Ode to the Hawthorn and the Merry Merry Month of May

May…  A most hearty (if not a little tardy) welcome to you!

Almost every morning at the moment, I am awakened by birdsong.  Somehow, though, it’s hard to feel annoyed about this, because it is, quite simply, exquisitely wondrous. These so often invisible beings fill up so much aural space!  I love that they (birds) are always there, and yet so often hidden from view.

Outside, there is magic happening.

The countryside is literally exploding with life!  All the new leaves are young and fresh. Suddenly open space is smaller, as grasses, bushes and trees erupt with new growth. Openings are filled in and suddenly my perspective zooms in closer.  No longer can I see the horizon so clearly, and there is so much beauty to behold right in front of me.

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Everything about this time of year fills me with aliveness.  This is nature at her most vibrant – she is almost shouting “Look at me!  You thought I was dead.  Haha!  See how luscious and ALIVE I am!”

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The air is warm and the smell of blossom is on the wind.   Cherry, apple, pear, horse chestnut, all of them bursting with beauty.  And my favourite, of course, the hawthorn. Some people say how hawthorn flowers are meant to exude the scent of female sexuality.  Whether or not I know this to be true, I find the aroma that fills the countryside when the hawthorn is in full bloom completely intoxicating.  Yes, maybe even a little seductive.

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The hawthorn, also known as the May Tree, is truly a tree of the HEART.  Traditionally, the Celtic fire festival of Beltane, marking the start of Summer, began when the hawthorn came into blossom.  Myths proclaim that this is the time when The Oak King reaches his manhood and the May Queen takes him as her lover.  Through their union, the May Queen becomes pregnant, and so all life begins.  Because of this mythology, since ancient times May is the traditional time of year for handfastings, marriages and unions of all kinds.  There is something about this month, and the bewitching magic of the hawthorn tree in particular, that incites passion, vivacity, joy, and the making of vows.

Besides its magical properties, hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) also holds healing properties within its flowers, berries and seeds.  Known by some as ‘valerian of the heart’ and others as ‘food for the heart’, hawthorn is perhaps most commonly used as a heart stimulant, increasing blood flow to heart muscles and restoring normal heart beat.  Simply because of these heart toning properties, patients using hawthorn medicinally are therefore  guaranteed a higher sense of aliveness and vitality.

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The blossoming of the hawthorn and the arrival of May never cease to give me hope. They lift my spirits and make me laugh out loud at the sheer shameless beauty of all I see around me.   And, they remind me that no matter what our Winter is like – no matter how dark, lonely, hopeless and despairing we might feel that things will ever change – there they are.

Out of nowhere springs growth.  Out of death springs life.

They remind me too, that long after we are gone, all of this wild abandon of nature will continue.  Even without human beings to bear witness to this annual bursting forth of sheer vitality, the leaves will keep on greening, the hawthorn will keep on flowering, and the wheel will keep on turning…

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Samhain medicine

Today is Samhain, beginning and end of the Celtic New Year.  A time where the veil between the “seen world of matter and the unseen world of spirit” (Glennie Kindred) is at its thinnest.   It is a time for our Ancestors to step forward from the land of shadows and sit with us once again in the circle of light; a time to honour all those who have gone before us – those that once were here in body and now are gone beyond our Earthly reach.  We name them and we remember them, for it is in this naming and remembering that they remain alive to us always.

As has been tradition in our home for a few years now, it is also the time where we all choose new Medicine Cards.  Medicine for us to muse on for the coming year.  Medicine that may help to shine a light on those places that may be hiding from us in our own shadows.

For me, this year is for the Black Panther, whose medicine is Embracing The Unknown.

If the Black Panther has appeared today, it may be telling you not to worry about the future.  Trust that you are not supposed to mentally “figure it out” at this time.  You may need to confront fears of the unknown, of being less than you truly are, or an inability to simply BE.  Let go of fears that appear as obstacles or barriers.  Embrace the unknown and flow with the mystery that is unfolding in your life.  The next step may be leaping empty-handed into the void with implicit trust.

Medicine Cards, The Discovery of Power Through The Ways of Animals Jamie Sams & David Carson

In many ways, Black Panther tells me nothing I do not already know.  And… the words I read today allow me to peel back yet another layer of the mystery that continues to unfold before me.  Indeed, Black Panther’s medicine speaks to me LOUD and CLEAR.  This Entering the Stillness and Embracing the Unknown are journeys I am very familiar with.  Words such as ‘trust’, ‘acceptance’, ‘void’, ‘stillness’ are ones that echo around and around me with faithful repetition on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.

And so… on I go…

Knowing that the Black Panther is just there behind me, though, waiting patiently in the shadows, gives me comfort beyond words and a new found confidence in my ongoing journey…

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Threshold

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You will go with your guide to a wilderness place.  All you have will be the pack on your back.  A base camp will be established on the perimeter of the threshold area.  Now you are at the border of a land without borders.  You are about to enter the hallowed cathedral of the Great Mother.

