Don’t Lose Heart

I started a series of posts some time ago about the individual chakras which can be found here: Back Down to Earth ; Life is a Dance and Are You Your Biggest Fan?. I continue now with a few thoughts about the Heart Chakra.

The heart chakra governs our ability to give and receive love; it is the place where we feel compassion, empathy and joy. When this centre is healthy and balanced, we experience a deep connection to life and feel ourselves as a vital part in a greater whole. A healthy expression of all the chakras is important for our well-being and development but there is something particularly devastating when we have blockages in the heart. We will all know what it feels like to have our heart centre contract because none of us is immune to heartbreak.

In the chakra system, the Heart is a bridge between the three lower centres of Base, Sacral and Solar Plexus, and the three higher centres of Throat, Third Eye and Crown. Blockages in any of these can present challenges but when the heart has closed, it can have a profound knock-on effect on all the chakras. We can truly shut down. When our hearts are broken, we stop feeling safe and lose our sense of belonging in the world; we feel unable to relate to others or experience pleasure; we lose our confidence and feel powerless and victimized by life – all states of being associated with imbalances in the first, second and third chakras respectively. We can also find it impossible to talk about our pain; we experience the absence of our inner compass and can feel deeply cynical about Divine support – again, fifth, sixth and seventh chakra issues. As the physical heart pumps life-giving blood around our bodies; the energetic heart keeps the life-force circulating through our centres. When this process is interrupted in any way, our entire system – physically, psychologically and spiritually- will struggle to function.

When I first started studying the chakras, I was confused by the element association of this centre. In the chakra system the heart is traditionally associated with the element of air. Having worked with the elements in Wicca, where air is connected to thought, the mind and intellect, I found it difficult to resonate at first with this elements connection to the heart. Surely it should be water? And yet as I have worked more consciously with the system, it has come to make perfect sense.

Water is actually the element connected to the Sacral Chakra; this chakra is the realm of relationships, feelings and emotions, the flow between self and other; and although love is very much felt as an emotion, the love that is an expression of the heart centre goes beyond merely the desire for connection found in the Sacral. The love of the heart is profound and reaches out beyond the boundaries of our domestic lives to include the love of all things. Like air, it is seemingly intangible, unconfined, is present everywhere, and although we might not be able to see it, it is utterly vital for the existence of life. Without it, we die. The love of the heart is not dependent on reciprocation; it loves without condition.

The heart will experience great joy and pain whilst we live, and sometimes, when a pain has been so immense, our poor hearts tighten and constrict. I think that this is a natural response; sometimes we need to retreat and protect this tender place but we cannot do this for extended periods of time without the colour and meaning draining from our world. A closed and overly protected heart can harden; such hardening can make us feel very lonely and cut off from the support of others, from life and the Divine. When we hang on to hurt for too long, anger and bitterness can undermine our trust in life; we can become judgemental and unkind with ourselves and others; all sense of true connection disintegrates. When the heart is profoundly wounded, although our instinct might be to do all we can to prevent further hurt, constructing an impenetrable bunker in that tender place means that the air of this centre cannot flow; closed off from world outside, it grows stale and ultimately deadly for our emotional and spiritual selves (in time, it can also do great damage to our physical health too!).

Love is our teacher and its palette is infinite in colour and complexity. It takes us on a journey whose spectrum is life; all the agony and ecstasy – and everything in between – is its training ground. And every time the heart experiences something deeply – be it pain or joy – it gives us the opportunity to strengthen our compassion and understanding of what it means to be human, what it means to be a part of creation. The gift of these experiences is empathy; we bear witness to each other and in doing so, we can all feel truly seen and held. When we express empathy, we validate each other and our stories, and this is a powerful gift of healing that we can share. This healing gift of the heart is why it is so important to not to close down for too long after emotional trauma; if we do, we deny ourselves and others the gift of the heart’s wisdom.

Love, like air, flows freely; it cannot be possessed by anyone; it cannot be contained. It requires from us that we forgive, let go and move on – that might take us a while, we might need help to do so, but when we let the heart truly breath, its embrace is all encompassing. If we can just hold on to enough trust and faith amongst life’s blows, we will find our meaning, joy, peace and deep soul connection once again. Remember…don’t lose heart; we are all in this together.

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Flux is your Friend

The spiritual journey is not a straightforward linear path from ignorance to enlightenment. Enlightenment is a loaded term; for many of us it feels unattainable, mainly because most of us are not sure what it really means. We can feel unworthy of it, our human vulnerabilities and struggles leaving us feeling that reaching for such a lofty and ultimately undefinable state of being is a hopeless task. The very word implies a sudden state of perfect grace and knowing, that once achieved is unchanging; we reach the destination and the journey is done.

