This was memorable for me as the producers decided to include a Druid as they ‘’thought it was important to have a druid as they were fundamental to Iron Age societies.” They chose ‘a very nice 27-year-old called Chris Parks’ who is a member of OBOD! There is an interview with Chris on the According to Whim Blog here

Castell Henllys 1

Taking the sensory experience path along the river (rather than the road) up to the fort you pass this wonderful carving, and the spring, which is guarded by the figure below and various other skulls, faces and sculptures. There are a few clooties tied to the tree over the spring itself.

Castell Henllys 2

Castell Henllys 3

The cookhouse was my favourite building, there was seating all round the fire and it was lovely to sit and watch the flames whilst getting gently smoked.

Castell Henllys 4

There were two other round houses, a smaller family house and the larger great house. We walked into the great house to find a group of Iron Age ladies sat round the fire waiting for a school party to arrive. One was arranging car hire on a mobile phone which was a bit disorientating!

Castell Henllys 5

There were a couple of buildings that had been semi demolished and one of the guides said that the remaining ones were also at the end of their life and would be replaced soon too. I find it hard to believe that people would need to completely rebuild every twenty years or so, I think if you lived in them constantly you would do DIY as and when it was needed. I’m sure that the wattle and daub that look like it had dropped off a good few months ago would have been replaced and not left to get worse for instance.

Castell Henllys 6Castell Henllys 7

Although the buildings were a bit tired, Castell Henllys itself was really atmospheric, with a very strong sense of Spirit of Place.

On the way out we had a quick lunch in the cafe which I can recommend!

Banner

Yesterday the Wildwood and our friends met up at Tegg’s Nose to participate in the latest Warrior’s Call anti-fracking event. This event, Voices on the Wind, called on pagan groups and solitaries to perform ritual and magical workings to prevent fracking and to provide blessings and healing to the land. We’ve previously worked with the elements of water, earth and fire, and this year it was the turn of air.

The brief was to gather at a high point with flags, banners and musical instruments of all descriptions and let our voices carry our message around the globe. I enjoyed writing a ritual which included calling in the Four Winds to the circle, in order to make sure our voices were well and truly borne to those who needed to hear them. Making the flag was another matter entirely, but I got there in the end (even if the kitchen counter got liberally coated in acrylic paint!) The design is the Warrior’s Call sigil.

We met up in the car park and the afternoon started well, with the sighting of a single buzzard, which was circling and making it’s distinctive mewing call. I also saw four cormorants flying one behind the other towards the west, I just love these intelligent, heraldic, prehistoric birds (bet you didn’t know that they can count!)

Tony knew of a quiet, sheltered hollow just below the Country Park and as we were unpacking all our bits and bobs we were surprised by Badger and Daisy from the Setantii Grove. The intrepid duo had driven down (at speed!) from the Nos Coryn/Way of the Buzzard event at Anglezarke Moor that morning to join us and had brought it’s banner and energy with them.

Tony Johnson - rainbow 2

After the Four Winds were called in to the circle we had 20-30 minutes of drumming, rattling and yelling to add our voices and intent to the wind – we managed to attract a small audience who were probably wondering what the heck we were doing!

The wind was blowing from the west, from behind the hill we were sheltering under and which the sun had dropped behind. The opposite side of the valley, to the east, with Macclesfield Forest and Shutlingsloe’s triangular peak in the distance, was bathed in sunshine and looked beautiful. Reminding us of all the other wonderful places on this sacred land of Albion that we were working to protect.

As we were drumming, an incredible and rare metrological phenomena was occurring in the west. Firstly the wind blew cirrus clouds in a glorious fan shape,  centering perfectly around the hill’s summit. Then the sun’s rays formed a halo which morphed into a small rainbow, whilst a second larger, brighter inverted rainbow formed over it. Tony managed to take these two photos – no filters, no effects just quick point and shoot, snaps.

Tony Johnson -  rainbow

We felt that we had received a blessing from the wind and that our work and that of all those who had contributed to the Warrior’s Call had been recognised and acknowledged by the Otherworld.

So an inspiring and magical ritual. Many thanks to all who attended, especially those completely new to Druid Ceremony who cheerfully agreed to tackle parts and did a brilliant job!

Special thanks to Tony Johnson for sharing the photographs, all rights remain with him!

To finish, here’s the poem that I included in the ritual:

 

It was the wind that gave them life

It is the wind that comes out of our mouths now

that gives us life

When this ceases to blow we die

In the skin at the tips of our fingers

We see the trail of the wind,

It shows us the wind blew

When our ancestors were created.

Navajo chant

And the poem I included in the booklet, which we spontaneously decided to speak together at the end:

Teach your children

what we have taught our children –

that the earth is our mother

Whatever befalls the earth

befalls the sons and daughters of the earth

If men spit upon the ground,

they spit upon themselves.

This we know

The earth does not belong to us,

we belong to the earth

This we know

All things are connected

like the blood which unites one family

All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the earth

befalls the sons and daughters of the earth

We did not weave the web of life,

We are merely a strand in it

Whatever we do to the web,

we do to ourselves.

Chief Seattle

 

Barmoor

Last weekend I headed to the North Yorkshire Moors to meet up with other northern Druids at Barmoor, a Quaker Retreat Centre just outside Hutton Le Hole. This Northern Druid event has  been running for four years now and this is the first time I’ve been able to attend. It’s a sad fact that most of the Druidic meet ups seem to happen down south so it was great to follow signs to ‘the North’ for a change!

