Merlin, Beast-Master…

*

… It was night, the horns of the bright moon shone,

the vault of heaven’s lights gleamed…

*

From the top of a lofty mountain,

Merlin regarded the course of the stars…

*

‘Guendoloena has left me in my absence,

and now clings to another man.

When tomorrow’s sun shines, I will go

and take with me the gift I promised her when I left.’

*

So, Merlin went about the woods and groves

and collected a herd of stags and deer,

and he himself sat astride the largest stag…

*

When day dawned he had arrived at the gates

of the place where Guendoloena was to be married.

*

‘Guendoloena! Guendolena! Come!

Your presents are waiting for you!’

*

Guendolena came to the gates and marvelled

at the man riding on a stag at the head of a herd of wild beasts.

Her bridegroom who was watching from a lofty window

looked down, in wonder, and laughed.

*

When Merlin saw the bridgeroom

he wrenched the horns from the stag

 and hurled them at him smashing in his head

and driving the life of him out into the air.

*

With a quick turn of his heels,

Merlin set the stag a flying,

and went on his way back to the wood…

– Adapted from, ‘The Mystic Life’ by R J Stewart

 

 

 

Starting early…

It is no time to be up, not when it is not necessary. Even Ani has got the general idea that just because I am up doesn’t mean it is time for her to wake these days but I love the quiet hours of the morning. There is something in that silence when you know you will not be disturbed, when the world around you sleeps and it seems as if even the pressure of the busy thoughts of others is withdrawn in slumber. Dreams linger, inspiration creeps in through the crack in the door and, for the only hours of the day, the soggy tennis ball is not on my lap. It is the best time of day to write.

You wouldn’t think it would matter. The small dog and I write and work most of the day and evening. Emails still come in night and day from across the world, student journals can just as easily arrive before dawn as at teatime, texts start before the alarm clock and social media never sleeps. Not that I am complaining… it is wonderful to be able to communicate instantly across the world, regardless of time zones.

However, it is true that in terms of technology the diurnal rhythm has gone right out of the window. Where our forefathers rose and slept with the sun for purely practical reasons, electric lighting and entertainment have lengthened our days, the rule of ‘nine to five’ defines them, even though so many now work unsociable hours. The seventh day, the day of rest when thoughts were turned to the sacred has been drowned out by the pressure of seven day working and the need to catch up. Even pleasure has been slotted neatly into the time frame. Although many do enjoy their jobs, it has ceased to be a prerequisite and most work simply to earn a living, seeing those who love their work and get paid for it as ‘lucky’.

Though it is easy to dream, given a realistic choice most of us would not go back to a simpler time. We like our gadgets and those luxuries we have come to accept as mere conveniences… like an inside toilet, heating system and hot water on tap. When I was first married, the little back to back terraced house we took was due for demolition within a couple of years. The shared toilet was in an outhouse at the end of the street, there was neither heating, except from the coal fire, cleaned and built fresh daily, nor hot water unless you boiled it. It was not all that long ago either…the houses were out-dated even then. But coming from the north, I didn’t meet central heating in a home till I was in my twenties. We adapted… I would again if I had to… but I do like warmth!

One thing I would change though is the lack of communion with the world around us. Communication we have. We rely on it, are almost defined by it these days. Smartphones and tablets, things that were, in my childhood, the stuff of science fiction, have now become the necessary adjuncts of modern life and I love the possibilities opened by these modern marvels of technology. We can see so much of the world from the comfort of our living rooms. But that is not the same as communion. Being aware of the time because of the quality of light, waking to the sun, seeing the world fresh each morning with eyes childlike in wonder at the miracles of life around us… these things cost nothing, take no time and yet the rewards are far richer than the remuneration for the jobs which occupy our attention in the struggle to make ends meet, for they are paid in joy and beauty.

