The Lightning Struck Tower and the Star of Hope

It has been a sad and worrying week. Some of my loved ones are going through a terrible time; it is hard to see those you care about in crisis.  It’s got me thinking about grace under pressure and how we deal with those times when our world crumbles.

Being a tarot nut, I so often turn to its wisdom, in good times and bad. This week has drawn my attention to two Major Arcana cards whose energies feel very present at the moment. The first is the Tower and the second the Star. At first glance, they look the complete antithesis of each other but I always think of them as a pair who work together to bring movement and healing.

The Tower’s imagery is pretty dramatic and alarming. Traditional images often portray a tower struck by lightning, the structure crumbling and its inhabitants falling to the ground. It doesn’t take years of studying tarot to know that this card speaks of those sudden, shocking happenings in our life that rock our foundations and bring us to our knees. When things happen that change everything; when we find ourselves standing amongst the rubble that had once been the dependable structure of our life, we meet the Tower in all it awesome power. It can feel like the most unwelcome visitor.

Despite its troubling reputation, the Tower can also bring liberation. Sometimes its energies are just what we need when some area of our life has become stagnant or when we are ignoring things that desperately need to change. I think quite often the Tower turns up when we have been resisting these much-needed changes; when we repeatedly ignore life’s subtle hints that all is not well, it is as if the pressure builds and something has to give. If we really need to engage with that place of transformation and we don’t go willingly, then often life will take us there regardless. If we look a little deeper and are honest with ourselves, what feels like a nasty surprise or a sudden shock can reveal that a push to transform had actually been simmering away beneath the surface for some time.

The Tower comes to bring life-altering momentum; it comes with powerful revelation; it comes to smash apart our illusions; it gives us the opportunity to dismantle the psychological walls we build around us that are no longer a shelter but a prison. It introduces us to new ways to see and experience the world, ourselves and others. It might feel horrendously tough to be flattened by its unstoppable force but it does present us with the opportunity to make sure our foundations are good and true, that we might rebuild on a stronger footing. Of course, the Tower is not always a full- on wreaking ball; it can come as a sudden revelation that blows you away; major paradigm shifts are Tower moments. Whatever form it takes, you can be sure the old structures will fall away and suddenly you are left looking at a new landscape once obscured.

After the Tower, the Star is a soothing balm. The Star is a card of healing renewal, of hope; it is the calm after the storm. Tower moments can be so painful that our trust in life is shaken; the Star is the return of that trust. The Tower can be utterly disorientating, what we thought we knew about ourselves and life can shatter – all signposts gone, all recognisable landmarks obliterated – but the Star reminds us that we all have an inner compass, a guiding presence that will bring us through the darkest times. There is a beautiful quote from Virginia Woolf’s book Orlando which I have long-loved and which for me speaks so beautifully of the way the Tower and Star interact to bring growth and healing to our lives:

 

Change was incessant, and change perhaps would never cease. High battlements of thought, habits that had seemed as durable as stone, went down like shadows at the touch of another mind and left a naked sky and fresh stars twinkling in it.

If you meet the Tower, hold on to this quote; know that something new is being born; trust the process; nurture yourself as best you can and as the rubble falls about you, keep looking for that naked sky full of stars.

Tarot images from the Druidcraft Tarot by Philip & Stephanie Carr-Gomm – artwork by Will Worthington

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Your Spiritual Team

I love working with different aspects of deity. I am fascinated by how others work with the Divine. I have been a soft polytheist for years now. In my own experience, I have found that there are Gods and Goddesses that seem to be with us for life; I have some that seem to be very long -term, their presence felt in my life even before I became a Pagan, only later realising who there were, once I had a framework to understand them better. Then there are those that come to us at certain points in our life, helping us to explore specific issues we might be facing and then when the work is done, quietly move on. There are also deities that we might choose to work with for a single ritual or when honouring the seasonal changes. Sometimes we might feel a certain energy lurking in our periphery for years and then suddenly, when the time is right, they reveal themselves fully.