It is a term I find unhelpful. It seems to me that our spiritual journey is not about reaching some vague place of heightened awareness as an end goal; it is instead rather a meandering path, one of constant flux and change where we can move back and forth between states of enlightenment and ignorance. The spectrum between these two states is complex and rich and it is what gives our journey depth and movement.

We can get a bit polarised in our language. The assumption that enlightenment is good and ignorance is bad, is a little simplistic. There are states of ‘ignorance’ that bring their own important lessons. It makes me think of The Fool card in the Major Arcana of Tarot. The energy of the Fool archetype can indeed be reckless, naive and unthinking but it is also the energy of new beginnings, of that joyful launching out into the unknown. The image of the Fool is traditionally a young character, travelling light, just a small bundle on his shoulder. He is about to step off a cliff but his gaze is joyful and skyward. He can be viewed as both the trusting child, full of innocent wonder or the fool who cannot see the consequence of his actions. Either way, life would never move forward without the energy of this archetype; it is the child in us eager to experience the world; naïve yes, but without which, there would only be stasis and death.

In Tarot, The Fool journeys through each card of the Major Arcana, experiencing the Archetypal energy of that card and learning its lessons. It is a journey of discovery, transformation and integration but interestingly, when the journey ends in the fulfilment and completion of The World card, the cycle starts over and we find ourselves back with the Fool, foot poised over the void.

The implication is that we are in a constant cycle from ignorance to enlightenment, and each time we find ourselves back at the beginning, the experience deepens and widens but never truly finds an end point. I find this deeply comforting because it suggests that we never stop learning and that enlightenment is an ongoing, unending process, not a destination.

I have come to see the spiritual journey as building a healthy relationship between balance and flux. When we have a spiritual practice, we are in many ways seeking balance amongst constant change. However, balance is not a static state; it is a constant readjustment that moves off centre, back to centre; it responds and adjusts accordingly (anyone who does Yoga balances will know exactly what I mean!) and this ongoing adjustment and adaptation is a useful spiritual tool to consciously develop.

To give an example of how this relationship between flux and balance works, think about how in Wicca and Druidry, we build a strong relationship with the elements of earth, air, fire and water. We honour them when we draw circle and perform ritual; we work with them in Nature and also see them as being present within our own beings as our bodies (earth), our thoughts (air), our energy (fire) and our emotions (water). We work to bring balance between these elements within us, aiming for a healthy expression and interaction between them. What we find is that we are never in perfect balance – well not for long! We move in and out of ever-changing states in our emotions and thoughts, and in our relationships with our bodies and our levels of energy, and this impacts on the way that they work together. It is the same with Chakra energy; our Chakras – and the relationship between them – are in a constant state of flux. The trick is to embrace this and work with it; to acknowledge that our most useful lessons come from this fascinating balancing act.

I guess the ultimate lesson in all this is about enjoying the process; we are both fool and wise sage and everything in between.

When Nature Speaks

Nature communicates with us in so many ways. I believe that we can hear her wise counsel through moments of synchronicity. These can come through surprise encounters with animals, trees, weather, landscapes, and even with other people who we cross paths with during our day, for we are all a part of Nature’s being and her wisdom resides in us all. The trick is to always stay open and alert to the possibility of these messages; to make sure that we remain present in the moment. When we choose to approach life with an expectation that we will always be guided and supported, we become more finely attuned to the times when her voice breaks through; it comes like a sun beam through the clouds, a moment of inspiration that acts like an answer to a problem or prayer; a signpost or comforting hand upon our shoulder.

I had one of those moments yesterday. Late afternoon, I went out onto the balcony for some fresh air. The storm clouds were building in the south-west across the ocean and the winds were intensifying with powerful gusts. The sea was churning; nothing was still. Suddenly, right in front of me, hovering above the brow of the small grassy cliff that drops down to the beach, appeared a kestrel. A pair of them hunt along the cliff but I haven’t seen either of them for weeks. I watched, mesmerised by the skill of this beautiful hawk; the winds were roaring but the kestrel held herself perfectly in place, her wings vibrating rapidly that she might stay still, her eyes focused on her prey somewhere unseen to me amongst the grasses below.

I had been pondering earlier in the day about the role of spiritual practice in one’s healing journey; I had been feeling fired up but was also feeling a little anxious about how I might sustain this renewed sense of inspiration and energy. I have had so many ‘false starts’ along the way these last three years, thinking that I had turned a corner, only to be overcome by apathy or a sense of disconnection. I think this ‘one step forward, two steps back’ is a common pattern when we our healing; recovery comes in stages and I not sure we ever truly experience these as purely linear. I believe that this happens because our pain surfaces in spiraling layers, allowing us to deal with manageable amounts, so that we have the opportunity to really focus on one particular area but also so that we do not become overwhelmed by the process. Despite knowing this, I have been aware of how easy it is to grasp something but then to slip back into old habits and outmoded behaviours and ways of thinking. I have felt so keen not to do this, at this stage.

