One of my favourite dancers, in a lovely short film about what dance means to her personally, as an art form, lineage and more.
I spent last weekend in Glastonbury, a beautiful little town where I always go a couple of times each year to refocus and recharge the old batteries on a spiritual pilgrimage. As a Druid, I get inspired by the land around me and my home environment more than anything, but if you want to see outside the box so to speak, there’s nothing better than a pilgrimage to a spot that has great energy and peace.
And so, my friend and I piled into the car and drove down to Somerset, stopping off at Avebury on the way as she had never seen it before. We had lunch at the Lion (a fantastic pumpkin chili burger each) and then walked amongst the stones. After we had completed our first circuit we went and spent some time by the Obelisk, in one of the two inner circles. This is a special spot for me, as it really is a gateway into the past; time moves differently in that circle. Sitting on the ground, placing your hands upon the grass you could feel time shifting and slipping in and out of the present, looking up and seeing what Avebury would have looked like before the houses were built, before the village came. It’s a powerful thing, going in and out of time, but also so wonderful: a reminder that time is not linear, exactly, but an ever ebbing and flowing tide.
After Avebury we headed to Glastonbury, where we had hoped to meet up with some friends and drum up on top of the Tor at sunset. By the time we had settled in and eaten, it had already gone past 9pm and we were just too tired, and had to pass on that little excursion. We went back to the B&B (Pilgrim’s B&B – I highly recommend it) and with a visit from the resident cat we went to sleep, having a big day ahead of us.
The next day we were up early – too early for anything to be open! Shops don’t open until after 10am (some of them opening when they feel like it) and the Goddess Temple was only open from 12 noon. So we wandered around the town, looking in windows and finally visiting them when they opened. There are some really lovely shops there, with good books, items and other pagan goodies (I highly recommend the incense from The Goddess and Green Man – Mists of Avalon and the Golden Sickle are my favourite!). We then went to the Goddess Temple, where we were able to find a little sanctuary from the high street. Clad in the red colours of Beltane still, it was a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Meditation is so easy in that sacred space. I asked one of the temple priests if he could smudge me and he did with some really powerful incense cleansing my spirit with skilful sweeps. Inside the temple there is also a Red Tent, where I always go for a second meditation session and a card reading using the Temple’s own deck of cards they created out of the Nine Morgens of their tradition. I got Freedom, and pondered that for a while in the beauty of the little temple.
We had some lunch and then headed to the White Spring, but it was closed. Sadly, the opening hours state that it is open in the afternoons on the weekends, but it is rather hit or miss as to whether anyone actually comes and opens them. So we then proceeded to Chalice Well, a beautiful space with lush gardens and a light yet at the same time heavy atmosphere of the sacred. So many people from all over the world have been there, and it is amazing to think how many feet have walked these paths, drunk these sacred waters and prayed by the wellhead. I did my usual ritualistic route up to the wellhead at the top of the garden, where a few other people were sitting. As I settled myself, I could see the usual golden glow of healing emanating from the well and flowing out into the gardens. Some young children ran up, and the glow intensified around them. They looked down into the well and then ran off, moving with the swift determination that youngsters do when they must see and be everywhere at once. I smiled, loving their fresh energy and youthful exuberance. Normally I would have been irritated, as I am not particularly maternal, but their energy and that of the well brought a smile of joy to my face. As I sat and basked in that energy I looked around to the others who had gathered around the well head. I realised the deep need for healing that so many had when coming to the Red Spring, whether physical or emotional or both. My heart opened to everyone who had gathered there, wishing them all the healing that they needed, my soul opening in compassion.
After a time I went to sit on the lower slopes of Chalice Hill, where the Chalice Well Gardens overlook the Tor. Meditating there for a bit I was able to send my roots deep into the ground, breathing into them and through them from the deep, dark depths of the soil. My heart was calm, my soul at peace.
