Many of the Great Stones at Avebury
Appear to stand in ‘relationship’
To each other…
Perhaps, most poignantly,
This ‘God-Head of Stone’
Calls to its distant prodigal…
It has been our policy for some time now to ask Companions to bring readings for inclusion in our Landscape Weekends…
We first tried this on the Glastonbury Walk-and-Talk weekend and were delighted with the results.
The energies of the earth it seems respond favourably to the human voice, especially when it is utilised to bring forth heartfelt emotion…
…Our readings to date have ranged far and wide over a spectrum of traditions and forms although it seems that the shorter pieces, generally, have more effect.
On the now distant ‘Circles Beyond Time: Seeking the Seer’ weekend one of our Companions chose to give a rendition, unaccompanied of a Robin Williamson composition, October Song.
Coincidentally, we were due to attend a Robin Williamson concert later that week and so the opportunity to tie these two events together became irresistible…
It is a relatively old song now, if age has any meaning for a song, and it was once described by Bob Dylan as ‘quite good’…
‘I’ll sing you this October song,
Oh, there is no song before it.
The words and tune are none of my own,
for my joys and sorrows bore it…’
‘…Beside the sea
The brambly briars, in the still of evening,
Birds fly out behind the sun,
and with them, I’ll be leaving…’
‘…The fallen leaves that jewel the ground,
They know the art of dying,
And leave with joy their glad gold hearts,
In the scarlet shadows lying…’
‘…When hunger calls my footsteps home,
The morning follows after,
I swim the seas within my mind,
And the pine-trees laugh green laughter…’
‘…I used to search for happiness,
And I used to follow pleasure,
But I found a door behind my mind,
And that’s the greatest treasure…’
‘…For rulers like to lay down laws,
And rebels like to break them,
And the poor priests like to walk in chains,
And God likes to forsake them…’
‘…I met a man whose name was Time,
And he said, “I must be going, ”
But just how long ago that was,
I have no way of knowing…’
‘…Sometimes I want to murder time,
Sometimes when my heart’s aching,
But mostly I just stroll along,
The path that he is taking…’
October Song, Robin Williamson.
I rather think that the stones of Carl Wark enjoyed our Companion’s rendition of this song, and I’d also like to think that Robin would have been pleased with it too…
Good morning. It is sunny today, with the sky a clear cerulean blue. My grandmother always said it was going to be a fine day if there was enough blue in the sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers. Today I could probably kit out the entire navy. If the makers of paint could capture this colour in all its transparency, they’d make a fortune. Not that they don’t already, given the price of artists colours.
There is a heavy frost this morning though and the cold has me by the throat, both literally and metaphorically. The dog has the door standing wide open, the heating has gone on strike again and my son’s prayers have been answered. I will not be singing today. My throat is as swollen as if I’d talked all through the night. I vaguely remember that scenario.
I am lucky at present. I see my son every day and the depth of the conversation we share can be astonishing for stone-cold sober and mid-morning. We can cover ground from the most ridiculous to the deepest philosophical debate, passing via music and neurology, pizza and sturgeon to the nature of God and the soul. But other than Nick the majority of my days are spent in silence, apart from a very dear friend on the phone from afar and my conversations with the dog.
There are few things I enjoy more than settling down to long, varied and frequently random discussions over a bottle of good wine with a friend. Living in France was a perfect introduction to that, because there is always cheese. If there is cheese left, it is almost obligatory to open a second bottle to accompany it, and if there is bread left, one needs more cheese… it would be wasteful not to… and so it goes on, sometimes all night. Conversations can go very deep at these times.
We don’t talk enough. Or not about things that really matter. We chatter about the simple things, mundane problems, the latest news but we seldom seem to have time to sit and simply listen to each other these days. Or even to listen to the world around us. One of the downsides of electronic conversation is that it is often so short and factual. We cover the necessities and rarely allow heart to speak to heart, sharing the inner depths of who we are and what matters, really matters, to us as a person.
Listening, I think, is one of the greatest gifts we can give. To listen, with ears and heart and mind while someone shares themself with you is a beautiful thing. And you can hear as much in the silence between the words as you can in the words themselves.
