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Posts Tagged ‘Alban Elfed’

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…

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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.

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