Gelli Fach

Gelli Fach

I'm a cell, I'm fragmented, I change my form;
I'm a repository of song, I'm a dynamic state.
I love a wooded slope and a snug shelter,
and a creative poet who doesn't buy his advancement.

Wyf kell, wyf dellt, wyf datweirllet;
wyf llogell kerd, wyf lle ynnyet.
Karaf-y gorwyd a goreil clyt,
a bard a bryt ny pryn y ret.

From: Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, edited and translated by Marged Haycock

Friday, 28 November 2014

Robert Graves and William Ewart Gladstone’s Grandson, William G. C. Gladstone


William Glynne Charles Gladstone (Will) 1885-1915, the son of William Henry Gladstone, eldest son of Willam Ewart Gladstone the eminent Victorian statesman.

As mentioned below, during a recent stay at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, Flintshire, I went to view a WW1 exhibition in St Deiniol’s church which is next to the Library. I was interested to see that there was a board on the Royal Welch Fusiliers. As well as learning more about Robert Graves’s regiment, which recruited primarily from North Wales, I was delighted to find that R G had known Gladstone’s grandson, also a Royal Welch Fusilier, and had attended his funeral in Hawarden in 1915. After looking round the exhibition, I went back to the Library to find a copy of Goodbye to All That and locate the passage where he is mentioned: 

From Goodbye to All That:

“Of the officers sent out before me, several had already been killed or wounded. The killed included a Liberal M.P., Second-Lieutenant W. G. Gladstone, whom we called ‘Glad Eyes’. He was in his early thirties, a grandson of old Gladstone, whom he resembled in feature, and Lord-Lieutenant of his county. While war hung in the balance he declared himself against it, whereupon his Hawarden tenantry, much ashamed, threatened to duck him in the pond. Realising that, once war was declared, further protest would be useless, he joined the regiment as a second-lieutenant. His political convictions remained unaltered, but, being a man of great integrity, he refused to take the non-combative employment as a staff-colonel offered him in the War Office. Soon after joining the First Battalion in France he was killed by a sniper while unnecessarily exposing himself. General French sent his body home for a military funeral at Hawarden; I attended it.”   (GTAT, Penguin Books, 1985, p 66)

I was told by the head of the Tourism Committee of St Deiniol’s Church, who had organised the exhibition, that William Glynne Gladstone was particularly tall so that when he was standing in the trench his head was above the parapet. The sergeant told him to duck down but he said “I can’t do that. The men will think I’m in a funk”. Consequently he was shot. She also told me that, although it was usual for officers to be buried with their men, a special dispensation from the king allowed him to be brought home to be buried in the churchyard at Hawarden. Here are some photos from the exhibition:

The body of W. G. C. Gladstone in the Temple of Peace, Hawarden Castle

Lieutenant Gladstone’s body, drawn by estate people, leaving Hawarden Castle through the park his grandfather loved so well

The funeral procession through Hawarden village

Brothers-in-Arms pay their Tribute in the churchyard.

The last scene in the peaceful old churchyard. All the villagers were there to mourn the young soldier squire.

I had hoped to be able to identify Robert in the photos but they aren’t detailed enough. Still, it was good to think that he is there in them somewhere.

Unfortunately the name of the member of the Tourism Committee of the church who provided these photographs and the information is obscured by poppies in the photograph I took of the complete board, but I am grateful to him or her for their research.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Gladstone's Library - Day 7 (belatedly)

My last morning at the Library was a beautiful one and the jay appeared again as though marking the beginning and end of my stay. Although jays are not uncommon birds, it's only the second I've ever (knowingly) seen.

After breakfast I went to the church, St Deiniol's, which is next door to the Library to look at the WW1 exhibition. I wasn't sure what to expect but found it fascinating with boards on the subject of such things as Women's Work and Women's Poetry, Venereal Disease and Brothels, Wounds, Posters. The exhibition had been put on by the Tourism Committee of the church and the call had been put out to the local community to submit any relevant information and photos they had. I was particularly interested to read about the Royal Welch Fusiliers, the local regiment to which Robert Graves had belonged, and the 'young earl', Gladstone's grandson who had served in the regiment and been killed; Graves had attended the funeral and mentions it in Goodbye To All That.

