We awake as if from a deep sleep. Above us the canopy opens up to reveal brilliant blue skies and the feeling of claustrophobia dissipates. Sunshine bathes us in golden light, energising and life-affirming. Our previous reluctance to proceed any further has vanished and insight finally dawns upon us. We must push on, it is imperative that we reach a place of safety before dark. Our destination lies further down the steep-sided valley, but to reach it we have to make our way along the river. The air is warm and comfortable here, the vegetation lush and profuse. Soon we spot the huge cave entrance high up the mountainside. Our steps lead us to the mouth of a cave along a narrow path. The cave is symbolic of the womb and the Void. It is a space in which we come to face our fears and our true selves. The experience may either strengthen or destroy us. Regardless of the reasons for entering this otherworldly place, transformations will be set in motion.
The Great Mother Bear will welcome her children and prepare them for the journey into the Void. They will be laid to rest within the darkness of her fecund womb until the time of rebirth in the Spring. Before that can happen the person undergoing this rite of passage must reflect upon their reasons for this undertaking. This is important, otherwise the journey has been of little use. We emerge from our musings to find a figure watching us. An androgynous figure, clothed in an animal skin and carrying a thick staff. Two serpents are entwined round the staff which is topped with a pine cone. Their dark eyes survey us humorously. This is our Guide, entrusted with our safety and guardian through the worlds. We are invited into the cave, a simple lamp handed to us to light the way. Now begins the transformation.
This is such an ancient place. It has seen the passage of tens of thousands of years, a place of great power and ritual. Deeper and deeper we travel into the earth, it feels like a place set apart from time. There are images of animals painted upon the cave walls, conveying such beauty and grace. Wildlife flow across the walls, rhinos, horses, bison, lions. All executed with such finesse and artistry. A feat never to be equalled by modern humanity. As we travel deeper into the cave these paintings start depicting cave bears etched in red, to be followed by composite creatures, part bear and part human. Curious…We look back at our Guide, who remains silent. This is our journey, so the insights must come from within. Finally we enter the deepest part of the cave, into a broad, circular chamber. In the middle of this chamber is an altar, upon which is placed the skull of a bear. Numerous bear skulls have been placed around this chamber.
The only illumination comes from a fire behind the altar. By now our sense of reality is slightly distorted, something about the air down here is affecting our sense perception. A circle of figures are sitting round the fire, we cannot be sure whether they are human or animal. Each is clothed in a large bearskin. Their eyes glint brightly at us. The fire throws huge shadows on the cavern wall. Our Guide smiles reassuringly and gestures towards the bearskin placed in front of the altar. We lie down on it automatically, hands then wrap the skin around us.
A rhythmic sound snakes its way around each of the figures and when it reaches us it throbs intensely, echoing the beat of our frightened hearts. This seems to go on for some time. We feel our eyelids closing and try to stop falling asleep. The sound ceases suddenly, the quality of the air changing subtly. We feel our breath force itself through our lungs until it stops abruptly. Our hands reach upwards and to our shock they appear to be huge, clawed paws. No human voice issues from our mouths, only a plaintive mewl. A low hum begins drowning out our cries, strangely it seems to soothe our fears. We look up to see a beautiful, luminous face looking down at us, we see Her. She offers her blessings, love and protection to sustain us through the final part of our journey. We are now ready to release our old selves. She turns to our Guide who nods and bestows a blessing upon us. We cross the threshold between this world and the next and the mists close. In our dreams we enter the cave of our ancestors, to seek their counsel and join our essence theirs, this was our tradition from the dawn of time and will continue until time ceases to be.
The journey is not yet over as we will have to face the truth at the centre of the Labyrinth and return totally transformed by its revelatory message. That is the reality of this experience, we must either return or be destroyed by what has been revealed. Make your choice. There is one certainty though, we will leave the cave when the time comes, as to linger in this sacred space would lead to repercussions. Remember that. It is not to be used as an escape from your problems.
We slumber on the ship of death as it flows towards the Great Sea. The world around us does not stand still as the hand of Time changes all that it touches. Our Guide remains steadfast by our side, that much we can rely on throughout this transition. Soon, so soon we feel the hand of Life touch us. The Universe begins to stir, nature awakes from its sleep and unveils her beauty. We feel her kiss upon our brow. Time to return. We take a deep breath and draw in the universal life force. It kick starts our heart, sacred temple and sanctuary of the Soul. Our Guide gently helps us up and leads us through the labyrinth of passageways to the cave entrance. We look down at our hands and feet, reassuringly human now. Words of wisdom are whispered in our ear, simple words yet so powerful in their affect. The Guardian of Souls and Psychopomp watches another initiate leave, for this what we have become. We traverse the valley and forest at great speed. We have found our mojo! Finally we emerge from the reality that is the Subconscious to the Conscious, the road is crossed and we are home. We look back and notice that there is no sign of the road kill. In fact there is no sign of the road. Curious…
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a thousand faces. Bollingen Series XVII, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2004
Dear Reader, much has happened since my last article regarding the LifeRites Foundation course. The Universe has seen fit to initiate a series of events which have changed my life and the lives of others around me. As I write this article we are in the midst of Winter, the Child of Light has entered this world, and I am at the end of one cycle of life and about to enter another. Cold, short dark days tend to focus the mind inwards. I see death and decay all round me including those aspects of my own life that need to be released. This is no bad thing. A timely reminder that I have been out of kilter with the world around me, enmeshed within the artificial bubble created by our modern world. I have left a job which was becoming increasingly dissatisfactory and leaving a toxic environment which was draining my energies. Stagnant waters breed dis-ease. The old self was in the throes of death, but I was reluctant to let go. My spirit had given up, numbed by a lack of creativity, reason and fear. I sense that this situation is not unique to me.
