Healing and the Horned God

The Grandmother of Wicca, Doreen Valiente, playfully named him ‘Old Hornie’. The Horned God, honoured by Wiccans and other Pagans, is very close to my heart. To speak of him in the singular is rather misleading because for me, in my own personal understanding, he is a mixture of several different god forms, all of which intimately link with nature and have not been deprived of their sexuality. The Horned God, no matter what aspect or God form we might perceive him to be, remains potent.

 

It’s true that many have a little more trouble relating to him at first. People’s experience of the Divine Masculine prior to Paganism can often be experienced as extremely negative; it can take some time to erase that judgemental and harsh presence so often associated with the word ‘God’. However, the Horned God is a glorious antidote to that patriarchal, unforgiving, angry father God who many of us feared and desperately tried to please as children.

 

For many modern pagans, honouring the eight festivals of the Wheel of the Year is a central practice that helps them engage with the Goddess and God in their environment and within themselves. This sacred circle of festivals is a Mandala: a cosmic diagram of the cycles of life, of sun, moon and earth, of the seasons of nature and humankind. For me, the Goddess is both the Mandala’s core and circumference; she is its very essence and the gift of wisdom, peace and centring that it can bring. The God is the Mandala’s spiral dance: the journey of bud, blossom and fruit, of falling leaf and seed. It might be said that she is its wholeness; he its ever changing parts. I have to stress that such ideas are personal and flexible; Paganism invites us to find our own way to the Divine through experience – whatever system we find to deepen our practice remains only one of many routes to commune with the Divine. It’s important not to get too hung up on the system and thereby hopefully avoid creating yet new dogmas to limit our experience (and potentially the experiences of others too!).

 

The Horned God is essentially a nature God. Many Pagan’s see him as a guardian of nature’s balance. He is a God of fertility, vitality, sexuality and abundance but he is also a God of sacrifice for the greater good and of death too. His shadowed face is not one of destruction for its own sake; rather it is a compassionate expression of death that life may flourish. There is very much a sense of him as hunter and hunted, for as we are all subject to his ‘culling’ – in order for life to continue and the balance to be kept – he is also himself cut down in the harvest of our food (be it animal or vegetable): he knows what it means to die and is seen as a guide and protector on the journey through and beyond death.

 

He contains within his nature the paradox of ‘life in death and death in life’ and we experience this through his seasonal journey. The waxing and waning energies that make up his nature are often understood as the Oak and Holly God. His expression as Oak God is felt through the waxing, expansive energies of the time of year between winter and summer solstice. His waning energies are felt through the harvest and the dying back of the year from between the summer and winter solstice.

 

He is the joyous life-force that bursts forth in bud, leaf and fruit: the Green Man’s wild abundance. He is also the golden life-giving sun whose warmth and light fertilises the earth Goddess’s body; the vital energy of its light bringing us happiness, pleasure and life. He is the sacrifice of the harvest that feeds and nourishes us. He is the dying back; the mulch and leaf mould that rots into the Earth Mother’s body, nourishing new life. He is the peace of death and the promise of renewal.

 

The Horned God is a stark contrast to the stern Old Testament God, for he is a dancing God; a laughing God with a vibrant and well used Phallus; he is a God of joy and pleasure, of the ecstasy of life.

 

He is also perceived as a Shaman God, a God who travels the World Tree and as such is the Wise Old Man of the woods who knows all the uses of the natural world for healing; who dissolves the normal boundaries to guide us to the Otherworld for our own and other’s healing. 

 

His horns are a sign of his virility and strength. He is the sky bull who mounts the earth cow and brings the abundance of summer; as ram he is the rampant, irrepressible energy of spring; as goat, he is the lusty, mischievous energy of Pan; as stag he is the ever changing seasons, growing his antlers only to shed and re-grow them. He is Lord of all animals; protector of beasts. He is the pleasure and pain of the body; the power of instinct and desire.