We had a weekend of companionship, activities, an eisteddfod and workshops. My friend Caryl aka The Reindeer Druid gave a fantastic workshop on rune working, Badger the Setantii Bard, facilitated an inspiring, awen filled poetry workshop on the Wheel of the Year, Hannah from the Arturian Grove led a fascinating one on dowsing and I led everyone into the Realm of Faery. I loved each and all of them!

Badger had everyone spellbound with his recitations of Seasonal poems and managed to get us writing poetry (of sorts!) We each had to choose our favourite time of year – which was difficult as I would have liked to write about all of them, but in the end I chose Lughnasadh. It’s funny but it always seems to be a time of beginnings rather than endings for me – both the Groves I helped to begin – the Setantii and the Wildwood, began with this festival as our first ritual.

Here is my effort, dashed off in a couple of minutes.

 

Looking back

It’s the one day of Summer you recall, the one perfect day.

Not the weeks of rain.

The one day of constant sun,

squinting eyes

heat, dust, the endless fields of gold.

Not a cloud in the sky

Collapsing in the shade.

 

Hail Lugh! Stick around a bit longer this year!

 

Interestingly we had no takers to write about Samhuin!

I managed to escape onto the Moors for a while on Sunday when the weather cheered up and the rain had passed.

Barmoor 2Barmoor 3Barmoor 4Barmoor 5Barmoor 6Barmoor 7Barmoor 8Barmoor 9Barmoor 10Barmoor 11Barmoor 12Barmoor 13Barmoor 14

Barmoor 15

Barmoor is an Art and Crafts house built in the early 1900s. The main entrance is actually at the back of the building, with a fantastic view down the valley . It is a peculiar house with lots of corridors, doorways and staircases, but it makes sense when you remember that it’s actually split into family and servants quarters. Outside the double garage and chauffeurs flat has been converted to a brilliant workshop space. You can just make out Geoff taking up the labyrinth he’d laid out for the weekend and which we’d all enjoyed walking very much.

Barmoor 16Barmoor 17Faery TreeRowanAsh Tree

This is the altar I put together for my workshop. I went on one of my “borrowing’ missions, with the intention of bringing the outside inside. I tried to capture a the feel of the moorland itself. I have to confess that I would be hard pressed to chose between the moors or the seashore as I love them both!

 

Campsite

It’s disappointing that we’ve made it to (almost) the end of July and only managed two camping trips so far this year. Too much DIY and work are to blame. However on Saturday we did finally get away again for a few days and headed down to visit Mr Stoatie’s Nana in Royston.

We were looking forward to having a couple of dry days, as it’s been raining cats and dogs here in the Northwest for a few months now. Sure enough as soon as we crossed the Pennines the weather improved and it was lovely to sit outside the van, drinking something alcoholic, barefoot and in a t shirt! The site was one we hadn’t been to before – it was small, just ten pitches and was quite full. We had to stop on the camping field the first night and make do without power which was fine although the weather was getting hotter by the hour and I was rather worried about the milk spoiling, I need a regular supply of hot milky tea!

oats

The site was level grass pitches on the top of a chalky hill, set beside a field of oats. Most of the countryside around is arable, barely any livestock at all. The hill is the highest point in Cambridgeshire at over 450 feet. The view was fantastic, almost a full 180 degrees from the Southwest to the Northeast.  I was hoping that the skies would be dark enough to star gaze but unfortunately as well as having an almost full moon there was a lot of light pollution on the horizon, so no sight of the Milky Way for me!

One of Great Chishill’s claim to fame is an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. On 10 September 1983 Ben Palmer, a local farmer, and Owen North, the local baker, produced loaves from wheat in the field to bread on the board in 40 minutes 44 seconds. It seems fitting to mention it now that Lughanasdh is just round the corner!

The next day we had a few hours with Nana – not too long as she is in her mid nineties and easily tired – did a little food shopping, then retired to the site. Gosh it was hot! Fortunately our next pitch had EHU (electric hook up) so there were cold drinks. It also had a little more shade which made the heat a bit more bearable.

poppy

On one of my trips to the loo I noticed a large hawk like bird on top of one of the farm buildings. I went back to the van to grab the camera and take a few pictures, fortunately I managed to find a post to balance it on so I could use the zoom. When we got back we were able to identify it as a juvenile Peregrine falcon. If you look closely you can see it has been ringed and also fitted with a radio transmitter. It is the first Peregrine I have been able to definitely identify so I was really happy. Such a beautiful bird.

Juvenile peregrine falcon

The following day I became a cycling widow, as Mr Stoatie took off on a training ride. He’s doing the Prudential 100 again this year, which is in two weeks time. It was ridiculously hot and humid, the dogs and I chased the shade round the van all day while he was gone. He was out for over eight hours in thirty degree heat -  rather him than me! I entertained myself reading books and consulting the tarot.

The morning we left I noticed three blobs appear in the wheat on the hill in the distance. I grabbed the binoculars and three deer came into view so I was happy again. We just don’t have wild deer here in our part of the Northwest, unless one gets out of the local National Trust estate, so it’s a treat to see them.

After having fried all the time we were away, we were quite happy to head back north and were looking forward to grey skies and cooler air. We scanned the horizon looking for clouds but instead were baked all the way back. I got sunburnt through the van window and all of us were fit for nothing when we finally staggered into the house, which was of course, hot and stuffy having been shut up for a few days. Tilly disappeared to the bottom of the garden and stayed there until it was time for bed!

 

medalThis year Mr Stoatie is riding the Prudential 100 to raise money for Kidney Research, which is a cause close to our hearts, as he was the recipient of a live donor transplant from his Dad nine years ago this month. I normally don’t post a lot of personal stuff, but if you would like to make a small donation we’d be very grateful, his just giving page is here.

Another way to help if you’re short of funds, would be to consider joining the Organ Donor Register