Simply taking the time, albeit a few minutes with that morning coffee, to stand at the door, look out of the window and feel the world, feel yourself part of it… here… now. To see the painted skies of morning or watch roiling clouds race, to hear a blackbird’s song. To see the resilience of a flower pushing through concrete, the miniature forest in a clump of moss or watch the turning seasons in a tree. Those few moments reconnect us with something that is a simpler world. Not something lost and outmoded, but a rhythm that sings in our bodies, a shifting tide that moves with the music of being. Taking a few minutes from the busy day to look out from a house to the place that is truly home and just being aware of beauty, even in the most unlikely places.

Talking to myself?

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I was going back through some old writings and as is often the way, things written long ago come to my eyes as if penned by another hand and heart. Meaning leaps from the page, revelations lurk behind each word and understanding dawns as if for the first time. And yet, the words which bring these apparent gifts are my own.

How could I have written what I did not understand? Where did the words arise to capture such ephemeral wisps of thought? Ideas, teachings, wisdom I do not possess stare back at me from the page as if they have materialised from some other reality where the hand that wrote them had far greater depth than I. And yet, I know that hand was mine.

The words written years ago have become part of the yellowed paper. Thoughts were manifested within the letters scrawled across the page. They have not changed. Yet I might have written in invisible ink for all I understood as I wrote, so what has changed? Only the writer… the years, the continuous learning curve of life, the multitude of experiences, knowledge gained and illusions lost… all contribute to a changed perspective from which many things look different now from how they looked then.

Some revelations come simply from that transition between knowledge and understanding; from an abstract and intellectualised concept to a living knowing. Some ideas become clearer as we are distanced from them; we can be so close sometimes that we cannot see anything but the detail and the shift in perception afforded by the passage of time allows us to take a wider view. There are many things in those pages that I did not even know I knew, but on some level, at least, I must have done so or they would not now be staring back at me from the past. As a friend once put it, it is interesting when you become your own teacher.

Although, we always are. No matter what life gives us to work with, we can only shape what we can hold in awareness. Our perception is not pure, but is clouded by the accumulated layers of experience and reaction that have built up around us, so that anything that comes to us is seen only ‘through a glass darkly’. It can be a lifetime and the devil’s own job to chip away that accretion and change our perspective. First, we have to realise how securely we have immured ourselves and the walls built by our emotions can be a veritable bastion.

Occasionally, though, the mortar crumbles and a gleam of light blazes through, illuminating that which was before our eyes all the time and then we sit back in wonder at how we missed something so obvious that it shines. And yet, when the gem we have missed comes from our own pen, we have to wonder where it sprang from in the first place.

It was there all along. Perhaps there is a part of each of us that Knows… that doesn’t need to seek the answers, but which needs our conscious mind and heart to seek and ask the questions.

We can spend a lifetime in that seeking, only to find that the object of our quest was never lost. The words on the brittle pages are gifts, laid unknowingly aside in our inexperience, waiting, like a seed, to spring into life and bloom when we are ready. On some level of being, we already have both the questions and the answers. We just don’t realise that we do.

The edge of the precipice

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Driving home, there was one of those moments of sheer, unadulterated joy when the fields were lit with pale sunshine, the sky a clear blue and the feel of the car around me occupied my whole being. I can’t think of a better way of putting it. It is one of those things for which words seem too small. Yet, you could argue, it is only a car… getting on a bit, less than perfect and just a machine.

On the other hand, what it means to me, personally, is something quite different. The world inside the car is a place out of the ordinary. It is a haven from importunate necessity, an oasis of silence in spite of the roar and rattle it carries with it; a place where thoughts can blossom and bear fruit. It is possibility, control and freedom… and sometimes escape. It allows me to serve the needs of everyday life, as well as to follow my heart into the hills.

In itself, it is none of these things. It is just a metal box on wheels. It becomes, however, the symbol for all these things and more because it is the vehicle of my choices.

It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to learn to drive. I had started… had my first lesson… in my late teens just before a drunk driver ploughed into the car in which I was a passenger. A fractured skull and a rearranged, reconstructed face left me too afraid of cars to try and drive again. The blow to the fragile self-confidence of a teenager was profound and the scarred face itself a major life-lesson it took many years to appreciate for the gift it was.