We can certainly choose deities to approach but I have come to believe that the ones most important to our development choose us. They can make their presence known through synchronicities, signs and symbols that jump out at us and nip at our heels until we pay attention. The contact will feel alive and vibrant. I have done rituals with a specific deity, choosing them for the purpose of the ritual and quite often when I have done that, the sense of connection to that deity feels intellectual; it can feel like going through the motions but not really feeling it. When we make a true and meaningful connection, there is a strong sense that there is someone on the other end of the line; it has a charge to it.

Because I feel comfortable viewing deity as having many different aspects and expressions, I like to think of the ones that I work with as my spiritual team. They are rooting for me; have my best interests at heart, even if their lessons are challenging. Sometimes, when I feel alone with my troubles, I like to close my eyes and visualise them standing in a circle around me – it is comforting, strengthening and grounding.

In the last few weeks a newish member of my spiritual team has come to light. At various points in the past, I have worked with the Goddess Bast but in a much more intellectual sense of wishing to explore her qualities and express them. Just over a year ago, I began working more in earnest when I began working with the moon cycles again (see Reaching for the Balance) but when that practice drifted, I hadn’t really thought of her for months.  Lately, there has been a sudden shift in gear and without prompting from me, she has stepped into the foreground.

A few weeks ago I came down with a horrible tummy bug; I felt awful and exhausted for days after and not at all right for most of the month. A couple of days in, I had fallen asleep on the sofa in the afternoon and I had a vivid dream, so vivid I actually thought that I had woken up. I dreamed I was on the sofa and my beautiful little  black cat – who died 12 years ago – was curled into my body. It was the most comforting feeling. I suddenly heard a voice say, ‘you haven’t been feeding the cat’ and I felt a sudden panic that I had to go and get food, berating myself that I had forgotten, and wondering why and how I had failed to remember. The urgency woke me and the first thought that came into my head as I came to consciousness was Bast!

From that point I felt the strongest urge to set up an altar for her and spend some time there exploring and meditating on her qualities, opening to her energies, reaching out. It has been an interesting experience that has revealed aspects that I hadn’t necessarily associated with her before, particularly with regard to her more motherly, protective sides. I think she is very much a goddess of joyful, sensual expression, a goddess of music, dance and pleasure (I certain haven’t been ‘feeding’ those in my life nearly enough!) but she was originally depicted with a lion’s head – very much like Sekhmet, and in her role as Eye of Ra, she goes into the darkness of the underworld with her father Ra and fiercely protects him on that dangerous journey. And so for all her ‘lightness’, she sees in the dark and can help us confront our fears too, all those things that can drain our joy if we don’t bring them to light and deal with them.

My partner Steve found the most beautiful statue of Bast for me. He actually found me two, one the classic cat shape which now sits on my hearth and home shrine (Bast is a protectress of the home after all!) and one which is a copy of a Bast head housed in the British Museum. It’s such a gorgeous face – I love it! But moreover, on her ears and forehead is carved a vulture, its wings spread, it claws holding two symbols that look like rings. I knew that the vulture headdress was worn by Goddesses such as Isis and Mut but had never associated it with Bast. In Ancient Egypt, the Vulture Goddess was Nekhbet. Vultures were believed to be all female and self-generating; they were also seen to be devoted and protective mothers to their young. And so, Nekhbet birthed herself and all life and took these back inside her (vultures are brilliant at devouring carrion!), linking her to the birth/death / rebirth energies of nature – she was called the ‘mother of mothers’. In time her qualities were syncretised with Mut and Isis and other goddesses and to find her connected to Bast deepens my understanding of Bast’s nature; she may well rule pleasure but she is not just a fluffy sex kitten; she has depth and complexity as all aspects of deity do.

Hearth and Hone Altar with Bast and wall hanging by Wendy Andrew

I discovered that the vulture’s claws are gripping the Shen symbol, a ring that represents encircling divine protection. This combination of fierce, motherly protectress, joy bringer, fertile creator and healer, has been so what I have needed. Her call for me to ‘feed’ her is also a call to feed myself; to give myself the love, joy and healthy boundaries that I need to heal from the challenges that have faced me these last few years. Whether she will stay with me forever, or slip away when her work is done, doesn’t really matter; I am grateful for her presence.

Incidentally, I have now taken the plunge on Instagram, so if you feel you would like to, you can find me there @luckyloom369. xxx

Do take a look at Wendy Andrew’s beautiful wall hangings here.