After viewing the exhibition and taking photos of it (I'll post some interesting snippets another time), I went back to the Library for lunch. I was thinking that I must get a copy of GTAT, my own having vanished somewhere long ago, so that I could copy out the reference to William Glynne Charles Gladstone. Then I suddenly realised that I was in a library which would surely have a copy so I went along there, the librarian found it for me, brought it to my desk and after some searching I found the relevant passage. Job done!

The journey back to Aberystwyth is always lovely, bordered by trees, hills and mountains. That day the sun was colluding with the trees in making it a golden one and I enjoyed driving along with Van Morrison singing ('on the road with my soul'). I stopped briefly at Bala Lake, aka Llyn Tegid, where Ceridwen of the cauldron was said to live. The sun shone brightly on the water.

This reminded me of the glass sculpture in the chapel at the Library. I'd asked who had made it and heard that it was by a Liverpool artist called Linda Crabbe. She had been told that Gladstone had originally called the Library 'Monad', meaning Oneness, One, the original number. It reflected his belief that, as long as people studied solidly and seriously, the truth would be served and the sculpture she made is her interpretation of this Oneness, of the coming together of shards. This is very different from the way the piece had spoken to me and I reflected yet again that sculpture, primarily non-representational sculpture, is rather similar to poetry in its suggestibility and openness to various interpretations. The truth - the coming together of many disparate fragments. (And yes, the arms of the cross are copper.)

Leaving Bala, the sun was bright and low in the sky making the journey both difficult and uplifting as I headed back towards Aberystwyth and the setting sun.

 Autumn afternoon
travelling West
the sun in my eyes

Friday, 14 November 2014

Insight in the Library - Gladstone's Day 6

Yesterday I set aside the morning to work out how to resize my video so that it would fit onto the page properly. I could see where I had to change the dimensions in the HTML but did't know how I would keep the correct ratio - being rubbish at maths. However, having googled and discovered that I would get the right height by multiplying the width by 0.8235 (who knew!) I had the bright idea of looking at YouTube dimensions for videos then took a calculated guess and hey presto! it worked first time. I felt inordinately pleased by this and quite energised. Having the morning free I set off for the Library with no goal in mind, knowing that something would catch my attention.

That something was a journal called Interreligious Insight, (volume 12, No 1, June 2014). There were several interesting articles in it and some things that I noted down to muse upon. One article mentions Karen Armstrong's use of myth and logos as useful vocabulary for talking about different approaches to our understanding of life and the world we find ourselves in: 

Myths, Armstrong says, are not concerned with practical matters but with meaning; the need to find significance in our lives else we despair. Myth is rooted in the unconscious mind; myths are ancient forms of psychology. Logos is the rational, pragmatic and scientific thought that enables people to function well in the world... Logos must relate exactly to facts and correspond to external realities. (Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God, 2000) 

I find these useful designations for the dual tools that are necessary for us to function effectively in the world as well as engage with meaning and significance, each mode of being or of thought complementing the other rather than being mutually exclusive as some would have it. In fact I believe that both are vital and need to interact and cross-fertilise each other in order to maintain psychic health for the group as well as the individual.

I was also interested in a mention of a book I hadn't come across before, The Mystery of Being by Gabriel Marcel. In it he says that mysteries such as the existence of God or of life and death are not problems to be solved because we cannot objectify them, we cannot isolate them from ourselves. They are inseparable from us and "encroach on our own data". How then do we approach mysteries? By participation! We participate in mysteries.

It seems to me that there is resonance between problem-solving and Logos and the participation in mysteries and Mythos. My need to fit my video into the required space was something outside me, a problem to be solved. The mystery of the elements as symbolic of my personal make- up and functioning, which I was contemplating earlier, is something to experience and participate in, by following intuition and imagination and promptings from the unconscious mind. Both are, for me, a necessary part of living and being effective in the world.

Today, after another session reading the Times Literary Supplement in a comfortable armchair in the library by the window, I bought a sandwich and then went to sit on the steps going down to a wooded and tangled area of the grounds. Sitting there, the sun warm on my back, the gentle movements of leaves in the breeze and the half-seen presence of various birds and insects in the wood, I am aware that I am totally happy.