Mind you, I have no objections to silence either. It is, after raising a family, a luxury. I have always loved silence and it was a rarity in a household full of growing children. It is an animated silence, my mind seldom quiet, pursuing trains of thought down convoluted alleyways, imagination always online and seeking ways of expression. There is a richness in this type of silent working that can be drowned in the normal noise of everyday life. One can see the value of the contemplative life. Though, as a friend has said on many occasions, I was not cut out to be a nun. I would be constantly doing penance…
There are also, though, moments where the internal dialogue stills into quiet. The dog is usually asleep at these times, the distant road noise hushed and the only sound in the village the song of birds. At those times the surface mind is silent and something deeper still can speak in the heart. There are no words, just a knowing, yet it is communication. There is something within that reaches inwards and upwards, deeper and wider than the conscious chatter of mind, and it is answered by something deeper still that seems to be waiting with arms open wide. It comes out to meet us like a friend and lover that has been waiting for our presence and listens in the silence of those moments only to the murmuring of the soul.
That the birds were there first means little to Ani. It is, as far as she is concerned, her garden and she decides who gets to play in it. Apart from the stray babies, those she makes an exception for and will even call the cavalry to their rescue. There is no malice in her vociferous warnings to the feathered fiends who invade her space. In fact, she grins all the time she is chasing them off.
The cat next door, on the other hand, stalks them silently, moving a whisker at a time, closing in for that final, fatal pounce.
Me, on the other hand, I like birds. I love to hear them herald the morning as I wake, the first light washing the bedroom in pale colour. I love to watch them darting around the garden, or soaring in the blue above. They are creatures of grace and beauty who carry music within and rise above the landscape, seeing it with eyes other than my own. In quiet moments imagination lends me their wings and I can rise with them to greet the dawn.
The three of us watch the same sparrow on the fence from completely different viewpoints, with different emotions and imperatives fuelling our actions. I suppose we are simply following the dictates of our own species and nature. Yet these are neither inevitable nor unchangeable. There are many cats that never chase a bird. There are probably few dogs who warn them off quite so joyfully. And as a human being, I could simply ignore them, see them as a source of food or raw materials, or even through the eyes of myth and legend.
The three of us are not so very different after all. It is a personality shaped by instinct and experience that impels our individual reactions to the birds every day. Ani sees them as both invaders to be warned away and playthings with which she can have fun. The cat I don’t know personally… for some reason, Ani refuses that acquaintance… so I cannot say whether it is the thrill of the chase, or a quest for dinner that drives it. For me it is many things. Memories of being taught their names and stories as a child, the simple love of their beauty and the knowledge of the thread of life that binds us, associations that run deeper than the surface, perhaps.
I remember my grandfather explaining a picture in a book to me, when I was very young, where the heart was weighed against the feather of truth. There is more to that than the simple lightness, for Horus, the Divine Child of the Egyptian faith, was depicted as a hawk and truth was a goddess with a feather in her hair. The Egyptians, indeed, had many birds associated with divinity, from the Benu bird, a symbol of rebirth, to the protective vulture goddess Nekhbet. Odin had his ravens, a story brought to life for me on a first visit to the Tower of London, observing their curiosity and intellect in action. Christianity has the Dove and the Pelican. Symbolism, folklore and fairytales are littered with feathers.
Experience shapes us in ways we often cannot see. The innate nature can be overridden by learned behaviours, habits and acquired reactions that may seem obvious to those looking on, but to which we ourselves are blind until something throws them into sharp relief. These habits can be both positive and negative, overcoming inner battles or seeing us lost in a sea of fears. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.
But we do not have to be a slave to our reactions, there is always that poised instant when we stand at the crossroads of choice and can break the cycle if we so will it and, to paraphrase the famous quotation, be the change we wish to see in ourselves.
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Rumi
Near the fence there are some huge chunks of wood… slices salvaged from the old horse chestnut tree that used to hold my home and garden within its embrace. I loved that tree and watched the seasons change in its leaves; watched the squirrels play and the birds nest there… even writing about it. I felt the life in it, felt its character and history and so I was heartbroken when it had to be taken down.
Leaf mining moths had infested the bole and the sick tree was inspected and found to be rotting away from the inside. It was dying and was no longer deemed safe to hang its limbs over my home. When the massacre by chainsaw was complete we brought three pieces of wood back into the garden to make a little seat.
The seat was dismantled by scaffolders a little while ago and I have yet to reassemble it, but the girth of the branches and the three foot long slice of trunk remain close to the door. I noticed the beauty of the frosted mosses and fungi growing on them when I took the camera out this morning. The frost was heavy and the world wrapped in fog; everything white and the sky invisible until the sun broke through. The camera was a vain attempt to capture the mood and the beauty of the ice crystals that dusted the tousled remains of the day.
