The deer rut is in full swing here where I live, and out on the heath the stags are calling, fighting and just generally being splendid. Here are some shots that I got this week – sadly, I couldn’t take any photos of the clashes, as it was too dark with evening coming swiftly on!
The candles were lit, the incense smoking, and the bells of the church ringing in the still night air. Friday night is the practice night for the village bell-ringers, and so our ritual was accentuated by their skilful tones. The moon was riding high in a hazy sky, and haloed with an ever-widening ring that spoke of the Otherworld.
We raised our boundary, which was to the whole of the property, and called to the realms of Land, Sea and Sky. We honoured the ancestors at the full moon of Samhain, as well as the spirits of place. We invited the Fair Folk who were in tune with our intention, as they have been a part of our rituals since we began. We sang to the four quarters, and then invoked the gods. We invited all who were harmony with us this Samhain night. This was our first time in invoking the god into our full moon ritual, but it felt right. How right, we were just about to discover.
We honoured the tides of Samhain, the winter months of darkness. We then performed our magical working at the fire, and gathering our clooties: ribbons of intention that we tie to the branches of the apple tree at the bottom of the garden every month. Walking back to the terrace where the bird bath, now a sacred basin of water reflecting the moonlight, served as our vessel as we drew down the moon into the water. The church bells rang in time to our working, and stopped just as we finished. The air was utterly still.
Suddenly, a loud bark sounded from the other side of the hedge, down the track a little ways. A fallow deer stag, wandering the moonlit night. We stopped and turned to the noise, and he barked again, this time a little closer. We looked to each other and smiled, feeling blessed by his presence. Then an enormous bark, just the other side of the cedar boundary, which made us all jump. He was right up against the hedge, near the little hole that the muntjac, fallow deer and badgers made.
And he was trying to come through.
We could hear him brushing against the hedge, wanted to come through the doorway, but his antlers preventing him from doing so. The firelight made the area where the entrance lay shadowed from our sight. Our breath quickening, we looked at each other. The God was here, and he was making himself known. He paced along the back boundary, trying to come through first one hole in one corner, and then the other. He then returned to the middle of the hedge, where the boundary between the civilised and the wild lay, that doorway to the Otherworld that lay in the hedge, and pawed the ground, sniffing the night air, sniffing the scent of the three women gathered around the sacred pool. Gathered around the sacred pool, with hearts beating loudly in their breast.
“A blessing to you, God of Samhain, Lord of the Wildwood. May your journey into darkness be blessed, and we are honoured by your presence,” I whispered softly into the night, tears falling down my cheek.
We heard him still sniffing, and we felt his eyes upon us. The world stood still, and we hardly dared to breathe. Would he change his shape and come through? What would we do if that happened? A hush descended, and we no longer heard him just the other side of the hedge. With hands slightly shaking, we dipped our clooties into the water and walked down to the apple tree, right where he had been sniffing just the other side. As we walked, we sang to let him know we were approaching. “Deep into the earth I go, deep into the earth I go. Hold my hand, brother; hold my hand. Hold my hand, sister; hold my hand”. We bravely tied our ribbons to the branches, knowing that the God stood only a few feet away from us. Stepping back, we finished the chant, and bowed to the apple tree and hedge, bathed in the soft moonlight. Silence reigned. We knew he was no longer there, and we didn’t hear him leave. He simply disappeared through the veil between the worlds.
We made our offering, and gazed into the mirror at the fairy portal shrine I made under the beech tree. We saw things: bonfires on the hills of Tlachtga, owl-faced warriors, deep caverns beneath the earth, the land of the sidhe, and the Mari Lwyd. We circled the fire clockwise three times for blessings, and then ended our rite, breathless and filled with wonder.
May the Lord of the Wildwood bless you all this season, may you find nourishment in the darkness of winter.
© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017
After Skyping yesterday with my friend and colleague, Kevin Emmons (who runs Druid College in Maine, USA) and having a great chat on the success of our first weekend of Druid College here in the UK (13 wonderful students, brilliant venue, great co-tutor Robin Herne and foraging expert, David Slate) I finished up some interview questions for The Wild Hunt, looked outside the window and decided I needed to get out into that sunshine. I had been hard at work all day, preparing my Zen Druidry online course and now wanted some fresh air, sun and that wonderful autumn smell that lingers on the sandy heath and under the trees.
I grabbed my staff (still with its ribbon of intention tied around it from our ritual at Druid College on Saturday night) and headed out the door, smiling at the sun, the vast amount of bees and other insects in the flowering ivy at the corner of my road leading onto the bridleway. I walked past the farmer’s field, bare barley stalks shining golden, greenish-yellow grass coming through the dried remains. I greeted the horses in their paddocks and walked out onto the heath, a Buddhist chant in my head.
Desiring to hear the songs of others, I tried to clear the Buddhist chant from my head by listening to the wonder, the symphony of sounds all around me but to no avail – it was simply replaced by another chant, this one a well-known Pagan Goddess chant. I sighed and let it be, trying to not attach to it or to the desire to change it, and simply walked on, paying attention to the light, the colours, the sounds and smells around me as the music flowed through my brain.
As I approached my special spot, a copse of birch trees set in the corner of a heather-filled wide open space, I saw that a large herd of deer had gathered beneath the golden boughs. I stopped and, not wanting to disturb them, sat down where I was beneath an oak tree. I took a couple of deep breaths and bowed low to the herd, to the oak tree, to the heathland. My mind stilled, the chants faded and the brilliance of the Oran Mór entered my soul, that great song of all existence. My heart was filled with joy, my soul resonating with the sound. How long I sat there I am not sure, but a stag calling behind me entered into the song, and I slowly detached from it, knowing that it was time to move on.
As I stood up, I noticed that the herd of deer had silently moved from the birch copse, and were now directly behind me. As I shook out my coat and replaced it over my shoulders, they began to move again, now heading towards the main part of the heath in great running, leaping bounds. I watched them go, letting their beauty and grace fill my soul with delight. As the last few does, meeping to their young left the area, the great stag appeared, his broad antlers heavy upon his head, his thick neck holding his head high and proud. He stopped, knowing that he was being watched, and I waved my hand to let him know who was watching him. He turned his magnificent head towards me, and we looked each other straight in the eye for many long moments.
I raised my staff up high towards him, my intention from the weekend’s ritual ringing through my soul: integration and compassion. I then bowed low to him, honouring him for all that he is with all that I am. We stood there for a few moments longer, looking into each other’s eyes, and I knew that he honoured me as I had honoured him. He then turned and lazily bounded after his does, carrying his rack with ease through the pine and bracken. Tears sprung into my eyes as I watched him leave, and I felt utterly blessed by this soul to soul connection. Let the awen flow.