It seemed to me that the kestrel was telling me something about the power of concentration; about being aware of the bigger picture but staying focused on the job in hand, about keeping one’s balance in the midst of unsettling and buffeting forces. I watched as she held herself steady. It must have taken great energy and skill do this with the full force of the gale against her and yet she seemed to exude a kind of Zen calm, like the eye of the storm, her vision keen and undistracted. She then pulled her wings in against her body and fell like a dart to earth, zoning in on her unsuspecting target.

The kestrel had no control over the weather but she was supremely connected to her power to ride those fierce currents and to not let them break her focus on obtaining what she needed to survive and be nourished. Not only could she see the wider landscape, she knew what she must direct her attention to, where to place her focus and then, when the time felt right, to act, her timing driven by the keen edge of her instinct.

I knew that witnessing this, out of the blue,  I was being shown something that I needed to develop in myself in order to move forward, heal and grow. When we have gone through difficult times, it does feel like we are tossed and torn by powerful forces outside our control. We lose confidence in our ability to dance with those forces. But I know in my heart that now is the time to ‘get back on the horse’, as it were, to take the reins and all those other clichés that became such because they were true.

Focus, concentration, vision, having confidence in our abilities and skills, defining goals, directing energy towards them and then acting, are very much the domain of the Solar Plexus Chakra. How apt – after setting up my mini-shrine to this Chakra (see Open the Temple Door) – to be graced with witnessing the Kestrel’s ease in these areas.

When we are blessed by these synchronous moments, we get that buzz of recognition, that sudden feeling of ‘rightness’ about the message. That feeling lets us know that the message is true for us, and that if we embrace it, it will benefit us in some way.

Stay open to the voice of nature and when she blessings you with those magical and unexpected revelations, say a prayer of gratitude and thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

A Moment to Reflect

September is one of my favourite months. Here in the UK, the frenetic growth of spring and summer has eased and a mellow fullness has taken its place; the sunlight has both a clarity and golden softness to it and never fails to elicit joy and hope. It draws from me a certain type of reflective mood; there is something about September light that taps me into that timeless joy that hums just beneath the surface of everything; we can so often be blind to it, yet it only needs a shift in perspective for us to grasp it. It is deeply nostalgic but in a way that suggests that a happy memory can plug us into that place, but the place itself does not reside in the past, it dwells in an ever-present now.

I have been thinking a good deal about reflection as opposed to reaction, particularly with regard to my own emotional responses. There is a fantastic quote by Pema Chödrön:

You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.’

Pema captures beautifully the notion that we can hold our centre if we connect to that wise observer within, the part of us that witnesses our emotions as they move through us. She reminds us that our emotions are transitory, constantly flowing and changing as they respond to, and reflect, the events of our lives. The emotions are ours but they are not our essence; our essence is wider, deeper; more knowing and in touch with the bigger picture (call it the soul, spirit, or higher self, if you like).

Expressing our emotions is vital; what we feel in any moment communicates so much useful information to us. When we allow ourselves a healthy connection with our emotions, they can tell us what feels right for us, what feels wrong; they can let us know when our boundaries have been violated; what gives us pleasure or pain. They can also show us what needs work, or tender love and care. If we block or suppress them, stagnant, unexpressed emotions can be poisonous for our bodies and our relationships with self, others and the world. But emotions are powerful things and sometimes we can be swept off balance by their intensity; sometimes – just like the extreme weather around the world of late – our emotions can be frightening and destructive. When we lose our emotional footing, it is easy to forget that wise-self and confuse the weather with the sky.

It is a balancing act between the constant flow of emotion and the still reflection required not to lose oneself in a torrent of reactions. I have had moments when I have caught myself experiencing an uncomfortably emotion, gripping on to it and stirring it with obsessional thoughts. Ultimately, I end up dumping on those around me because the building of pent-up emotion has become too much to hold inside. Not good – no fun for anyone.

I have learned the hard and painful way that we must all take responsibility for our feelings. Even if we have received bad treatment from someone, we are presented with our own choices as to what we do with the feelings that such treatment inspires. Do we react blindly, or do we feel the emotion, let it flow through and out of us, at the same time reaching for that still place within where we can take a moment before we act or speak? It has been helpful for me to remind myself that the emotion is merely a moment in time, if we can feel it and then release it. The pain and discomfort come when we hold on to the emotion, when we resist its movement through us; when we make it an obsessional focus that causes a far greater pain to ourselves and those around us than the original emotion. I have been learning to feel my emotions and be mindful of where I am focusing my thoughts.

