As pagans we are aware that education brings understanding and acceptance. How we can do that when we step into the public arena is important.
This article was first written in 2001. I am republishing here as I feel this period of my life was a significant time, helping me shape-shift into someone who not only accepts diverse spiritual beliefs but also chooses to make a conscious effort to pro-actively support and encourage individual spirits, regardless of their current path. These times were a substantial part of my own learning and a training ground preparing me for my upcoming life in Glastonbury.
For a time, I was a host, UKHostCrow, for AOL (America Online) in an area called Mystic Gardens; leading talks and discussions on diverse subjects to be explored, not only by pagans, but by any spiritual seeker. Like Glastonbury itself, these gatherings were made up of people with varied beliefs, stretching my understanding and practices to be inclusive and open. I find it quite amusing that, totally separate from this little zone in the great machine of AOL, Glastonbury now has a shop called Mystic Gardens, filled with the work of the talented artist Linda Ravenscroft.
…Many solitary pagans have felt isolated and without others to share in their beliefs, but over the past few years the World Wide Web has opened many opportunities for people to communicate with others of like-mind. Thousands of communities have sprung up within the internet, giving rise to opportunities for people to learn and develop as they weave their own network of pagan webs. Many of the individuals of these 2-D communities also meet up in life, firm friendships and groups have developed, meeting often to share experiences, knowledge and wisdom.
An area within AOL known as The Mystic Gardens, is one such chat room in which a community has developed. The people are wide and varied; from accountants to healers; from policemen to shamans, from doctors to witches, from the experienced and the adepts to those taking their first steps into the more esoteric world of the many paths of alternative beliefs. Once a year, many of these people meet during Lammas time on a campsite in Somerset to share a few days of togetherness and strengthen the friendships cultivated over the last year. Many of those who gather might follow such as Christian, Druidic, Buddhist, Taoist, or Native American traditions. Many are still looking for what works best for their own spirit and, not having any particular belief, simply seeking the kinship that the Mystic Gardens community offers.
The fourth year of the camp saw one that was bigger than ever, and many people came from all over the country; with some people crossing the oceans to share in the event. During the camp, various workshops took place as people offered their own experience into the melting pot and this year a special ceremony was to occur, in which all were welcome. The intent of the rite was to call blessings onto the union of Sam and Martin, a young couple who had met at the previous year’s meet and wished to share their love with the people that had helped them come together. Next year, after a year and a day has passed, their ceremony will be one of Handfasting.
I was called upon to perform the ceremony some time ago, and it was there that I began to struggle. I did not want to ‘perform’ anything. This was not the usual rite in which all walked the same path and was led by an officer of a higher degree, but nor was it to be a side-show and a novelty to others. It was however, an immensely special time within a pagan space for both a couple and their parents, all of whom are just beginning their chosen path and the ritual needed to hold their own desired elements.
For a long time now, I have been struggling with the titles and the hierarchy of the particular system that I first began in and have stepped away following a more open and individual path. So how best to move away from the Wiccan High Priestess mantle, and create a circle in which the formality of a set ritual, of a set path, is left behind? How best to enjoy a ceremony that Pagan and Christian and non-believer alike were attending and all could feel part of the whole shebang? Yet still containing the elements required?
The sacred space would consist of two circles, one within the other. The outer circle would be made up of friends and well-wishers and the inner circle consisted of the couple, their parents, their supporters, the four representatives of the elements plus myself. In total there were thirteen people. Though this had not been intentional we were finding that, even from the first draft of the written ceremony, the energies flowed, and everything happened just as it should. None of the family had ever had the experience of being in a circle in which they had contributed, but as the days leading up to the ceremony arrived, the flowing rhythm developed an organisation of its own and felt that every step we took was guided.