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.

 

Rekindling the Fire

Imbolc Shrine

Imbolc Shrine

It’s been a while since I have seriously and consistently celebrated the festivals of the Wheel of the Year. For almost twenty years, these seasonal festivals have been the foundation of my spiritual practice but this recent period, with all its attending difficulties, has found me only sporadically writing and performing rituals for them.

After so many years of orientating myself through the honouring of these seasonal changes, it has been strange to let them go for a while. In the past, the qualities and themes of each season played an enormous part in my well-being. Through joyful times, they enriched my life and when life presented its inevitable struggles, I found the wisdom of the Wheel a huge help in getting through.

As the grief took hold of me, I stopped hearing and seeing the wisdom. The sense of spiritual connection that I had once felt crumbled in the face of the overwhelming loss that I was experiencing; the spiritual meaning that had once felt so deep and nourishing now appeared shallow and brittle.

persephone 2

When our spiritual survival kit stops working and there is nothing to replace it, we can suddenly feel ourselves resident in a psychological wasteland. The wasteland is an interesting place; it is a bleak and shadowed landscape, lifeless and featureless. It exists in parallel to normal life and those caught behind its veil can continue to witness life going on around them and yet cannot see its colours, or fully feel its sensations. It is as if we gaze at life through darkened glass. We can feel that we are in life but not of it. It’s a painful place to be.

It takes courage to function without any spiritual scaffolding but I have come to believe that this process is actually a very important part of all of our spiritual journeys. There are many stories and myths that tell of a descent to the Underworld. I have written here before about my love of the goddess Persephone. Her tale articulates so well the experience of being catapulted into the wasteland by painful change in our lives. Persephone’s abduction to the Underworld by the God of Death is an archetypal experience. We will all find ourselves in such a position at some point in our life when we lose something precious to us – a loved one; our health or any other loss that shakes us to our core.  When faced with such devastating change, we are compelled to take that journey to the land of the shades, and whilst there, we will encounter our hopelessness, cynicism and nihilism. It can feel like crying out into a void, hoping to hear an answer to our prayers but receiving only silence or echo.

We might fear that we are trapped in this grey place forever but gradually, and with faltering, meandering steps, we find our way back to the light. The darkness will always remain a part of us but somehow we will now understand its inherent wisdom. It changes us but it doesn’t have to destroy us.

I have just celebrated Imbolc. I wrote a ritual for it – my first in months. I threw myself in to decorating my shrine in honour of the season, making it pretty and decorating it with things that spoke of the first stirrings of spring.

Bride by Jane Brideson

Bride by Jane Brideson

Imbolc is strongly associated with the Celtic Goddess Brighid. She is a goddess of fire. At this time of the year she is the light that warms the soil and brings it to life; she is also the purifying and transformative flame that burns away all that no longer serves us and keeps us chained to the past. She is a matron of midwifery and as such is connected not only with physical birth but with helping us to birth new ways to be. When we are stuck and stagnant, her fiery energy brings movement – she is the rekindling; that glorious moment when we feel the life and hope within us returning.

Brighid has long been one of my special deities. I honoured and worked with her for many years but in these recent times of upheaval, she has felt very distant. Brighid was a core deity for me, so it was a surprise to sense my relationship with her slip away. I had started to feel that Brighid and I had lost touch for good but this last week, particularly since my Imbolc ritual, I have felt her presence growing.

This reconnection has undoubtedly been triggered by the realisation that I need to let go of some things I have been holding on to. When we are in the wasteland, the past calls to us; all that we have lost resides in our memories. Reaching out to the past is a natural response to grief; all that is lost to us returns in those moments of remembering. It is a way of coping with loss and honouring what we grieve but we cannot stay in this place for ever – we must come to the place of letting go. This process takes a long time – months, years even – there is no timetable that we can follow; these things unfold at their own pace, but we must all return to the surface – Persephone can’t stay in the Underworld forever or spring will never return.

This last month I have been able to take a step back and see just how much I have been clinging to the past, so much so that the current blessings of my life are being missed. Key to reclaiming the present is acceptance – beneath the heavy weight of anger and impotence that loss brings, awaits our acceptance. Acceptance is compassionate and patient and will wait for as long as we need to discover it within us.  It is an extraordinary moment when we begin to feel its effect upon us, as I have this past week.

