Archive for October, 2007

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… 


Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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…

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Chris and I set off on Saturday to see if we could find any more examples of the Green Man for our Wiltshire Green Men website At the Sign of the Black Cat.  We decided that we had to bite on the bullet and visit some of the town churches in West Wiltshire, so we started with Warminster and went on to Westbury, Melksham and Corsham.   Far too many of these were kept locked.  Then we couldn’t stand it any longer and went back to village churches for our last two checks.

There’s been a lot of speculation about the green man, specificately about whether he was sneaked into churches by undercover pagans back in mediaeval times.  I feel that is most unlikely.  What seems to have happened is that during the Romaneque period churchmen went on the pilgrimage to Saint Iago di Compostela in Spain, following the pilgrim route through France and Spain.  In many of the churches on the route they saw green men – foliate heads, or spewing foliage – and when they came back to Britain they recalled this and had green men carved in their churches too.

There are two main forms of the green man: the foliage head and the foliage-spewer.  The foliate head, where the face is made up of leaves, does seem to derive from pagan Greek and Roman forms, but it’s important to recognise that it was used in the mediaeval Christian church to make a Christian point.  As was the foliage-spewing green man also, but his origins are even more interesting.  He has been very convincingly shown to have come to Europe from India, where he/it was known as the kirttimukha.

A really great book on the subject is Mercia McDermott’s Explore Green Men, published by Heart of Albion Press.  She considers the green man’s origins and variants in great detail, and gradually works back in time to its origins in India.  Well, I’m convinced by her arguments, anyway!

What is certain though is that the Pagan community has picked up on the green man and recognised his relevance as a symbol of nature and the green movement.  I certainly relate strongly to the green man as an image, and I am able to set aside his past role within the Christian church, which was of its time, and focus on his new role as guardian of the greenwood and of all that is green and growing.  It doesn’t matter that this is a relatively recent interpretation – who says things have to be ancient to be real or relevant?

We found three green men, by the way, and one green frog.  Although none of our finds were mainstream green men in form, they were all rare and interesting.  They’ll appear on the website very soon.

Read Full Post »

My friend Chris and I walked this afternoon out from Bishopstrow near Warminster onto the perimeter path that skirts Salisbury Plain. The army was much in evidence, with gunfire sounding from the firing ranges, and a gun placement clearly visible in the distance. We ignored it as best we could and focused on the views and the superb archaeology.

There are strip lynchets (ancient strip fields) all along the edge of this part of the Plain, carefully sited to catch the sun. Our route skirted two Iron Age hillforts, Battlesbury and Scratchbury, and passed several long and round barrows. When we came down off the edge of the Plain, we returned to Bishopstrow along the valley, through Norton Bavant. The views from the Plain were wonderful, and although the day was rather overcast, the sun broke through the light cloud several times. Cley Hill with its prominent round barrow dominated the middle distance.

I am not a druid who works with a Grove, or does a great amount of ritual. Walking the land is the core of my practice. You can travel by car, train or bus and cover much more ground and see more than on foot, but you can only truly know the land if you get out of the transport and walk. Even when the land feels as uneasy as Salisbury Plain, scarred by past dangers and present war games, it is still rewarding. Down in the valley where the lovely river Wylye runs through quiet villages, the land is truly gentle, friendly and welcoming.

The walk we did today comes from ‘100 walks in Wiltshire’, published by Crowood Press in 1990, although there’s a later edition around now. Look for walk 90, ‘Middle Hill’. It covers 7 miles of some of the most scenic countryside in south-west Wiltshire, and is one of my favourite walks, highly recommended.

We finished off the day by visiting a couple of churches in search of new examples of green men, which we are documenting At the Sign of the Black Cat. We found none at either Knook or Upton Scudamore. But Knook has a south door with a tympanum depicting swirling beasts intertwined; and Upton Scudamore has several crazy heads including a triple head arrangement each with manically gritted teeth. The church had been decorated for harvest festival, and someone had carefully suspended vegetables – peppers, parsnips and carrots – from the church gate’s metal arch. It was all quite crazy, very charming, and very much in the spirit of the harvest season of Alban Elfed.

Read Full Post »

I fell in the canal on Sunday last. It wasn’t deliberate – at the time I was trying to turn round in a canoe so as to be sociable with my brother while drinking a cup of coffee. What happened was classic: I held onto the bank for support, the boat floated away from the bank, there was a moment when I realised ‘I’m going to fall in!’ and then, indeed, I fell in.

The Kennet & Avon canal near Avoncliffe is not famed for its crystal waters. It was muddy and cold. I stood up, spluttered a bit and then found to my surprise that I wasn’t feeling embarrassed or angry, just extremely wet. Luckily my brother had stopped the canoe turning over, so I was able to have some coffee, strip off most of my wet things and climb into my Driza-Bone coat which covered my confusion more than adequately. I then got back into the canoe and we paddled cheerfully back to Midford. I had a great time. We’re doing it again in a fortnight (without the ducking, hopefully).

In Druidry the element of water is connected with feelings and emotions. Working with the element of water we explore our feelings and how we relate to the world. My unexpected bath on Sunday revealed something most unexpected and very welcome – I didn’t feel silly. In spite of doing the classic pratfall, I was able to shrug it off with a laugh and get on with what I was doing. Maybe, at nearly 49, I am finally growing up.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »