The Solstice Sun and the Mother of Mystery

 

Maria, Tracey and Trish post Solstice celebrations

Maria, Tracey and Trish post Solstice celebrations

 

We have just returned from a few days in North Cornwall. The dramatic slate coast of Tintagel, Boscastle and the surrounding area have drawn us back many times, particularly at the winter solstice, when the sun is low and its light pale. There is a beauty in the winter starkness of the North Cornish coast that opens me at a deep level, despite the contracting cold and darkness of the season. I feel a kinship with its jagged edges; its yielding to the elements; the constant presence of the ocean. It’s a landscape that feels very old, toughened and strengthened by the constant onslaught of the Atlantic, sculpted by its moods and movement. The wildness of this place is a sanctuary; the intensity of Cornish light stripping away pretence; the beauty of the land eroding the defences we might construct in order to lessen the impact of our feelings. Here, clarity comes, and in its wake peace or unease, depending on where we truly are with ourselves. This year it brought a strange mixture of both.

 

We stayed in Tintagel, walking the coast and the magical Rocky Valley and St Nectan’s Glen, revisiting much loved places, sensing the light weaken and shorten as the Solstice drew closer.

 

Our neighbour kept chickens and I was struck by the cockerel’s premature heralding of dawn. Each morning, long before any discernable light, the cockerel stretched his neck and sung to the dark. It seemed that, despite the evidence, he knew that the sun would soon rise; something deep in his being anticipated it.

At Winter Solstice, we are required to do just this: sing to the dark, trusting and knowing in our hearts that the renewal of light and life emerge from its mysterious blackness. Our Yule celebrations have, over the last few years, been an honouring not only of the rebirth of the sun – of the golden child of promise that resides in each of us – but also of that great darkness from which all life is born.

In our Winter Solstice ritual we call upon the Goddess as Mother of Mystery, Magical Star Mother, Goddess of the Milky Way who has birthed our galaxy, who has set in motion the circling planets around her burning heart the sun; who carries the earth in her womb and the moon upon her brow, and whose starry cloak swirls around her in her spiral dance. She is the Ancient One, the silent depths of space, patient as eternity, unfathomable mystery, and through her ever turning seasons – her cycles of sun and moon – she brings us growing wisdom. With each turning of her silver wheel she shows us new connections, deepening our understanding. She is the Great Spider Mother, glistening web of all creation, the guiding thread that brings us deep into the spiral. She grasps our hands in the blackness and through her maze of dark nights and new dawns, urges us to witness the interconnection, the beauty and diversity of her web. Our faithful guide, our sacred strength and vision, from the soil of the earth and the dust of the stars she has shaped us. At this time and season, she exchanges her Samhain cloak of dark feathers for a cloak of shining stars; stripping back all that shrouded us, until the glow of our souls in the darkness is all that can be seen. No system can explain her; no theory can encompass her. We endeavour always to stay open to her wonder and grace, knowing that she is unknowable and boundless, that she is infinite potential, the true magic of all life. Through her we learn to take the threads of our being and weave the seeming chaos of our lives into vibrant patterns, just as she has spun and woven all life into being. She is the fertile darkness, shot through with stars – countless suns – each a bright seed.

 

The Solstice is such a hopeful and magical time, and I feel blessed to share it with those I love, both in ritual and in the simple exchange of time and self. Each clear night of stars helps to remind me to step outside of all those comforting systems – all the things I claim to know – to merge, for just a second, with that mysterious darkness, and in its depths feel that spark of light – of innocence and openness – be born within me once again.

 

Tracey and Maria obviously very pleased that the sun is back!

Tracey and Maria obviously very pleased that the sun is back!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yew

Yew

 

Your skin is paper,

the bark beneath surfacing as I rub against you.

Dark and tender as a bruise you forbid me to touch.

The sheet is still warm.

We should be sleeping prawns,

slotted moons but you dress too soon,

cloaking the candid mid-day light.

