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Archive for August, 2012

The Magical Forest is a place steeped in legends; a land of enchantment, of magical fountains and mysterious lakes, standing stones and dolmens, fairies, giants, sorcerors and druids. This is the home of Viviane, the enchantress, the Lady of the Lake, the realm of Merlin and Morgan le Fey…


The little village I live nearest to, was known as an outpost of paganism, long after the rest of France was converted to Christianity. The situation was so dire, that a priory was built in the C13th, by the Knights Hospitaller, on the site of an old pagan shrine and healing spring, in an attempt to save the ‘credulous’ and ‘primitive’ people. I now live in the remnants of that priory.

Overlooking my house to the North, stands a huge and mysterious granite rock, known to be the domain of a Fairy Queen named Quasnon (or Couesnon). Hidden in her chamber, and guarded by black, hairy dwarves, lie inestimable treasures.
Many locals, over the centuries, have encountered these dwarves near the rocks on the night of the full moon, and although unpredictable and mischievous, they can be helpful, some carrying messages across great distances, ‘faster than the wind’ (this in the days before telephones…), some plaiting horses manes, others sweeping your house by night, or preparing cream for your breakfast.

Even better, if, for example, a ploughman happened to need a team of oxen to work his fields the next day, he would go to the foot of the rock at dusk and ask for « two oxen capable of doing four days work in a day, for tomorrow ». The next day at dawn, a team of black oxen would be waiting already yoked. He must, however, give them names or they would be wild and unruly!
At the end of the day, they would return to the rock. But the ploughman must remember to put 5 coins in the little bowl hanging from the yoke…

As for the fairies…Couesnon their Queen helps those who have lost something. Utter the words, « Ah, si j’avais celui des fées de la Roche ! » (Oh, if only I had that which the fairies of the Rock have!) and the wish would be granted!

 

One day, a peasant named Lormière, on his way to work bringing in the harvest, met upon the road a sorceror who was known to have dealings with the devil and to work enchantments and other ‘marvels’. He mocked Lormière for working so hard for nothing, when under the Rock lay a treasure so valuable that he would never have to work again if he were to find it. All he had to do was wait for nightfall, and not be afraid of anything that he might see.

Lormière didn’t believe him, and forgot all about this strange meeting. A year later, however, in the same spot, he once again encountered this sorceror. This time, he was convinced.
That night, at the right time, he set to work, digging beneath the rock. He dug so hard and so well, that eventually, he succeeded in finding the treasure of silver. Overcome with joy, suddenly he saw a three footed hare sitting upon the rock that was balanced above the treasure and was afraid… Since then, no one has ever seen the treasure.
Poor Lormière! Believing that the fairies would bring their silver out every Christmas at midnight, to ‘air’ it, he decided to seize it for himself. But this time, he found it guarded by two fierce dogs. Baring their teeth, they tried to devour him. He ran for his life!

 

In another tale of Couesnon and her court, a fairy came calling on a woman, living nearby and spent the long winter nights with her, keeping her company whilst her husband was away. She would come in each evening, through the chimney, settle into the corner and watch her. The woman grew increasingly tired of her fairy visitor, and together with her husband concocted a plan to get rid of her.
One evening, the husband dressed in the clothes of his wife and took her place at the fireside, pretending to spin. And so it was… That night,the fairy came down the chimney as usual. She looked at the spinning wheel, turning as usual, but producing no thread…In a low voice, she whispered: « The Beautiful one of the evenings, turned and fed her spinning wheel and on the spindle appeared a thread, but this one turns and feeds the spinning wheel, but on the spindle nothing appears. »

The pretend spinner leapt to his feet and demanded the name of the fairy. « I am called Me-Myself » she replied.
In the same moment, the master of the house threw fire on the fairy. She fled up the chimney crying out « I’m burning! I’m burning! »

Since that time, no one has ever seen fairies again here.

