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Just before New Year, Chris (my green-man-hunting friend) and I went down to Salisbury to see if we could track down the four green men listed in Clive Hicks’s book The Green Man: a field guide. On the way we stopped off at various small churches along the Wylye valley, and this was very enjoyable, but we found no more green men to add to our image bank. It was all rather depressing, the more so as we had had several similar trips recently without a single green man to encourage us.

Then we arrived in Salisbury, walked down to the Cathedral and slipped in through a side door, finding ourselves close to the main crossing. We tend to think we’re good at spotting green men now, and knowing there was one up in the crossing somewhere, we set off squinting at bosses and other carvings. I got out my binoculars and immediately found a foliate head. That was one. I left Chris swearing slightly at the impossible task of photographing something so high up, and wandered on to see if I could find the chantry chapel where Hicks lists another green man.

I found it in the aisle to the north of the high altar. It actually had seven different foliage-spewing beast-heads on it. Great! Eight already and we’d hardly started. Chris joined me and we quickly found yet another in the baptistry. We moved on to the choir stalls and I found a little foliate head, then tipped up the only misericord we could reach (strictly forbidden) and there was another!

Then we were stuck. We knew there was at least one more in the building but couldn’t track it down. In the end we found a cathedral guide and asked her, and she took us to a tomb to the south of the high altar – we had walked right past two fine spewing heads. Perhaps we were not quite so good at this as we thought. On the other hand, she also showed us the green man among the bosses in the crossing – the one we thought we’d already found. No, we’d found yet another green man that she did not know about – so honours were even.

Then we decided to take a break and have coffee. We now had a bag of around 14 green men, and the information that there were more in the misericords that we could not access. We wandered into the cathedral shop and I found a book which had pictures of several more green men that we had missed in spite of our careful searching. I made notes…

We were straight back into the cathedral and very swiftly found the spewing beast-head on the base of a pillar in the Galilee chapel, the five different heads on a single monument near the crossing, and the strange baroque beastie on a wall memorial. By the time we left, we had photographs of 20 or so green men, and Chris had made an exhibition of himself by lying flat on his back next to the crossing altar so as to photograph the green man among the bosses in the tower. Who is that man? Nothing to do with me.

And then we found St Edmund’s church and there was another one on the north wall.

So these will appear gradually on the Wiltshire Green Men website, along with such pearls of wisdom as I can muster in description. They will take our grand total up to over 100 green men in Wiltshire located and documented so far. Our cup runneth over…

Yule thoughts

And so in the week before Christmas, in the midst of the final screaming commercial frenzy that grips the nation, I find my thoughts, at last, turning to Yule.

Yule, winter solstice, Alban Arthan (call it what you will) for me takes place as a quiet personal festival before Christmas takes hold, family gathers, presents are exchanged and much food and drink consumed. Yule is spiritual, deep, a time when we are poised at the darkest moment of the year. We know the moment exactly – and this year it is at 6:08 am on Saturday 22nd December – when the sun stops moving south (from our perspective) and begins its journey back towards our northern lands, bringing light and heat with it. So we can, if we like, take a breath at that very minute, stand still with the sun, and then, ritually, take light back into our own homes and lives.

Not that I’ll be standing anywhere at 6.08 on Saturday morning. I’ll probably be screaming round the house frantically trying to get up in time to get into the car at 6.30 and head off to Stonehenge to watch the sun rise across the Plain. And only then if it’s not pouring with rain. I’m not one who can find spiritual fulfilment in standing in driving rain in the middle of a windswept landscape in the coldest December for years. So I’m a fair-weather pilgrim, at least where Stonehenge at Winter Solstice is concerned. For a start, if it’s raining you aren’t going to see anything rising across the Plain, apart from the water levels.

What I will be doing, whatever the weather on 22nd December, is my Yule ritual. I love the idea of the returning light, of Yule as a turning point, and my ritual focuses on bringing light into my home at this time of greatest darkness. I’ve always liked to have enough light. My childhood was punctuated by visits to elderly relatives who would sit, chatting away, while the daylight faded and the room grew progressively darker and darker until faces were hardly visible in the gloom. I would sit there thinking, ‘Why don’t they put the light on?’ and when, finally, the lamps were lit, it was as if life had returned to the room. So I start my ritual with just enough light to see by, and gradually light candles until the room is bright, then take the light, by a single candle, through my entire house, switching on all the electric lights until everything is brilliantly lit. It feels so good, so positive, and thoroughly in tune with the spirit of Yule. Let us all light many lights to lure back the returning sun!

And then, guiltily, let us nip round the house switching them all off again, for environmental reasons…

RSI and Dragons

I’ve not been here for a while.  I’ve got a bit of an RSI problem – the doctor tells me I have carpal tunnel in my wrist, and a rotator cuff injury in my shoulder.  So I’ve been trying to cut down on using the PC.  That’s not easy in my line of work and with my interests, all of which seemed to need me to use a PC.

So I’ve decided to tame the Dragon – that is, I’ve got Dragon software so that I can talk to my PC rather than typing to it.  This post has been created using Dragon voice recognition software, and it’s pretty darn accurate.