Reflection is a valuable technique. It gives us the space to see the beauty around us; to uncover the wisdom in the lesson and to connect to both our intuitive selves and our powers of discernment.  When we take a breath and reflect; when we see through the eyes of the calm observer within, we are given the opportunity to both honour and bear witness to our feelings, whilst still being able to make mindful decisions based on kindness and care. Not always an easy task but one that illustrates that we are not helpless reactionary victims but conscious beings gifted with the power of a choice.

 

 

 

Open the Temple Door

I love creating shrines! I have a large main altar in our spare bedroom which I keep decorated to reflect the themes of the seasonal festivals. It is also the place where I honour my own personal deities. As my main shrine, I spend time there every morning meditating, praying and working with tarot or oracle cards; my ‘shrine time’ as I call up, sets up my day. I celebrate the festivals here and perform any major ritual work.

I also have a hearth and home altar in our lounge; it helps me to focus on keeping the energy of my home nurturing and joyful; I light a candle and incense there every evening to show gratitude for our little flat and the comfort and security it gives.

Altar and shrines are a great way of focusing one’s intentions. We can decorate them with items that have deep symbolic value and each time we tend these spaces with our attention, love and prayers these intentions are strengthened and take on life and energy.

As well have having my two main altar spaces, I occasionally set up temporary mini- shrines. These will often be arranged around something I am working on, or hoping to achieve. As with my larger shrines, I place items there that help me to focus on the issue at hand.

I have two mini-shrines at the moment and they are both Chakra related. Working with the Chakra system has enriched my spiritual practice and has come to my rescue on so many occasions when I have been struggling with issues and seeking a way through. My current mini-shrines have been set up to work more closely and intensely with the energies of the Solar Plexus Chakra: Manipura and the Throat Chakra: Vishuddha.

Manipura is the centre of our personal power; it is linked to our self-esteem and confidence; our sense of our self and our ability to act. The colour of this Chakra is a golden, sunshine yellow; it is our own personal internal sun that fuels and enlivens – it is where we shine.

Having gone through a long period of depression, I have been painfully aware at how low my confidence has become, and so I have decorated my shrine with a golden cloth, covered it with crystals associated with this chakra, such as citrine,  tigers’ eye and pyrite and I light a golden candle there every day and say affirmations that focus on developing a stronger sense of self and building my self-esteem.

Vishuddha is the throat centre , and as one might suspect, it deals with our ability to speak our truth, to be authentic  and confidence in the way we communicate and express ourselves. It is also the place where we listen and  truly hear what others have to say. Its colour is blue and so I have a beautiful blue cloth, covered with butterflies, with blue stones such as Celestite, Blue Calcite, Sodalite and Turquoise . I daily light a blue candle and say affirmations to heal and balance my self-expression.

Our confidence and creative expression are intimately linked. I have always had the urge to create and express myself in writing, music and singing (very throat chakra activities) but my confidence has historically been a little shaky. I muddled through though and still managed to maintain a connection to my ‘voice’, both literally and psychologically speaking.

During the struggles after my father’s death, I developed writer’s block; I couldn’t think straight or seem to organise the words to make sense of it all. When I did write, it didn’t feel authentic and true, I felt like I was going through the motions, all signs that depression had taken hold.

Now that I am coming out the other side of that extraordinary time, I have felt the need to give those parts of myself – my battered confidence and my neglected self-expression – a bit of tender loving care and my shrines are, for me, a wonderful way to reconnect and heal.

If you have anything in your life that needs healing, I highly recommend building a shrine to it. Firstly, it engages you inner child because it is fun to decorate but it also holds a space for you to examine any issue; to see it with a greater clarity and get a deeper sense of how to positively move forward. Altars ground things in the material world and are great tools to help you manifest change. But it doesn’t just have to be about solving problems, we can also set up shrines to celebrate, be grateful and gives thanks on a daily basis – this has a powerful magic all its own.

What shrines and altars ultimately do is make sacred what is being honoured there; they hold a space for it; they help us to acknowledge a thing as important and worthy of mindful attention.  They are places of transformation and when we give to them of ourselves, they open us to a greater healing. These beautifully little sacred spaces that we create with love, open the temple door within us.

Spiritual Stasis And The Void Of Becoming

Butterfly Wing Detail

This is a guest post of mine I wrote initially for Philip Carr-Gomm’s Blog

Anyone who has followed a spiritual path for some years will know that at points along the path we can find ourselves in a place of stasis. All those techniques and practices that we once found inspiring can suddenly lose their luster; what once made perfect sense can now feel a little meaningless. It can be a deeply frustrating state but one that I have come to believe is all part of the spiritual journey and offers its own special lessons for our growth.