Something was rising up from the depths of the subconscious and it was scaring me. Forgive me for sharing these personal details, they do have their place within this tale, which is one of death and rebirth. I am speaking of course of things symbolic, of experiences we share on a deep psychic level with our remote ancestors. These experiences are rites of passage –into adulthood, into wisdom of elder years, the birth of a child and death, both physical and symbolic. These are only a few of the threads that connect us to our ancestors across a divide of thousands of years and one can only speculate at the ritual mysteries unveiled to the participants in those ancient times. Things are not so different in modern times, the human spirit is still in need of healing and integration but the healers and shamans have metamorphosed into different entities now. Let me be frank, change and transmutation are not easy experiences. Pain is pain whatever century you find yourself in. Human nature does not intrinsically change. You may or may not agree, that is your prerogative. For one moment though I ask you to shed your modern niceties, find a quiet place, preferably outdoors and just listen to the sounds of your inner world. What can you hear? Are you able to bear the inner silence? (more of this later in our journey)
At times our burdens seem too great to carry but one must not underestimate the courage and endurance of the spirit, if not its practicality. The Universe will only tolerate so much miserable self-absorption on our part before delivering a good kick up the bottom and we then find ourselves in the path of a fast moving vehicle. Ending up as road-kill, to be fed upon by crows. The bloody aftermath can be a little unpleasant don’t you think?
The human psyche is a complex country, our travels along its highways affected by dreams, eureka moments and intuition. Such is the canvas that our Heroic journeys are painted upon, “perhaps some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find the river of peace or the highroad to the soul's destination.”
Quite. As we contemplate this bloody mess our eyes look up to see a great forest unravelling before us. It looks forbidding, almost stretching into infinity. After a little hesitation we move forward, already dead, what else can happen to us? The passage through “dark and devious ways” has begun and we cannot turn back.
With that first step from the road going nowhere we have now entered the realm of the supernatural, the liminal. The Heroic journey has begun. Before we go any further it may be useful to shed light on the constituent parts of a rite of passage (an initiation if you may), a three - stage process that is culturally universal. Consisting of:
A call is answered to initiate a change in your life. This can come in many forms. Preparation is made to leave the old life (its death) and journey towards the new life.
A time spent between the worlds, living a life which is filled with trials and tribulations, where you may be pushed to your limits. Your soul and spirit are tested, as is your resolve to overcame the adversities and remain true to yourself. Rebirth has not occurred at this stage. Usually this period would be spent alone in nature (if your were on a Vision Quest for example) but if this is not possible it can happen in our everyday lives. Perhaps harder to manage in a lot of ways if this is the case.
This is the final stage whereby you leave the place of initiation and return to your community, family and friends. Rebirth has occurred and sacred knowledge is brought back for the benefit of the whole. You are not who you were when the journey began, a change in consciousness has occurred.
I hope you are still with me. Where to now you ask? We move forward into that great unknown expanse of our inner world, that’s where. The sun is streaming through the green canopy creating shadows on the forest floor. Gigantic trees rise majestically into the skies, sentinels guarding the sacred ways. There are deep slashes in the bark of one of the trees, claw marks. Curiosity causes us to place our fingers into the grooves. A surge of energy shocks and exhilarates. For a brief moment we can see through the eyes of this elusive creature, revered totem of many cultures for millenia. Signifying strength and resilience, providing courage in the face of adversity, in touch with the Earth and natural cycles. For it is Bear who guides us in the journey towards healing and well-being on all levels. Out of the corner of our eyes we spot something moving in the undergrowth, the bear stares briefly and then moves swiftly on as if to say hurry up. We lose sight of them in this vast space. It makes us uneasy.