 

His vital energy gives life to our creativity. Through his dynamic nature we can connect and flow with the life-force within us; we become the hunter of our soul’s desire, reaching for our potential, drawing upon his energy and courage to actualise our dreams, learning to harmonise with nature and its seasons in order to live more effectively and ecologically.

 

I have found a great deal of healing in my relationship with him, particularly with regard to the sexual abuse of my teens. He introduced me to a new way of understanding the Divine Masculine and through this enabled a more positive grasp of how this might potentially express itself through the men in my life.

 

Unlike the patriarchal God of my childhood, his word is never carved in stone; it sings from the blackbird; is heard in the rustle of leaves and the silent glory of the stars; it is the pain of letting go; the urgency and desire of a lover’s touch. He is the bright spark of life – the joy and poignancy of living. When we open to him, we open to the wonder and blessing of life; we see the wisdom and meaning of all life’s experiences – the happiness and sadness; we are infused with his strength and bolstered by his protection. In his sharing with us the wisdom of seed and flower, of fruit and falling leaf, the turning tides of our lives become a little easier to navigate; the joy at the heart of creation more apparent, more intensely felt.

dancing-pan

 

 

 

 

 

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On the Move

Bertie On the Breakers

Bertie On the Breakers

My eighty four year old father has amazing stamina. He long ago instilled in me a love of walking. Always an extremely active person, he began serious walking after my mother’s death at the age of fifty five. Then it was his way of dealing with grief, taking himself off out into the country that surrounded our village, walking with and through the loss. What started as a coping strategy became a much loved way of life.

By the time he reached his sixties, he was walking up to thirty miles in a day. I would often go with him, my love of landscape and nature informed by those walks.

We still walk together, a precious and joyful part of our relationship. Despite his age, he can manage impressive distances. This year we are entering ‘Walk the Wight’, part of the Island’s walking festival, a sponsored twenty three miles for the Island Hospice. Ten thousand people entered last year. There is an option to walk the full twenty three, or alternatively you can walk one of two halves. Dad – irrepressible as ever – felt keen to do the full length of the Island. I felt a little embarrassed to admit that the distance would probably leave me lame and raving with exhaustion given my current form; it’s not good for the morale to be out gunned by your octaganerian parent.  He took pity on me and kindly agreed to settle for fourteen miles and proceeded to train with an inspiring gusto, walking eighteen miles of the South Down’s Way to get in the swing. I on the other hand walked nine miles on the flat and ended up exhasuted in the pub with my head propped on the table, wondering how I was going to make the last two miles home! As I grow older, I am beginning to appreciate just how extraordinary his physical achievements actually are.

He has always stressed to me the value of movement; taught me that age need not be a crippling decline. For Dad, keeping the mind and body flowing, remaining interested and engaged with life, has meant that the years have been incredibly kind to him. Long may this be so.

One of the great joys of living on the Island is how lovely it has been to walk here with Dad. He loves it: the challenge enlivens him; the beauty of the place fuels him. After walking each inch of his own locale, knowing it so intimately, I could see how much this new territory fired his enthusiasm; new horizons can make us all feel youthful and energised, no matter what our age.

None of us know what will befall us in life; perhaps we will not all be as fortunate in our experience of aging. However, my Dad’s energy and fitness, his enjoyment of each day, keeps me feeling that the passing of time is its own adventure. My aim is to keep moving, in mind, body, emotion and spirit and – with a little grace – I hope I too will be ‘Walking the Wight’ for many years to come.

The Perfect Sun Hat

A Sunny Afternoon in Newcastle

A Sunny Afternoon in Newcastle

Casual yet stylish…

The Green Man and the Lily Cross

Over the Easter weekend, the trees have begun to unfurl their buds in earnest, the woodlands and hedgerows turning that wonderful, vibrant green that heralds the year’s blossoming. As a Pagan, Easter still holds meaning for me. It is hard not to make the rather obvious connection between the resurrection of Christ and the renewing of the natural world in spring, after all, this process is a living reality all around us, a joyous transformation that vividly articulates the mysteries of regeneration and hope.