For my Imbolc ritual I felt the strong urge to offer up my recent past to Brighid’s healing fire, handing it over to her with trust and faith that nothing is truly lost but merely transformed into something new. I made a commitment to myself to embrace the tender stirrings of healing and renewal happening within me and in doing so, I have felt Brighid’s protective, joyful and empowering presence growing inside me.

Snowdrop by Amy Weiss

Snowdrop by Amy Weiss

A month ago I could never have envisaged this shift happening but the gift of acceptance has laid down its thread of light to guide me back from the wasteland. The wasteland is not the enemy, or a punishment –it is, in fact, a place of healing although it can feel the opposite when we wrestle with our pain. The wasteland is the dark, cold, wet soil of winter waiting patiently for the warming light to stir it. The rekindling has come; the frozen earth cracked open by a tender snowdrop.

 

 

 

 

A Call to the Goddess and God of Imbolc

Brighid Light - Wendy Andrews

 

At Imbolc time we call upon the Goddess of the Sacred Flame, Maiden of the Snowdrops and the first stirrings of spring. Her seemingly fragile blossoming is filled with the strength of the inner fire of life, surviving the harshest frosts, snows and storms, just as the light of our spirit survives the darkness and cold, her love protecting it like hands cupped round a flame. She is that moment of magic as the first glow of light emerges from the dark horizon, signalling the coming of dawn.

She comes with her warmth and energy and quickens the seeds of our new life; she comes with the life-giving heat of her fire to thaw all that is frozen and trapped within us; she comes with the melting release of her healing waters, cleansing away the staleness of our spirits, the winter debris of our hearts. She is the liberation of the land from winter’s grip; freeing us from our own stagnation. She is the bright spark of life and inspiration that burns in us all; the hearth fire at the centre of our homes and hearts, sustaining and warming; a place to gather and draw inspiration, nourishment and comfort. She is the fire of passion that animates our creativity that we may create our world anew, that we too may become the spring. Goddess of the Sacred Flame and the Healing Waters, we open to you now,

We call upon the God of this time of quickening, he who has been held in the still darkness awaiting the warming and life-giving touch of the Goddess’s heat. Her fiery kiss melts the stillness and the first flow, barely perceptible, begins; the movement of new life ever building and strengthening.

As the God of renewing life, at the edge of our senses, we begin to feel his energy increasing, visible in the growing light and the first greening shoots of Imbolc. Like seeds that feel the stirrings of growth in the dark soil, we feel the first call of his desire, a sense that we must soon stretch, moving up from the warmth and safety of the dark to the ever quickening call of the light.  God of youth, beauty and love, we open to you.

Lighting the Inner Fire Meditation: 

It is a cold, crisp night in the hours just before dawn. The starry sky arches it vast, twinkling darkness above you. You are sat upon the earth; the soil is hard and frozen; the grass glistening with frost. The land is silent and asleep. Your body and being are motionless, chilled and inert like the winter earth but you sense inside yourself the stirrings of change and you know that you must prepare for its coming.

Draw your attention inward to the very centre of yourself; this place is the centre of the sacred circle of your being, and it is here that you will light the sacred fire; it is the spark of life; it is the fuelling heat at the centre of the planet; it is the burning sun at the heart of our galaxy; it is the fire of the smith that will magically melt and transform you; it is a candle flame of hope in the darkness.

Standing at the centre of you inner sacred circle, you see the tinder and dry wood of your life, ready to be lit, and in their lighting you know that the heat of this fire will bring a change in the land, will bring the first tender signs of new life and renewal, of growing strength.

Become aware of your solar plexus. There is a flame that always burns here. Take some of this perpetual flame upon your finger and now light the wood at the centre of your inner circle from it. At first it glows only beneath the dark wood. Blow upon it the breath of your ideas and inspiration. As you do this, the flames begin to grow until the fire lights up the darkness.