This primeval forest is not at all what we imagined it to be. It feels sentient, knowing and filled with immense power. What is glimpsed between the trees causes us a little anxiety. We ask ourselves whether it was a good idea entering this area without a guide. At this moment the bear makes its presence known to remind us that this is not the case. We ruefully acknowledge this fact, not totally able to relinquish our “civilised” sensibilities. What the hell are we doing in this place? A good question and not easily answered. The world spins around us for one terrible moment as it grows dark. We collapse and fall awkwardly on the forest floor. Nothingness envelopes us. There is no “I”, no memory. This world does not exist.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a thousand faces. Bollingen Series XVII, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2004
The valley of the river Leri (as it is named on maps) or Eleri, as those who know her call her, begins on the western edge of the Cambrian Mountains where the river waters fall from a lake into the narrow gorge of Craig y Pistyll. They run for twenty miles or so to reach the sea through the salt marsh between Borth Bog (Cors Fochno) and the sand dunes of Ynys-Las. In spite of the natural settings of both her source and her estuary, both are engineered places. At the end of the lake where the waters fall into the gorge there is a dam to regulate the flow down to the water pumping station on the nearest road in the village ofBontgoch, or Elerch, five miles away. But this is a lonely place and little detracts from the wild splendour of the open mountain and moorland that stretches as far as the eye can see even on a clear day when there is no mist. And it is a small dam, unlike the barrier at the end of the nearby reservoir of Nant-y-Moch that regulates the flow into the river Rheidol to a small hydro-electric power station miles downstream. These waters drain from the mountain of Pumlummon(‘five peaks’) as do the springs that give rise to the River Severn and the River Wye. Up on the summit Cei and Bedwyr stood in “the highest wind in the world” in their search for the things required by the giant Ysbadadden Pencawr for Culhwch to wed Olwen. So it is a place of great significance both in legend and its importance as the source of great rivers. Further east waters run off this range to fill the reservoirs of Claerwen and Elan for Birmingham’s water supply. But Eleri is a quiet stream running a short distance to the sea and supplying sweet water to the local population. Pumlummon is known as the ‘Mother of Rivers’ and the whole area is a place of water, held in the peaty earth as in a sponge. Waters of life welling up and then released slowly into streams and rivers. It is a realm of water spirits.
In their book Celtic Heritage, Alwyn and Brinley Rees compare the area around Pumlummon – known traditionally as ‘Elenydd’ - to Uisnech in Ireland where the Stone of Divisions stands. It is the centre which symbolizes the whole. By no means as high or as spectacular as the mountains of Snowdonia or the Brecon Beacons, its central position between these gives it a symbolic significance, better appreciated by the medieval mapmakers such as Gough who, in his map of 1360 shows it as if it is higher than the mountains to the north and the south, through to Speed’s map of 1612 which gives it similar prominence. Eleri runs off to the West of the mountain, away from the great watersheds and once meandered to the sea through the remnants of a sunken forest, the semi-petrified remains of trees that can still be seen in the sand at low tide on the beach at Borth on the shores of Cardigan Bay. It is possible to trace the previous course of this mile or so of the river over the fields created by draining the bog. But now the last stretch runs in a straight line to meet the estuary of the River Dyfi and functions as a drainage channel separating the green water meadows from the brown lands of the bog. What river ever maintained its course for very long? Cwm Eleri is Eleri’s valley, the groove in the Earth the river has created, wide or narrow depending on the interaction of water, soil and stone. There are many things that might change a river’s direction; human interference has shaped most rivers for a while, but the river itself is invincible, the life-blood of the living world. So this sudden transformation from a sinuous bubbling stream to something more resembling a canal might seem an insult to Eleri in human terms. But somehow it suits the flat landscape of the bog and is symbolic of the lost land of Gwyddno Garanhir itself maintained by dykes and sluice gates one of which, left open, brought about its end. For this in legend was Cantre’r Gwaelod, a land under the sea, and it is a legend to which the sunken remains of the forest bear witness. Walking through the stumps when the tide is out it is possible to imagine the forest alive with birds in the green leaves, though the present reality is rock pools and oyster catchers foraging at the tide line. Along the estuary geese overwinter and in summer sand martens build nests in the banks. The bog broods darkly in the shade of mountains. Once it stretched north along the Dyfi nearly to Machynlleth, though most of the northern part of it has long since been drained for farm land. The small hills that rise from the flat plain all have ‘Ynys’ (‘island’) in their names, an indication that they once stood above wetlands. It was the realm of ‘Yr Hen Wrach’ (the Old Witch) who, if she visited you in your bed at night, would cause you to wake with the shakes.
Between these two ends of the river, Eleri runs through wooded valleys, only really touching any significant place of human habitation when crossed by the main road north from Aberystwyth at the village of Talybont where, joined by the waters of the Ceulan, the rushing waters once powered a woollen mill. Along the ridges of the valleys around here are a series of hill forts built to watch the approaches from the sea and now providing spectacular viewpoints to anyone with the energy to climb to them. Though I have walked from source to estuary, it is in these middle stretches that I came to know and love Eleri. There are places where it is possible to sit watching the flow for hours without seeing another person. These, to me, are sacred waters, the well of life flows through me when I sit here and I am part of the flow. And it is here, and in the woodlands along and above the valley, that I come to meditate and to commune with the spirits of the valley. The map of it I have in my mind is populated with sacred places to which I can go, on foot or in imagination, whenever world space or mind space allows. There is a place where the river swirls around a bend and runs over rocks making a music that I have sat and listened to, entranced. And I have knelt in the rushing waters and the words of a ritual for crossing to the Realms came to me from many years before: “Running Waters, Speaking Stones …”. And I have listened to the voice and responded with a blessing and a kiss, which she took, laughing, and tumbled it away.