Or have they…? Coming up: Part 2. ‘The return of the Fairies’



 

 

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Come, follow me into the woods today…Come, follow me into the woods to play…

Some people are social creatures. What makes them happy is the company of other humans. Others are not. Inspector Morse described himself as « not a joining things sort of person ». I know the feeling.
As I child, I lived in the country, surrounded by woods. In those woods, I was euphorically happy – free to roam where I wanted, in a world unbounded by the strictures of humans with blinkered , monochrome vision. And they weren’t ‘just’ woods. They were fantastic lands, where fairytales and myths came alive…They were jungles, alien planets, coral reefs on the sea bed even. They were the past and the future, a timeless realm of magic and wonder.

My friends were the trees and nature, the spirits of the woods, characters from books and from the boundless universe of the imagination.

I was never bored in the woods. How could I possibly be bored? There weren’t enough hours in the day to fit in all the adventures, to ‘live’ all the stories jostling to be the one claiming today as its own.

Some days, though, were different…more ‘still’. The woods felt as though they were waiting for me to join them. It was no longer my imagination conjuring worlds…It was no longer me, the ‘creator god’ of my own reality. I would climb up into my favourite tree, a graceful, pollarded beech, and sit on the ‘floor’ formed by the pollarding, surrounded by branches reaching skywards, my back against the smooth bark, and breathe in the woods…the scents, the sounds, the colours…
I hear the deep, earthy, alto song of the beech, and close my eyes to listen…She sings of the Otherworld, of a time before time. She sings of the Spirits of the woods, of Mother Earth, of a profound, immanent, numinous magic.

Schoolfriends spent their teen years wanting to escape the countryside, longing for the excitement of the city. Life was about parties, friends, clubs…boyfriends. Not me. All I ever wanted to do was get out of the stygian prison of school and back into my woods.

Every tree holds a different tale within its memory. You can read about them in books, study their correspondences and attributes. But in the same way that you could never really know how it feels to be in love without having experienced it, or what a rose smells like, or how summer rain feels on your face, you can’t really know a tree without truly ‘knowing’ it…embracing it, becoming one with it…listening to its song.
And the song of the beech has a verse that I haven’t yet mentioned; a verse that sings of ancient wisdom passed on, a paean to Hermes and Thoth, gods of writing. The Anglo-Saxon word for beech was ‘boc’…What does that sound like?…Book!
It’s a tree of both the Air element and the Earth element, and a tree that is connected to the idea of bringing the airy inspiration of words into earthy, grounded manifestation as writing in books. But not just any books…Beech tree books touch a deep, ancient wisdom. They bring written form to archetypal truths.

There was a connection between those ‘different’ days in the woods and my normal wood days. The worlds of my imagination were not just fleeting phantasms. They were/are in many ways more ‘real’ than any of those parties or shopping trips, more ‘real’ than the food I ate or the clothes on my back.

All of those time-bound things were transitory. Most are now long forgotten…A few remain as memories, but filed away in the archives of my past. The experiences I had all contributed their part to me today, but one day, this me will be dead.
The realm of the mythical, however, that boundless universe into which I plunged in the woods, never dies. It’s there, just as real, vibrant and spellbinding today as it was when I was a child, and it will still be there a thousand years from now…
When I write, the alchemy of Mother Beech inspires me. Her branches reach up into that magical realm, and bring down to earth stories, as the pen touches the page and transforms imagination into books.

So…

Come, follow me into the woods today, In realms of magic and wonder to play…

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Dixie-Goat winking at me

Yesterday evening, I was mugged by a goat for a lollipop.
Not what you and I might call a lollipop, admittedly, but in the world of goats, it was a lollipop, and an exceptionally delicious one at that – A mineral lick! – A stone full of all sorts of goatish delights, and a highly prized object if you’re a goat.

