Starhawk, The Spiral Dance
Photography (c) Joanna van der Hoeven 2019
Starhawk, The Spiral Dance
Photography (c) Joanna van der Hoeven 2019
Blessings 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.
Sitting 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.
Brighid is often known as the goddess of the sacred flame and of the sacred well. It is often said in religions throughout the world that where fire and water meet there is the greatest potential. Exploring her aspects of fire and water are extremely beneficial and here I shall talk a bit about fire; however, perhaps not in its most usual aspect.
We are all familiar with fire as flame, as external energy whether that be a fire in the hearth, the combustion that allows us mechanised transportation or the heat of the sun. What I’ve also been exploring is the fire within, that flame or spark of energy that ignites us to do things, say things, create things. I often think of inspiration in the Druidical “fire in the head” sense, but I also feel fire in the belly and fire in the heart. The fire in the belly is intuitive, instinctive. The fire in the heart is our passion, our love, our capacity for compassion and understanding.
The fire of the heart can take a long time to come into being. In our society, we often feel isolated from each other, even when we are literally living on top of each other in urban high-rise complexes. We learn coping techniques of shutting ourselves off from one another in order to function. We may have been hurt by others in the past and that causes us to dampen our flame of love for the rest of the world.
We also live in a society wherein it seems perfectly acceptable to douse someone’s fire. Think of reality shows, especially those that have “judges” critiquing the participants. Last year I gave up watching Strictly Come Dancing because I was tired of one particular judge being an outright bully, thinking his comments were humorous when they were in reality just plain mean. Putting down, making fun of someone who is simply trying their best to participate in a dance show to raise money for Children in Need is not something I wanted to be a part of. I can donate money directly instead of supporting that kind of behaviour.
We are so influenced by what we watch on television – we cannot deny that we are not. And it frightens me, especially with the amount of television that children are often exposed to these days. It is a rare occurrence, even where I live, to actually see children playing outside despite there being the most gorgeous countryside at their disposal. Whether that is due to parents’ control or other factors I cannot know – all I know is that when I was growing up the streets would be filled with neighbourhood children riding bikes or playing street hockey among other games. Are children nowadays being raised by television and computer games instead?
We live in an extremely competitive society, or so we are told. We feel that we always need the upper hand, the edge on a situation. We are now programmed to work against each other as opposed to with each other. We are trying to beat that other person out in promotion, or to be the best as everyone knows that the top dog is the happiest. We live in a put-down culture where co-operation simply doesn’t exist. We do not know our neighbours.
Living like this provides a perfect divide and conquer technique for those who want to keep us under their control. What we need to do is to reclaim our own power, and that of our own community. Instead of dousing the fire in other people, we need to cheer them on, to work together to make our lives better. It’s happening in small grassroots ways here and there, but not on a massive scale. In my own village, we have a village allotment where people can get together to work on group projects as well as their own. The village shop often acts as a hub for people to interact with each other.
What we need to do is to stop trying to take each other down and instead build each other up. We need to realise that life is not about competition. As a social species, we thrive better when we work together. When we douse the fire in other people’s hearts we are also dousing the fire within our own hearts. Every word, every deed with the intention of dousing another’s fire reduces our own capacity for love and compassion, to make the world a better place. Why on earth would we want to do that?
In her book, The Earth Path author and activist Starhawk talks about this very subject, exploring it at various Witchcamps. A proud supporter of community effort and achievement, of bringing power back to the people, she has worked with the various elements. She tells us of the results of working with fire and dousing another’s energy.
“Throughout that week, we went on to reflect on the ways in which we put out each other’s fire. When we recognise subtle energies, we become responsible for the kind of energy we are putting forth in our community. The things we do and say about each other create subtle energetic fields that either support our work and our relationships, or undermine them.
Malicious gossip, backbiting, unsupportive criticism, and mean-spiritedness douse even the stoutest of fire. And because a fire takes energy to build and maintain, such negativity is wasteful of the community’s resources; it’s like use electricity not just to keep the radio on all the time, but to keep it tuned to an irritating and distracting station… when anger festers, when we chew over our grievances like old bones without expressing them directly, when we meet others with sullenness or resentment, we douse not only their fire but our own.”
We need to judge situations in our lives all the time – they key to doing so lies in not being judgemental. We also need to support each other. If you don’t like what someone is doing, if you think it is detrimental to the community, you need to speak to that person directly. If you just don’t like them, then leave them well enough alone. All too often it is easy to attack or undermine someone through subtle means – Facebook and blogs are often used as tools for such behaviour. We can so easily dowse another’s fire through incessant comments or insidious ways online without anyone else apart from the target being the wiser. Let’s stop this behaviour right now. It is within our power.
Let’s cheer each other on, and where we simply cannot let us walk away with respect. Let’s stand up for what we believe in without resorting to maliciousness. Let’s put some good fuel onto the fire of our hearts and that of others and in doing so everything will burn with a cleaner, better focused energy.
Brighid has taught me to look deeply into what is feeding my fire, and how I can feed the fire within others. For that I am utterly thankful.