Not wanting to quite yet return from the desert but having to try to get my eyes to turn towards the outer, I dragged my ass into the grey world outside. Bah humbug. Don't want to. It's cold and damp. It's GREY! Sulk.
The sun broke through as I reached the woods. Phew. Bumped into the local vicar and had a chin-wag. Compared our staffs. Talked about the dogs.As you do.
Shortly afterwards I was greeted by this. Phew. Colour. I love that it is all misty grey around the edges. Unedited.
Being aware that the country I was about to visit was a Muslim majority country and rather than letting it travel with me, I had decided the pentagram around my neck could stay at home. On my first morning in Marrakech, I added to the noise of the city by becoming chatty with two people sat next to me. Husband and husband, they have been visiting Morocco together for years but even so, they were conscious of how careful they had to be; their twenty-year love punishable by imprisonment. Stuck in my western mindset, I too was careful and had decided that whilst I indeed know the ancient symbol of the pentagram around my neck can be interpreted in many different ways by whosoever looks upon it, I felt any symbols that announce 'some thing' would fare better in my bedroom drawer, even though one of those interpretations might be as the Star of Islam.
Just as physical love shared between same-sex couples can be met with harsh treatment, witches too do not receive hospitable welcomes. I am a not-too-widely-travelled-woman-from-the-wild-moors-of-Yorkshire and my five senses in Morocco were happily being slapped silly, forcing my sixth sense to well and truly came out and play. Any conversational starter that might have one chuntering about chatting with folks in other realms could end up in a whole heap of trouble. Sunni Islam, the predominant sect of Islam practiced by 99.9% of Muslims in Morocco, forbids intermediaries between God and people. I'm not at all sure on how they might react to the Company of Avalon blithely joining them in the souks.
Now, I'm usually one of those types who like to do a goodly bit of research on the places I am visiting. I dislike returning to base camp having missed experiencing something with added historical and sociological awareness. However, I made the rookie error of failing to look up the national flag of my upcoming hosts.
On arrival in Marrakech, I soon discovered that it is impossible to go anywhere without being greeted by a pentagram. On almost every street corner, lamp post, roundabout, hotel, On t-shirts, menus, taxis and buses. The disguised-as-palm-trees-wifi-masts were conversely, and refreshingly, barren of flags; instead being topped by huge nests. The storks of Marrakech are considered holy birds. I liken them to my Avalonian swans, their energies tattooed onto my feet. In past times, the Celts with their swans, and the Berbers with their storks, believed these beautiful creatures to be transformed humans. To this day in Morocco, it is forbidden to disturb a stork and who does so, risks three months in jail.
But, back to the pentagrams...
The Moroccan flag was once a simple plain red field, its colour announcing descent from the royal Alaouite Dynasty. The green five-pointed star was added to the flag in 1915 when Mulay Yusuf ruled Morocco and stands for Love, Truth, Peace, Freedom, and Justice.
Even in a world where East and West share so much conflict, and where opposites are polarising with alarming speed, it is how easy it is to see that our beliefs have so many beautiful and common parallels. I should have worn my pentagram. Or, perhaps I shouldn't...I wouldn't have had this experience if I had.
The sound of divine laughter filters through to my hearing.
I have forever been drawn to the desert. The shifting colours uncluttered with the trappings of life. The Berbers call themselves "Imazighen", meaning the free. Whilst in Marrakech recently, I crossed the High Atlas mountains to visit the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, a place that acts as a gateway to the Sahara desert. Made up of a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, a 4000 year old Berber culture continues here as it ever was. Salt, a precious commodity worth more than gold was once protected in the high tower on the summit. This was my Glastonbury Tor in the desert. A hill, a tower on the highest part, presenting a gateway to another world.
I had a guide on this part of my journey. It wasn't easy to get him to drop the mask that had become his profession, showing tourists from other cultures around his home and his tribe. A man with four sisters and five brothers, he had been born in this place to parents who did not have enough wealth to send all their children to school, so he, from being a small child, had been offering his culture to tourists and pilgrims. His manner was softer with me. He knew I was on a journey and encouraged me by explaining the different stages on the climb and suggested I could stop at any one of them if I so wished. During his lifetime of crossing the river and climbing the ksar, he had learned to speak six languages fluently. Whilst he spoke, his mask dropped a little and I saw the proud, strong man with sadness in his soul. He was a warrior, and whilst this place and the sociocultural dynamics of its people are protected by UNESCO, I did not see a man of a free tribe.
I caught this image and was struck by the connection between the boy and his horse. I also saw a deep sadness eliciting a profound beauty filled with arcane secrets. Stood in the dried bed of the Oued Sous, the River of Salt, under the blazing sun for thirty minutes, about to climb a high castle, my guide told me the Berbers were happy to help 'disabled' people get to the summit. I declined, knowing this part of my journey needed to be done without assistance. "The desert shatters the soul's arrogance and leaves body and soul crying out in thirst and hunger. In the desert we trust God or die", counsels Dr. Dan Allender, the pioneer of a unique and innovative approach to trauma and abuse therapy...and so I trusted. No horse. Just me. Carrying a rock from the river bed. But oh, what a picture I take with me of the horse, and the people, that would have borne me to my goal. It might be mooted that God sent me the horse to ride upon, however, deep in my spirit, I knew that part of my experience was also the physical test. Perhaps it was I that was examining myself, perhaps it was a spiritual warriors test...who knows. It felt damn good, regardless.
My last night under African skies, under this new moon, and this star. I recognise that you are in your world and I am in mine, but we share the same sky, no? Though the miles might separate us, this moon gives me peace, for I know in my soul, we are indeed kin. Like the moon, which glows only through the sun's light, I thank you, yes you, who are reading these words, for illuminating my life.
I climbed a different hill to a tower on the summit today.
In a desert.
In the heat.
Carrying a rock. Picked up from the middle of the Oued Sous - the River of Salt.
After it's blessing at the top, I needed some water.
So it rained.
Just a bit.
We stand upon the middle path between shade and light; where night and day divide. As we have willed and worked with one another, so may we ever reap the benefits of all we have attempted within the threads that link us, one to another. Bless-ed equinox my brothers and sisters.
It was one of those melancholic crisp autumn mornings when I was clearing the garden in readiness of the winter, but still warm enough to have the windows open and blast out Maddy Prior’s Year CD.
They say that every death brings rebirth and renewal but death and dying can be a harrowing process. Thus it was with decay in my hands and grief in my stomach from recent losses, I mournfully sensed the coming harshness of winter approaching the garden gate. As my body ages, the winter brings yet more pain and discomfort, limiting all that I might do and sends the mood spiraling into muddy walking boots.
But...let me not look at the future just yet eh? Let me look to today and all its blessings. Of love, hope and dreams. Of friendships and laughter. Of joy and possibilities. Of happy times and companionship. As we winnow the grains of the year and move towards the Harvest Moon on September 23rd, I give thanks for all the boons in my life and enjoy the garden, not for its summer splendour, but for what it is today. After all, there is no other day to truly live in but the present and I give thanks for being able to still garden, even if just a little.
The photograph below is of the Harvest Moon over Glastonbury Tor and by Stephen Spraggon.
Check out his website for more stunning images.
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.
My experiences are as yours - filled with challenges, pain, joy, laughter and love.
The settings of our scenes might be different but along our journey together, we will discover similarities and shared experiences.
Adventure with me for a while, it is in the Journey, we become One.
Finding Colour in the Grey
Lessons from Morocco
Under African Skies
The Earth Mother
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