Lord of the Deep. Trees and Plants. ~ Willow Willers

Reblogged from Willow, who continues to share her experiences at the Lord of the Deep weekend:

After the second Drama on the Saturday morning of the Silent Eye Workshop we had a break, then a presentation from Lorraine Munn on The Natural World and Man. Lorraine is a Druid and she is a mentor with O B O D and an ordained minister with the One Spirit Interfaith Foundation.
Lorraine spoke to us about how there is so much in Nature that is spiritual and it’s relationship to man.

Lorraine is a warm and knowledgeable woman who made us all stop and think. She suggested that we can learn a lot from plants and trees. Lorraine is very wise about trees she can commune with them.

 

Continue reading at willowdot21

To have and to hold

From behind the curtain I am watching the birds in the garden. I am waiting for the hawthorns to grow tall and become a haven for feathered things. They are, for the moment, little more than bushes, but even so, every morning, sparrows and blackbirds, bluetits and doves visit my little patch. Ravens and jackdaws fly in most days, while Ani lies by the open door and watches, or bounds out to scatter them when she sees that I am watching. Every day, overhead, the great red kites soar majestically. Yesterday one landed on the roof behind my home and I watched, not daring to move for the camera, as the huge beauty surveyed its domain.

It was a rare privilege. Though I would give the proverbial eye-teeth to take a really good photograph of these birds in the wild there are some things you can only experience, not seek to catch. Had I moved for the camera I would have missed the moment; had I sought to capture it, I would have lost something precious. Some things are simply a gift from the Earth, just for you in that moment, to be enjoyed, cherished only in the heart… not to capture.

There are things, moments, that are so beautiful, yet so ephemeral and fragile that they cannot be held or possessed, only accepted. Like a sunbeam that cannot be caught, but only felt as it plays across your skin, or seen as it lights the rainbows in a diamond… or like a butterfly whose fragile wings are crushed by a child’s grasp at beauty. The ancients knew and told the story of Eros and Psyche… Love and the Soul…. Psyche could be with Eros only as long as she did not seek to look upon him and when she did, he disappeared.

By seeking to hold we can often lose the very thing that moves us. Yet it seems we are programmed very early on to want to ‘have’ what touches us, instead of being able to simply love something that is free to be itself.

Even language seeks to impose a degree of ownership on all we do, and particularly in regard to human interaction. Language conditions us and the careful choice of words can have devastating effect, for good or ill. While we may be aware of the effects caused by the deliberate usage of words in terms of propaganda, we unconsciously do the same all the time, not realising, perhaps, the insidious implications a single word can have.

Even the simplest statement… “I have two sons…” implies a degree of possession. We do not intend it that way, we may simply be using the easiest words… we may be indicating affection rather than ownership, if we think about it at all… yet the verb ‘to have’ implies ownership at some level.

Yet, when we possess something it ceases to be itself and becomes little more than an extension of ourselves… it loses more than freedom and autonomy, as its own identity becomes subsumed in our projection of our own. Even deeper than that, we often become, even in our own eyes, defined by what we think we possess… yet in truth, we come into the world naked and leave it the same way, so we possess nothing. We may think we hold things for a while, but the only thing we truly ‘own’ is our self. And even that is debateable.

As I watched the birds I was thinking about that. Would I want to cage a sparrow? No… I delight in their antics in the garden. I love them for their freedom. Would I want a red kite on a perch, just to say it was ‘mine’? No, I want only to see them ride the wind… though a little closer to the lens would be nice, I admit!

We all delight in the unexpected glimpses of wildlife. And, by their very nature, they are free… wild… unowned…untamed. Over the years a good many baby birds or injured ones have passed through my hands. While it is a delight to have that close contact for a while there is never any other goal, and no greater joy, than to see them fly free as soon as they are able. You are left with nothing but memories… perhaps a photo…with empty hands but a full heart. Maybe that is the only place we can truly hold anything.

The peripatetic ant

The ant crawled across the windscreen of the car, right in my line of vision. Ever since the spider-bite incident, I am wary of creatures that have any kind of personal arsenal hitching a ride, so my first thought was to defenestrate the little blighter. It was only a split second later that I realised how far he was from home.