There is a wood of oak, beech and birch above this spot, enclosed within a larger forest, where I have planted a seed of love in a mossy hollow and where the trees always welcome me when I come to sit among them to converse with the wights of the wood and feel myself in their company. Here I have felt closest to the Spirit World more often than anywhere else. There are times when the trees enclose me and the ground shifts beneath my feet and the wind blowing through that place is a spirit wind at once swift as an arrow and as still as a pond of clear water. Then when I emerge from the wood onto the forestry road it’s as if I have arrived there suddenly from I know not where. So I come often to these places and follow Eleri from her source in the mountains to her meeting with the sea. And if she is always running to the legendary realm of Cantre’r Gwaelod, so too am I always walking the paths to the Realms when I follow her winding way through the woods.
© Greg Hill - http://www.sacredwaters.co.uk/CwmEleri.html
See before you the Wheel of the Year. In ancient times, as high summer holds sway there ensues a great turning seasons. And sometimes it falls out that a hero takes part in this struggle – so earning the title Champion of the Goddess. Come with us now as we re-enact this timeless magic, in the name of the Goddess Sovereignty, whose presence fills the land, in every hill and dale, in every tree and bush, in every river and stream, season on season, year in, year out, throughout all time. Lady, we ask your blessing.
Who is this who comes upon the scene? He looks a fair young lord but his brow shows lines of worry beyond his seeming years. He calls out to the forest. Listen now, he's speaking to us.
"I am Arthur, King of Kings," called the young man, looking up into the high branches. "I am Lord of this Land and this morning I did wake to the call of the hunt, I heard the horn call me from my slumbers and I came out into the forest.” He stopped as he caught sight of the white hart just walking delicately into the glade. “And there she stands, the Antlered One, the Lady of the Ways."
The hart saw him immediately and turned to flee. Quick as thought, the young man had an arrow to his bow and loosed it. It sped straight to her heart and now she lay dead at his feet. He took his hunting knife and began immediately to skin her.
"I will take her skin to cover me," he whispered to himself "and her flesh to feed my hounds."
The leaves on the great oak tree under which he knelt began to quiver and a huge creature emerged. It had the shape of a man but was made entirely of leaves and branches. His antlers shimmered as the last golden rays of the sun caught them.
"Who harries here?" He cried, in a voice like a great bell, "Here in the Lands of Summer?" He towered over the king, shaking his club.
"I do." Arthur jumped to his feet, standing ready to defend himself. "I, Arthur, who am called the King, who was born on mid-winter’s eve to herald the return of the Sun. And who are you to challenge me to my hunt?"
The Green Man tossed up his club and all the leaves in his beard rustled and shook.
"Ha!" He cried. "I am Gromer Somer Jour, the Lord of the Summer Day. This is the Summer Country, my lands, and it is my hart that you have killed. And I will be avenged!" and straight way he aims a blow at Arthur's head.
Arthur just managed to get out of the way and tried to bring his knife down on the Green Man's arm but it was broken against the ancient oak. He took another blow and another and fell back against the bole of a tree.
"The day is mine. Your life is forfeit!" and the Green Man loomed over him ready to smash him to a pulp. Vainly Arthur put up an arm and cried out
"Is there no way out of this?"
"Ahhhh! He would save his life would he!" said Gromer Somer Jour to himself. "Then you shall answer me a question. Tell me, King," he turned contemptuously to Arthur. "what is it that women most desire? Think carefully before you answer! Your life is forfeit should you get it wrong."
Arthur was puzzled. he had no idea. "What can I say to this?" He muttered to himself. "What is the answer? No! – Wait! It may be he will give me time."
And he looked up into the mass of green leaves to find his gaze caught by the bright golden eyes. "Oh Lord of the Summer Day," he said "I have no answer for you now but will you give me time?"
Gromer Somer Jour pulled back, turning slightly away. He leaned on his club.
"Time?! Aye, I’ll give you time!" And the Lord of the Summer Day sniggered into his beard, he had no opinion of this bumptious young king. Then he turned back to Arthur, a cruel smile on his face.
"One chance only I’ll allow you to save your life. One year hence you must return alone to this same place and I shall know by your face if you have the answer I seek."
Arthur ducked and hid his face, turning away. "A difficult task!" he said to himself, but he knew there was nothing he could do, his fate had been sealed when he killed the hart, maybe even when he woke to the call of the hunt that morning. He turned back to Gromer Somer Jour.
"I accept!" he said with as much strength as he could muster. "One year from now I will meet you here again and I will bring you your answer."
The Lord of the Summer Day stepped back, allowing Arthur to rise. He picked up the body of the beautiful hart and carried it off with him over his shoulders. Arthur bowed to his retreating back and then turned to go off in the opposite direction. As he was making his way slowly back to his castle a strange figure came out of the bushes beside him riding a beautiful white steed. The horse was bravely harnessed but the creature aboard it, although clad in silks, was like nothing on earth.