We left the gardens and I met an old friend from The Druid Network, who was there with a friend of his. It was so lovely to see him, and even though I had difficulties in the past with his friend, my heart was open to them both – Chalice Well is such a place of healing, I cannot even begin to describe it. We all chatted and laughed, and then we continued onto the Tor while they made their way into the gardens.
As we puffed our way up the steep slope of Glastonbury Tor, the wind whipped our hair and clothes and stung our cheeks. It was windy, even for the Tor, which is always windy. We got to the top, and as always felt the energy whirling around us, pulling us up, down, sideways, inside and out. My friend went and sat on the northern side while I found a little corner out of the wind facing westwards. As I sat I could feel the energy that made this such a special place, a place between the worlds, between the earth and sky with fresh clean water flowing from it into the red and white springs below. It was then that it struck me – freedom. The card that I had drawn from the goddess temple. Freedom was not just physical or creative freedom, but also an emotional freedom. Letting go of hate, letting go of past grudges, we are then free. My spirit soared with the jackdaws that lifted off the grassy slopes of the Tor to ride down into the valley below. The epiphany had struck, not just as an intellectual exercise but as a real life experience, from start to finish in a single day. My heart opened in true compassion on top of the Tor, to everything on this planet, like it never had before and I felt a deep peace settle in my soul that would carry me through my life ahead. I realised that before I had only glimpses of the healing power of compassion, now the light flooded through my being, in perfect freedom.
We went back down to enjoy a nice meal and then relaxed in the B&B. Tomorrow we would finish our shopping and pop into the White Spring on the off chance that it would be open (it wasn’t when we were there). I was saddened that I could not actually visit inside the White Spring, where I had first met my goddess, Brighid, but I could still feel her all around me, as I always do, wherever I am in the world.
Our journey back was quick and painless, and exhausted I climbed into bed next to my husband, my two cats snuggling up as if I had been away for weeks. Going away makes you appreciate all that you have even more, even as it opens up new doors and allows for new experiences. Thank you, Glastonbury, once again, for a beautiful weekend.
Moonhenge, in Cambridgeshire, is a brilliant example of new Pagan sacred spaces being created. With so much controversy over some of the megalithic stone circles and other sites around Britain, why should we not be creating more new spaces in which to celebrate, should we so wish?
Every Western Pagan knows about Stonehenge. They all know about the summer solstice celebration there. A loud and rowdy affair in which the public join in, it is more a rave than a sacred celebration. Though we cannot know for certain what the ancestors did in that ritual space, to me personally it just seems wrong to have people getting drunk and shouting loudly, climbing on stones and partying all night in a temple so closely linked to the dead as well as the sunrises throughout the year. I may be entirely wrong.
However, it just seems like sacrilege when the spirits of place are not honoured in a respectful way. To make something sacred is to honour and respect it – it is connected to such words as dedication, devotion and veneration, three things which most of the partygoers at the high point in summer are not terribly concerned with at Stonehenge.
The creation of sacred space is a key tenet of Druidry and many other Pagan religions. It is an invasion to have people that you do not know enter your sacred space and act out of accordance with the intention of the rite or ritual being performed. Out of hours access permits are available to those who wish to use the particular temple of Stonehenge for more private use, however, during the actual time of the sunrises and sunsets at various times of the year, this temple space must be shared with those who are not in tune with the intention.
Other sacred sites around the world do not seem to suffer as much from this intrusion. We would not party in Chartres Cathedral, for instance, or rave all night in the Temple of Athena….
To read the full article, click HERE.
“I cannot live in a temple in the sky. I have to come back, eventually. Reluctantly. Here in this space, the immediate and human concerns loom large. They seem increasingly like distractions from that which is truly important.”
See the whole article here – it resonates within my heart! http://druidlife.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/a-temple-of-sky/
Lisa and I arrived at Stonehenge mid-morning, alongside the bus tours and family tourists ready to go inside the fence and have a closer look at the world famous site.