I had been driving a good half an hour without stopping, so he had probably hopped aboard before I left. Ants are social creatures, pretty much defined by their role within their community. What, I thought, would a lone ant do if he suddenly found himself in unfamiliar territory, miles from home?

Would his sense of belonging be so decimated that he would curl up and die? Would he find another community… and if he did, would he be accepted or slain as an intruder? Or would he begin the long trek home, drawn by some unseen force to the place of his beginnings?

I couldn’t do it. I left him to wander the dashboard, hoping he would understand that all he had to do was let the journey take him where it would, before it carried him home.

I thought about him a lot as I drove, wondering what his reception would be after the journey? What tales might he communicate to his nest-mates about the big, wide, world out there and all the things he had seen. Could they believe him? Like the fantasy hero who steps into a magical time and place, he would have been gone no more than an hour or two from his home, yet his odyssey would have carried him as far as a worker-ant might walk in a dozen ant-lives. Would they accept his fantastic story or think him delusional?

Ants who had never set foot outside the colony would almost certainly dismiss his tale. Those who had ventured out, but only within the known confines of their territory, might doubt. Some would be envious, others would scoff. The likelihood is that only those who had themselves risked stepping beyond known ground, exploring the world on behalf of the colony, would see the glimmer of truth and recognise an echo of their own explorations in the traveller’s tale.

And what of the little ant? Was he afraid of the unknown, or excited to explore new and unimagined realms? Did he recognise the landscape that flew by at such speed as being akin to his home, or did he feel as if he had been plucked out of his world and transported to some magical otherworld by a giant with a roaring steed? How would he see life-after-journeying? Would it seem flat and boring, or safe and comfortable? Would he cower in corners, afraid of stepping outside his comfort-zone ever again? Would he ‘dine out’ on his travels, boring is nest-mates with tales of ‘when’ and ‘where’? Or would the change in his circumstances and perspective have been so dramatic that he would spend the rest of his life pondering existential questions or striving to be worthy of the privilege he had been accorded?

Such musings occupied my mind until we once again reached home and I set him down on the grass beside my parking space. Like the ant, I had taken a journey, within the journey that is my life. Because this was ‘my’ world, the destination and the route were both familiar to me, though there are always unknowns on the way and no-one can predict what will happen, or how the comfort-zone of familiarity will be challenged… especially when you look at life as a journey.

There is beauty to be witnessed, there are mysteries and magic to be found; we never know when or where, nor do we know how we will greet them or how others will react if we try to share such experiences with our own community.

I watched the tiny creature scurry away into the grass. I suddenly wondered what I had done and whether my interference, though well-intentioned, had produced the right effect. Had I set him down anywhere near his home? What if he’d been with me a while… had come from my son’s home or the supermarket… and was now lost in some strange landscape? Had my intervention caused more harm than good? Or was he destined to be a blackbird’s breakfast no matter where he wandered?

To some questions we will never have answers, but I felt a keen sense of kinship with the ant as he disappeared beneath the grass. We are both on a journey. It will carry us where it will and we will experience what we must… and we are both on a greater journey still, finding the way back to the beginning.

A drop in the ocean

With the April workshop looming close, Stuart and I needed a break from work and headed off for the afternoon. We wanted to pay our respects to one of the influences behind the weekend, so we took advantage of a rare break in the weather. It has rained a lot lately; many of the fields we passed were flooded and the river at our destination had overflowed, drowning the riverside pathways and marooning benches that would normally be filled with people.

We’re pretty lucky my local area… there are no rivers, just the springs and streams that arise in the chalk and meander through the Vale and we are far from the sea. Most of the time that seems a pity, as I love moving water and miss the waterfalls and waves, but with the recent persistent rain I can only be grateful.

Our little river is usually no more than a foot or two deep and seldom wider than a stream. It gave up trying to contain the influx of water a while ago and has expanded until it looks more like a lake. Riverside playgrounds and sports fields are all under water, roadside streams have escaped their confines and flooded the fields and driving is hazardous in places.