The last night, by the firelight, the faces of people in the group have never seemed more honest.  Defenses are down.  Conversation is real and full of truth.  Like the others, you have come to the end of a trail littered with old spoor.  Soon you will walk away from it.  You are one sleepless night away from liberation…

For the next three or four days and nights you will see no one.  In the silence of your separateness you will seek a vision… This is the time to forget time, to remember what it is you are seeking, and to take it into your heart.

Stephen Foster and Meredith Little, The Book of the Vision Quest

It is almost a year to the day that I came down from a mountain in North Wales, having spent four days and four nights up there, alone, fasting, praying for a vision.  And, as I make my preparations to return to that same mountain, to ‘complete’ the ceremony, if you like, the memories of that time come flooding back to me in wild and unbidden ways.

The fear, the doubts, the hunger, the dreams, the seemingly endless passage of the sun through the sky overhead.  Then the clarity, the knowing, the feeling that my heart would burst open with the love and connection that I felt for everyone and everything around me.  An openness that I have not felt anywhere before or since.  A deep, earth-reverberating, soul-aching belonging to the world that made me want to laugh and cry in equal measure.

In any rite of passage ceremony, there are three identifiable phases which must be gone through by the initiate: Severence (where we separate literally from our former worlds), Threshold (where we enter the ‘sacred world’ and so begins the time of testing), and Reincorporation (where we return to our ‘village’, our people, carrying our vision before us).  Each stage is as elemental to the whole as each other.  Each one is unique, intense, and full of medicine that keeps showing itself in wild and mysterious ways.  Each one takes an enormous amount of courage that at times can feel insurmountable.

One definition in the Oxford English Dictionary describes threshold as “a point of entry or beginning”.  Indeed, threshold marks a place between here and there, now and then.  It allows us a point in space and time to step through, shedding all that we have been carrying up to then – the point at which “(We) may face deep truths, extreme weakness and strength that (we) never knew (we) had; in order to stand in (our) naked truth and surrender into (our) uniqueness” (Pip Bondy, http://www.ancienthealingways.co.uk/vision-quest/).  We can, indeed we MUST, ask ourselves: What are we leaving behind in order to step through, past and beyond ourselves at this juncture?

Marking threshold is potent.  It can be a physical location in space, or it can be a point in our lives when we know we have reached the end of one thing, one way of being, and now we need to step into something else.  Another, different part of ourselves that we know is in there, buried deep beneath years of sorrow or pain perhaps, or simply a lack of recognition of seeing something for what it is.

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Now you stand alone at the gates of sacred time.  Before you lie the features of eternity.  By your own efforts you have become a worthy candidate.  Now the cord binding you to your former life must be severed.  You will cut the cord by actually entering the passage.  This is an auspicious and powerful moment.

Stephen Foster and Meredith Little, The Book of the Vision Quest

As I stand at that edge and ask myself “What am I willing to leave behind so that I can fully step through, in and beyond?” I feel fear, anticipation, excitement AND a deep knowing that this is where I have been coming to since I walked down that mountain a year ago yesterday, my bag heavy on my back, my vision light in my heart.

I have laughed, cried, worried, questioned,  stumbled and walked gracefully through reincorporation. I unconsciously re-entered severance during this time, and once again I find myself standing at the doorway that leads from here to there.

And I laugh too, because after two years of doing some intense self work, I promised myself that I would have a ‘year off’ this year.  Little did I know that by choosing to step up to this journey all those many months ago, all I really did was open a door.  One of many doors.

And, of course, with each new door comes a new threshold…

Facing the unknown

“Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.”

Pema Chodron

The unknown.  Ah what romance and delights it holds!  What potential, what excitements, what empty, open spaces lie in wait for us to step into and uncover all those hidden mysteries!

The adventure.  The open road.  The one way ticket out of here and into there…

And yet…

And yet, how can we possibly know if we have the courage or not to face it when we don’t really know what IT even is?

Sadly (in my opinion), it is almost impossible to experience the complete unknown in our modern world.  Think of a place.  Any place.  Someone has already been there.  They probably stuck a flag in the ground just to prove they got there first.  And then they went home and wrote a book about it.  It is probably a very ‘interesting’ book.  It might even be the best book you’ve ever read! And I can totally understand that desire to share something you’ve done, something you’ve seen, something you’ve heard, something that feels so extraordinary that you just HAVE to share it with someone else just so that they, too, can get just the tiniest glimpse into just how extraordinary it really was.  (I am a blogger after all…)

And yet (again)… in that very action we take something away.  Not only from the other person, who was not there when said extaordinary thing happened, but actually we take something away from ourselves too. In the very moment that those first words are spoken, we have lost a bit of the preciousness of our experience. We have released it, and, therefore, imperceptible as it may seem at first, we no longer fully, selfishly own it.