I tried to sneak into their field with it. I know my goats, and know them to be greedy (one in particular…), so waited until they were out of sight behind some trees and rocks. All was peaceful. A dove cooed softly from the branches of an apple tree. A gentle breeze stroked the leaves. Very carefully, I lifted the chain from the gate and eased it open. I crept in. All was still calm. I felt rather pleased with my sneaky success as I placed the mineral lick on the ground and began to cut it out of its wrapper…

« BADABOOM BADABOOM BADABOOM BADABOOM » The sound of thundering hooves, galloping across the orchard behind me.

« Maaa Maaaaaaaa Maaaaaaaaa MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA  Lollipop! LOOOLLIPOP! »

« No! Wait! Wait! » I call out in vain, as I scramble to pull off the last of the wrapper.

But my goats have been transformed into five horned and hooved Usain Bolts. They arrive in a greedy mass of hot bodies, stamping feet and hard horns.

« STOP! » I use my fiercest voice. I am meant to be the head goat around here after all.

« Maahaahahahah » They laugh as one.

I grab the plastic wrapper, (if I leave it, I know they’ll eat it) and pulling horns and pushing bodies, manage to escape the melée. The gate is only a few yards away…

A few yards too far. « Oooph » I am butted…

« Maahaahaaahaaahaaaaa! » The goats roar with laughter.

I spin round. Standing in front of me, with a huge grin on his face, is Dixie-goat, the naughtiest goat I have ever known.

« What do you think you’re doing? » I glare fiercely. « That hurt! »

« Maahaahaahaahaa! » The rest of the goats are ignoring their mineral lick now and instead enjoying the entertainment.

« Pfft! » Dixie snorts with derision.

« You won’t be getting another mineral lick, if that’s how you say thank you! »

Dixie turns his head to one side and surveys me with a haughty expression. « I believe you. NOT! Maaaahaaahaaahaahaa! » He steps back and rears up. « Play with me! » he commands.

I back away. « Remember last year? Remember the morning I found you dangling upside down trapped by your hind leg in the fence wire? Who was it that rescued you?» I try another tack. « And when you were a little kid, who made sure that you got food when the big goats bullied you? » I continue to back away.

Dixie eyes me skeptically. « You two legs talk a lot of silly nonsense! »

« Daisy looks like she’s enjoying that mineral lick. » I change tack again, staring very blatantly across at the other goats.

Dixie stops in his tracks, all thoughts of butting games forgotten.

« MINE! Maaa-ine! MAAAA-ine! »

There is one thing that trumps playing – FOOD! And if someone else is eating it, he wants it.

The other goats scatter as he charges back over to the ‘lollipop’, bleating indignantly. I escape.

This morning, I look over my shoulder in the mirror – One perfect, blue, horn-shaped bruise…A butt on the butt. Mugged by a goat for a lollipop…

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Here in the depths of Armorica, I can usually hear no manmade sound; no cars, no overhead planes. But this morning, one sound carried through the forest – bells, ringing out from a distant village.

I stop to listen… The bells sing in antiphony with the forest, deep golden notes answer the silvery arpeggios of song birds and the mellifluous amber hum of bees. They sing a timeless song of the sacred, bells and birds and bees.

There are bells in the city too…of course! And birds and even bees. But how often do people stop to listen to their song? How easy is it to hear above the constant background din?
On the rare occasions that a human is brave enough to venture here (‘Danger Dragons’ sign on the gate is there for a reason…), one of the first things that they comment on is how quiet it is here. Quiet?! It’s not quiet. Even in the depths of midwinter, on the coldest, bleakest of nights, there are owls calling to the shadows, the blood-curdling cry of a vixen, the answering bark of her mate… and there are sounds I’ve heard nowhere else, unearthly cries like banshees keening over the corpse of summer past.

But I know what people mean when they say that it’s quiet. Something is missing. Something that is so ubiquitous, that for most people, even living in the countryside, it has become a sound that they filter out of their consciousness – A constant low level hum, like white noise. Distant traffic, invisible planes, power lines… It’s probably there now, behind the surface sounds of your life, but it’s only when it’s not there that you realise that maybe life on Earth didn’t always sound like that.