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I lived beside a river in Vichy long ago and saw the power of water in flood. It is hard to imagine it, even from news footage, until you have seen and heard it for yourself. As with many things, real understanding comes only from direct experience.  The water of the Sichon flowed into the more famous Allier half a mile from our home on the Rue Charlot. The Sichon was confined in a concrete channel about twenty feet wide and a set of vertical steps, rather like a ladder, led down about twelve feet from the little gate by the front door. The concrete extended to make wide banks creating a channel perhaps eighty feet wide.

While it was pleasant to watch the sparkling, fast flowing stream from the kitchen window, seeing the birds and wildlife that visited even its man-made banks. The concrete was ugly and I couldn’t understand the municipal mentality that had built this monstrosity to confine the river.

Until the first winter. Then I understood.

All one night there was noise… but in the blackness no way of telling what was causing it. Come morning, one look from the kitchen window solved the mystery. Huge branches battered the walls of the house as churning, mud-brown waves raced through the confines of the concrete channel. It was incredible to watch. It got worse, hour by hour, as I saw the waters rise to within an inch of the kitchen windowsill.

What could be moved was taken upstairs, along with supplies… there was such elemental force in the floodwaters and they rose with such speed and volume. There was no question of what would have happened to anyone or anything caught in their path or in the debris they carried. Somewhere in one of the boxes of photographs I still have a picture taken through that window, but it is not as vivid as the one in my mind that hears the noise, smells the water or remembers the rising fear.

I have been lucky, seeing this so close yet merely as an observer and not as a victim of the extremes of the elements. It was a place where evidence of the uncompromising power of nature was always close. Vichy, for all its elegance as a once fashionable spa town, lies in a region of volcanoes. Indeed they are the source of its famous thermal springs and the volcanoes of the region are only dormant, not extinct. The heat in summer can be intense and the thunder storms regular and spectacular. I have swum in a lake in an old crater, smelt the sulphur from the vents in the caves of the Puy-de-Dôme, and seen the remnants of the effects of previous eruptions. You know the earth in charge, not man, even in this seemingly gentle and beautiful landscape.

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Taking pictures of the local flooding that here, at least, is little more than an inconvenience, so minor in comparison to that experienced by many, I was reminded how close we live to the awesome power of Nature, even within our regulated cities. We try our best to tame her, and our industries cause such destruction and yet, even if we make our planet uninhabitable for our species and many others, we are only destroying ourselves.

We tend to forget that we ourselves are just a very small part of Nature… a mere drop in a vast and moving flow of life that wears an infinite variety of forms. The elements of earth make up our bodies and her tides and seasons are echoed within us as they flow through our veins and hearts.

In a million years… a mere heartbeat for the life of the world… what will remain of us? Very little, perhaps, but life will continue whether we would recognise its forms or not. Even the shallow flooding in the fields serves to remind me how small we are in comparison to Nature. She is older than we by far. We, with our little lives may come and go, but she remains.

“If at first…”

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Sleep would have been nice. I’m told it is good for you. I was certainly tired enough and expected to fall into a deep slumber as soon as my head hit the pillow… well, at least by the second chapter… and indulge until daylight. No such luck.

The clock said four a.m… it had said one a.m. as I turned out the lamp… and while I gritted my teeth and tried to resist, dragging the duvet over my head stubbornly in the interest of getting some much needed rest, the dreams were gnawing at my ear like a small rodent and telling me to get up and do something about them. And I was wide awake. You wouldn’t think something as ephemeral as a dream, small as a mouse could be so insistent… but then, mice are persistent creatures. I gave in. Stopped fighting. Sometimes it is the best thing to do.

I got up and dealt with the nagging of the dream, which turned out to be more ursine than murine, and that left me and the coffee twiddling thumbs before dawn yet again. Still, there are benefits to being up early, though the dog sees them merely in terms of an early start with the tennis ball and a dawn raid on the treats.