 

I have slid around your trunk seven times,

looked up to see your face in the boughs,

but your words have unravelled,

their shapes and sounds straightening

into the line and beatless bleep of a heart that has stopped.

 

Like the yew grove at Kingley Vale

you have spread your dusk over me.

no birds or insects feed

on those trees,

holding their breath

until the bark turns red,

some hollow, heart wood gone.

 

I had crouched inside one,

its peeling bark a shawl of wood around the air.

It should have died when its centre rotted

and yet above me still, from a tangle of branches,

green shoots,

as likely as the blossoming of gate posts.

 

                                                               Maria Ede-Weaving

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Turf Cutter’s Wife

The Turf Cutter’s Wife

 

1.

 

Beyond the brambled ridge in the pit

of the dell, her dress is pulled over her head,

a cotton kite, the chord of her spine rigid.

 

Their fingers have scythed the roses

on the scrumpled cloth, throwing over her face its plague

of flowers. The fabric is smeared with grass stains.

She is a string tied tight between two poles:

A line upon the earth along which to cut.

 

Naked.

 

Ants crawl over her.

At dusk,

The circle of bruises around her neck

Come out like stars; ten imploding suns,

One for every year she has lived.

 

2.

 

He unrolls the slices of caked earth,

smoothing down the green tufts.

She had not noticed the permanent thread

of dirt beneath his nails until, with sleeves rolled,

he had pressed her into the square of their bed, dropping her,

a hail of seed from his hand.

She thought only of mud

smeared across white, laundered towels,

of the burrowing of faceless worms.

 

He cuts his meat neatly into slabs

and lays them upon his tongue,

the same tongue that combs the grasslands of her belly,

while the rain soaks the bare soil and the seedlings green

and needle through.

The cut

and slice slides beneath her back,

cool as a spade.

She is still

like the frozen earth.

 

He loads turf,

And the yard is skinned and raw,

the sun drying to a scab

the place where flowers should grow.

3.

 

In an alley, concrete turfs remain separate.

Treading down gum, someone has tried to heal the fracture:

A world held together by the burst

bubbles of mouths that chew what they cannot swallow.

The hard brick wall shovels up her shoulders.

In her bag a wedding ring circles a tissue; the yellow band

of her skirt is pulled tight around her hips by strange hands,

nails white as ten new moons.

 

                                                    Maria Ede-Weaving

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn Born – For Jillie

Autumn Born

 

All Saint’s Day: your birthday.

I am at a loss as to what I can buy you.

No more diaries.

No more perfume or lipstick: your face no longer fits;

It is a steroid moon dissolving

Into white pillows.

 

Hope,

 

A bud out of season…your make-up bag on the bathroom floor;

The half empty bottles of the everyday you. An opaque crust hardens

The belly of your spotted hippo soap dish.

 

I bring you tea in a plastic cup, its spout

Pouting above childish handles. You are too weak

And pale. A spill of talc patterns your dresser.

The sweet flour disappears

beneath the brush of my hands. Your skin is a dust

Sheet that I long to peel back,

Find your true shape

 

Hiding.

 

I cradle you, rice paper light against my chest.

My open-handed ribs cup the gathering lumps, bruised

With haemorrhaging, that deadly purple

Blooming. The lipless

Grin of pink scars on your scalp kisses

My cheek as you lean.

 

“I’m in a bit of a state”, you say. Then you joke

about the air-suck of an empty teat, the raspberries

you can blow with your plastic,

milkless mother.

 

We lay listening to the young boy

Take his music lesson in the next room, to the crammed

Silence between empty words. I kiss you

 

Goodnight.

 

And from the bleached well of your pillow, your eyes

Clamour like hands. Your eyes: wide

Summer skies over shedding

Leaves, that we must gather

in baskets to burn.