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Over the years many people encouraged me to try and learn to drive. It was nearly twenty years before I found the courage to try again and only then because I felt it necessary when my partner was terminally ill. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise… I was too scared and had absolutely no confidence in my ability to become either safe or proficient. Fear had me completely caged, but I came to a point where I felt ready to tackle the bars of my self-imposed prison.

Perhaps those who had encouraged or pushed me to learn earlier were right. Or perhaps I would not have had the confidence to learn before I did. I may have missed years of enjoyment… or avoided a potentially lethal fear hitting the road. Who knows? Be that as it may, I made a decision and went for it.

All I do know for certain is that by the end of that first month’s lessons I was hooked. I loved it. These days, even some twenty years later, there are few places I am happier than behind the wheel. I love driving. Facing the fear had proved it to be no more than a shadow and, critically, one I finally realised that I had adopted and accepted as a habit. The car, previously a symbol of distress and panic, became a thing of confident joy.

It is often the way. There are choices we have to make, fears that we have the opportunity to face; personal precipices where we stand on the edge looking out over what seems to be a huge gulf of terrifying uncertainty knowing you can only fall or fly.

There is a moment of calm and clarity when you know that you can choose your course of action. There may be those who urge you forward or who seek to pull you back, holding you in safety away from the edge. Yet while their advice and counsel may inform your decision, you are the only person who can make that choice. You are the only one who has the power to choose what course of action is really right for you at that time. It is only necessary to be genuinely prepared to face the moment and make a conscious choice.

You may choose to turn away from the edge… to step back into the safety of the known. You may choose to step off the edge of the precipice, knowing that you may fall.

And sometimes you find that you have wings.

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In black and white

 

Shadows, by Nick Verron
Shadows, by Nick Verron

I held out my foot, and pointed the camera… the reflection of black shoe and white skin in the black gloss desk was interesting. Thought provoking… just a reflection… perfect symmetry but as a negative colour. “Our lives are just a collection of images, aren’t they?” said my son. “Just reflections of the images our minds perceive.”

We had been talking about photography again and looking at some of the images he had taken and discussing why they work… or not, as the case may be. One in particular caught my attention… a black and white rendition of ducks on what looks like the edge of the Rimfall of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. It is surprising how much difference the black and white rendering makes to a shot. Uninteresting, everyday objects seem transformed and we look at them in a new way. They evoke a different response.

When I was a very young woman, my grandfather gave me a camera. I had always enjoyed taking pictures, but knew nothing of ‘proper’ photography. This new camera was a pretty basic SLR and I had no idea how to use it and determined to find out. I recall the moment it all changed and I began to see the creative possibilities of photography. I saw something from the top of the bus on my way to work and, that evening, grabbed the new camera, donned the boots, hat and scarf, and tramped through the village in search of a picture. I had never done that before… until that point I had done no more than take snapshots of places, people and events. But the long row of telegraph poles, high on the hilltop stood starkly black against the snowdrifts and I found that I really wanted to take that shot.

 

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I never became a ‘proper’ photographer, amateur or otherwise; I still just take pictures. Grandad’s old  SLR died fairly soon afterwards on a Spanish beach and life had other plans for me than letting me play with cameras. But that brief interlude, learning to see through the restriction of a lens, left its mark. The observation that comes with wielding a camera doesn’t fade, and the world took on a visual richness and a depth of interest that remains.

Processing photos is an interesting thing to observe too. The addition of deeper shadows can make colours sing and light dance and sparkle, changing a picture from mediocre to arresting in seconds. Sometimes a detail may drawn the eye and, with a little judicious cropping, the image of something familiar becomes an abstract work. Or perhaps you capture a moment in glorious colour, but change it to monochrome instead. Such changes can be startling, altering what we percieve and how. They change the mood, make us think; lifting us out of the ordinary and dropping us into unfamiliar territory. Our points of reference are altered, or taken away altogether, and it can be difficult to decipher an image at first glance.