An article in the inbox sent me of researching, leading me off at various tangents over the second coffee. Persistence pays off, but it can be a double edged sword. You need the quality in order to achieve anything, yet the tight focus required inevitably blinds you to the wider picture that may include many more possible avenues than the one you are driving at… or feel you are driven towards.

kites 334I watched this in action one day as I drove home from my son’s. The busy road runs through a landscape of ploughed fields and as I drove a red kite flew alongside me for about half a mile, keeping itself level with my eyeline and speed, which, when I think about it, was awesome enough in itself. There was a moment… a split second… when it hung in the air, then swooped below the line of the hedgerow, emerging with a small rodent in its talons. The speed was incredible; it all happened in a glance through the side window and then it was away, soaring.

At first it was only the privilege of watching something so beautiful that imprinted itself on consciousness. But when I thought about it, I realised that had the great bird, a symbol of Isis, not been flying high enough, far enough from the ground, she would not have seen her prey… her goal… nor been able to pinpoint her descent so accurately. Her quarry lives and moves on the earth, yet she, had she joined it there, would have ended up with muddy feathers and no lunch. Her gift is to soar and to see from above and utilise her glorious design of wing and feather. She uses her whole being to its full potential by rising above the level of that which she seeks.

With our focus so firmly on the necessities of life in a demanding world, I have to wonder if we are walking in a muddy field alien to our true nature and failing to rise high enough to see a clearer, wider picture. Within the ridges and furrows of ploughed earth we may lose sight of the greater landscape and get caught in the sticky morass that makes flight ever more difficult.

kites 258There is the old saying we all know, that ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’. We quote it without thinking, knowing that without the daily grind, the petty worries and pressures, the heart sees clearer the distant beloved and the emotion shines, standing bright against the mundane world. The details fade as we move apart, flaws disappear out of focus and we are left only with the essence of love.

On the negative side this can blind us to reality and allow us to indulge in the make believe of a romantic dream… and may explain why to many the past holds the only attraction, seen from a safe distance and we yearn for an illusion. Most of the time, however, it shows how small the details are in comparison to the essence, allowing us to see reality with truer vision as the minor details blur and recede. Yet we do not seem to notice that perhaps this applies at a deeper level also, and that by stepping back from the cares and worries, widening our focus and seeing the landscapes of our lives from horizon to horizon, we might just fall in love with life itself.

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Bittersweet

The misty dawn blushed a soft, rosy pink, probably  embarrassed by the number of clichés it was inviting. It had begun with a delicate glow, suffusing the rising mist with gold as I shivered on the doorstep, then painted the world in pastel colours, as gentle as an apology. As the sun rose, the temperature plummeted, the swirling mists turned to fog and you could almost see the ice crystals forming. Another Monday morning was born…

The sudden frost highlighted every detail of plants still resolutely green, each strand of spider silk and the edge of every fallen leaf. The ordinary became beautiful. Details that are overlooked a hundred times a day were limned in crystal and became unmissable… yet, but for necessity, I would have taken the option of comfort, stayed warm indoors and seen nothing. As I scraped the ice from the windscreen of the car, I was once again struck by how simple it is to learn the lessons of life by observing Nature at work. My own experience of the morning was one of frozen fingers and yet, the bitter frost served only to highlight a beauty that might otherwise have been missed.

Necessity and inevitability so often lead us into bitter and painful situations, but without them as a contrast, would we…could we…truly appreciate all that is right in our world? Would we notice a dawn if the sky always wore the colours of sunrise or do we need to experience darkness in order to understand the essence of light? Looking around too, I noted that while some plants were still green and would remain so in spite of the coming cold of winter, others were sere and brittle, giving every appearance of being mere skeletons of the vibrant life they once wore. Yet here too, Nature teaches, for beneath the soil, those brittle bones wait only for spring to grow once more… different in appearance, perhaps, but still essentially  the same.

There was nothing new in those thoughts… no fanfare, no great revelation. It was no more than a gentle reminder, a reassurance that we are never called upon to make sense of this world and its upheavals on our own. There is always a teacher on our doorstep, always a deeper wisdom than our own, older and with experience of all that has ever been. It knows the tides of night and day, of winter and summer, freedom and necessity…and it is poised to teach us, every day. We do not always listen, we are wayward students and easily distracted, but the earth knows her children well and repeats her cycles, waiting for our chattering minds to quiet and allow us to understand. And when we do…when we listen… sometimes, it seems as if she smiles.