Later it's time for tea. Gladstone extolled the virtues of tea, saying: "If you are cold, tea will warm you, if you are too heated it will cool you; if you are depressed it will cheer you, if you are excited it will calm you." I concur :-)

Here's a picture of him in the hall, taking tea with (one presumes) his lady wife.


Thursday, 13 November 2014

Contemplating Fire and Water in the Chapel - Gladstone's Day 5

This is the chapel in Gladstone's Library. It's a very pleasing space which has a nurturing feel. Although it hasn't come out in this photo, the lights cast a golden glow. On a previous visit which coincided with it being the time of my flame-keeping vigil for Brigit, I checked with the chaplain that it was permitted to use the space and light candles in spite of not being a Christian and was told that it was. Although the Library has a strong Christian past and still has a Christian focus, it is an open-minded Christianity which is interested in interfaith dialogue. The Library holds to liberal values which it defines as: "a commitment to freedom and social justice, tolerance and respect of difference, open-mindedness coupled with intellectual curiosity, generosity of spirit and a willingness to learn from others". 

The art work you can see here has always reminded me of a sun wheel and I went to look at it in greater detail.

It is made of glass, the cross appearing to be of metal, possibly copper. With the light sparkling off it, it reminded me of the light on water, an essential symbol of my work with and understanding of Brigit - "the waters of the sun" as I refer to it in my poem to her. Added to this, the arms of the cross seemed to me, as I sat and contemplated it, to be reminiscent of fire. Water and Fire - the two elements that are usually associated with Brigit. And the metal or metal-like nature of the arms also set off associations with her as goddess of smithcraft which in my life refers to the skill of bringing creativity into physical manifestation.

Seeing these elements before me in such a potent context I began to muse on the nature and interactions of water and fire. How both, like all the elements, like most things, have both a benign and a malign nature for us as humans. Water is life-giving, cleansing, beautiful, it flows, it changes shape inspiring ideas of motion, of change, of creativity. But it may also overwhelm land and resources and take away life, cutting us off from the element air we also need to survive. 

Fire too gives us the blessing of warmth, a companion, a nurturer, representing vitality, the spark of life, of creativity. But it is also a devastating destroyer and may kill and maim. 

Each may also banish the other: fire can turn water to steam, can disperse it, leading to dryness, to aridity. Water can quench fire leaving nothing but darkness and debris. Some of the focus this brings to me involves recognising how to keep these elements in balance so that their destructive aspects only come into play when beneficial (as destruction sometimes is), while for most of the time they enhance each other as sunlight on water, symbolising inspiration in Irish tradition, or as fire under water for cooking or to make drinks (especially, in my case, tea!) symbolising the nourishment vital to life and strength.

Thinking of my own expression of these elements I realise again that I lack fire; I suffer from cold intolerance and a debilitating lack of vitality. Water is my element - I love to be in it. In water I can move easily, with no fear of falling; I adapt, I lack boundaries, I flow. My astrological element is Aquarius with Pisces rising, an air sign and a water sign: the polar opposite of Aquarius is Leo, a fire sign; I think of it as the side of me that is in shadow. Perhaps I need to use my airiness to feed the fire and the smith in me, representing strength and manifestation. 

How? It involves going deeper into the mystery! 

The Library’s Warden, Peter Francis, states, "we are committed to maintaining Gladstone’s legacy of engagement with social, moral, and spiritual questions, by helping people reflect more deeply on the questions that concern them..." This is one of the values and delights for me of being here in Gladstone's Library.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Gladstone's Day 4

The iPad failed to connect to the Internet this afternoon - which I took to be a sign that I should go and do something else. It's back now but it will soon be time for supper so I'll keep it brief.

Above is a picture of the small crooked branches of the walnut tree. I was taken with the contrast in both the patterns and the shades of green between it and the conifers that form a hedge between this (almost) hidden garden and the cemetery of St Deiniol's church. And here's the bark:

I've had a quiet day today working on a slideshow for my poem Take The Sea Road, going to The Fox and Grapes in the village for lunch - Cajun wedges with salsa and sour cream and half a pint of Doom Bar ale. It's a lovely old-fashioned pub with wooden beams.