Robed and personally prepared, we began the preparation of the inner circle. This was a gentle peaceful time; the sun was shining; the air was soft, and the ground was warm beneath our bared feet. The young teenager who swept the circle was slow and focussed in her work, there was no sense of hurry, no sense of unease; all were gently reflecting in this special time. Several people were beginning to draw close and observe our preparations. The altar, an apple tree stump topped with a very large and very thick slice of oak, was placed in the centre and adorned simply with symbols of the Male and Female and of the four elements. Jan and Steve, the parents of Samantha along with myself, set up the central altar whilst the elemental altars were being set by the four representatives of each direction. Sam and Martin were being taken through a guided meditation to calm and balance them as they prepared to declare their love and make their promises of betrothal to each other.
There were no leaders, no one person in charge, and no one individual that couldn’t contribute something. This was exactly what I had hoped to achieve. How many times have we been ‘witness’ to such occasions without ever feeling involved? How many of us have been ‘just a spectator’ at public ceremonies? In her book A Witch Alone, Marian Green writes: For time immemorial people have gathered in circles. From small children huddled around a playground - to wise scholars exchanging their views. The circle is a shape where all are equal, all can be heard, and all can offer themselves. The circle cast by the ceremonial magician or witch; the circle swept by the broom of the solitary wise old woman is a magical one. Its use is ancient, its powers unfailing. The circle may be as small as the span of our arms visualised within our own will or built by the ancients from stone and earth banks such as those at Avebury and Stonehenge.
This particular circle was a circle built of love and hope on a campsite in Somerset. It contained people from all walks, all beliefs, and all faiths. It was a circle in which everyone felt that his or her contributions had validity and worth. No one person was ‘higher’ than the next nor was any one person in charge. Because the circle was a true one, participator and witness alike all felt that they could offer themselves and all knew that what they offered was a true blessing indeed to send a couple onto their journey together.
This lovely occasion was finished with a spectacular professional thirteen-minute firework display, kindly provided by a Mystic Gardener experienced in such matters, accompanied with some rather splendid music. A campfire, around which another circle formed consisting of mirth, merrymaking, fire jugglers, drumming, singing and a strong bond of togetherness, took a very special day into the hours of sunrise.
As pagans we are aware that education of our path brings understanding and acceptance. How we can do that when we step into the public arena is important. If we demonstrate our path in a public place, we need to always be consciously aware of the image we are presenting. How much better is it if we present one of unity and equality, one of respect and of love and one in which no leaders dictate and dominate? Where all can partake, and all can learn?
My intention within that particular public circle was to show that there is nothing in the ritual and rites of pagans to be feared and that no one path or individual has the supremacy to claim something that connects them to the ‘divine power within and without ourselves. For quite a few people it was the first glimpse of ‘What Witches Do’ and many went away wanting to learn more and knowing that they themselves were able to do whatever they felt was right for them. Everyone took with them a little more understanding and the feelings of having taken part in something very magical. After all, isn’t that what we should be doing? Making positive magic, that all can share and benefit from? …And to do it to the very best of our abilities, perfecting our Craft? I think so. What say you?
Special thanks to all the Mystic Gardeners that helped me on my journey and for the photos capturing that special day in 2001.
Last Saturday, the Unity Candle and I entered a 12th century sacred space to share in the joy of two people becoming one. St. Michael and All Angels, Knight's Enham is a small Saxon Church on an ancient site in a hamlet on the edge of Andover. In 1008, a Council was held here with King Ethelred and St. Alphege the Archbishop of Canterbury, at which Christian laws were codified for England. In medieval times, the Church was a resting place for knights, close to the crossroads of the two ancient routes from north to south and London to the South West
The door in the Unity Candle lantern shows a stained glassed representation of the path up Glastonbury Tor with a quartz crystal representing St Michael's Tower on the summit. I liken the symbolism of the steep physical climb up to the top of the hill to the spiritual journey we are all on and reaching the summit, is a goal we all might have, no matter our beliefs.
In alignment with the magnificent stained-glass window, letting in the light of the East through the depiction of St Michael, the flame of the Unity Candle was lit. Closing the little glass door, light shot through the crystal tower on the Tor. This small church, thick with emotions, memories and impressions of the past 800 years of humanity suddenly became illuminated in an oh-so familiar and all-embracing light. Pure love. On this day, witnessing a marriage between two people, the Light shone not only out of the Candle Flame, but from all of those of us there, especially the couple standing before me.
