The Importance of Home

The first harvest is mostly in for my part of the world, in Suffolk, East Anglia. There are still a few fields of wheat or barley that are waiting either for the rental of the combine harvester to come through or for a clear, sunny day when it can be gathered in dry. It’s been a good year so far for all the crops, and it beckons me to see what the first of the harvests gathered is like within my own life, and how I can work with that for the rest of the harvest tide.

My new book came out on Lammas here in the UK, which I think is an auspicious time. I’ve had really good feedback so far, and it’s a work that I am very proud of; it’s my best book yet. But thoughts are now turning once again to the simpler things, the quiet things, time out of the limelight. Even as the nights begin to draw in, and the leaves lose their green vibrancy settling into dark shades and some even beginning to turn in their autumnal splendour, I think of the coming months and the safety, security and sanctuary that is home.

For me, my home has always been split between two continents. My family home in Canada, and my adopted home here in the UK. I love both landscapes; I love the history and the spirits of place. While politically the UK seems to be going down the rabbit hole while Canada is holding its own with integrity, still it’s the land that I keep coming back to. My own little patch, where I live and work and love and play is so very important to me, and has always been. It’s been instilled in me, from a young age from my wonderful parents, just how much a home can take care of you, if you take care of it. We never had much money growing up, but it was the little things that made home so very special. Making home a safe space, a space where you could grow but still retreat when needed, a place to find companionship and also experience the solace of being alone. The vibrancy and comradery of the dining table in full swing, or the quiet solitary walks through the woods. It was all good.

My home here in the UK is a haven of quiet, peace and often solitude, working as I do from home with my two cats for company. We have lovely neighbours all around us, and this time of year I will often answer the door to find fruit and veg presented and offered in friendship, which I gladly receive! Zero food miles, for starters, and there is nothing like eating a meal with food that fresh. In return I offer the bounty of my garden: apples as well as seedlings from the many and varied plants (and my latest book, for those who are interested).  It’s got a feel of a small community; we look out for each other, and we’ve got each others’ backs. My neighbours bring in my dustbins when they do their own, and I’ll do the same if I’m the first out there. It’s a feeling of togetherness, which is something that I’ve never really had elsewhere. Perhaps it’s living in the countryside that does it – or maybe it’s just luck of the draw when it comes to your neighbours.

But the home is all important. Keeping it looking and feeling lovely, maintaining that balance between tidy and relaxed. I love my home and have always made anywhere I live a home. Surrounding myself with the things I love, as well as the gifts from others who remind me of the deep bonds of friendship. I’m so grateful to my parents for having instilled in me this sense of the home being a sanctuary, and that has allowed to me to live thousands of miles away for the last twenty years in relative peace (while still missing them incredibly).

Soon, I will be flying back home for a visit, as it’s been over a year since I’ve been back. I’ve calculated this into my carbon allowance for the year.  I Skype with my mother and father every week, and occasionally if she’s online my sister will join in. It’s lovely to be able to see their faces through the miracle of technology, and it’s even better that the computer they use is in my old bedroom. I really feel like I’m back home when I get to talk to my mom this way, and it gives me a sense of connection even when the miles are so numerous between us. But there’s nothing like actually physically being there, enjoying the sights and smells and engaging all the senses in the concept of home, as well as the memories. Just sitting at the kitchen table, having a cup of tea with my mom makes me smile with warmth and anticipation. Watching my young nephew run around, or listening to his older sibling play guitar. Cycling with my sister, going to my brother’s cabin. Reminiscing and walking through all the memories, and letting the future take care of itself. Swimming in the lake, having a beer outside in the evening.  It’s the little things that matter.

And so, as I ponder the rest of the harvest, I wish you all a wonderful harvest tide. May you enjoy it with those you love, and may the peace and sanctuary of home be with you in your hearts, even if you have to create that anew. Find that place, and let it settle in your soul. It’s the perfect spot to reflect and plan for many future harvests to come.

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The Wisdom of Barley

As I relaxed in my new hammock the other night (very comfy!) with my cat on my lap I could hear the slow rumble of the combine harvester in a nearby field. This is early, I thought.  Last year the wheat crop came in early because of the nearly two-month drought and extensive heat wave, which meant the stalks stopped growing at the beginning of June and just dried out early. But this year we’ve had just a little less than average rainfall, mostly in the evenings, and everything is looking really good. But some crops are still ready early, and this wheat field was no exception. Perhaps due to climate change, farmers in my area can get their crops in earlier, to reap earlier. It’s a bit risky, but when you need to rent that combine harvester, you won’t have to be fighting all the other farmers who also want to get their crops in, if you’re a couple of weeks early!

And so today I went for a walk, to look at the harvested field. The low grey clouds scudded the brow of the hill, and poppies and other wildflowers lined the footpath that divided the large field area into sections. Walking past the growing onions on either side, when I reached the top of the hill there, on the left-hand side, was the section of the field now bare of its golden treasure. There’s a certain feel and smell just after a harvest; a good smell and also a kind of empty smell, if that makes any sense. What was there was no longer there, and the scent left in its wake will soon also just be a memory.