Luckily (and frustratingly), we know that no retelling of a story will ever pass on to the listener the true, unique magic of the moment from which our story evolved.  We have all seen and felt that missing ‘something’ in our listeners as their eyes glaze over, their attention drifts, they start to ask irrelevant questions.  How can they possibly see what we’ve seen?!  How can they possibly feel how we feel? We saw it with OUR eyes, we walked it with OUR feet.  And so, always, they will be OUR stories and no one elses.

So perhaps, after all, even with all the maps, books, songs, stories and far flung tales that are out there of lands already discovered, seas already sailed and dragons already spied, it still IS possible to visit new places and discover a whole new story just for ourselves.

Any new adventure takes true courage, yes.

This, I am learning in abundance at the moment, as the unknown beckons me into her mysterious, tempting and delectable depths.  I am teetering on the edge of complete surrender and at times I feel truly afraid.

Weaving in the ends

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I couple of weeks ago I had the very great honour of helping to weave a coffin for a recently lost loved one.  I’ve not worked with willow in this way before, although I have been thinking for some time that I would love to learn.  There’s something about being involved in this process that has struck a chord with me ever since I heard that willow coffins even existed.

It was, quite simply, amazing.  And it touched me deeply on some well buried, ancient level.

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To lose someone so precious was heartbreaking.  To be a part of the preparation for her burial was incredible.  We talked about her while we bent willow – rods so strong that our hands ached by the end of the day.  There wasn’t quite blood and sweat involved but there were certainly some tears that fell.  Tears as another memory surfaced of something deeply wonderful or deeply frustrating that passed between us.  Tears as it hit over and over again that these were moments that we would never again experience in the flesh.  Thoughts of lost opportunities.  Memories of things that weren’t said.  Or things that were said and could never now be taken back.

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The thing that kept going over and over in my head and in my heart, though, was just how ‘right’ this process felt.  Here we were, female relatives (with the help of a very lovely man) preparing, with our own bare hands, something that would carry our loved one to her grave.  Into the coffin we wove love-filled messages on ribbons and treasured photographs.  We wove herbs, plants, flowers and other precious gifts sent by friends and family, people’s whose lives have been touched in some way by their relationship with R.  We wove love, grief, laughter, and memory upon memory upon memory.  We wove parts of ourselves, and indeed all those who knew and loved her, into the vessel that would hold her beautiful, precious body on it’s final earth-bound journey.

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We came closer to her in death, and in this way came closer to death itself.  And while death will always hold an air of sadness, even tragedy, just by coming that little bit closer to it, in ways that are personal and meaningful to us, I believe it can feel less frightening, less unknown, less like the ending it sometimes overwhelmingly seems to be and maybe a little bit more like a part of the whole, unending cycle it truly is.

Our loved one’s body now rests well and truly in peace.  And through her death and through the giving back of her body to the earth, she will continue to give life to others.  And so it goes on…

 

 

 

Stirrings

Ah February, there you are… A month that brings me conflicting feelings each year.  It still feels like a month for dreaming to me, like January and most certainly December.  And yet December, like a changeling babe, always gets stolen away from the yearning arms of gentleness, darkness and silence and replaced with non-stop movement, bright lights, high-expectation, anticipation and noise.  It takes me until mid-January to recover from the highs and lows of December, and before I know it, February is here once more.

I find myself yearning to be inside in February.  Our daily ritual of lighting the woodburner in the morning is nothing but a delight, and stoking it throughout the day feels both ancient and right.  Every morning it happens – whoever lights the fire is drawn into the mesmeric, hypnotic dance of the flames, hard pressed to pull themselves away and get on with whatever busyness lies in store for them that day.  The message in the hearth is clear: “stay here, be still, keep on dreaming…”

But of course, life in the 21st century doesn’t allow for such inaction, such decadence!  There are things to get done, a million ways to distract yourself from such frivolities!  And so life goes on…

And so just what have I been doing these last few weeks?  Well, seeing as you asked, quite a lot of this actually:

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I recently applied for some funding to cover an intensive period of basketry training.  Sadly, yesterday I heard I hadn’t got it.  The email I received went something along the lines of I would like to take this opportunity to say that this decision does not reflect the quality of your work, as the Trustees were extremely impressed by your case. I therefore very much hope that you manage to obtain the necessary funds elsewhere and wish you every success with your outlined project and future career.”  

The cynical side of me says that they probably write the same thing to everyone.  But I’ll tell you something.  I’m not going to let it stop me!  If I’ve learned anything from these past couple of months, it’s that I actually do have a dream.  In fact, I have many, many, MANY dreams, but this one dream I want to share.  I want to be a basketmaker!  I want to weave beautiful shapes, forms, ideas into being.  I want to use my hands for hard work and in the process create amazing pieces of functional art.  I want to inspire and empower others to turn their own creative visions into magical, woven delights.

When I heard I hadn’t got the funding, I thought to myself “Great, I’ve lost hold of the one thing I thought could offer me some stability over the coming year and a half.  Now what?”  Well, you know what?  I’ve decided I’ve had it with not believing myself to be good enough.  I know I can do this and I know I can find a way to make it happen.

I believe in me.

There, I’ve said it out loud now.