I had a rather unexpected conversation at breakfast with the resident chaplain (who is on sabbatical from his parish in Indiana) about Robert Graves and War among other things. He introduced me to a quote from the American writer William Faulkner: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." 
Also the concept of 'moral injury' and a First World War poet I hadn't come across before, Geoffrey Studdart Kennedy. He was a chaplain and while his poems don't perhaps have the literary merit of some of the more famous first WW1 poets, they have an interesting perspective. 

That's all for now!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

By the Pool at Gelli Fach - a video poem Gladstone's Day 3

Here is the video as promised.

 I slept well for the first time here last night and perversely have felt tired and droopy all day. Spent all morning sitting on my bed working on the video, trying to get it to upload and finding out why it wouldn't... Also solved some other problems I was having so I'm hoping it will embed here now. Fingers crossed!

It has rained most of the day and few of the visitors to the garden have been in evidence except for four blackbirds who flitted back and forth among the trees as if they were playing tag or weaving invisible threads from branch to branch.

I spent some time meditating this afternoon... More about that tomorrow.

Until then!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Gladstone's Library - Day 2

My room looks onto a small hidden garden. Most notable are the trees, especially the walnut. There are many visitors to the garden, some of whom I've come to recognise from previous visits: three pigeons who forage together like a family, a squirrel and a blackbird. But today a new visitor alighted on a branch of the walnut tree - a jay! He foraged under the tree until the squirrel appeared, then he flew up into its branches and watched while the squirrel took his place, scouring the ground.

The walnut tree is very distinctive with its patterned, grooved bark and the ends of its branches like many crooked hands. I'll post some more photos of it another day since I seem to be restricted to about 3 per post.

I spent some time working on a slideshow to accompany my reading one of my poems. I'll post that tomorrow when it's finished. Until then!


Sunday, 9 November 2014

Gladstone Diary - a week at Gladstone's Library


I'm staying at Gladstone's Library for a week on a personal retreat for the 3 'R's - Reading, Writing and Resting, plus some Contemplation, Conversation and a little gentle Exercise. It's the first time for about 15 years that I've been away for so long and it feels luxurious and exciting. I thought I'd try to write a post a day...

After breakfast, it being such a beautiful morning in spite of the forecast, I decided to go for a jaunt. I noticed a crowd standing around the gate at the front lawn and going to investigate found out it was an outdoor service for Remembrance Sunday, around the War Memorial.

(This needs editing but I don't have the software yet. I'm not even sure if it will play properly - blogging on the iPad seems a bit limited.)

I can't stand for very long so after a while I turned back and sat underneath Gladstone's statue. It was a poignant moment listening to the Last Post unfolding mournfully across the clear November sky, Gladstone surveying the proceedings with his usual hawkish stare.

Later I went to the Park to sit awhile among the autumn trees.

I think the sheep must have been rubbing themselves against the bench because white tufts of their wool lay on the grass like foam. I gathered some and found it unusually fine and soft. I'll use it to line Brigit's Bed on the eve of her day, 31st January.

After all that I settled in for a quiet afternoon reading and listening to the serialisation on Radio 4 of T. H. White's Once and Future King. I fell asleep half way through...

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Lúnasa - small fruits celebration and recipes.


Summer fruits have been plentiful this year. True, the strawberries were much sparser than last year, partly because cranesbill and primroses had crowded out the strawberry patch, partly because some of the plants are rather old and partly because I wasn't up to watering them in the early part of the summer... but still there were enough to have with yogurt every day for a couple of weeks and when they had almost finished there were lots of raspberries and more blackcurrants than ever before.
I wasn't sure what to do with so many raspberries and sadly I left some of them in the fridge for too long and they went mouldy. Deciding I must cook the rest before they went the same way - or freeze them - I looked through an old Mrs Beeton's cookbook and came up with this recipe for Raspberry Pudding which is absolutely delicious and easy to make. I ate some and then froze several portions to eat over the coming days. They froze well and were still just as good to eat (one left now!)

Raspberry Pudding

1lb raspberries
3 oz granulated sugar (I used less)
4 oz butter or margarine
4 oz of castor sugar (I used less)

2 eggs
6 oz plain flour
1 rounded teaspoon baking powder
2 - 4 tablespoonfuls of milk (approx.)