I always feel happy and melancholy when I look out over the harvested fields. I love this time of year, when summer truly has settled in, and the warmth really kicks in; the flowers are at their peak, the young birds are on the wing. It’s a joyous time, when the thick, lush green canopy of the trees hangs heavy, the air warm and sometimes humid. And yet, when you stand on the edge of a cut field, you feel all this amidst a sort of sadness that flows from the heart, because you know that the height of summer has passed, and the harvest has begun. I can be both joyous during harvest time, and also sad, for soon it will all end.

I suppose it’s a lesson in mindfulness, to be present in the moment. If I’m too sad about the turning of the seasons, I’ll miss the joy right now. And if I don’t honour the poignant time of the beginning of the harvest and simply ignore it, then I will be missing the important time of the turning tide of the seasons, and also the lesson of impermanence.

So I will visit the fields in turn, and listen out for the big machinery. Walking home past a field of barley, I could sense it would be a couple of weeks yet, but it was coming. But the barley whispered to me, “Don’t be sad now, for the sun is shining and we are ripening. Turn your face to the sun, and allow it to bring to fruition that which you dreamt of when you were just planting the seeds of your intention. And when the times comes, and it will, you can reap the harvest of what you have sown with joy and compassion.”

Barley is very wise.

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Harvest Blessings

6Blessings of Lammas/Lughnasadh/Gwyl Awst to you. May your harvest be abundant and rewarding, and may we learn from our experience to carry knowledge forward into wisdom.

I have just come back from a four day road-trip with two of my best friends into the heart of the Wiltshire landscape, poking our noses in Somerset to visit Glastonbury and participate in a workshop run by author and activist Starhawk on Sunday as part of the Goddess Conference’s fringe events. To say I am shattered is an understatement; my body has shut down completely, and I am now suffering from a cold as well as my monthly moon-time a week early. When will I ever learn???  Easy does it!

At any rate, it was a magical time, with perhaps the most transformative event being a quiet meditation upon West Kennet Long Barrow. The harvest was in full swing in the landscape all around. Where we came from in Suffolk, the harvest began in early July, as we hadn’t had rain for two months. They were a bit more fortunate down in the south-west, and the harvest timing was more in tune with the Wheel of the Year than over in the East, where everything seems rather disjointed this year.

silbury hillSitting on top of the barrow, I could feel the energy of the land around me, as well as the energy of the ancestors and the barrow itself beneath me. The land’s energy was golden like the sun, flowing and bright. It was a stark contrast to the energy of the barrow, which was dark, cool and quiet. In the landscape, looking out over at Silbury Hill, I could feel the richness of this time of year, and see the ancient priests of the land atop the platform of that great hill, directing the ritual observances for honouring the harvest and the land, beginning at The Sanctuary and flowing all throughout that wonderful temple radiating outwards from Avebury’s henge and circle. Everything was in motion, everything was in full swing.

But beneath me was the silence of death, of deep stillness and quiet. Despite the bus load of tourists that had come and gone while I was meditating, I could still feel that deep sense of rest beneath me. I made my way down and into the barrow itself, stopping at the entrance to honour the ancestors. Deep within the barrow, in the furthest accessible chamber, I stood, honouring the silence of death.

But then the sounds of life came from the entrance, as baby birds chirped in their nest upon the arrival of their parents. Two families of swallows were nesting just above the entrance-way to the tomb, and the cycle of life and death seemed complete, and ever entwined, like beautiful Celtic knotwork or the spirals of the triskele seen upon so many of the neolithic and megalithic structures that abound in these British Isles.

We had just come from Swallowhead Spring, where it was a trickle in the dry landscape. Watercress choked the river Kennet, and the spring itself was dry.

We later moved to The Sanctuary, to experience this wonderful temple. It was like travelling back in time. We also visited the so-called “Moon Temple” that has been discussed in recent editions of Pagan Dawn magazine by geomancer Terence Mead. Sadly, we were unable to actually get close to the temple, as the farmer has moved all his cows, calves and a great big bull into that square kilometre where much of the temple lies. Shame, as we had walked miles and miles to get to it!

At Avebury we planned to hold a small ritual, just the three of us, during the lunar eclipse. We found a quiet corner, well, quiet for a minute or two before an old man tottered towards us as we had begun! It was all very odd, as he came near and then rolled out a blanket to sit upon, and made as if he was going to have a little nap. He stayed for a few minutes, then packed up again and made his way back the way that he had come. All very odd! We wondered if he was really real, and perhaps was, in fact, a spirit of place come to visit…

The eclipse was hidden behind fast moving clouds, and it seemed like the Wild Hunt was out riding early. The main part of the circle and henge had an air of a festival about it, so we kept to the quiet fringes and away from any crowds. As the wind picked up and our tired limbs grew heavy and cold, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.