 

Christ as a kind of Green Man does not need a massive leap of the imagination to consider; many Pagans – and a few Christians too – have already made the link, and here on the Island we have a beautiful mediaeval church mural that seems to express something of this notion. Of course, the mural’s original symbolism would have been very different to that of my modern Pagan perspective, but no less meaningful I think.

 

The mural is in the beautiful village church of Godshill. Godshill is the Island’s chocolate box village, with quaint little thatched cottages; the church itself is the most photographed on the Island, perched high above the village on the hill that gives this place its name.

 

There is a legend attached to the building of the church, one which is identical to that of Alfriston Church in East Sussex. Both are built on distinctive mounds/hills and are originally believed to have been home to pre-Christian Pagan sites of worship.  The name Godshill is thought to mean ‘hill of the idol’, the said hill standing rather incongruously above the flat village. The view from its summit of the surrounding downland is stunningly beautiful; it’s a place that feels ancient and curiously separate from the constant stream of tourists down in the village.

 

The legend goes that the Christian missionaries that built the church, began its foundations on a level piece of land a mile or so south of the present position. On three successive nights, the stones were uprooted and moved to the hill by mysterious forces. Each time the builders would take the stones back to their chosen site, only to find them moved once again to the hill the following morning. After the third time, they took the hint and built the church on the hill, believing this to be God’s choice. More likely is that Christians used the Pagan site, just as they had in other places as a means of conversion. The Island itself took a while to become Christian, being the last Pagan stronghold in England. This link between the Pagan and Christian religious worship on this extraordinary hill gives the mural an added depth for me.

 

The mural shows Christ crucified on a flowering Lily. The Lily has three main branches, another three shooting off from each of these. Christ’s sacrifice reflects that of the Green Man’s. As vegetation God, the Green Man offers his own body that others may live and flourish; he is grown up, cut down and reborn in the yearly cycle of his living and dying, and the deeper mysteries of his sacrifice bring hope and the possibility for renewal for all beings. Like Christ’s story, we find in the Green Man’s mythic and actual cycles both our own cyclical and eternal natures.

 

Many argue about the Green Man’s origins. For me he symbolises a modern understanding –  inspired by those mysterious mediaeval images – of the verdant, green world that sustains us. The medieval symbolism is lost to us – we can only speculate –  and so the symbolism develops and changes, just as our culture and perceptions of life move on. The Lily Cross mural is unique and speaks, I suspect, to both Christians and Pagans alike, and never more so than at this glorious time of year.

The Lily Cross, Godshill.

The Lily Cross, Godshill.

Whitecliff

Whitecliff Bay

Whitecliff Bay

Earlier this week Laurie and I walked down into Whitecliff Bay, taking lunch in the sun at the ‘Wonky Café’, a lovely little wooden hut on the beach. I have particular affection for Whitecliff Bay. The spark of what was to become me made its entrance here: I was conceived in a caravan up on the cliffs, my parents (thanks to the holiday spirit no doubt) never thinking for one minute that they would get pregnant in their forties, children nearly grown. My mother assumed I was a fibroid for the first six months of her pregnancy.

 

After I was born, I was brought here for my first holiday, this time in a little wooden chalet clinging to the cliff edge amongst the trees. I have a photo, me in my push chair on the beach with my laughing mother, she the age I am now. Haloed by a flowery sun hat, I look particularly pleased with my ice cream. We came other times too, photos of me naked in the sea, utter joy on my face. In my memories, Whitecliff Bay became a special place of magical happiness; so strange that an unexpected twist of fate has brought me back to live so close by. I visit often.

 

The bay resides on the eastern side of Culver Cliff, as Yaverland Beach and Sandown Bay lie on its western edge. Standing on Culver’s chalk summit, you see the beauty of both bays clearly. Culver Cliff, Yaverland Beach and Whitecliff Bay are a kind of ‘Holy Trinity’ for me with regard to my local landscape – places I visit for clarity, peace and for the joy of it too.