Grease a pie dish. Put the cleaned and washed raspberries, with the granulated sugar, in the bottom of the dish.
Cream together in a mixing bowl the fat and sugar. Beat in the eggs gradually. Stir in the sifted flour an baking powder, adding milk to make a soft dropping constancy. Spread this mixture over the fruit. Bake in a moderate over (350 F or 180 C degrees) until the pudding is cooked and nicely browned.

Dredge with castor sugar before serving with cream or custard sauce.


I found there was rather a lot of the sponge mixture and so I kept some back and used it to make a few fairy cakes. I served the pudding with yogurt rather than cream or custard (I have to watch the calories) and it was wonderful. Definitely one I'll make again and very simple (I like simple).

The blackberries were more problematic although they don't go mouldy like raspberries. I find them too sour to have with yogurt and I'm reluctant to add too much sugar. In the end I decided to make a sort of purée. I put them in a pan with a little water, brought them to the boil and simmered them for a little while. Then I mashed them through a sieve and added a little sugar to take the edge of their sourness. Because I didn't know how long they would keep in the fridge, I poured some of the purée into ice-cube trays and froze it. The rest I put in a plastic bottle ('sterilised' with cider vinegar and then rinsed quickly) and put in the freezer so that I could make an apple and blackcurrant crumble when the family come later this month.
The ice cube solution has worked well. I've used some to make a drink - either cold with just cold water added or hot with boiling water. I found I needed to strain the mixture as there were a lot of seeds in it. You can add more sugar to taste. I've also added a cube to ice-cream and made blackcurrant swirl ice-cream - very good. The ice-cream makes the blackcurrants less acid and the blackcurrants make the ice-cream less over-sweet (I used Carte d'Or vanilla which I found too sweet on its own.)
We've had a heat-wave here. I found it too hot but enjoyed it anyway because it was just so... different and made me feel as if I were in Spain on holiday. Along with the unaccustomed food, such a tasty delight, it has been a special time. 
So Lúnasa, a festival of thanks and celebration of the abundance. I light a candle, meditate on Cernunnos and the provision of the fruits from nature.  I say my version of Grace, then eat a simple meal finishing with some raspberry pudding... and cream (just this once!)
This food comes from earth and sky,
from plant and animal,
from the work of many hands.
I remember that not all have enough to eat.

I give thanks for the life that was given -
may I live a life that is worthy of it.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Re-emerging and 'The Goddess and The Gardener' book launch

I've been away from the blog for quite a few weeks now. It's been a very challenging start to the year, one way and another. As the sun rises in the sky and graces us with its presence for longer, I'm very slowly coming back to life.

Apart from my health, one of the challenges has been publishing another small poetry book under my Brigit's Forge imprint - this time not my own book but the first step in publishing other poets. For various reasons the process has been fraught with difficulties but at long last it's come to fruition. The Goddess and The Gardener by Jane Whittle is a sequence of poems written after she moved to Wales and began transforming a wild space into a garden, working with the energies of the land and of nature and absorbing them to such an extent that she herself grows along with the landscape and the voice of the goddess begins to speak through her.

We had the book launch at the Penrallt Bookshop in Machynlleth and I'm pleased to say it was a great success. Many books were sold so it was a good night for us and for Penrallt Books while the audience appear to have genuinely enjoyed it - the feedback passed on to us by Diane at the bookshop after the event was lovely to hear: 'enjoyable and enlivening', ' a wonderful evening of words', 'inspiring', 'a special evening'. All I would want for Brigit's Forge!

The picture above shows the book on display, in very august company. As well as talking about how my very small press, Brigit's Forge, came about, I also read some poems from The Sea Road and  tested some new ones which led to selling more copies of The Sea Road. I promptly spent some of the proceeds on the book you can see in the picture, The Art of Robert Frost by Tim Kendall, an action I haven't regretted as it's a fascinating introduction to his poetry which includes 65 of the poems with commentary showing how Frost's poetry and its themes developed.