You find yourself back beneath the vast starry sky, upon the frosty, frozen earth, but now you are aware that there is a glow at the centre of your being. Feel its warmth and light spread out through your chest, down your pelvis, into your legs and feet; feel it moving up through your shoulders, down your arms and into your hands and fingers, up through your neck and into your head, until your whole body is filled with its golden heat and light. You are radiant in the darkness. Stay here in this moment for a while –take note of the feelings and images that rise…

Your attention moves from the inner glow to the land around where you sit. You gaze down at the once frozen soil beneath. The frost has melted into life giving moisture, droplets hanging from the blades of green, and through the earth a carpet of snowdrops rises, drinking in the life giving melt, strengthening themselves in the warmth of your glow. As if by magic you watch their brave green shoots pierce through, their delicate, white blossoms unfurl and hang in gentle bells of white. You have lit the fires of passion within and the land responds with the first tender signs of a new beginning. Pause for a moment; take note of all you feel and see…You gaze at the horizon; along the line of the land, a slim strip of the sky begins to lighten…the dawn will soon be here…

Beauty is Boundless

Driving along the top road out of Ventnor today, Laurie and I were treated to the most stunning display of sunrays breaking through the clouds in a perfectly symmetrical fan, each beam a spotlight brightening the ocean’s surface. Such unexpected beauty fills me with both joy and yearning; joy because the world is such an amazing place; yearning because I am acutely aware that these moments are transient. And yet, nature is so incredibly generous. I have lost count in my life of the times I have stood, breath held and heart pumping; those skin shivering times that – although brief in span – have something of the eternal about them. Such abundance leaves me grateful and humble. I have been feeling so physically low and exhausted, horribly cut off from my spiritual centre of late; those beams of light piercing cloud are thankfully never far away. When I am truly open enough to see, I am always a little taken back at how full each moment is. Boredom and emptiness are really illusions; they come when we veil our sight, when we stop touching or being touched by the world and others. I awoke in the middle of the night with a sensation of heat in the centre of my chest; a calming warmth that lasted for about five minutes. The sun’s light on the ocean today made me remember it; fire and water – love is both. 

There is a beautiful wooden carving in the Botanic Gardens at Ventnor. It is a Green Man and he is rising up and reaching towards the sun. The style is reminiscent of one of William Blake’s figures. Carved around it are the words From light and water all life flows.

Green Man, Ventnor Botanic Gardens, Isle of Wight

Lightning Strikes and Thunderclaps

I I awoke in the middle of the night to the sounds of a violent gale and torrential rain. I was drawn out of sleep just at the moment when the strength of the wind and the heaviness of the rain intensified alarmingly. The house rattled and as the noise built I realised that I was holding my breath, waiting for the gust to peak and die back. It didn’t, it just kept on building in strength and ferocity. For one moment, in that disorientating suspension between sleep and wakefulness – the darkness and the cacophony the only reality I was fully aware of – I felt afraid.  

As Pagans, we honour nature in all its forms; the beauty and the terror all have their place and deeper meaning and function, some of which might be at odds with our own sense of safety and happiness or comfort. There is nothing quite like an encounter with nature at it most powerfully raw to connect us to our vulnerability and frailness as humans. It can be an uncomfortable feeling because we might want to embrace the Divine as a loving and benevolent force and such violent upheaval might contradict our notions of such. For me, it all depends on your definition of love and benevolence. I always feel quite comforted that what might appear to human beings as destruction, earth quakes for instance, on a wider scale can be seen as merely the earth stretching and moving like me on my yoga mat, trying to keep the whole flowing and functioning in the most balanced way possible! Sometimes it can bring us up short to realise we are not at the centre of things.

The most intimate and scariest moment that I have experienced with wild weather was a close encounter with lightning in Cornwall. I have always loved thunder storms. A favourite thing as a child was to be wrapped up cosy and safe in bed while the sky roared and brightened. I was actually born during a thunder storm (which might explain a lot!), coming in with a flash and a bang (hope to go out that way too!). I have many great thunder and lightning memories but none as dramatic as my Cornwall happening.

Laurie and I were visiting Duloe which is home to the smallest stone circle in Cornwall. The sky was already starting to look angry and there were rumbles of thunder coming from over Bodmin Moor. The cloud formations were incredibly striking; strata of varying shades of grey, from pale to dark, the patterning giving the sky a hyper-real edge. The air felt ominously still.