Watching the flowers grow…

I was convinced it was Sunday. The roads were quieter than usual on my way to work and that is a sure sign that it is a Sunday. Not because there is less traffic on the roads, but simply because, the shops being shut until ten, there are few cars about at half past seven in the morning. It took me until Tuesday to realise it had been Monday and the schools were on holiday.

There was a time when I would not have needed that particular clue. Working a regular job and having children meant that such alterations to routine were always eagerly awaited; holidays and weekends announced themselves loudly in our lives instead of sneaking up on me or laying in ambush to catch me unawares. I no longer have children of school age… in fact, my youngest son has a daughter of his own already in school… and for the past eight years I have worked seven days a week, except when I have been on the road. Like school holidays, weekends have ceased to exist, unless I am away. The passage of time I am all too aware of, but the specifics elude me as I no longer have those accustomed  markers to remind me of where I stand within its flow.

It is an odd thing, this notion of time. It rules our lives with an iron rod and yet there is no consistency to it. In Britain these days, we are not allowed out of the house for a couple of weeks after we are born… we wait a set amount of years then must begin school, and a scant few years later, we are expected to behave with the supposed wisdom of adulthood yet are allowed none of its privileges.We can legally marry and have children at sixteen, but cannot drive, drink alcohol or vote.

Youth, middle age and old age are defined by numerical averages that have no meaning to those at the extremes of the spectrum of health or attitude. We can qualify for retirement homes at fifty-five and because of that age can be classified as ‘vulnerable’… yet the minimum age for the state pension is sixty-seven.

We live our lives by clock and calendar, regulating our own internal rhythms to the required and prescribed status quo… until Daylight Savings kick in and throw us out by an hour.  And, although we may moan and groan about all of these things… especially here in Britain where it seems to be a national pastime… we simply accept the imposition of artificial timetable on our lives.

We don’t even think about that…  Time itself may be a frame for perception, but the regulated time to which we daily and yearly submit is no more than a corporate convenience, an organisational tool. I do not advocate a complete disregard for this organisation… society as we know it would cease to function without its order and shibboleths, but I wonder if we place too much value on our adherence to the accepted norm and our judgement of ourselves within its confines.

As I drove to work, the dawn was breaking. It struck me, in one of those ‘why didn’t I realise that before’ moments,  that it does so every day. The leaves are turning and falling in golden drifts as autumn kisses summer goodbye as it does every year. Neither the sun, nor the rest of Nature, gets a weekend or a holiday. Weekends do not exist, nor do Monday mornings, nor, in fact, do any of the days of the week. Years and days are astronomical events, months no longer follow the lunar cycle. Weeks are no more than mathematical constructs, designed not to reflect time, but to contain it.

On the other hand, the sun never has to start early or work later than its alloted duty. Nothing is born, comes to maturity or dies before the ‘right’ time. Nothing retires, it simply evolves, following a natural rhythm dictated by fitness for function. Maiden, mother crone… child, warrior, sage… all enabled and limited by Nature herself; the transition individual, not regulated.

Plant a seed and, when soil and season conspire to make the right conditions it will germinate and grow. The manner of its growth and health will be influenced by both its own nature and its environment. Force it to maturity before its time and it will lose strength, cut it before its time and it will add neither fruit nor seed to the riches of the earth.

We may have to accede to convention and a societal need for order, but we do not have to do so blindly. Nor are we obliged to impose upon our inner selves the constraints and expectations of external time. We can be what we are, not what our acquired expectations make us think we should be. We do not have to obey all the ‘rules’ We need not grow old before our minds and bodies are ready, nor do we have to stay young longer than is right for us. And even then, we can be old and wise one minute, a child full of wonder the next. Our outer lives may be subject to the clock, but our inner growth cannot be forced and is ruled only by natural time.