"God’s teeth! What’s this?!" Arthur's breath hissed and he stood at bay despite the beauty of the palfrey.
"By what right do you wander in the Lands of Summer?" The creature addressed him.
"In the name of the Lady of this Land. I am the son of the Kingfisher, the Winter King." He answered as bravely as he could. He had never seen the like of this in his life before.
"Ahhhh!" she sighed the word out long and hissing like a snake. "Then you are Arthur! And I know your quest. I am Ragnall, the owl who passes across the face of the moon and causes all who see me to shiver. I am mistress of the beasts. I hold within me all creatures and give them succour. Any man who harms a beast, harms me! Any man who harms a plant, a flower or a tree, harms me!"
Arthur followed her speech, watching the passage of her hand across the sky and shivered. He could help himself, he ducked and held up a hand as she pointed her long green finger nail at him with her final words. He peered up into her face.
"You are awful!" He whispered. "I see in your face the face of every beast in the world. Your eyes are owl’s eyes; your nose, a cat’s nose; your ears, lion’s ears; your teeth are wolf’s teeth; your hands are bear’s claws and your feet are the hooves of goats. Your legs are like tree roots; your body is gnarled like the trunk of Yggdrasil and your arms are knotted branches. Your breasts are great hills and mountains and your belly and hips are big enough to birth the world!"
As he finished she slithered down from her horse and crouched before him, her knees bent as though she was about to drop a calf. She cackled.
"Aye! I am hideous in my diversity." And she pawed at him with a clawed hand. "Men shun me. Women despise me. I am fearful to all eyes. And yet," she drooled, "I know the answer you seek."
Arthur was disgusted, he turned away. But he has heard her words. "She does?" He questioned himself. "She might!" and hope sprang in his heart.
The dreadful creature followed him and tried to rub her face against the silk cloth of his hunting tunic. He dared not move.
"And I know that you will fail" her hands tugged at him "unless I give you the one right answer that the Lord of the Summer Day requires."
Arthur shuddered at her nearness and the smell of her but he dared not risk alienating her. She could have the answer the needed He leaned against the tree and whispered to it "But would she give it me?" He made up his mind and turned.
"Would you give me this answer or my life is forfeit to the Lord of Summer?"
"But what would you give me for that answer. Every answer has its price!" She was as quick as he.
"And that’s the truth!" he muttered to himself. "What is the price of this answer? And can I afford to pay it? But it is my life and my life is the land …" He made a decision.
"What is the cost of this answer? What will you ask of me in return?"
"Why …!" She turned about, almost as if she would be coy with him. "I am hideous, awful as you say! But I would have me a husband. I wish a consort for all time, to live with me and love me here in the Summer Lands."
Arthur was aghast! "I cannot marry you!" He cried in terror. "I am husbanding already to my Flower Bride, my Gwenhifar, my White Owl!"
"Aye! I know this!" and she laughed at his horror. "I would’t have him anyway!" she muttered to herself, but loud enough for him to hear. "I would have the youngling, the tannaiste, the stand in for the king!"
"Ye gods!" The exclamation escaped him and he tried to catch it back with a hand over his mouth. "My Hawk of May, who stands in my stead!" And then he turned to Ragnall again. "Gawain? You would have Gawain?"
"Aye!" She chuckled, yellow saliva frothing about her rotting gums. "I would have Gawain. Gawain of the red hair, who has the heat and fire of summer flowing through his veins."
Arthur was appalled. "My brave knight!" he whispered. "Must he wed this creature? How can I ask this of him? How can I not? It is my life that is at stake and my life is the land." And he turned back again to Ragnall. "Lady, I cannot speak for him but I will ask him, and I will do all in my power to bring your wish to fruit."
"That is enough" she said to him "At this time."
And she mounted again onto the gay palfrey and turned back into the deep forest.
And so Arthur returned to court. He told Gawain all that had befallen him, his killing of the hart, the appearance of the Lord of the Summer Day, the hideous hag and her demands to marry Gawain.
"I did not know what to do" he cried to Gawain. "Gromer Somer Jour will hunt me down and find me, I must return to him in any case as a man of honour. How can we discover what it is that women most desire? This hag may indeed have the answer for there is something very strange about her and the way she knew what the Summer Lord had asked me."
"Whatever, Lord. I am your tannaiste. I am here to stand as your champion and in your stead. And in any case you know I am a free spirit, I love adventure. There will be some way through this mess if we can but find it. I will marry this Dame Ragnall, to say your life, to save the land. But, let us first see if we cannot discover for ourselves what it is that women most desire.".
And so the king and the knight spent the coming year journeying. They asked every woman in every land what it was that they most desired and wrote all the answers in two great books. But none of these seemed sure to them so, at the end of that time, Arthur returned to Ragnall.
"Lady," he said. "Gawain accepts to be your husband. Now! You keep your part of the bargain."
Ragnall leaned down from her palfrey and took his collar in her hand, drawing him closer so that she could whisper in his ear.