All in all, it was an interesting trip, deep in the heart of such a sacred landscape. But is has also made me very aware of my own landscape, and how sacred it is to me personally. I won’t be heading back that way for some time now, for I found myself missing my land, my locality, more and more as each day passed. The long six-hour drive home was taxing, and I am so grateful now just to be home, still buzzing from the experience at West Kennet, but rooting my feet firmly into the sandy heathland soil of home.

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The birds have gone…

It is a melancholy time of year. Most of the fields are now lying still, shorn and with the stubbly remains jutting defiantly into the last of the summer sunshine. The house martins departed over the weekend; I had spent much of last week watching the elders teach the young ones how to glide and ride the air currents in preparation for their long trek to their winter homes. The sky is so silent and still without them, and there is a small space in my heart that is sad to have said goodbye to them. Good luck on your journey, little ones. May you be as safe as can be, and I hope to see you again next summer, when you herald in the start of the season of warmth and sunlight once again, alongside the calls of the cuckoo.

The full moon makes sleep difficult; dreams are seemingly random and exhausting, and will only have meaning when the actual events happen. My skills in divination and the sight are through dreams more than anything, but right now I’m so tired that I’ll be lucky to remember anything upon waking. It’s only in the actual doing or being somewhere that I’ll remember that I dreamt it, like on Saturday when I signed a new contract, and remembered writing an email with a query regarding it. In the dream, I had no idea who I was writing to or why; now it all makes perfect sense.

It is a time when we are seeing the fruits of our labour. But it is also a time when we cannot yet rest or lay down our tools, for there is still much to be done. There are many other harvests that await. I have had a good crop of raspberries this summer, and another one on the way. The first apple harvest was abundant, and the second looks to be even better from my three little trees. I have just released my seventh book, with another written and in production, and a whole new one to work on. Druid College’s next Year 1 session begins in October, but we have our first session of our Year 3 apprentices beforehand to journey with on pilgrimage to Glastonbury in September. There is still much to be done.

The leaves are beginning to change, and a soft sadness tinged with relief lies within my breast. It feels like I’ve cried a long time, and am releasing that juddery sigh that often follows a good sob. New things await, but the old ones are being put to bed first. Everything in its own time. Nature does not hurry, and yet everything gets done.

So this evening I will be honouring the full moon and the Lammastide, with ritual in the company of a couple of lovely ladies. As the combine harvesters grumble relentlessly in the background, we shall sing to the moon, and share in the bounty that we have received with the spirits of place, the ancestors and the gods. Bread that I will bake this afternoon will be our offering, as well as words and vows of the work to come.

The times of sadness and stillness are required, just as the times of light and laughter. For we cannot have one without the other. They are not opposites, but simply on different places in the spectrum of human emotion. We ride the currents in keeping with the tides and seasons, and work towards integration and harmony.

May we be the awen.

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Blessings of the First Harvest

As Lugh pledged to honour his foster-mother, Tailtu with games in her honour every year, what pledge will you make to the land? Let this vow strengthen your resolve through the cycles of the seasons. Lammas/Lughnasadh blessings to you all. x

Lughnasadh

Reblog: Lammas, Don’t Fear the Reaper

This is a reblog from my channel at SageWoman for Witches and Pagans at PaganSquare. To read the full article, click HERE.

The grain harvest is being collected in the fields around my home. The usually still and silent evening air is filled with the sound of combine harvesters, accentuated every now and then with the hoot of a tawny owl. Lammas is upon us.

Standing on a footpath that divides two large fields, one side filled with barley just reaped, the other with wheat standing pale golden in the sun, I raise my hands to the blue sky and give my thanks for all that nourishes us. I walk a ways into the cut field, the harsh stubs of barley amid the dry, sandy earth and place my hands upon the soil. Thank you for your blessing, may the land be nourished even as it nourishes us. Hail and thanks be to the goddess. I then move to stand on the edge of the wheat field, allowing its song of potential to flow through me. I brush the bent heads filled with seed and say another prayer of thanks.

This is a wonderful time of year, when the songs of the ancestors flow through the rural heartlands of Britain. Though the way we harvest is different, still there is that cycle of growth, of planting and harvesting. After the long hot days of midsummer, the lengthening evenings are welcome, bringing cooler air. Though the dog days may still lie ahead of us, there is something different in the air at this time of year. The scents have changed, the leaves are dark green and heavy, the foliage beginning to choke out and fall back.

I love this time of year. The birds have fledged, and the muntjac deer are at the end of their mating season. The stag barks occasionally for his hind on the other side of the hedge, and this year’s badger family come to visit every night to eat the fallen birdseed from our table and the peanuts that we put out. The sidhe are active at their special spots, over by the burial mound as they are at each of the fire festivals. It is a time of celebration, though there is still much work to be done…

Continue to the full article HERE