Playing with the settings on the camera and idly snapping away at my son’s home as we talked, perceprion, recognition and memory were all called into question. Our lives, as my son had said, really can be compared to a collection of images, string together as memories. Moments perceived quite often in black and white, then coloured by memory and emotion. Sometimes those inner images are altered by abstraction from their place in time, or we turn up the contrast so high that we can’t really make out what we are seeing. The filters we apply to experience make things feel unfamiliar when we look back at them in memory.

When the shadows are very dark it may seem as if they are all we can see… yet we are not really seeing shadows, or an absence of light, just its interuption. Light and shade go hand in hand. You cannot see one without the other. On a photograph, it is the shadows that throw the light into relief and allow it to illuminate what we are seeing. In our lives, the dark times are the backdrop against which we can see what we have lived and who we are.

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Bean-Stalker…

bea

One of the ‘Cove Stones’ from the Avebury complex.

*

…Crisis!
The milk cow has finished giving…
Akin to a second weaning, but worse, this is a call to arms.

‘Go forth young man and make your way in the world,’ says Mum.

Jacques is anything but worldly.
He believes in magic.

He believes to such an extent that he is willing to give everything he has in return for five beans… magical.

Mum knows better and now she has her answer…

‘…Five beans… magical? Bah!’

Jacques will never amount to anything so she casts the beans aside without a second thought and banishes him to the attic supper-less and badly beaten…

Jacques’ tears of pain at his worthlessness activate the beans in the night and in the morning a stalk stands proud in the ground outside his window yoking Earth and Heaven…

‘Up the stalk then young Jacques, my lad, and see what you can find.’

‘… As if it were not enough to have yoked the two spheres,’ mutters Jacques but secretly he is thrilled that his ‘faith’ has paid such dividend…

*

…Heaven turns out to be just like Earth only everything is bigger.

At the top of the stalk is a Big Woman…

‘Mum’ Jacques calls her, cleverly, and then plays helpless, asking for food.

Like all ‘mums’ everywhere she is only too happy to oblige the little fellow, she leads Jacques into the kitchen perhaps thinking he will grow to be as big as her own man… who eats everything… including ‘young men’…

‘Quick, he’s coming’ cries the Big Woman as the heavenly-ground starts to shake…
‘Into the cooking pot, he’ll never think to look in there.’

‘Fee Fi Fo Fum’ says the Big Fella,
‘I smell the Blood of an earth-bound ‘un,
if he be living or if he be dead
his bones I’ll have to grind my bread…’

He does not think to look in the cooking pot for food though and after consuming what is put before him he falls asleep whilst counting his gold pieces and starts to snore…

In a flash Jacques is out the cooking pot and out the door and hurtling back down the stalk with the gold pieces…

*

Mum is pleased but like the milk the gold pieces soon run out.

Now what?

Jacques climbs back up the stalk to see what else he can find…

This time the Big Woman is a bit suspicious, ‘do you know anything about missing gold’ she asks, ‘I do actually ‘ says Jacques cleverly as the ground starts to shake again, ‘keep me safe and I’ll tell you where it is’ so the Big Woman puts Jacques in the oven, ‘he’ll never think to look in here.’

‘Fee Fi Fo Fum,’ says the Big Fella,
‘I smell the Soul of an earth-bound ‘un,
if he be free or if he be caught
his flesh I’ll have to nourish my heart.’

He does not think to look in the oven for food though and after consuming what is put before him he falls asleep whilst petting his golden-egg-laying hen and starts to snore…

In a flash Jacques is out the oven and out the door and hurtling back down the stalk with the golden-egg-laying hen…

Mum is pleased, the golden eggs never run out but the hen eventually dies.

Now what?

*

Jacques climbs back up the stalk to see what else he can find…

This time Jacques waits until the Big Woman goes out then sneaks into the kitchen just as the ground begins to shake. He leaps into the copper and pulls the lid over himself thinking, ‘he’ll never think to look in here.’