I'll be making a page or another blog for Brigit's Forge Press in due course and will say a bit more about the book and offer it for sale. For now I'm taking things slowly and surely and just saying 'hello again'.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Shelter from the Storm on Valentine's Day

We're being battered by storms with hurricane force winds here on the west coast of Wales - as has a lot of the UK. At times it's been almost scary and when the electricity went off I had a taste of what so many people in the country have been going through - but without the flooding thankfully. I was so relieved I had the wood stove and could at least have one warm room and cook and make cups of tea and hot-water bottles.  
I went out during the height of the storm only once - to close the garage door which had blown open and move the car away from the trees. It made me think of how it would be to be out in such a storm with nowhere to hide and  Bob Dylan's song Shelter from the Storm began to run through my mind. Since it brings together storms and love (on one level), I thought it would be suitable for this stormy St Valentine's Day, so here it is:

Shelter From The Storm
                         by Bob Dylan

'Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
"Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm."
And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured
I'll always do my best for her, on that I give my word
In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm
"Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm."
Not a word was spoke between us, there was little risk involved
Everything up to that point had been left unresolved
Try imagining a place where it's always safe and warm
"Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm."
I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail
Poisoned in the bushes an' blown out on the trail
Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn
"Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm."
Suddenly I turned around and she was standin' there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns
"Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm."
Now there's a wall between us, somethin' there's been lost
I took too much for granted, got my signals crossed
Just to think that it all began on a long-forgotten morn
"Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm."
Well, the deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mount
But nothing really matters much, it's doom alone that counts
And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn
"Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm."
I've heard newborn babies wailin' like a mournin' dove
And old men with broken teeth stranded without love
Do I understand your question, man, is it hopeless and forlorn?
"Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm."
In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothes
I bargained for salvation an' they gave me a lethal dose
I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn
"Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm."
Well, I'm livin' in a foreign country but I'm bound to cross the line
Beauty walks a razor's edge, someday I'll make it mine
If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born
"Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm"

Like many of Dylan's lyrics it reads as poetry and like the best poems it works on several levels at once - hinting at but ultimately not pinning down, meaning. Who is 'she'? His wife (he was going through a divorce when he wrote it)?; the archetypal feminine offering warmth and succour to the (wounded) male? The Virgin Mary? The Church? Nature? The goddess? The biblical references give the speaker mythic proportions; his suffering is reminiscent of Christ's, taking us beyond autobiography or contemporary narrative.
It is up to you, the reader, to decide - or you may decide to live with potency and inference. A poem is not a static object - it is an event, activated when read or recited; it is liminal, existing in the space between poet and reader or listener -

"But a poem is reciprocal, it insists
on adult relations, to exist
it pre-exists in you or not at all.

Severed from me you hold its future, make
it open up between us. You must take
a poem like a lover,

God give you guts to see it: When it works
poetry is an orgasm. The O.K. word
is resonance."
(Exerpt from a poem by Peter Fison)


Saturday, 1 February 2014

Blessing the Rushes on Brigit's Eve

Blessing the Rushes on Brigit's Eve

We ask for your blessing, Brigit,
on the Eve of your day,
Brigit the generous, Brigit the fair,
may your blessings be upon us.

We ask for your blessing on these rushes,
Brigit beloved.
On tip and root,
on stalk and stem,
on brown and green,
on one and many.

Moving rightways with the sun
may they weave and thread,
thread and weave,
all goodness, all prosperity
into this house, into our homes.
May these rushes weave all goodness
into our lives.

We ask for the blessing of the Three
on these our rushes,
we ask for the blessing of Brigit
on these our rushes.

The rushes picked for the last two of our Brigit's Eve festivals were rather thin, dry and mottled - a result of the lack of rain and icy conditions. This year, when we have had such a lot of rainfall they were a vibrant green, thick and juicy. Not easily picked though as the land, Cae Pwll or the Pond Field, was so waterlogged. I've been looking at the crosses I made last night and thinking how each are a microcosm of the world outside the hearth where we were gathered. They connect us with the land, with water and ice and soil and air, encapsulating not just this time of year, but also this particular time, its attributes and conditions. 