Laurie very sensibly decided to return to the car, leaving me alone in the stones. I was very happy, singing to the stones and some rather puzzled looking sheep – there is something quite moving about singing in stone circles! As I sang I became aware that the storm was moving in across the village. The rain had started to gently fall and I became mesmerised by lightning coming to ground, moving across the fields towards me. At that moment, it was possible to perceive the storm as a living presence. As the rain got heavier, I said my farewell to the stones and the sheep and made my way back across the field to the little tree-lined track that would take me to the road. By the time I reached there, the rain was very heavy and so I stood beneath a maple by the field gate. It leaves became burdened by the weight of the rain and it began to drip over me. I moved a few feet down beneath a hawthorn whose smaller leaves seem to create a better shelter from the wet. I didn’t even think for one moment that traditionally the hawthorn is meant to protect against lightning strike!

The rain was by now monsoon-like and I could smell a strange and powerful odour. I had no idea that this was ozone, that the earth was sending up a path for the lightning to travel down to her – a sort of love call; a call to union from the earth mother to the sky father – and I was stood right next to the intended contact point!

The lightning strike and the thunder clap happened at exactly the same time. I have never heard such deafeningly loud thunder – before or since – it was right above me, all around me, felt in every fibre of my body. The lightning hit what I thought to be the maple I had just been standing beneath (but was in fact, on later inspection, the telegraph pole next to it), no more than ten feet away from me. It hit with an equally deafening snapping, cracking sound. My body took over and I ran. It has to be said I am a crap runner but that day I was positively gazelle-like! Running felt like no effort whatsoever. My senses were sharp, acutely aware of the flood of water rushing down the road, the beat of my own heart and the alarms in the church hall, triggered into action by the enormous clap of thunder. My adrenalin was up for hours – poor Laurie had to put up with me rambling incoherently all the way to Falmouth!

It was an awe-inspiring experience, frightening yet incredible. It had a profound effect upon me to have been so intimate with such a vast elemental power of nature, and me, so small and vulnerable in its presence. I clearly felt the thunder and lightning as a vast being that day, an irrepressible energy that I was extremely privileged to have witnessed at close hand without harm to myself; a strange but wonderful gift.

Two gods of thunder whom I feel affection for are the Celtic Taranis and the Norse Thor, both being linked to the fertility of the earth and abundance. It feels very magical to me that lightning actually fertilising the ground that it touches, clearing and freshening the air. Despite the danger inherent in the power of the thunder deities, when we open to their spiritual potential, we can find that their thunder resounds in our hearts as strength; their lightning illuminates our minds with inspiration and their fruitful rain brings spiritual growth and a rich and abundant life – all worth the bit of knee trembling and heart racing that their presence might stir in us.

There is a wonderful poem by Wilfred Owen called ‘Storm’. It is actually about the taboo of a man’s love for another man but I have often thought that it reminds me of my own love of deity and the facing of my own fears with regard to that relationship. The thunder gods can change us in quite sudden and violent ways; they can fry our circuits but they can enrich us, illumine us, fertilise our spirits if we respect their awesome energy and face our fears honestly. If we can be a little like the earth and send up a path for the thunder god’s inspiration to travel down, the land of our being will find itself richer for the blessing..

Storm 

His face was charged with beauty as a cloud

With glimmering lightning. When it shadowed me

I shook, and was uneasy as a tree

That draws the brilliant danger, tremulous, bowed.

 

So must I tempt that face to loose it lightning.

Great gods, whose beauty is death, will laugh above,

Who made his beauty lovelier than love.

I shall be bright with their unearthly brightening.

 

And happier were it if my sap consume;

Glorious will shine the opening of my heart;

The land shall freshen that was under gloom;

What matter if all men cry aloud and start,

And women hide bleak faces in their shawl,

At those hilarious thunders of my fall?

                                     Wilfred Owen.