Irrespective of our beliefs, sacred space is sacred space. It doesn’t matter who we are, where we came from, what our history and our backgrounds are, I truly believe we are all one in the light; all we need do is to connect with the people and the place we are in, open our hearts and minds, and believe that it is possible, no matter our differences, to come together in love and respect. Regardless of religion, The flame of the Unity Candle helps me to do just that. Blessed Be.
A naked misty dawn walk around the flowers and herbs in the garden, a (semi-naked) stroll up the lane and through the fields followed last night's powerful thunder storm with hundreds of lightning strikes. A rare experience, where the nostrils are assailed by the scents of the earth, and the skin is freshly laundered by the kisses of now gentle raindrops.
The kindly breeze blows away the traumas of the last week; a gentle pause in the maelstrom of life is welcomed. Yes, a precious experience indeed, when the extraordinary meets the ordinary, the hidden spirit becomes manifest and the warring storm abates. When all there is, is peace.
In these divine moments of Oneness, we know our connection to the All, and acknowledge that we too are Divinity Itself.
The birds and the daytime field and woodland animals have begun to stir. A new day has begun.
We are the Wounded Healers, and only be entering the darkest places, can we find the hidden parts of the Light and bring it back into the world. Manifested. Only the strong can visit these realms and Maya Angelou was one of those people.
On the 26th April, just before the Beltane weekend, our ancient tree guardian, known as Gog, was set aflame. More than 2000 years old, Gog is partner to Magog and this is a plea to all those that that have ever used a candle (and ribbons) out on the land. There is someone out there, possibly still in the Avalon landscape, sitting with the knowledge that, in their misguided understanding of ‘honouring the trees’, they instead have burnt the bugger down.
These two ancient oak trees –with the traditional and biblical names of giant beings – stand in one of the further reaches of the sacred Avalon landscape, where they are in a relationship of alignment with other aspects of the sacred landscape such as the nearby Tor, Chalice Hill, the Abbey and Wearyall Hill. The Oaks gained their names from a legendary race of giants who, save for Gog and Magog, were slaughtered by Brutus and his Trojan army. Gog and Magog, marched to London, were held chained to walls of the city palace and their effigies can still be seen in the Guildhall to this day.
Known as the ‘Oaks of Avalon’, the two trees are said to be a traditional point of entry onto the island, and part of a ceremonial Druidic avenue of oak trees running towards the Tor and beyond. Gog has been dead these past ten years, and indeed has burnt once before, [Edit: It was Magog that was previously set alight] but stood strong, keeping vigil with Magog as she too let go of her long life. To make a pilgrimage to these two sentries is to take a walk through time. They have stood witness to ever-changing populaces, beliefs and cultures, and watched whilst individual humans, long forgotten, have come and gone, passing beneath the leafy canopies fed by roots reaching deep into the sacred land. Nowadays, a conscientious visitor, paying homage to the Oaks, is shocked to see spent night-lights placed at the base of the trees, some even in the bowls of the tree themselves and it took such foolish actions to turn Gog into a funereal pyre for 2000 years of myth and history.
Hey folks, have a care! Consider how leaving behind a metal casing, harmful to both flora and fauna and something that ‘hangs around on our planet’ for a very long time, can ever be considered ‘honour’. Muse a while also on how placing a burning flame at the foot of a tree, especially a 2000-year old dead one, is up there with the most stupid of actions. JUST. DON’T. DO. IT! Leave nothing behind save your love.
I might as well mention that the same people who leave their night-lights might also be about the landscape tying ribbons to a tree. DON’T DO THAT EITHER! This particular practice stems back to pilgrimages to holy wells, often places that would always have a tree growing by the side or nearby. The pieces of cloth, known as clooties, were dipped into the water before being tied to a branch with a prayer, often to cure an ailment, believing that as the rag rotted away, the ailment would disappear with it. Our forebears would use natural fabrics such as a strip of cotton petticoat and these would quickly rot away without harming the tree. Modern day ribbons are made from plastic and take an extraordinary amount of time to break down; tied to the branches of a tree, they strangle and prevent new growth whilst leeching chemical dyes into the wood.