Which means that I’m feeling very encouraged really.  For a while there, I was starting to think that I was going to have to give up the PC and all its wonders, which would’ve been good for me, I’m sure, but rather limiting.  We do so much via computers these days, it’s very disabling not to use one.

So thank the gods for the Dragon – I’ll train and tame it as needed and make it a good servant.

Rituals for solo druids

Part of my plan for the section on Druidry at the Sign of the Black Cat was to include rituals for the solo druid.  I prefer working alone, but find that the solo ceremonies provided by my druid order are not always in tune with my own ideas or current focus.  So I have got used to creating my own rites, either adapting and recreating words and ideas I have found elsewhere, or drawing purely on Awen for inspiration.  

I have never yet succeeded in producing a ritual for every one of the eight festivals, but my aim over the coming year is to do just that, so that I not only note and attune to each festival in turn, as I am used to doing, but also actively celebrate them – which I am not so good at doing! As I create each one I will publish it At the Sign of the Black Cat, so that others can use or adapt them.

I have just posted the first two in the series, the Samhain and Alban Arthan rituals.  I don’t claim they are particularly wonderful, but they reflect my own understanding and way of celebrating both festivals, and offer an alternative to the ceremonies provided by the druid orders.  You’ll find them under Rituals for solo druids.  I’ll be doing the Samhain rite this Wednesday evening… 

At Samhain we remember the Ancestors.  This is traditionally a time-out-of-time, when the veil between the worlds is thin.  So it is an ideal time to contact our ancestors, to ask for their guidance or to talk with them.  But before we get down to the full-on shamanic journey to the place of the ancestors, or even just the Samhain tarot reading, it’s a good idea to spend some time getting into the Samhain spirit, thinking about our ancestral heritage, and simply tuning into the energy of the season. 

Here are a few things I find useful to help me tune into the spirit of Samhain…

  • Walk in the woods, looking for fungi
  • Make a pumpkin (or turnip) lantern
  • Alternatively, turn them into tasty soup with a few more veg, a can of plum tomatoes, some herbs, bouillon cubes, a dash of Yorkshire relish…  now eat with homemade bread – delicious!
  • Do some family history research
  • Look at family photographs
  • Make a will (darn, still not done that yet – maybe next year)
  • Visit family places – ancestral villages, landscapes, graves
  • Visit burial mounds – West Kennet’s my local one, but there are many all over the country

In all of these activities, but particularly the outdoors ones, it is so much more powerful if we work ‘with awareness’.  What do I mean by that?  When I walk with awareness, for example, I am focused on the activity of walking, the touch of air on my skin, the sounds around me, the feel of the earth beneath my feet and the brushing of leaf against sleeve, the scent of damp earth and fungi, the taste of that damp woodland atmosphere as I breathe it in.  I am not thinking of the normal worries of daily life – this is a meditative state.  It’s difficult to maintain, of course, as the mind keeps throwing up thoughts as lures, but as with all meditation, once you realise what’s going on you gently go back to walking with awareness.

Signs of Samhain

We had the first frosts in West Wiltshire this morning. As I left the house I saw hoar-frost on the roof of my neighbour’s shed and on parked cars nearby. While getting my car out I commented on this to my neighbour Ken, and he said ‘That’ll fetch the leaves off the trees!’. Such signs of the turning year naturally prompt us to make mental preparation for darker, colder days.

There are two schools of thought about the timing of the seasonal festivals like Samhain. Many people go by the calendar, making Samhain fall on 31st October, whatever the weather. Others go by natural events, and say that Samhain falls at the time of the first frosts. I have sympathy with both approaches. I like the local focus of the nature-oriented approach, where Samhain falls at different times as appropriate across the country. But for a modern Pagan community, with calendar-based approach makes a lot of sense, allowing for forward planning and a nice even spread of eight festivals across the year.

I have to admit to operating an amalgam of the two approaches. While I celebrate Samhain on 31st October, I still find myself sneakily viewing the first frosts as the real start of the local season of Samhain. But I think that’s OK. It’s as if there’s both a date and a season, the second formally marking the first which might come before or after, depending on local conditions, which can vary from year to year as well as from place to place. This year in West Wiltshire the year seems to be turning pretty much in line with the calendar, with colder weather arriving just before Alban Elfed (22nd Sept), whereas last year things stayed warmer for much longer.

But whatever the weather, with the festival of Samhain approaching, it’s time to turn our thoughts towards the ancestors, and to ritual to honour our ancestral heritage. Of which more to follow…

What is Druidry?

This evening I’ve been musing on the nature of Druidry, as it is for me and in general.  It sounds such a basic concept, but I can remember when I started out exploring pagan paths, it was Druidry that I found most difficult to get a grip on.  Eight years on, I think I may understand now…

Druidry, for me, is a creative way of life, a way of being, a way of relating to life events and to the world around me.  I suppose that sounds pretty vague, but I’ve expanded on it and on other aspects of Druidry on my website At the Sign of the Black Cat.  The Druidry section isn’t finished by any means, as it will take at least a year to build up, but I’m glad to have made a start.

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