‘Fee Fi Fo Fum,’ says the Big Fella,
‘I smell the Spirit of an earth-bound ‘un
if he be moving or if he be still
I’ll take a draught and drink my fill…’

He does not think to look in the copper for sustenance though and after consuming what was left out for him he falls asleep listening to his self-playing harp, and starts to snore…

In a flash Jacques is out the copper and out the door and hurtling back down the stalk with the self-playing harp…

…But the harp calls out to its Master, ‘Wake up, wake up!
The earth-bound lad is stealing away with me.’

So the Big Fella wakes up.

Quick as a flash he comes charging down the stalk after Jacques.

But Jacques is too quick and Jacques is too nimble and he reaches the earth before the Giant and takes an axe to the bean-stalk so that it comes crashing down with the Big Fella still clinging to it… and in the fall… the Big fella breaks his crown, and wakes Jacques up!

***

 

‘Aye’ of the Unicorn: Enneagram…

*

As the weekened progressed

we were to work our way around ‘the limbs’

of an elemental pentagram.

*

Two sites from the region

were given over to each element.

*

In the first we would consider the element in question

with the help of a conducive environment and our core text.

*

In the second we would construct and walk our pentagrams,

again in a conducive environment,

whilst examining notions of our magical self

in relation to the element and its inner psychology.

*

Mid Saturday and Sunday mornings

we considered and worked with the element of earth.

*

Our character Macbeth is given reason

to believe that he has the potential to become king,

but his treacherous manner of achieving this desire leads to all sorts

of trouble both for him and his soon to be acquired kingdom,

and when he finally gains access to the crown he discovers

that to be king is not all it is cracked up to be!

*

Like a castle sinking into the earth

his kingdom, his sanity,

and ultimately his life slips from his ignoble grasp.

*

It could have been so different,

had he only sought integration

instead of dominion.

‘Aye’ of the Unicorn: Whirligig…

*

As the weekened progressed

we were to work our way around ‘the limbs’

of an elemental pentagram.

*

Two sites from the region

were given over to each element.

*

In the first we would consider the element in question

with the help of a conducive environment and our core text.

*

In the second we would construct and walk our pentagrams,

again in a conducive environment,

whilst examining notions of our magical self

in relation to the element and its inner psychology.

*

On Saturday morning and afternoon we

considered and worked with the element of air.

*

Our character was Lady Macbeth who displayed

her own inner boundaries by acting as Super Ego

and inciting her husband to commit regicide

before turning insane with guilt and taking her own life.

*

What did we not want to become in our magical self?

*

Master of the Universe.

Instead, we shall blow where the spirit listeth…

Shadows

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To the small creatures that call the tree home, we are no more than a temporary addition to their landscape. Spiders and beetles wander over our legs or drop from our hair as we rest with our backs to the trunk, feeling the sleepy life of the tree through our spines. Our world is in the darkness and we are grateful for the cool oasis of dappled shade. Around us the earth bakes in the noonday sun that saps our energy, while the birds, butterflies and bees reap the harvest of summer.

On a hot day, there is no better place to be than within the shade of a tree, looking out upon a sweltering world without feeling the heat of a sun that blasts and sears. Yet hiding in the shadows is not always the best option. There are many who seek the safety of the shadows rather than allow their true selves  to be seen by the world.  For some the darkness is a cloak to hide a nefarious purpose.

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Sometimes it is depression or fear that keeps us in the shadows and we see that darkness as a place from which we long to escape. Outside seems more attractive than where we are, yet we know that it is the heat of the sun can sear and that it shows every line that is written on our brow. We look out with envy on what we see as a happier world from which we feel isolated, yet we cannot walk out into the daylight.

For many, the darkness is a refuge. We fear that the light will shine on us, showing  the flaws and weaknesses we believe define us, showing us without the veil of illusion behind which we seek shelter. We cannot see that the light casts both our flaws and our gifts into relief; or that what we see as a flaw in ourselves may be a gift to another, or the catalyst that enables strength.

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We each carry our own shadows and sometimes hide within them, sometimes hide from them. There can be no shadow without light and that too we each carry, no matter how dark our days or even our deeds. We cast out own shadows when we interrupt the flow of light. The light shows us whole, imperfect and beautiful in our imperfection…works in progress, unfinished masterpieces of human nature.

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