Walking over the ditch into the complex itself, I asked the spirits of place for permission to enter, and to let them know that they were honoured. The response I got – “Meh.” They didn’t care.
Standing as close to the stones as you can get, it all looked rather small. The jackdaws were having a lovely time of it, enjoying the attention. The stones, however, did not. They still stood as tall and as proud as they were able, with the eyes of the world upon them, and yet they hated being a tourist attraction, a place where people simply come, look and then carry on with no real connection being made. The stones themselves had withdrawn fully into their own being, not letting anyone or anything in. They hated the tourists, unlike the jackdaws, who loved them (and the goodies that they brought).
For me, Stonehenge is a place of solemn ritual, not a place for hooting and hollering as the sun rises over that special point in the sky over specific stones. It is a temple not unlike Notre Dame Cathedral – and you wouldn’t go in there and raise a racket, would you? The original intention is lost to history, but if you try to feel it, to connect with it, there was something very wrong, and very sad about it all. The intention wasn’t right. I am perfectly aware that this is only my opinion, and that people may feel something totally different from the place.
Leaving Stonehenge we then made our way to Glastonbury; it was the destination to our pilgrimage. We came in over the Butleigh road and saw the Tor shining in the sun – what a sight is always is! Our hearts immediately opened to it, and we entered the sacred place that we call Avalon.
We made our way first and foremost to the Goddess Temple, to honour the Goddess. Inside was a Red Tent, which we smiled at the synchronicity of it all, for Red Tents have been popping up all over in our lives this past month. The temple today was not a very restful or peaceful place, but I suppose that it is always shifting and changing. Children were running underfoot as we entered, and then the attending priestesses whispering loudly the whole time intruded a bit on my wish for silent reflection and immersion into the Goddess – along with the loud chinking of change right by my head as they emptied the donation pot to take to the bank before it closed. I know it is all necessary, but it certainly wasn’t peaceful. However, this was my first visit to the Temple, and so without going back to compare I know that my view is very one-sided.
Our B&B was on the hillside of the Tor itself, a lovely place with a labyrinth in the front yard and very down to earth, welcoming hosts with sharp wits and a love for the place that was infectious. We climbed the Tor to watch the sunset and welcome the full moon as she rose, large and pinky-orange. Time stood still on the Tor, and we have never experienced a sunset that slow, or a moonrise that took so long, but perhaps that was simply because the wind howled around us and we were freezing out butts off! Still, we gently drummed as we waited for the moon to rise on the sheltered side of the Tor, and eventually we did see it in its fully glory (though our best view was from the B&B itself!).
The following day we went to the White Spring, where we had booked an hour’s slot for peaceful ritual and awakening to this newly re-dedicated place of devotion to the powers of water and the Goddess herself. The Victorians destroyed the old place where the White Spring used to tumble, covering the flora in calcite and making it a beautifully fey place, where green and white sparkled in the cove. They had built a pumphouse in that very magical spot, to divert the water from the White Spring for Glastonbury town – a very foolish move, for it only lasted a couple of years before the pipes became so calcified that they could no longer use them. Glastonbury now gets it water from the Mendips, I believe.
At any rate, the pumphouse was reopened by the White Spring Trust, and is now one of the most evocative places that I have ever been. We were greeted by a lovely chap who showed us how to lock ourselves in, and then once we were sealed in the very dark, cavernous building we set to work. Entering the threshold, the first view is of a large pool that the Trust built to collect water, a still and circular mirror surrounded by candles and fed in and out by a little waterfall. Tall arched pillars stand to either side – it really does look like a film set, I thought! So wonderful, so full of water – the sound of water was all that you heard, rushing down into the pool from the top of the left wall, and then out the other side, never disturbing the still surface of the large sacred pool itself. There was an altar to the Goddess, Brigit on the left hand side, and an altar to the Lord of the Wildwood on the right hand side. We said our prayers to both, and sang our song of welcoming to the spirits of place, honouring them for all that they were. We disrobed, and then sang some more, honouring this very special place. Lisa took her drum out, and drummed softly. We came together in front of the pool, and then it was time.