These strange pauses can range in intensity from a mild ennui to a life-changing dark night of the soul; it is a time when we cannot force a shift; try as we might, the lethargy takes root, the colours fade and we wonder whatever happened to the magical connection we once felt.

If you find yourself in this place of uncomfortable spiritual suspension, do not lose hope (even though losing hope is often a symptom of this condition!). The torpor, as excruciating as it can be, gives us an opportunity to examine our relationship with the notions of patience, surrender and trust.  We have, in effect, entered the chrysalis, and no amount of wriggling will release us until that inner transformation is complete. Just as the caterpillar completely dissolves into a gloopy mass before reshaping itself into a butterfly, our sense of ourselves becomes a kind of psychic soup, worked upon by mysterious alchemical forces within us.

So often, we associate times of transition with a good deal of external movement and change but this is only one part of the process. I have found in my own life that momentous external changes – both self-created and that of circumstance – have often been followed by a spiritual slump. It is funny how humans become obsessed with the idea of continual growth and movement. We have an economy based on the idea; it is deeply destructive and doesn’t honour those fallow moments that are vital to the cycles of life.

I have come to believe that on those occasion when the spark has deserted us – despite shaking a fist or two at the gods and bemoaning the fact that our inner compass feels out of whack – this fallow place is the most fertile of voids; our old self – whether we know it or not – is redundant and gradually  dissolving. Any forward movement, no matter how desperately we desire it, will not happen until our new and more authentic shape is fully formed and ready to break out of the fragile boundary of our old being. This all happens in a subtle way beneath our surface; we become like winter soil, still, dark, resting but full of potential.

I have a deep love of the Mineral Kingdom and lately quartz has been teaching me much about this curious pause on the path. As most will know, quartz crystal is transparent, hexagonal in structure and grows to a point. I have been lucky enough to be gifted with a clear quartz and a couple of citrine quartz. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that each of these has the most beautiful phantoms inside them.  Phantoms are wonderful things: at moments in the quartz’s growth it can actually stop growing. A  light sediment of minerals settles upon the surface. When the conditions are right and the quartz begins to grow again, the layer of sediment becomes encased in the crystal and this is seen as a ghost-like shadow of its former self.

My quartz contains five phantoms, very clearly visible and defined; the citrine have several more, some thick bands, some tiny threads that can only be seen if you shift the stone in the light. These phantoms speak so much to me of those spiritual pauses; those resting points between our old shape and our new self waiting to emerge. Phantoms remind me to honour the pause;  like the concentric rings in a tree trunk , they are a record of the many transformations that my spiritual growth has brought along the way.  When looking at them, I get a sense that the moments of my life between the pauses, are indeed like a series of past lives and these layer one upon the other, each the foundation for the next, all of them a part of me. The spiritual pause gives me the chance to examine what has been, to give thanks for it and to open myself with gratitude to the next stage on the journey.

So when you are find yourself feeling stuck and stagnant, when no amount of action seems to cut through the fog, rather than naming it as a spiritual crisis, look at it as a time when the sediment is settling into a beautiful phantom. Not only is it a line that marks the transition from one phase to another, it is an honouring point, a surrendering to the fertile void. When you finally sense the shift into forward movement, that ‘empty’, frustrating time will reveal its deeper beauty.

Examples of Phantoms in Quartz

Sowing Seeds

So chuffed to have my words used by artist Jamie Reid (he of Sex Pistols album cover artwork fame!!) on his poster/flier for his Seed Fling at Hull City of Culture Festival this weekend! The words are actually adapted from the committal piece I wrote for my dad’s funeral – very touched that it will be used for Jamie’s Seed Fling on the banks of the Humber.

The Witch Within

I have been thinking a lot about my Witchy/Wiccan roots. As I have felt increasingly connected to my spiritual life again, I decided to perform a re-dedication ceremony as part of my Beltane ritual this year. I performed my first self-initiation ceremony at Imbolc  over 21 years ago and for years after I would rededicate every year at that time. I would rise just before dawn and go to woodland near my childhood home. I had a special place with a big old tree stump as my altar; it was always such a magical experience offering up my commitment to the elements, the spirits of place and my deities as the dawn chorus broke and the sun rose.

My initial self-initiation is still so vivid in my memory. After months of research and honouring the festivals, I had planned to go at sunrise to another special place of mine in a forest on the South Downs but that night I was restless with excitement and anticipation, and as I lay awake in the early hours, I got the strongest sense that I should do the ceremony in my garden.

At that time, I lived in a house-share with friends in a wonderful house that I loved. The area, although at the edge of a city, was surrounded by mature trees and was a fabulous place for wild-life. Our garden was like a little woodland grove (foxes would doze on the lawn in the middle of the day!)  and it turned out to be the perfect place to dedicate myself to my Wiccan path.