In the years that I lived in central London, I didn’t notice it. How could I? There was never any moment when I wasn’t bombarded by a cacophany. Humans are adaptable. I adapted. I slept through car alarms, police sirens… Yet now, I find even a small town overwhelming. But I hear things now that once I wouldn’t have noticed; the unusual song of a migrant bird, the sound of rain approaching across the forest, the footfall of a deer, the grunt of a boar in the undergrowth, the change in the alarm calls of birds as a danger approaches and recedes.

The same is true with smells. I take a visitor into the forest. Fox! The scent of fox is overpowering. A little further on, a pole cat has marked his territory. A subtle hint of wild rose, the rich loamy tang of mushrooms… My visitor with a nose accustomed to petrol fumes, curry houses, antiseptic cleaning products, human chemical perfumes, smells nothing.

I stop to listen to the bells, ringing out as they have done for over a millenium, my ears hearing the same music as the ears of the monks who lived here 700 years ago.

I listen to the deep silence behind their song, the same deep silence as ears heard long before the monks arrived, long before humans arrived…The veil of time dissolves.

I lie down in the long grass, one ear to the ground, and listen. Above, the forest sings on. Below, I hear another song – a creaking, sighing, whispering song; invisible life beneath the soil, moving, growing; I hear the Earth breathing, hear her heartbeat. Above and below, inside and outside, forest, bells, Earth and me…What a beautiful song Mother Earth sings when you listen.

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This morning my cat was chased by a hen. Not a large, ferocious looking fiendish hen, but a fluffy and very pretty little red hen. The name of the cat will be withheld to protect her reputation. The name of the hen however… Henbane Hendragon, wild hen of the Western Reaches, intrepid pioneer and explorer of lands never before seen by poultry eyes.
Whilst her fellow flock-mates are happy to spend their days gossiping together within the bounds of their orchard, Henbane hears the call of the wild.

Every morning, after a quick social breakfast, she is off, flying over 8 feet of deer fencing, to spend her day roaming the forest, following her beak wherever it may lead her. And every dusk, she is back, ready to settle back into the hennish evening routine…gossip, mutual preening, more gossip, a few squabbly pecks, politics, food, who’s been flirting with King Cockerel, who ate more than her share of grain…Henbane clucks. She knows the right noises to make. But only one small red ear is listening. Little do they know the adventures she has had… the things she has seen…Little do they know the magic and wonder, the thrilling terror and the secret delights of the wild forest beyond the fence…

My cat flees up a tree. She doesn’t want hassle with a hen. Sharp beaks and sharp tongues are not for her. She likes hens. She also likes mice. Yes, she eats them, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t like them. She watches them eat from her food bowl with a benevolent, approving smile…

I leave my cat and hen to their own devices and set off with the dogs on their morning walk. The forest hums a gentle, early morning summer tune; waking crickets, woodpigeons, arpeggios of blackbirds and thrushes, and… Something moves in the undergrowth ahead! Something big.

My dogs are transformed. No longer waggy tailed, loll-tongued puppies, but full grown wolves…Noses hard to the ground…PREY…

A red deer hind emerges from amongst the trees, on the path ahead of me. She stops. Dogs head off blindly in the opposite direction!!! She canters off, back into the forest.

The Deer… This is not the stag that so many know, but the hind. A creature of grace and beauty, gentleness and poise…An animal who symbolically connects to the wild forest, to sacred and magical places; whose magic calls to you to release the trappings of the material world and go deeper into that forest…

Today is the full moon, and a full moon conjunct the asteroid Cyrene. In Greek mythology, one of her epithets is ‘deer chasing, second Artemis’.

I turn to leave and a memory stops me in my tracks.