Arthur almost choked at being so close to her, her breath was foul as sulphur, and the answer to seemed very strange to him. He managed to thank her with what courtesy he could muster and continued on his way through the forest to meet with Gromer Somer Jour. He kept repeating the answer over and over to himself, so he would remember it. But he resolved to try first with the books, so strange he found what she had said to him. He would keep Ragnall's answer up his sleeve as a last resort.
Arriving again at the clearing he found the Lord of the Summer Lands already there, waiting for him.
"Greetings, Gromer Somer Jour, Lord of the Summer Day." he called out as bravely as he could.
"Greetings, Arthur" and the leaves around his mouth shook as he spoke.
"A year has passed since we met and I am here now keeping my part of the bargain." Arthur reached up to hand over to the rough, oak bark covered hand. "Here are two books full of what women told us they most desire."
Gromer Somer Jour took the books and leafed through them, never saying a word. As he came to the end he threw them down contemptuously and raised his club.
"There’s no answer here!" He snarled triumphantly. "Forfeit your life!"
"Wait!" Cried Arthur. "I have one answer more! And he whispered what Ragnall had told him into the leaf covered ear. Gromer Somer Jour leaped back as though he had been burned.
"Hell’s teeth!" He shouted. "Only one person could have told you that! My sister, curse her!
"Sister?!" Arthur was aghast.
"But it is indeed the answer that I seek." Gromer Somer Jour quietened down although he was obviously still much aggrieved. "The Lord of the Summer Day is a man of honour" he said. "I will keep my bargain. You shall have your life!"
He bowed to Arthur and went back into the deep forest. Arthur began to make his way homeward again. He had not gone far when there was Ragnall by his side again. She cackled softly as she saw him flinch.
"Greetings, Arthur. Remember me?"
"How could I forget!" He muttered. then he pulled himself together. "Greetings, Dame Ragnall, I remember you!"
"But do you remember our bargain? I have kept my part. Now! You keep yours!" And she grabbed him by the sleeve. Arthur put his hand on hers, covering it, despite his feeling of loathing.
"I too am a king," he said "and a man of honour! I will keep my bargain." and he took Ragnall's hand in his and led her off towards the castle.
When they arrived there was much horror and consternation. Gawain was there to meet him and immediately took Ragnall on his own arm. All the young women of the court, and many that were not so young, hung on his other side. In whispers they tried to persuade him not to go through with this dreadful seeming marriage. What harm could it do now, they said. Arthur had given Gromer Somer Jour his answer and been granted his life. What need to marry the witch now?
Gawain looked at them, not knowing what to say. He understood that they meant him well but he could not understand how they could ask him to break his word.
"My friends!" he said. "Why do you weep, all of you? Why do you beg me not to wed this Loathly Lady? Can you not see there must be some enchantment at work here? The events are too strange for us not to see the hands of the gods."
But it seemed they could not. Even Guinevere, the queen, was speaking to Ragnall, asking her to relent, to give Gawain back to them or, at least, to have a quiet and retired wedding. This made Ragnall very angry.
"What’s this you say Queen Guinevere?" She leaned close to the beautiful young woman. "You wish this wedding to be quiet? Out of sight of the court? Ah, no, Lady! You shall not compound my wounding so! I will be seen! I will be Bride!" she turned to Gawain. "Let our wedding be in full sight of all the court. I wish a grand nuptial and a great feast!"
Gawain at once took her hand and kissed the filthy green claws. "Lady," he said, smiling at her "your wish is my command!
After the wedding, at the banquet, Ragnall slurped and burped and gobbled her way through plateful after plateful of food as though she had been starved. Gawain was horrified but pitied her too. He let none of his distress show as he though to himself "Poor soul! What curse is upon her that she must needs eat like this? And yet my heart senses beauty and goodness within her."
He turned to his new wife and said, very gently "Wife! Come wife! Let us to bed. Let us retire to our wedding chamber."
Wonderingly, Ragnall took a last bite of meat and gulp of wine and then allowed her husband to take her hand and lead her out of the hall and up the stairs. When they arrived in the room Gawain sent all the serving men and girls out, telling them he could manage very well, thank you, without their help. They scuttled off, grateful no doubt to be as far away from the disgusting creature as they could be. As well, he thought, they would have more time to comment to each other on how he would perform in bed. He was disgusted at the thought of the ribald mirth that would be heard in the kitchen that night.
He turned to Ragnall who was waiting, almost defiantly, beside the bed. she turned her back to him.
"Husband!" she said. "Will you be as courteous to me in bed as you are in open court?" Then she turned back to him again. "I know that if I were beautiful I would have no need to ask this question. But I would ask one favour, just one little favour. Give me a kiss, just one little kiss!
Gawain stepped forward, narrowing the gap between them, until he stood very close to her.
"Lady" and he took her in his arms "I’ll do more than kiss you!" and he made to lay her down upon the bed.
She stopped him, pushing him away, but gently.
"Now that we are one" she said softly, her voice very different from before, "it is only right that you should see me as I can be!"
… and before his eyes she transformed into the fairest woman in all the world.