Last year I experimented with making a Bride doll out of the rushes left-over and kept her as the image of Brigit to use to welcome in and lie in her bed by the fire. She is very simple - just rushes folded and the top part tied off to make a head; a few rushes on either side tied off to make arms and the rest splayed out to suggest a robe - or perhaps the rays of the sun. I like her much better than the small ceramic doll I'd used before. This Brigit doll is elemental, suggesting a human form and yet at the same time a strange and alien being, bringing the power of another form of life co-existing with ours. I don't think there are enough suitable rushes left to make one this year but I shall try later.

I'm allowing myself to rest all day today after a few days of rushing (!) around and a late night. Our celebration this year flowed well as we feasted, made our crosses each in our own way - one quiet and concentrating, two talking in a desultory way, sharing insights, news... frustration with the cross-making process. I find it strange how every year I seem to have forgotten how to make them. This year it took me several attempts to get the three-armed cross right when usually if I have the first three rushes interlocked it flows fairly well. I persevered and it worked out in the end. Ah, perseverance, that's something to remember for the year ahead.

We also drank tea and then recited Ruth Bidgood's Hymn to St Ffraid for three voices which is such a lovely thing to do - weaving our three very different voices into a recounting of the story and attributes of Brigit. Bringing her and a celebration of her into our minds, bodies and the candle-lit room. We each shared some of our writing and offered thoughts and blessings for a seriously-ill friend. 

It was after midnight when I waved my guests off into the stormy night. Today I wake to the news that Aberystwyth did not suffer too badly from the wind and waves but there is more to come today and tomorrow. Outside my home, the wind is showing its power by making the trees dance a wild dance. Twice a sudden burst of bright, bright sunlight has exploded through my window before disappearing again, the grey clouds glowering darkly as if they had never parted to give me a glimpse of something so precious.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

New Year Orientation: Starhawk's Five Sacred Things

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It's the start of the New Year and with the change of date there seems to come an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and steer our lives in the way we'd like them to go. Alas, within a few weeks or even days our resolutions become dissipated and scattered - at least mine usually do. By February we often don't remember them at all, becoming caught up in the duties, chores, demands and general messiness of life.

But there's still value in the exercise of orientating ourselves on the course we wish to follow; a trace will remain and may even guide our actions unconsciously at times. At the start of this year I've been re-reading some excepts from The Fifth Sacred Thing, Starhawk's novel of a Utopian, ecologically-based society and its struggle to defend itself from a military state:

Declaration of the Four Sacred Things

The earth is a living conscious being. In company with cultures of many different times and places, we name these things as sacred: air, fire, water and earth.

Whether we see them as the breath, energy, blood and body of the Mother, or as the blessed gifts of the Creator, or as symbols of the interconnected systems that sustain life, we know that nothing can live without them.

To call these things sacred is to say that they have a value beyond their usefulness for human ends, that they themselves become the standards by which our acts, our economies, our laws and our purposes must be judged. No-one has the right to appropriate them or profit from them at the expense of others. Any government that fails to protect them forfeits its legitimacy.

All people, all living things are part of the earth life and so are sacred. No one of us stands higher or lower than any other. Only justice can assure balance: only ecological balance can sustain freedom.

The Fifth Sacred Thing

Only in freedom can that fifth sacred thing we call spirit flourish in its full diversity.

To honour the sacred is to create conditions in which nourishment, sustenance, habitat, knowledge, freedom and beauty can thrive.

To honour the sacred is to make love possible.

To this we dedicate our curiosity, our will, our courage, our silences and our voices.

To this we dedicate our lives.

The Five Criteria of True Wealth

Usefulness, sustainability - meaning it must generate or save as much energy as it consumes... Beauty. Healing for the earth, or at least not being destructive. Nurturing for the spirit.

from  Starhawk: The Fifth Sacred Thing


In a world in which these things are not sacred - a world in which all living things are not seen as a sacred part of the earth life, a world where, as Robert Graves has said  “serpent, lion and eagle belong to the circus-tent; ox, salmon and boar to the cannery; racehorse and greyhound to the betting ring; and the sacred grove to the saw-mill… ” I think it's valuable to point our compass in the direction of these values and ideals however much we fall short, however flawed we are and however much we are implicated in the destructive, driven-by-profit ethos of the 21st century. We need to remember there is another way against which we can measure what we do. Like the stars, we won't reach them in our lifetime but we can still rise a little way towards them more strongly than if we never saw them shining.