The night was the coldest of that year, minus six with a stunning star-filled sky. Standing in the dark shadow of the trees, a circle of sky above my head, as I cast circle, called in the quarters and the Goddess and God, the blackness beneath those trees seem to be filled with a watching presence that made my heart beat hard and fast. As I spoke those words, it genuinely felt as if  I was being listened to, and at the point in my ritual where I asked  the forces of nature and the Divine to accept my dedication, I gazed up and saw an enormous shooting star. It was such a perfect moment of synchronicity.

It had taken several years to get to that moment. I had first started to be drawn to Witchcraft in the late 80’s. Unlike today, sources to learn about this path were few and covens even fewer. I met a woman in the early 90’s who had been a coven witch in London and we became friends. She lent me books on the Western Mystery Tradition and we had some fantastic conversations which led me to tentatively explore. I had read books by the Farrars and knew there was something at the heart of it that called me, but the traditional forms of Wicca felt too formal for me. It wasn’t until the mid-90’s when at University I took a module on Goddess Spirituality – and with the publication of books like Rae Beth’s Hedgewitch, Scott Cunningham’s solitary Wicca series, Teresa Moorey’s fab little books and the discovery of StarHawk’s Spiral Dance – that I could begin to see a structure to this path that I could explore without having to find a group to work with.

This time saw a sudden inrush of new people to the path; this birth and rapid expansion of eclectic forms of Wicca and Witchcraft brought with it new resources and fresh inspiration. It was an exciting time. I joined the Pagan Federation, met others who I would celebrate ritual with for years after, and began to truly learn in earnest.

It is now fascinating to me to see how my path has developed and changed over time. The beauty of this spirituality is that it is free from dogma; you are required to really engage with your own experience, what this teaches you and where it leads you. Over the years I have witnessed others on the path try and enforce ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways of practicing but this really is missing the point and seems to me a residue of some of the religious dogma of our Christian heritage. 21 years of practice has taught me that there is no ‘correct’ way; that the path evolves and changes as you do and that this is a strength to be celebrated.

When we are a newbie on the path, it is natural to look outside ourselves for examples of what our ‘witchiness’ is. But in time, I began to discovery who the witch within me was; I learnt exactly which practices strengthened my connection to nature, deity and self; I found the expressions of deity that spoke to me most strongly and I also gained the confidence to accept that these might well change over time; I learned that we will have moments of thrilling personal expansion but also the most fallow and stagnant phases where spiritual doubt and disconnection bring its own valuable lessons.

Committed long-term practice brings a confidence to discard or embrace as feels appropriate. I have rejected, questioned and adapted techniques and tools countless times along the way, discovering that the system really is just that, a method to help you connect. The real deal is the connection itself, and if what you practice isn’t getting you to that place, change it! Experiment and enjoy that process because everything on your path is an opportunity to learn and grow.

My re-dedication this year has brought with it a sense of gratitude for all those years of learning and exploring. Whatever the next 21 years brings – if I am granted that time, gods willing – that star burning its path across the heavens that I witnessed on that special night will stay with me.

 

Climbing Down from the Tree

Druidcraft Tarot

I’ve been truly feeling the energies of Beltane this year. It is a joyous festival that celebrates love and passion; the natural world explodes into life; the greening and blossoming cracking open our senses.

Traditionally, Beltane honours the ecstatic union of opposites, of goddess and god  – it is about sacred sex and the alchemical transformation that we are offered when we open ourselves to another. This ‘other’ is not limited to a person but can include all elements that live outside of us, and so we can discover this union not only with our lovers but with the world itself. A key word for Beltane is ‘opening’, a process in which we allow ourselves to be deeply touched by the environment outside our perceived boundaries. It helps us to recognize that life is a circuit that flows between self and other and like the blossom that unfurls for the bee, in that contact the potential for something new is born – we are fertilized by life.

Being open takes trust and to truly trust the heart must be free to engage fully and yet when our hearts have been bruised, our natural response is to close down. Initially, this protective mechanism is necessary; if life has dealt us a painful blow, strengthening our boundaries can aid us in catching our breath and re-centering ourselves; it is a part of the healing. Sometimes shutting ourselves away to lick our wounds is all that we are capable of. At those moments we need to show ourselves a little compassion;not judge ourselves so harshly for turning our back on life. However, if the hurt has been profound, we can become stuck, not wanting or feeling able to take down our defenses and let life in.

I have spent the last four years intimately exploring the impact of grief and depression – coming out the other side, I have been pondering the nature of our inner seasons. Of course, the seasons in nature flow endlessly one into the other; we can generally predict the length of time that winter will be with us; we can look forward to the coming of spring. Our emotional seasons are a little less easy to judge. When we find ourselves caught in a harsh emotional winter, the certain return of spring can feel, well, a little less certain.