                                                   

                                                   Maria Ede-Weaving

Search for the Wight Goddess

One of the main reasons for starting this Blog was to write about my relationship with the Isle of Wight from a Pagan perspective. It has been my home now for eighteen months and I have spent a good deal of time exploring the landscape and my relationship to it. I had started this process many years ago, visiting with my family as a child and walking here as an adult. It has long been my nearest ‘far away place’, and after living in the congested and densely populated city of Portsmouth for all my adult life, the move here felt a very profound one.

A practicing Pagan for eleven years, my search to discover the Divine at the heart of nature has been an ongoing journey. I have come to believe that nature – and therefore the Divine – resides in both the city and the countryside; there is no place that nature is not and the trick is to connect to the Divine in whatever environment you occupy. However, living on the island (in a more rural setting) has helped to intensify my experience of immanent Deity, and has led me to ponder on what it means to connect to Deity in the local landscape.

The Island has a different feel from the mainland. In many ways it is a similar landscape to Hampshire, Sussex and Dorset, sharing the rolling sedimentary down land with these places. However, it has a unique quality. Partly, this stems from it being an Island; it separateness lending a special appeal. I wanted to understand more fully what this all meant with regard to my own experience of deity.

Until recently, my approach to Pagan deity had been to explore the Gods and Goddesses of established pantheons, feeling drawn to specific deities, attempting to deepen my understanding of these by building relationships with them.  My concept of Deity has been universal in the sense that I have grafted on deity to place in a fairly flexible way. But of course, what appear to be universal Gods and Goddesses were once very much attached to actual landscapes; in fact they grew out of very specific environments and cultures. As I became more fascinated and drawn to the Spirit of Place, it occurred that our ancestors’ understanding of deity was shaped by the very specific qualities of their environments. The flora, fauna, weather and topography collectively produces the character of a place, and it seems to me that this character – with its unique feel and gifts – is the foundation of local deity. I certainly found it very easy to relate to the Island as a Goddess, and it has been the search to know her more intimately that has been dominating my spiritual practice over the last few months.

I have been calling her the ‘Wight Goddess’ (my own little pun and doff of hat to Robert Graves) and I have spent my time here exploring her deeper nature, discovering this via the different aspects that she expresses through her landscapes and changing seasons (as I perceive them).

This raises all sorts of tricky questions about a personal view of deity. There is obviously a great comfort in being part of a shared faith system; one’s concept of deity is confirmed and affirmed by the group. When God/Goddess is shaped and defined by a long held tradition, that deity’s authenticity is strengthened; it has a life and presence that can easily be felt and drawn upon – a momentum all its own. In exploring one’s perception of local deity, things can feel a little more complicated, the external affirmation harder to come by. In its place is one’s own rather flawed and limited perception. I am constantly asking myself if what I instinctively feel about the Island is utterly subjective. Is something in this landscape communicating itself, and if it is, am I perceptive enough to hear its message with clarity? Maybe it doesn’t really matter.

Remaining open and flexible and maintaining a sense of humour seem vital;  reminding myself regularly that each of us who feels the need to reach for the Divine, can only ever glimpse a little of a much greater mystery. To a certain extent we will always shape God/dess in our image. We each have the freedom to start from relative scratch, and I guess this is my current experiment. The Wight Goddess calls and I feel compelled to answer…

 

A Signal to the Psyche

Change, whether it appears to come unexpectedly from outside forces, or from the efforts of our own willpower, is undoubtedly the catalyst to any transformative journey. One of the central lessons of my own life has been the challenge to open to such changes. This is not an easy process but the mind is like the body in that as you stretch and bend it, over time, it acquires the flexibility needed to flow with life, the strength to adapt. Evolution teaches that an ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment is crucial for survival. It would appear that this holds just as true on a psychological level. There are times when clinging on to the corpse of our old lives brings only more pain and loss. It takes a leap of faith to let the past go and open ourselves to the new ways of being that change offers.