 

The Wyrm and the Wyrd: The hidden valley

Tiny roads, miles from nowhere and barely wide enough for a car, wound between hills and hedgerows before finally opening out into the valley. And there, we became a traffic jam. The road was occupied by a horse that had evidently let itself out of its home and wandered down the lane to see the youngsters. Mare or stallion, it was impossible to tell from the last car, but the impression was that the king had come to see his subjects. When we arrived on the scene, all the foals were at the fence, nuzzling their visitor and prancing with excitement. It was, you could tell, a real ‘moment’ for them… and a lovely sight to see. It took me a while to even think of getting the camera as we watched and waited, not wishing to spook the horse.

“Before the gods that made the gods…” A few words of an old poem kept running through my mind… it was completely inappropriate. This was not a white horse, let alone the White Horse. It was Wales, not England…and King Alfred had never set foot here to my knowledge. On top of that, it was the solar symbolism of horses that long predated Alfred’s Christianity, that I was feeling as I watched the horse regally greet the foals. There was something majestic in his mien, and, with the emerald and blue of the mountains around him, there was no doubting his sovereignty.

“Before the gods that made the gods
Had seen their sunrise pass,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was cut out of the grass.

Before the gods that made the gods
Had drunk at dawn their fill,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was hoary on the hill.

Age beyond age on British land,
Aeons on aeons gone,
Was peace and war in western hills,
And the White Horse looked on.”

“For the White Horse knew England
When there was none to know;
He saw the first oar break or bend,
He saw heaven fall and the world end,
O God, how long ago.

For the end of the world was long ago,
And all we dwell to-day
As children of some second birth,
Like a strange people left on earth
After a judgement day.”

G. K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse

Passing glimpses of church towers and villages lost in the trees, significant stones and possible burial sites… we were kept well occupied until we arrived at a  bridge over a crystal clear stream. The stream is the Afon Dwyfor which rises in the mountains that enclose the valley. Its name means ‘big holy river’ and, watching it sparkle in purity, you need no other explanation of its name. It is so clear that the depth is hard to gauge unless a small fish swims by and casts a shadow on the gravel, yet in places, it is easily deep enough for swimming… and had I been alone, there is nothing that would have kept me out of there.

Instead, we gathered beneath the trees of the riverbank for our final readings, before setting out into the morning heat to walk at least part of the valley. It is an incredibly beautiful place and we were grateful to our companion for sharing it with us, allowing us to get out into the mountains, albeit on an easy path.

We had the morning pretty much to ourselves apart from the birds and sheep. They are obviously used to walkers, so showed no more than mild curiosity and reasonable caution as we passed. The sheer scale of the valley is impossible to capture with a standard camera, but it is equally impossible to ignore as the hills tower around you. An American friend once spoke to us about Yosemite National Park, telling us how the landscape was too vast for the human mind to encompass. The British landscape, old and hoary as it is, is smaller… ‘human sized’ and intimate enough that we can feel the vastness as it lifts the heart and mind towards the infinite. Geologists call the ancient landmass that formed this part of Wales ‘Avalonia’. It is certainly a magical place.

We followed the sheep, passing the occasional cottage or farmhouse, past tumbling cascades and wildflowers, deep into the heart of the valley. The silence is complete. The sounds of nature that break the quiet serve only to bring the unheard silence into greater relief. And relief it is. We do not, I think, realise, how noise-assailed most of us are, most of the time and how much unconscious stress that causes.

But as we walked, mechanical sound found us once more with the whirring of a distant generator drowned by the baa-ing of a thousand sheep. It is shearing time and the flocks which normally roam the hills have been gathered into  a closed field.  Even though nothing worse than the shearing shed awaited them, their distress was palpable as they crowded together at the edges of the field.

We turned back at the shearing shed, although there was another corner ahead, another mountain, another vista… There always is. There was still a fair walk back to the river and the noon sun was sweltering. For all their panic, the removal of the dense wool must provide the sheep with a certain amount of satisfaction in summer.

The official Silent Eye weekend was over… though we all still had a long way to go to get home and there were still places we intended to visit along the way. Hot and sticky, the thought of the isolated, mountain-cold river drew me onwards. If everyone else was leaving… it was tempting. But by the time we arrived, several families had taken up position with radios and deck-chairs, we had arrived and were leaving at the perfect time. Bidding our friends farewell, we took a final look at the mountains.