Depression is a world apart from the expansive energy of Beltane. When we are depressed, nothing truly touches us, we close down – we become numb to the inspiration that contact with ‘other’ can bring. If we use the metaphor of seasons for our emotional states, depression is a painfully harsh winter. It is helpful not to place judgement on whether this season is ‘natural’ or pathological – psychologically speaking – like winter in the natural world, it is a vital part of a cyclical whole. Rather, we must ask ourselves, what is winter’s value, its meaning and its gifts? Winter brings needed rest – a stasis that is actually a pause between the breath of living – its pulse slows and deepens until it can barely be felt. It is a stillness that asks that we turn inward and open to our inner life, to see what dead wood needs to be cleared and released, what treasures lie hidden.

I am a huge fan of Tarot. All through my journey with depression and grief, my personal Tarot spreads were haunted by the Hanged Man card. The Hanged Man in Tarot symbolism is an archetype of surrender. In life, he can represent sacrifice – the giving up of something precious and the trust it takes to surrender to this process, long before hindsight has given you the opportunity to see the deeper meaning of that sacrifice, or the gifts it may have eventually brought.

Rider-Waite

In the traditional Rider-Waite deck, the Hanged Man is hung upside down from his foot and around his head is a halo of light. He is suspended and passive, although not bound – his hands are free and so he could easily untie himself and walk away from that tree. This suggests that something more profound is happening here. There is a purpose to this stasis, to this lack of movement. In fact, there is movement occurring but it is subtle and happens beneath the surface. Being hung from his foot, he is forced to see the world from a completely different angle -not exactly a comfortable thing to do as the blood rushes to his head!

Every time I saw him appear in my spreads, he pissed me off! I wanted him to go away and I could feel this powerful resistance to his presence. But as time went on and I was forced to go inward – to sit patiently with my feelings of sorrow and loss – his presence began to make perfect sense. I was being required to embody that stasis, the crippling lack of emotional movement, the discomfort of it and rather than fighting it, I had to surrender to it, trusting that it wouldn’t destroy me. And in that trust – the kind of trust that has absolutely no guarantees of happier times returning – in that perfect trust, in that act of faith, the path back to my heart appeared.

To open my heart again, I had to surrender to life and trust, and to do that fully I realised it was time to let it all go, let the hurt and pain be taken by gravity as I swung in the breeze, suspended by my foot. I had to go inward, sit, wait, be…

Green Witch tarot

The Hanged Man takes us to a place where we can forgive life for striking the killer blow; where we can forgive others for hurting us; where we can forgive ourselves for not measuring up, and in that forgiveness and non-judgmental acceptance of exactly where we find ourselves, the cracks in our heart start letting in the light and warmth, and that Beltane blossoming begins; there really is no stopping it.

My heart has been opening gradually petal by petal and it is the best feeling! It is a common quote now but one that is still beautiful and poignant,

The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~ Anais Nin

 

 

The Peace After the Storm – The Cailleach of Winter

 

frost-008

I find myself stood alone on moorland in the depths of winter. The sky is bright with countless stars and the ground glistens with frost. The air is crisp and sharp against my skin. Above me, on a rocky crag I see the glow of a fire and I instinctively walk towards its light. When I reach the summit, sat in the golden circle of fire light is a woman, her face is lined with age, her long silver hair threaded with buzzard and owl feathers. Her dark cloak is dotted with stars as mesmerising as the night sky and around her neck hang circlets of threaded bone. To her left is a staff rooted in the ground, topped with a deer skull and to her right a hunched, leafless tree, weathered and gnarled by countless storms; amongst its branches an owl nestles, its dark eyes as fathomless and watchful as the depths of space.

I know this woman…she is as ancient as time and held within her silence is the knowledge of countless ages and generations; of countless lives and deaths – she is the keeper of ancestral memories. I know this woman…Cailleach, Grandmother of stone, of mountain, cliff and cave, and rocky, windswept crag; she is my bedrock of strength and endurance. Ancient Bone Mother, she is the frame upon which our lives take shape. Rugged and timeless, her wildness inspires journeys into the remote and lonely places of our souls, for it is here that we find her, her face bright in the moonless night, her profound winter stillness our sacred song of dark wisdom. She is the starry heavens and the depths of space, the place where life returns after death, the place where all potential dwells. Spinner and weaver, she works the threads of life into complex patterns of beauty and wonder; she sings over our bones and remakes us anew; keen as beak and talon, beautiful as the arching sky that carries her feathered spirit, she is the Ancient Crone of all knowing and in the depths of winter she calls to us.