Two and a half years ago, in this same place, I found a young deer, who had been chased by hounds into my pond. She was exhausted, shivering and terrified. Where I live used to be a deer farm, so it’s surrounded by deer fence. Somehow she had got in, but not the hounds. However, getting in was one thing, getting out another.
Something shifted… I turned away and walked back to the house…fast…, found some serious wire cutters and returned with them. Everything calm…focused…I cut a big hole in the deer fence.

I go back to the pond.
I can see the little deer is weak. I step down into the pond, I wade in deeper. Only, it isn’t ‘I’.
The month is February, but I feel no cold water, and as I approach the deer, there isn’t the slightest question in my head. Infact there is no human ‘chatter chatter’ in my head at all. Nothing beyond what I’m doing now. I reach out and pick up the deer. She feels lighter than a cat! And she doesn’t struggle. She lets me pick her up, lets me carry her out of the pond, across to the hole I’ve cut in the fence.

I lay her down on the other side and walk away. All I feel is a profound, soul-knowing love.

Half an hour later, I return. She’s gone. Run back into the forest. Alive. Free.

Maybe she returned today…Maybe she has met Henbane…Maybe there is so much more to Nature than humans believe… (to be continued…)

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Harvest blessings! Today is the festival of Lammas or Lughnasadh – A time to give thanks for the first fruits of the harvest. The first wheat sheaves have been cut, the hay harvest is over, and the boughs of the trees in the orchard are beginning to hang low.
Yesterday evening I brought my hay in from the fields, where it has been drying.-The completion of a year’s cycle. And yet already, next year’s crop lies sleeping within the earth, waiting for the kiss of the spring sun to wake the new growth, waiting for the caress of the spring rain to work the alchemy of life.

150 bales of hay this year. A good harvest. This winter my goats will feast, and reward me next spring with luxuriant fleeces. The cows in the bottom field will feast, and give in return the creamiest of milk, and cheese that carries a memory of flowery hay meadows.

The rest I barter. Some bales bring me straw, for poultry bedding. Others grain, for poultry food. Delicious eggs are their side of the deal.
Yet others get me the firewood I need to stay warm through the chill months of winter.

The hay is in. But the harvest is just beginning. In the vegetable garden, the hard work of the past few months is now beginning to pay off…lettuces, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, beetroots, peppers, chilis, onions, shallots, garlic, peas, beans, mange-tout, carrots, leaks, spinach, chard, cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, melons, courgettes, pumpkins, salsify, turnips, parsnips, swedes…As the Earth gradually draws back in to herself, she offers up her bounty.
And then there are the herbs; chives, parsley, thyme, rosemary, angelica, chervil, basil, mint, sage, borage, sorrel, comfrey, st john’s wort,.. And the fruit; strawberries, raspberries, red and black currants, and soon blackberries, sloes and elderberries…Soon too the first cherries and plums, then peaches, pears and apples. The nuts – walnuts, hazelnuts, and chestnuts- will come later, as will most of the mushrooms

.

As the days shorten, and the shadow of winter approaches, I prepare. Via a barter on top of another barter (!), I get jars of honey from an elderly beekeeper a short flight through the forest as the bee flies…and made by bees who feasted in spring on the same flowers that are now lying in hay bales in my barn, ready to start the next barter cycle. Some of the fruit and vegetables that I can’t eat (enough for a small village…!!), will go into making preserves. Some go to friends (bad news if you don’t like marrows…)

And others do something much more exciting…

Cider! And from the cider, calvados (apple brandy) and pommeau (and if the cider is vile…cider vinegar! Lol).
Elderflower champagne, elderberry wine, marrow rum, sloe gin…

So today I give thanks to Mother Earth. In those dark, cold winter days, when the trees stand skeletal against an iron grey sky, I will pour myself a glass of apple brandy, and remember crickets singing in flowery hay meadows, pollen laden bees and newly fledged birds trying out their wings above plump fruited apple trees.

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