 

The search for Gnosis – for a deep inner knowing – depends on some intimate interaction with the agents of change. In many Pagan traditions, this is understood via the Myth of the Descent. Inspiration has been drawn from what is known of the Mystery Schools that once flourished in the Eastern Mediterranean. These Mysteries said something profound about the nature of our own living and dying; in the guided unfolding of a ritual sequence, participants were brought to a place within themselves of wordless knowing; a revelatory experience that would shift their entire perception of life and death. Myths of Descent are about finding ourselves stripped of our psychological scaffolding, often involving the loss of things held vital; they are about an honest confrontation with death and at their heart is the gift of renewal and transformation, the potential for a more authentic relationship with self and life.

 

Ritual can be a powerfully transformative experience; that vital signal to the psyche that you are open to change. In everyday life, our conscious selves only ever seem to be partially aware. We make decisions and choices, and yet life often has other plans for us. These unexpected turns in the road appear to strike from without, triggered by forces beyond our control. However, a long term practice of meditation and ritual (and of engaging with one’s own dreams and inner life) can reveal just how much something within us colludes with change, in order that we might be subject to transformation and growth. I have come to perceive that ‘something’ as vast, mysterious and knowing; a presence to be trusted – although my conscious self often baulks at the lessons it brings.

 

We can choose to consciously work with this part of ourselves, as in ritual, or other spiritual practices, and in doing so, help to make the more challenging changes easier to face. However, it seems that whether we chose to consciously engage or not, the changes come. I believe that the original authors of the Mystery Schools knew this well: the rituals didn’t come first, life experience did – the Mysteries were offering a route through via a hard won lesson lived and understood. The journey that is undertaken consciously, or the journey of oblivious stumbling, is still the journey. Each of us, it seems – regardless of faith or creed – will make at least one major descent in our lives. How we deal with these is a part of the learning.

 

These life lessons can be easier to write about than to live. Some might be swift and easy; others might be painful, tortuous and confusing – in fact, the word journey might appear contradictory when caught in the crippling stasis that can grip us in these moments. Either way the impact is profound. It is fair to say that no-one would consciously venture out on such a path if they had the choice to stay undisturbed. We seem to loathe and fear change, despite it being the only real certainty. It can feel like very tough medicine; the only way out being through.

 

Attempting to articulate the deep rooted and profound changes that we might experience can be a thankless task because so much of what might be termed revelation is deeply personal to the individual. What moves you to your core and initiates a major transformation might leave me wholly clueless and untouched. Each of our journeys will be different. However, sooner or later we will all have to make a heroine/hero’s quest to grow nearer to our true self and uncover our hidden potential.

 

At present the world seems in the grip if its own Descent, and as such we can be sure that humanity is being presented with the challenge to transform. It appears to me that our collective ‘something’ is colluding with change to bring about a major and profound metamorphosis in the way we interact with each other and our planet – adapt or die. We too have the choice to stumble blindly, or to summon a little courage and face honestly the loss and grief; to let life’s transformative energies move through us and reshape us. We might feel we have a lot to lose; what we have to gain seems far greater.

 

For the last few years I have been obsessed with butterflies. They are often seen as symbols of the soul. I find this moving and apt. It feels fitting that butterflies have been associated with the Goddess Psyche, and therefore should be such a potent symbol for the potential changes within our own souls. We need to open to our soul-wisdom, that vast and magical ‘something’ that resides beneath the restricted vision of our conscious selves. Whether the signal to our psyches is a consciously sought one, or an unconscious prompting, what is ultimately required is that we each become keen observers of the particular forces that are at work in our lives, taking it upon ourselves to really listen to them. When we honestly open ourselves to these catalysts, we can go on to create our own rituals, prayers and invocations, ones that facilitate a deeper understanding and integration of these forces. What is crucial is that there is an active engagement with the unfolding story of our lives, that we can strive to perceive its spiritual context and meaning for ourselves.