"The Lord and Lady bless us!" Gawain cried out and stumbled back a pace. "My love has grown! She stands now in full flower!" He passed a hand before his eyes. As he looked at her again he saw she was still this new beautiful creature. "You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen." He said to her. "And thus my heart knew you to be. In god’s name, who are you?"
"Sir," and she curtsied to him, smiling under her long lashes, "I am your wife."
"How can this be?" He asked.
"Dear Gawain," and she rested a delicate white hand on his arm, "know that I was under an enchantment until I could find a man willing to wed with me with no thought for the loathsome form which I have had to wear. And you, my friend, are that man." Gawain reached towards her again, wishing to hold and kiss her, but she put him off. "Nay! There is yet one more choice for you to make, husband, if the spell is to be truly broken."
"What choice, dear wife?"
"For the rest of your life, will you have me fair my night and foul by day? Or, will you have me foul by night and fair and fair by day? The choice is yours."
He sat down on the bed. "What do I say?" he thought. "Either way it is a pickle! Fair by day will spare her the world’s loathing but I must bear the brunt of her foulness by night. If, on the other hand, her fairness by night is for our sole delight, then she must bear the brunt of the world’s loathing by day. What can I say? How can I make this choice for her?" He stood up and went to her, taking her by the shoulders and turning her to face him again.
"Lady," he said, looking deep into her eyes, "the choice must be yours!"
He felt her quiver under his hands, it almost seemed a golden light shone out of her skin. Her eyes were filled laughter.
"You have done it, husband!" she cried. "Now I see I chose aright. The spell is truly broken and I am able to be fair or foul as I choose, when I choose! I choose to be fair with you. For you have give me what every woman – indeed, husband, every man as well – desires most, the right to choose for myself who and what I am to be. And in this choice lies Sovereignty!"
And she took him in her arms and pulled him to her. " And so to bed," she whispered, "enough’s been said, the Sun and Moon are royally wed!
© Elen Sentier 2013. All rights reserved.
The joy of living wild, even if only for a few days – is one of my passions. It brings me close to the Earth and teaches me more and more how much she is my friend, my mother, teacher, mentor, and my dear companion.
Living on cities, towns, villages, even being able to see another house, changes our relationship with the Earth and the natural world; we feel safe, there’s always someone we can turn to if things go wrong, we are not alone. We don’t really relate or commit to the natural world and, in consequence, we don’t really see it. If we find ourselves “out there” with nothing human in sight we often tend to begin to panic, search desperately for a signal on the phone, for a house, a barn, even the sight of a cow or sheep makes a difference. The cry of a buzzard or the night barking of a fox, the sight of antlers on the horizon, the grunt of a hedgehog or badger in the disk may put our hair on end and set our imagination freaking out.
I love to be out alone, and all night too, seeing nothing human for days on end is a joy for me and I will tend to hide if I see or hear humans coming.
Living wild, even if only for a night, is about learning that nature is our friend. It’s about learning the multitude of things we are surrounded with when out in the wild that will actually help us. Waking in my hammock to the sounds of birds, animals, the wind, the rain, snow, is part the joys of living wild and of Life for me.
Pagans celebrate the new year at Samhain, the traditional start of the seasonal cycle; but I think many would agree that the return of the Sun marked by the winter solstice and the coinciding start of a new calendar year makes many of us think of new beginnings.
I decided this year, as so many people do, that I need to improve my health. I gave up alcohol nearly 2 years ago, which was such a good decision but noted I have since gained weight and developed an unreasonable sweet tooth!
When I visited Glastonbury this year for the solstice I spotted a book in Gothic Image called "Sweet Poison: why sugar is making us fat" by David Gillespie - which has proved to be quite a revelation! It explains the addictive nature of sugar and the science behind why and how the obesity epidemic correlates with the increase of sugar in our food.
Remember when we were told that fat makes us fat and gives us heart disease? Well science has since proved that fat, particularly saturated fat helps us feel sated so we eat to our calorific requirements and stop. In contrast sugar (specifically the fructose half of plain old sugar, rather than the glucose half) can only be metabolised by the liver and the calorific value is not registered by the hormones that tell us to stop eating. Additionally fructose is converted to fat in the body more readily than other carbohydrates, elevating triglycerides and bad cholesterol, despite being classed as low GI!
Our bodies are only designed to metabolise fructose as whole fruit and vegetables, perfectly packaged with fibre, rather than juiced, extracted, concentrated and added to nearly every food stuff on the supermarket shelves. Even honey has a high fructose content and urban honey bees have been found to gather sugary substances from our industrial waste instead of flowers, which contaminate their honey!
How can we avoid sugar? Go back to basics and eat real food from the Earth. The food industry relies on us needing convenience, telling us we just need to 'moderate' whilst encouraging us to eat 'healthy' low-fat foods made more palatable with sugar, and 'healthy' and 'natural' fruit juices which contain more sugar than a can of Coca Cola!