 

Culver is a Saxon word for Dove or Pigeon. I like to think of Culver as a great white dove and as such she draws my thoughts to many images of Sophia – the Goddess of Wisdom – holding her chalice, a white dove descending into it. High places seem to offer us glimpses of that deep soul wisdom, one that comes when we open to the divine source within and without. Sophia’s beautiful white bird of love, spiritual knowing and insight was also the Love Goddess Aphrodite’s bird, reminding us that wisdom can never merely be the product of abstract thought but is also the fruit of our passions and desires; the voice of our bodies and emotions too. Aphrodite was born of the sea’s foam and Culver’s chalk is land risen from the ocean bed. Actually if you stand upon Shanklin Down, looking across towards Culver, she looks like a big white bird, the bays of Sandown and Whitecliff the curve of her outstretched wings.

 

Culver’s shape is distinctive from both sides but it wasn’t until I saw her headland from the sea in a boat that I realised how beautiful she was. This mostly private face can only be seen from the ocean or at very low tide, and only then out on the slippery, rutted Whitcliff ledge. The hairs on my neck rose the first time I ventured onto the seaweed covered ledge, turning to view Culver’s vast whiteness patterned with its dark, diagonal seams of flint. It wasn’t just its beauty that touched me but how secret it had been. The familiar shape of the cliff’s profile from both sides was so familiar to me but this hidden face, now suddenly apparent, was so unexpectedly different from anything I would have imagined. Its profiles are deceptive, leading the viewer to assume that the eastern tip of the Island is a fine point, just like its western point at the Needles. However, Culver’s headland is actually two arched faces, wider and flatter than its profile suggests. The face closest to Whitecliff Bay has the remains of the massive rock slide from 2007, the top of the cliff sharply overhanging the crumbled pile of chalk at its base. The second curved face is Horseshoe Bay and is home to the ‘Anvil’ or ‘White Horse’, a two hundred foot jutting promontory that gives Culver its distinctive western profile. Beyond the Anvil are two caves called the ‘Nostrils’, open to explore at low tide but filling with water when the tide flows.

 

These secret places fascinate me, revealing themselves only at special times, their access limited and often taking some courage to visit; I still haven’t been brave enough to scramble round the base of the Anvil to the Nostrils, wary of the speed of incoming tides, the slippery ledge making the journey slow and arduous. Only last year an experienced ex-coastguard rescuer became stranded on Culver’s base, embarrassed yet grateful to be saved by his old colleagues!

 

There are parts within us – so similar to these semi-secret landscapes – whose access is dependant on the tide of emotion, the courage we might be able to muster to enter such inner sanctums. These places – in and outside of us – demand an honest exchange of our energy for their gifts, be it a sacrifice of our fear or physical effort; we must surrender a little of these to reach such magical places, to access their blessing and wisdom. I think caution is needed too, a sensitivity and respect for the nature of both the outer and inner landscape; within our psyche, within the world around us, there are places that hold special power for each of us but perhaps risk as well. We all have to judge the right balance between caution and bravery in our lives. As the tides at Culver express so well, timing is crucial, the respect and honouring of the true nature of an environment so important – we need to know a little of its rhythms and being.

 

Culver’s faces are many: the gentle enclosure of Whitecliff Bay; the dramatic beauty of Yaverland; the turf spine of Bembridge Down, its many hawthorns bent double by the south-westerlies – sky, sea, land and light.  All these thrill and move me and yet in discovering an aspect of Culver’s beauty more hidden and challenging, the magic of this entire place – the inspiration found in each and every face – has deepened for me. These secret, sacred places can bring us such energy, joy and renewal; they remind us that just when we think we know life, when all feels a little too familiar, tired and jaded, an unknown aspect can turn the world on its head; the dove takes flight.