Stepping up onto the ledge, Lisa drummed and sang the Goddess chant, as I stepped into the pool of ice cold water. The water was not very deep, but so very cold – I had been swimming in the deepest lakes of Sweden, and they were not this cold. Raising my hands over my head, I called to My Lady, to let her know that I loved and honoured her with all my body and soul, and lowered myself slowly into the black depths. Once the water was past my waist, I could no longer breathe it was so icy cold – all you could do at that point was hold your breath and go completely under. Coming back out, still unable to breathe, I gathered myself and rose up, standing with my arms wide, finally able to once again open my lungs and experience what can only be likened to the first breath of a newborn babe. Exhilarated I raised my voice in zaghareet, my soul flung wide open to this Goddess of the Waters that was both so welcoming and so challenging. Grinning, I made my way out of the pool, and took up the drum as Lisa entered the still waters.
The beautiful follower of Elen, Lisa was all Earth Goddess energy blending into that of water as she slowly lowered herself, and came back up spiritually inspired to make the changes she so desired. It was beautiful to witness and behold, as the candles flickered and the sound of the water falling mixed with my voice in chant as we gave ourselves up to the White Spring. Once out of the water, we drummed and danced in a soft, feminine way, and made our offerings.
Dried and with our time up, we left that dark and sacred place and stepped out into the sunshine once more. We grounded ourselves and ate something, and then went to the Red Spring at Chalice Well Gardens, there to quietly reflect on what Glastonbury meant to us, and what we could give to honour it for all that is was. A beautiful golden/yellow energy flowed from the wellhead, making me smile as I sat beside it and opened my nemeton to this peaceful place, calling to my goddess Nemetona and letting my self release into her beauty in this wonderful place. We need more places like Chalice Well and the White Spring, I said to myself, more places where one can open their soul in safety and honour the gods and goddesses that call to them, the spirits of place and the ancestors. There were evocative places of reflection and communion. I know that this can be found anywhere, but sometimes it is just nice to go to a place of beauty to be inspired, to open your eyes and see that beauty everywhere. It’s difficult to explain.
We left the Red Spring and went back to Wellhouse Lane, just the other side of the wall to the road that now separates the White and Red Spring. I took my bottles of water from each Spring and, with Lisa watching for traffic, stood in the middle of the road and brought the two waters together as they should have done, as they used to do, before the road was built and they were diverted from flowing together. In the midst of the chaos of human life, I asked for peace and in the hope that one day these two otherworldly springs may once again join together. A mother and a young child watched, and then came up to me afterwards, the young child wanting to speak to me. “He thought you were a fairy”, the mother said, smiling as she later ushered him away.
We then spiralled up the Tor, making three circuits as we wound our way up. Sitting at the top, with the spirits of the waters flowing from beneath the Tor, the ground rising up to meet the sky, the Spirits of the Three Worlds sang deep in our veins. With so much elemental energy buzzing, I found it hard to connect – but moving aside I took out my medicine bag and reconnected with my self, and reminding myself before I could once again let go and feel that wonderful place again. To let go of the self, you have to know the self first and foremost, I thought. The sun shone brilliantly, the wind whipping our hair and the waters singing in our hearts.
After supper we retired back to the B&B, where we had our final experience of water in the land of Avalon, that land of water and mist – a lovely Jacuzzi!