Butter, cheese, milk, plain yoghurt, eggs, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts/seeds, wild fish (not farmed) and meat (if you are not a vegetarian) or other vegetable proteins are all proper nutritious food - real energy from the land instead of manufactured. Homemade bread does not even need any sugar, the yeast works well from the glucose in the wheat and lactose if you add milk to the liquid content.
It's how our ancestors ate and should be an important part in pagan life. That's my new year's resolution :-)
Warm Samhain Greetings to all. Tomorrow night is for me and many others one of the most important Sabbats of the Pagan wheel. Its the time we ask the Ancient Ones and the ancestors over to join us and we remember them (including pets in my case). But this night I would like to ask you all to ask the Olde Ones to send protection for the father of all trees ,the Oak.
Here in Cardiff in our Roath Park (this may well be in other parts of the country too) our Oaks have been struck with Sudden Oak Death. I was born here but I have never heard of any of our trees contacting that desease. Not so long ago it was the Larch and also I have heard that the Ash as also been struck with a desease.
So I would like to ask you all to mention the ash and the larch (if you are not already intending to) to include the oak tree in your rituals on Samhain eve.
Many warm and sacred Samhain blessings to all of you on here. BB X
White bones silvering in the earth.
Dew distorting lenses settle in eye sockets
Like globules of melted glass.
Gone are the memories of rabbit blood,
The sharp crunch of bone,
The sweet taste of marrow on the tongue.
Months within the Mother’s womb
Of warm earth, maggots, wood lice
And the gentle transforming mercury of slugs,
Have done their work.
I am awake now,
Hearing the call of the white ghost, the soul leader,
From the bosom of the May tree.
I follow her silent wings across the silver grass.
I will howl at the plump bellied moon
And live again in the tricksy night dreams of men.
© Elen Sentier 2012: all rights reserved.
Myddle Earth takes care not to breach the copyright of artists. All images are owned by the creators or contributors of this website. Some images used are legally sourced from Wikimedia Commons or Creative Commons.
Merry Meet Pawb
So here it is: the quiet after the storm. After months of preparation and hard work finally the week-end of the South Wales Summer Camp 2011 had arrived. We had one of the most perfect spots in Wales, we had excellent speakers, we had fantastic workshops, a big fire, lovely fellow Pagans; the only thing letting us down was the weather. Now, we in Wales are used to a bit of 'weather' aka rain and after a hearty chant to call the sun on Saturday, led by Siany, we did indeed manage the impossible: the sun appeared for the day. It was the wind though. The payment for the gorgeous views was the wind.
When we arrived on Wednesday, it was pretty dire. So we decided to do all the other jobs and leave the marquee for the next day, when there would be more hands available to help. In the night the wind was so bad that our tent nearly took off and our brand new gazebo folded like it was made from match sticks. This did not bode well for the raising of the marquee. Now, thankfully we had David and Karen from Hereford with us, very experienced festival visitors, who had helped put up a marquee or ten in their time. We were all set to lift the top onto the legs when disaster struck: a huge blast of wind and the marquee roof tumbled down the site like a child’s umbrella. Everyone leapt into action and together we finally caught up with it. What an adventure! In the end we managed to put two marquees up, a welcome area for our intrepid visitors as the weather was bad Friday and Sunday.
Regardless of these little issues, we all had an absolutely wonderful time. The excellent advertising by Lizzie brought in the punters from as far as LLoegr: Bristol, Gloucestershire, and Herefordshire – and obviously Wales. We had not expected anyone from North Wales but Steve and Moya made the effort and the long trip to be with us. It was lovely to meet many new friends, some of whom had never been to a Pagan Federation Summer Camp before and to see again our usual suspects like Sheila and Alan from Newcastle, Pat and Nicholas from Staffordshire, Lee and Lou all the way from Basingstoke.
We danced the night away to the sounds of DJ Psyborg, seeing two Heathens doing the Prince Charming dance was a sight to behold! The home made Blackberry brandy flowed and greased old bones, some of us reverted to their misspent youth and I think we had the better of the young-uns but I could be biased.
There was a lot of witchy cackling around the fire, many a naughty song was sung and dirty joke told, in between Pat French told us stories and played the flute as did our host Sid, both beautiful and haunting.
One of the highlights of the camp out for me was our panel debate: a concept blatantly stolen from the Witchfest gatherings by me but nevertheless, I could not let the opportunity slip by when I had so many eminent pagans in our midst. For many months now I have been worried about the backbiting and bitchcraft that is making itself felt in the Pagan community in the UK. Wherever I come across a forum, a facebook site, visit a moot, speak to individuals etc. there are often quite bitter exchanges about the right and wrong path, which leads to diversity when others are working hard to establish a closely connected community.
So the question was: What is Paganism? Kicked off by our own esteemed ex-DM, Steve Ludford, who has been a Crafter for over thirty years, the question was discussed by Ros Briagha, James Denning, Cyt Warwick, Pat French, Siany and members of the audience with myself as referee. The result was astounding: we are not defined by our similarities to each other but our difference from other faiths: we have no dogma and there is no right way to be Pagan. Tolerance is the keyword that connects us all. A lesson we should all take to heart, including myself. Be good to each other, until next time -