The above is a meditation I experienced just after the Winter Solstice. I had settled and made myself quiet, not expecting to have an active visualisation but this came without prompting and played out in my mind without any effort or direction on my part. As I sat before this extraordinary Goddess, she showed me a vision of myself. I was being hauled up by a rope through a narrow vertical passage of rock, rising up from deep within the earth. I looked up and the circular opening at the surface was perfectly aligned with the sun. Its light was breathtakingly golden and lit the chamber as I rose up toward it; it was a stunningly beautiful sight, both exhilarating and comforting.

Since then, this Ancient Crone Goddess has occupied my times of contemplation and meditation; she has been opening me up to the energy of the season and the beauty of winter. January can be such a difficult month. Although the light is gradually increasing, here in the Northern Hemisphere winter shows itself in earnest – it can feel very gloomy post the Christmas frenzy and the accumulative lack of sun and light can lower our spirits and leave us lethargic. However, I have felt something very different this year. I have felt incredibly settled and peaceful.

My life over the last three and a half years has been deeply challenging for many different reasons. It had begun to feel like I had taken up permanent residence in the churning cauldron of Ceridwen’s transformative energy. I was suspended in a perpetual Samhain of loss, grief and enforced release and I seemed to be fighting it all the way. Inwardly, I knew that these experiences were asking me to make some profound changes, a relentless confrontation of my shadow self that was urging me on to a more authentic and honest relationship with myself and my life. I was being simmered in the heat, my old self falling away from the bone – it was painful, took a seeming age and brought me moments of deep depression and anger.

This winter has brought a sudden and unexpected peace. It’s not like I don’t have challenging situations still to deal with, and yet something has shifted. My perpetual Samhain has lifted and in finding my own personal wheel moving round to the Winter Solstice, I have had a powerful realisation of the gifts of this season.

In my own experience, the Crone energy of Samhain is incredibly dynamic.  Although the world is dying back, there is intensity in this transformation reflected in the burning colours of autumn. The energy of transition can be a massive challenge and our resistance to it can create a tension that produces its own energy. Samhain brings us to that moment of release, to the pain of loss, to the place of acceptance and letting go but the Winter Solstice and the heart of winter shows us a very different Crone energy. After the intensity of Samhain we come to the peace and stillness. Life sits and waits deep beneath the soil; this is the moment between the exhale and inhale of the year, it is that place where we are given a chance to assimilate all the powerful transformation that the deaths of Samhain have brought us. I have known this intellectually for years but this year, I have felt it in my heart and body.

This ancient Goddess of winter offers us the chance to grasp the bigger picture of our own lives; in her stillness, we can make sense of the patterns and take in the lessons at a cellular level until they are part of us. She is an Ancestral Goddess because these lessons become layered upon the experience of all our ancestors like a rich much that will fuel the future. In the cauldron, we are stripped down to the bone, the bare essentials of who we are, and the Cailleach of Winter tenderly gathers this messy bundle of bones, laying them upon the frozen earth, piece by piece, until our core shape can be seen once more. In the still, lifeless darkness, she dreams the flesh back upon our bones; her strength becomes the fabric of our sinew and as she herself transforms into the fiery Brighid of Imbolc, she will – when the time is right – light the spark of inspiration within us that reanimates our being.

We can get impatient for Imbolc in the depths of the dark and cold days, but that is missing out on a gift. This Ancient Crone teaches us the mysteries of suspension. When I think of her, my thoughts are drawn to the Hanged Man in Tarot, an archetypal experience that, on one level, can be deeply frustrating, particularly when we have the urge to move forward. However, he is often portrayed with a halo of light and a peaceful expression because he is essentially about surrendering to stillness, going inward for the purposes of Gnosis. Winter can do this for us; we can allow it to teach us to patiently wait, and in the waiting – as the dust of the year settles upon a barren earth – we can begin to truly see in a new way, from a new perspective, all that we have learnt, each lesson that has become a part of who we are. This Goddess brings us clarity – she asks that we be honest and authentic in our review of what works in our lives and what hinders but she also dwells in our envisioning; she is the flight of the mind and imagination; the architect of our future.

The Ancient Lady of winter brings us peace after the storm; still waters after the churning. Her enduring love, deep knowing and wisdom, brings us to that place of hope of joy. That place where the dark stillness explodes into star light. For we are each a burning star born in her dark and infinite womb; we are each an expression of hope and new vision born of endings and release. We are each a Solstice sun.

This winter, don’t be too hasty for spring; revel in those frosty mornings and feel her clarity in its bite. See her take shape in the fog of your breath; turn inward and find her there; know that she has the power to birth new life from death, warmth from cold. She is your faithful guide, your sacred strength and vision. From the soil of the earth and the dust of the stars she has shaped you.

Carolyn Hillyer

Carolyn Hillyer

Art work by the wonderful Carolyn Hillyer – her website can be found here.
Photo source 

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