“Do we know where we are?”

“We do not…”

“Do we know where we are going?”

“No…”

“Cool!”

With thanks to Steve and Barbara, and to our companions, for sharing a wonderful weekend.

This was the end of the official Silent Eye weekend, but not the end of our adventures or the places we were to visit, which I will continue to share on my personal blog.

 

The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Stations of the sun

We were up and away early again, this time well supplied with munchables on which to break our fast. We may have missed the dawn, but we still caught the echoes of its gilding on the mountains. We wanted to take a look at a stone circle we had noticed at the end of the road, catching a meagre glimpse of the stones as we had driven back to the hotel Even from such a brief encounter, you could tell it was not a ‘real’ stone circle, but a modern reconstruction. However, in Wales, these are still a significant part of the culture.

This one, just outside Tremadog, was built for the National Eisteddfod when it visited the area in 1987. The Eisteddfod is a traditional festival: a celebration and competition of music and poetry. It is held under the auspices of the Archdruid and the Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain, the Gorsedd of Bards of the Isle of Britain. ‘Gorsedd’ comes from the Welsh, meaning ‘throne’ and Eisteddfod comes from the Welsh words for ‘sit’ and ‘be’. Circles are often constructed as memorials of these important events and are completed a year in advance so that the Archdruid may proclaim the themes and details for the coming year.  The stones are still placed with ritual care. The Archdruid will stand upon the Logan Stone. To the east and facing him, will be the Stone of the Covenant, that station of the Herald Bard. Behind this are the Portal Stones and of these, the one to the right of the entrance to the circle is aligned with  the midsummer sunrise, while the stone to the left is aligned with the midwinter sunrise. Whilst they lack the powerful presence of the ancient circles, there is still something about these places that mark the stations of the year.

As for us, we had a more mundane station awaiting us. We were still way too early, though, and wandered back to Borth y Gest on a fruitless search for coffee before heading for Porthmadog. By this time, the mist had cleared on yet another splendid morning and we watched the swans in the harbour perform their morning ablutions as we waited.

One white vessel caught my eye for its name. Branwen was the sister of Brân the Blessed, he whose severed head had entertained and informed his companions for so long on the mound at Harlech, before being taken to the White Hill to protect the land. They were children of a marriage between the dark house of Llyr and the ‘Bran’ means ‘raven’ and ‘wen’ means ‘white’, ‘blessed’ or ‘fair’.  I have a personal interest in the name since ‘Wen Weston’ came into being as ‘Don’s‘ partner in The Initiate and the ancient tales have run alongside the adventures of Don and Wen.

It occurred to me that, as the raven and the swan are both traditional psychopomps, as Morgana had illustrated during the Feathered Seer weekend…and as we had unconsciously cast them for one of the rituals… then perhaps the ‘white raven’ refers to the swan. It would certainly fit with the tales of the brother and sister from the Mabinogion. I wondered about the significance of that in symbolic terms too, Brân and Branwen were children of a marriage between the Houses of Dôn and Llŷr, light and shadow. Dôn was the mother goddess, while Llŷr was associated with the sea…two states of being. Death, the realm of the psychopomp, could also be said to be the point where two states of being meet, like a wave upon the shore…

But it was not the time for such musings. We were meeting our companions to take the first of the mountain trains up to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The station in Porthmadog has been beautifully restored and the trains bring back many childhood memories.The views from the tracks are spectacular, by all accounts and the old slate-mining town sits within the heart of Snowdonia…

… except that, when everyone had arrived and the timetable had been checked, we found that we would either have too little or too much time to spend at the terminus. Fifteen minutes was never going to be enough and the alternative would have made everyone far too late for the long drive home. Alternatives were discussed, but the question was settled when one of our companions said that he would like to share a very special place with us. It was not far away and would be well worth the drive….

The drive alone was ‘worth it’… passing through some incredibly beautiful places as we headed towards Cwm Pennant, a hidden valley often cited as one of the most beautiful in Wales…