I'm asking, as I am sure you are too, are both of these acts of ‘homage’ something to be undertaken by one who professes to care for the land and its spirit? No way, Jose! They are entirely selfish deeds, symbolic only of our own needs and desires. There are hundred’s of different ways in which we can serve those, but proclaiming that we are also working for spirit is to make a complete error of judgement. We are not serving anything, other than ourselves. This is a one-way street. We are no more re-enchanting the land and connecting with the Spirit of Place than we are when we drop litter. Leaving non-biodegradable products of the modern age is about as non-magical as it gets and, if we claim to be ‘of the land’, should these ever really feature in our thinking?
The careless act of the person that lit and placed a flame within the dead heartwood of Gog is hard for some to bear. Grief strikes at our own hearts and if we allow it, sinks into the soul. In 2010, another hallowed tree was destroyed in these sacred precincts when the Glastonbury Thorn on Wearyall Hill was chopped down, by persons unknown, in an act of wanton vandalism. A community came together and wept. Bridges across voids were built. Pagans and Christians held each other and mourned…and a shift of consciousness took place. In the seven years since the Thorn gave up its life, understanding, acceptance and mutual explorations have taken place. Bridges that didn’t exist previously have been created between secular and spiritual communities. The death of the Wearyall Thorn can, if we wish, be seen as an emblem of new understanding arising out of the collapse of an era. A new period where possibilities and positive actions are born out of the desire to connect and give way to a time where the re-connections of a community give rise to the re-enchantment of the land.
More than 2000 years ago, a seed in the ground reached up towards the light. It grew into a mighty oak that people named Gog. Saddened though we are in this time, what a privilege it is to be the ones bearing witness to 2000 years of presence becoming the fires of transformation. On a practical, outer level, it is a timely reminder, as we draw ever closer to war, not to be careless in our own conduct within our own environs. On an internal level perhaps it can be seen as a timely reminder of who we might be becoming. Destroyers? Or those that construct? Builders? Or those that tear down? Perhaps we are both? These are our choices to make now and our application of conscious thinking and learned wisdom will help us to plot our course. A funeral pyre made of the heartwood of ancient Gog marks a transition and, as we move into a new era for the world, let him be a reminder that only from death, can a new beginning be wrought. How those beginnings play out, is up to us, as is our own interpretation of the burning of Gog.
Whoever you are, that happened to light a small flame in a tree - your guilt will be a heavy burden to bear. Take heart though and learn from your error of judgement. Mistakes are something we all make, how we rectify them is the key to how we grow. Leave these sacred precincts now, plant seeds wherever you go; kernals of Hope, Awareness, Consideration, Understanding, Love and all those qualities that help humankind to grow. Plant a new tree and dedicate it to the memories of Gog and Magog. Remind yourself that it is the Light within your own self that is the True Flame, the Divine Spark that links us all. From this place, everything is possible. For the rest of us, perhaps Gog can serve to remind us of how our own actions can have an effect we might not intend and incite us also, to have a care.
In the comments below is a message from a member of the family who are the guardians of the land on which Gog and Magog stand. I post it here for your reference.
"Around 10 years ago, when Magog was set alight (not Gog), the tree expert dated it at around 500 years (and not 2000 as is being bandied about). My in-laws have been looking out for Gog and Magog all of their lives (the trees are within the boundaries of their land), and as such, you might call them guardians of the trees. However, often they have been accused of being the opposite of that, by many a misguided soul, which is such a shame. Not only was Wednesday another very sad night for our family (and many others), the brave fire crews had to be called on 3 separate occasions, for something which could have been avoided. And low and behold, just the very next day, there was another tea light left inside the trunk. As advised by the fire brigade and Mendip Council, the area has been fenced off in the interest of public safety, while Gog is assessed." Tara White
The 2000-year old reference is an anecdotal one, and can be be found in Glastonbury: Maker of Myths, by Frances Howard-Gordon. Published by Gothic Image. (ISBN: 9780906362730)
‘This avenue was cut down around 1906 to clear the ground of a farm, but someone from the timber firm remembers one of the oaks being 11 feet in diameter and more than 2000 season rings were counted."