The Ancient Bone Mother and the Hunter of Souls

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It is the time of Samhain: summer’s end. Here in the Northern hemisphere the mellow light of late autumn is sharpened by a growing chill. As the darkness grows, through the increasingly bare branches we catch glimpses of breath-taking stars; Orion the Hunter heralds the changing season. We let go of warmth like trees shedding leaves. We watch the radiant reds and oranges turn brown. Drying leaves are nature’s parchment; the year has written its story upon them and now it lets them fall; their wisdom is layered into the mulch that will fuel countless cycles of life, death and rebirth. Toadstools feed on the damp forest floors; life grown out of decay. The frosts wither and Grandmother Winter breathes upon us her mist and fog. Her wildness lashes us in strong winds and stinging rain, and in floods her cold fingers find their way into our lives to remind us of her power to shake us down to our core. And yet her light is the gold of the low set sun and her clarity as vast as the blue skies of autumn. As life withdraws, we too draw inward to sit at winter’s hearth and watch the future played out in flame and silent thought.

As Pagans, this festival sees many of us honouring the Goddess as Ancient Crone of the Earth’s Release. As Mother of Shadows, her wisdom is deep as the black of a raven’s wing; as sharp as the crow’s call; as mysterious as the veil of mist that shimmers between this and the otherworld. She is the timeless serpent who sloughs to bring healing. We call to her as infinitely wise Grandmother, she who knows us better than we know ourselves. By her we are swallowed, down into the still darkness of winter, down into her Sacred Cauldron of Rebirth, where peaceful release, transformation and renewal await us. She is the Ancient Bone Mother. When life’s harsh lessons weather our spirits, her strength and endurance fill us. Rugged and timeless, her wildness inspire journeys into the remote and lonely places of our souls, for it is here that we find her, her face bright in the darkness –  a torch through the moonless night; her knowing humour our sacred song of dark wisdom and mother wit.

Many also honour the God as Shadowed Lord of the Dead and Hunter of Souls. As all nature surrenders to the tides of release and the dying light, we recognise that he guides us to that dark place in the forest, that place where we let go of all we are; where the Earth Mother’s body opens to enfold us. We become yet another layer beneath the many layers, feeding the saplings that will grow upon the graves of leaf-fallen lives. Those who do not know him well can fear his shadowed face but there is deep compassion and tenderness beneath the seeming harshness. With him and through him we journey the cycle of the seasons – at Samhain he teaches us to trust in his season of release. As Lord of Death he serves the Goddess and all life in bringing us the perfect peace of surrender that leads to the ultimate renewal of life.

Samhain is the festival when we honour the Crone’s dark cloak of death. It is the time when its impenetrable blackness seems only a translucent veil; when the boundary between this world and the next is slight. We honour those who have passed over: those whom we have known and loved in this life but also those spirits, guides and ancestors who watch over us and bless our lives. We offer our hand to these loving ones that they might join us in our celebrations if they so wish. We feel ourselves most strongly a part of the greater mystery of life at this time.

There is a lovely prayer – written by Judith Anderson- that we use during our own Samhain ritual. We light an ancestor candle whilst someone speaks it. I really love it because it is written in the voice of the ancestors:

Re-member us, you who are living

Restore us, renew us

Speak for our silence

Continue our work

Bless the breath of life

Sing of the hidden patterns

Weave the web of peace.

Another image of the Goddess as Crone that, for me, strongly resonates with this time of year is the Sheela na Gig. Whatever her original meaning, for me she has become the Lady of the Sacred Gateway: Holy Womb and Tomb. She is the Ancient Ancestress who tirelessly births us all and takes us back into her Cauldron Belly. She dwells in all the liminal places and times: dawn and dusk; the edge of ocean and shore; the point between wakefulness and sleep; conscious and subconscious; between life and death; between this and the otherworld. At this time when the veil between the living and dead is so thin, she help us to stand in this in-between place; to learn something of her awesome mysteries; to feel the presence of those we love and know that they still dwell just beyond our senses. With her legs spread in humour and defiance, with her mischievous grin, she shows us the joy of paradox. She has one foot in this world and one foot in the mysterious other, teaching us that when we hold death and life within us, no longer seeing them as opposites, something in us cracks open, the waters break and flow and a new way of being and seeing can be born. She reminds me most powerfully that the Crone is the midwife of souls.

Samhain is a truly magical time. May this season of release tenderly transform each of us, preparing us for our coming renewal; tending us in our grieving and healing. May its lessons of surrender bring rest, peace and wisdom, a renewed strength and joy.

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.

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