After our vegetarian organic breakfast the next morning – this B&B had such a wonderful ethos – we made our way to Avebury. The sun was hidden in a grey mackerel sky, for which we were thankful – our eyes did need a break after days and days of sunshine. We walked the circle from quadrant to quadrant, honouring the stones that still stood and those that still lay beneath the ground, as well as those now broken up into wall boundaries, or buildings. The most poignant part for me was coming to the inner circle where the Obelisk stone once stood. Walking the circle as much as I could (for a church and other buildings were now in the place of where some of the inner circle lay) my gaze looked out and saw the stones as they would have been, as they should have been, though they were no longer there. They were clear as day to my eyes, and Lisa’s chant that she received as a gift at the top of the Tor rang through my head the whole time. I spiralled inwards towards the marker where the Obelisk once stood, and saw it standing huge and dark before me. I spiralled in and out of time, sometimes taking steps in this time, with the cars and tourists on the road, children playing on the banks, other times in a place of serene quiet where the huge sky overhead surrounded this massive stone. Flying through the shifts in time were the jackdaws, one who flew right next to me over where the Obelisk once stood – and through it where it now did stand, flickering in and out of time. I made my offering there and then, and took out my stone that I have had for over twenty years, with the raven on it. Another jackdaw alighted on the ground next to me, and I smiled at the little feathered fellow, saying my prayers to the spirits of place and honouring the ancestors.
Emerging back fully into the present time, we then visited the last two quadrants, where little newborn lambs with their umbilical cords still dangling down pranced near their mothers in soft and fuzzy joy. Upon completing our circuit of the stones we then headed back home, stopping at West Kennet Longbarrow and Silbury Hill.
When we reached the barrow two youngsters emerged from the dark tomb, one with a drum, smiling at us and greeting us. A felt a surge of energy follow them as they left, kind of pushing them back out into the sunlight even as I smiled at them and greeted them back. I stood at the entrance and said a prayer to the ancestors and to My Lady of Sanctuary, knowing that I was entering a very sacred space.
The tomb was beautiful, but felt wrong – not because it was not a place for the living, though that could have been a big part of it, but that the energy there again was not right. Rose petals were strewn on the floor in the main back chamber, and unlit and dead tea lights were left in niches in the walls where the previous people had decided to leave them – littering, in my opinion. I whispered my prayers for the ancient dead and left.
Standing out in the now emerging sunlight, we turned and looked back to the tomb. It felt halfway between the open and welcoming energy of Glastonbury and the “piss off” energy of Stonehenge – it was withdrawing into itself, but hadn’t gone as far as Stonehenge yet. The people who were coming here were had perhaps the best of intentions, but still not quite seeing the original intention, which is now lost to the mists of time. However with a little common sense could it be sensed once again – it was a place of the dead.
Drumming and raising energy were all wrong for this barrow. This was a place of silence, of darkness and of cool earth energy. People were walking on top of the barrow, further leading to the erosion. Why was this not fenced off to preserve this ancient monument of the dead? Wildflowers grew upon the top of the barrow, being trampled by tourists and ritualists alike, along with other fauna that we heard in the yellowed grasses that had overwintered there – mice or birds squeaking deep within the sheltered blades of grass.
I think that the main thing for the barrow and Stonehenge was a loss of respect, something that was still quite evident and strong at Avebury and Stonehenge. The Goddess was still be honoured at Glastonbury, but the intention at Stonehenge and West Kennet was lost. They needed to become holy places once more. Failing that, we needed to create new ones. Simply because something is ancient didn’t make it more worthy of honour that a newly built stone temple or place of burial for our dead.
Driving slowly through to the last stretch of home, through “Antler Alley” as I call it, where herds of deer live nearby, as well as the badgers, foxes, owls and other creatures, I considered the weekend, asking myself what I got out of it. I then realised that a pilgrimage wasn’t about what you got out of it – it was about what you put in. A pilgrimage was about giving yourself, of making the most of the time and energy that you put into it and offering yourself to the journey and the places themselves, which was what I had done. It was a sacred time to stop and to honour all that which inspired you, to give of yourself without asking for anything in return. The gods, spirits of place and the ancestors should simply be honoured for what they are, not for what they can give us.
A sacred pilgrimage is an act of love and devotion to all that you consider sacred, and will reawaken your soul so that you can carry that into back to your homes and lives, sensing and seeing the sacred in everything.