I am still landing from my 'Feathered Seer' weekend in the glorious setting of the Nightingale centre in the Derbyshire countryside. It was as powerful as ever and this was my 3rd year of attending one of their events. Our theme this year took the path of transition from life to death, soul lineage and the ancestry of the body.
There is a powerful magic that comes from ritual and psychodrama - a weaving of the threads of old stories amidst guided processes. Add to this the central presence of the enneagram, leading us through a journey of the inner and outer on the Path to Becoming, our weekend brought us to the One-ness that connects us all. It was Divine.
Sue, Steve and Stuart, the Directors of the School, held the space beautifully and I am so very blessed to be able to also call them my friends.
if you would like to explore further, follow this link. Their events are open to all, and like me, are free to follow your own path and it is not necessary to be a student of the School.
“In a time before memory…when the land was yet young and Albion unborn,
I dreamed the stars of a time yet to be. I dreamed your becoming.
…I see you.
I called and you have come.
The time is now.”
Glastonbury has been held to be a sacred place back through the mists of time and is steeped not only in history, but has a rich, deep well of myth and legend. Here, all three have been muddled and often become intertwined so it's a wise head that seeks to work out what is what.
Legends and Glastonbury
A legend usually includes an element of truth, or is based on historic facts, but with 'mythical qualities'. Semi-true stories are passed on from person-to-person and carry important meaning or symbolism within the background from which it originates. Legends often involve heroic characters or fantastic places and often encompass the spiritual beliefs of a culture.
Examples of these in Glastonbury include the story of Joseph of Arimathea, bringing the young Jesus with him and building the first small wattle church. The tales of King Arthur and Guinevere being buried in the abbey grounds, and of St. Collen banishing Gwyn ap Nudd and the fairy realm from Glastonbury Tor, are other examples.
Myths and Glastonbury
Myths are archetypal stories of the human journey through life, based on tradition or legend, which has a deep symbolic meaning. A myth 'conveys a truth' to those who tell it and hear it. Although some myths can be accounts of actual events, they have become transformed by symbolic meaning or shifted in time or place. Myths are often used to explain universal and local beginnings and involve supernatural or special beings. Glastonbury examples are the stories of the wounded Arthur being rowed to the Isle of Avalon, the nine Morgens, and the fairy kingdom of Gwyn Ap Nudd under the Tor.
What's the difference?
Legends and myths can sometimes be difficult to classify and often overlap. Visual a line with an historical account based on facts at one end and myths or cultural folktales at the other; as you progress towards the mythical/folktale end of the line, what an event symbolises to people, or what they feel about it, becomes of greater historical significance than the facts, which become less important. By the time you reach the far end of the spectrum, the story has taken on a life of its own and the facts of the original event, if there ever were any, have become almost irrelevant..
...it is the message that is important.
It's the time of year for stumbling across the bright red bursts of colour that heralds Sarcoscypha coccinea, commonly known as the scarlet elf cup, scarlet elf cap, scarlet cup or Fairies' Baths.
After what feels like a long, inhospitable winter, and as Spring calls out "hold on...hold on...I'm almost here!", to come upon the Scarlet Elf Cup is almost an onslaught to the senses. This burst of colour reassuringly reminds us that life isn't always going to be this dreary and dull.
A fungus that grows during the cooler months of winter and early spring, it can be found in amongst the snowdrops in humus rich, damp, deciduous woods with plenty of fallen wood, from which they grow. The contrast of the red elf cups, white flowers and vibrant green moss makes it a very special place to be when awaiting the warmth of spring.
The Scarlet Elfcup, and its close relative the Ruby Elfcup, are considered by some authorities edible as long as they are thoroughly cooked. A few field guides now record these fungi as inedible, and some even suggest that they are 'suspect'.
Sarcoscypha coccinea was used as a medicinal fungus by the Oneida Indians. The fungus, dried and ground up into a powder, was applied as a styptic, particularly to the navels of newborn children that were not healing properly after the umbilical cord had been severed.
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