There had been little sun in the garden, of course, when the tree was there. The ground had been hard and dry and it was difficult to get anything to grow beneath the spreading branches. Between the sticky sheaths of the new bud covering absolutely everything, to the petals that fell like snow… followed by the bombardment of spiny conkers and tons of leaves, the tree had definitely made its presence felt. Not always in a positive manner, looking back. In fact, when the roots began to disrupt the ground we were facing the possibility of major structural problems.
None of that mattered though, not to me. I simply loved the thing and wept when its demise left a great empty hole in my skyline…
… through which I now watch the stars and the dawn, for of course, the light streamed in. Rain softened the earth and my garden blossomed, bursting with exuberant colour that drew butterflies, birds and bees and all manner of small creatures. From the salvaged wood, new life sprang and insects made their home in the bark. In the corner of the garden… and in several places in the wood down the lane where I transplanted them… new horse chestnuts are growing from the conkers that fell and buried their roots in the earth. The life of the tree continues.
The foundations of my home are now safe too.
I still miss those first signs of spring in its buds. As summer draws near I miss the masses of blossom that carried me back to the boulevards of Paris. I miss the shade of its canopy and the stark black and white of its winter nakedness. I have conveniently forgotten, it seems, all the negatives and can look back solely on the joys.
This tree was always a metaphor for life and today it continues to serve thus. We often cling to things that are familiar and which may indeed hold elements of beauty or affection for us, yet which we know, deep down, are potentially or actually harmful. We hold them dear in their familiarity, because they are known, because they form part of the very structure of the life within which we have defined ourselves. Their roots may go so deep that we fear their loss and the ensuing changes to our personal landscape. Even when we can clearly see the potential benefits of their removal from the garden of our lives.
Making that hole in the skyline can be a big step, yet it is only by clearing away the dead wood that we can let the light in, and with it the elements of new growth that may germinate and flower, even in the scraps that remain. What we choose to cut out of our lives in such a way may have held good as well as bad; the good is never lost, but is the seed that will bear fruit… and it is already part of us.
It’s a chilly, drab kind of morning at present, I wondered what it would bring once the sun came up to show us the day. The question was soon answered. Fog. The kind of heavy mist that lets through no light and paints the familiar landscape ghostly grey. Shrouding the distance in mystery it makes the mind question what it knows as looming giants that stretch grasping fingers towards unwary walkers resolve themselves into trees beside the lane.
My brain was a little on the foggy side too, it seemed. For me the day began, for some unknown reason, by waking to question the origins of the name ‘marzipan’. Strange things often linger when I wake up, so I am not in the slightest surprised… just curious. I like marzipan and I had been looking through my recipes yesterday so no doubt the source of the query lies there…
Marzipan has always seemed an Eastern confection to me, though it has become part of so many traditional treats these days across Europe. Between bedroom and coffee cup, however, I went back to the older English name for the confection… marchpane… and wondered if that refers to the month or the traveller’s gait …and does ‘pane’ come from the French ‘pain’… which would make it March-bread or waybread…
It would work as the latter… nuts, sugar or honey, sometimes eggs or oil…a high energy and protein food. Why March as in the month though? Something to do with Mars? God of war.. soldiers marching…the speculation goes all over the place at this point. But it does seem to suggest that a diet of lembas might not be so bad…
Does it actually matter and is it in any way relevant to the day? No, not a bit, though curiosity set me on an etymological search as my coffee cooled, only to find the origins more complex than I had supposed and rooted in ancient Persia… or Germany… or China… perhaps.
In what way was this a productive use of the time I have to spare in the morning? How did this tie in with the ante meridiem contemplations with which I am supposed to be occupied? I had to wonder myself for a minute, but it was staring me in the face from the start. Even the fog should have given me a clue.
How often have I used that word in varied languages without considering what it really means or where it comes from? And by blithely accepting the word on face value, associating that collection of syllables only with the definition first taught to me as a child… that marzipan is a paste made from almonds and found on Christmas cakes…how much had I missed of its real meaning, origins and possibilities?
By extension, just how much do we miss by accepting our habitual definition of the world and ceasing to explore further, finding out for ourselves what it might mean? Within the Silent Eye, we suggest that the student accept nothing they cannot verify for themselves, either through the objective experience of the outer world or the subjective understanding of the inner. Yet here was just such an example of the habit of blasé acceptance with which we define our reality.
The fog and the marzipan had given me food for thought.