 

Secret Face of Culver

Secret Face of Culver

 

 

 

 

 

The Nutcracker

A few posts back I wrote about my own particular battle with menstrual problems. At that time, after other unsuccessful treatments, I had decided to try the Mirena Coil. Having had a bad reaction to the Pill many years ago – one that made me feel as if I had permanent and raging PMT – I had grown a little fearful of the power and impact of synthetic hormones. With the Mirena, I had been reassured that very little of its progestogen (this is the synthetic form of progesterone) passes into the blood stream, staying localised in the cervix and therefore drastically reducing any potential negative reactions. I had come to view the decision to have the Mirena fitted as a potential life-saver having felt increasingly worn down by dealing with exhausting symptoms each month.

 

The morning of my Mirena insertion I had a gut feeling all would not be well. To my frustration and annoyance, I am one of those women whose internal anatomy is not compatible – in others words the Mirena wouldn’t fit! I apparently have a rather ‘petite’ cervix, so much so, that at one point the doctor asked if she could show the nurse. As I lay, spread-eagled upon the bed with two people, their heads craned to one side, straining to see into my nether regions, I could suddenly see the funny side. I wondered if anyone in the waiting room might have liked a look at my freakishly tiny cervix too – I wished I could have seen it for myself! On the plus side, apparently I have vaginal and pelvic floor muscles that can crack nuts! Can’t have everything!

 

I came away from the surgery clutching a prescription for the synthetic progestogen pills – Utovlan. These are used for everything from breast cancer to endometriosis. The plan was to take a very low dose a couple of days prior to menstruation and throughout my period to see if that made a difference to my flow and the pain. I did this and was amazed to find that the extreme physical heaviness and tiredness I felt in the days running up to my period were amazingly replaced by an almost manic euphoria (Laurie – after reading the Utovlan leaflet –  later informed me that the euphoria was actually a side-effect!). I felt worryingly well and energetic. As time passed and it became apparent that the pills were delaying my period, I started to feel caught in an odd place of suspension, my body on some level wanting to bleed but unable. Knowing that as soon as I stopped taking the pills I would bleed, I realised that merely delaying my period couldn’t happen indefinitely. I made the decision to stop taking the pills to allow my cycle to continue. From here things started to get pretty awful. Suddenly I felt like I was on the verge of the worst of panic attacks; I couldn’t stop crying, I felt so ill, my only thought that I wanted to be anywhere but in my own body and head. I felt horribly restless and fidgety, I literally didn’t know what to do with myself to feel better. Over hours this eventually eased – thankfully – and I began bleeding almost a week late and with absolutely no change to flow or pain…and so, back to square one.

 

I feel stumped. There are progestogen injections and implants but after my recent experience I feel nervous about trying them. Both are slow release and so once in the body are there for months, making any bad reaction something that must be lived with until the hormone is worked out of one’s system. The frustrating thing is that all of these treatments seem to be such blunt instruments for dealing with menstrual problems. Most of them are forms of contraception that just happen to help some women’s menstrual issues – happy accidents for some but not necessarily appropriate for all. The actual medical reasons why women suffer seem frustratingly missing from the treatment process; it feels horribly hit and miss. One doctor admitted that at present they really don’t know why some women have such difficult symptoms. I wish there was a greater focus on the discovery of the causes, perhaps then more appropriate treatments might be developed for individuals that do not necessarily want to go down the synthetic hormone contraceptive route. Sadly, I can’t see this happening any time soon.

 

I am not sure where to go now and am trying not to feel despondent. Do I continue to risk the experiments with what is left on offer and hope that I don’t end up feeling worse? Or do I embrace my situation, accepting that this is my lot and work with changing my attitude to it? The thing is, I have felt so physically under the weather, increasingly so, as if each period drains a little more of my energy away; like a creeping slick it takes over more and more of my time and life and energy – I don’t want to feel so at odds with my body. I have the feeling there are many other women out there who share my frustration and long for a more positive solution; no more blunt instruments or ‘fingers crossed’ experiments but workable treatments that bring genuine relief and healing.