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If you're lucky, you've been blessed with at least one glimpse into the approaching spring season this year. You know what I'm talking about -- one of those days when Mother Nature parts the veil between seasons, allowing a break in the unforgiving cold, and the sun shines and the ice melts and the birds get excited and catch up on gossip outside your window (which may even be open!).
Even if you're gritting your teeth through the tail-end of a tenacious Arctic winter like I am, the good news is, Spring Equinox and its gentler breezes are not too far away. What do we do while we wait?
Signs of spring are here, but the winter, feeling cheated, can still snatch tender things away (including your health) in its last attempt to hang on. In this way, the spirit of watchfulness and rekindled work from Imbolc continues.
But specifically, these weeks before Ostara (Spring Equinox) are a time to begin thinking about what seeds to plant for the growing season.
Having been with Ima for going on six years now, and having attuned myself to her rhythms, I know Spring can't be far off when haphazard stacks of seed-starting units materialize in different spots around our school. She reuses them from year to year, and they show up still dirty from last spring's seedlings, a bit worn perhaps, but always somehow looking cheerful and eager for another season's work. This year, they appeared in the hall next to a shelf of macerating tinctures. I know that soon we will spend a weekend or two charging the seeds, purifying them with the elements, chanting over them and finally planting them in their little cells according to the planetary hours. These seeds spend their first weeks of life on Ima's inner-city roof in a mini-greenhouse until they are thinned and ready to be planted on her farm in the country. There they are tended until they can be harvested as medicine for the clinic.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here.
Take delight in your cozy winter bed flipping through the colorful new seed catalogues, dreaming of the lovely garden you will create from those pages. But while you're at it don't miss out on the larger spiritual lesson of what it means to prepare for spring.
This is the time to "shop" for seeds you will plant in yourself. These may be extensions of New Year's resolutions you made in the Yule season, or of promises you dreamed and spoke aloud at Imbolc, when that critical transformation from crone to goddess, from winter to spring, was underway.
So what's the difference between this meditation and the Wheel of the Year's other endless opportunities for renewal? Let's go back to Ima and her seed catalogue. The whole point of saving, selling and buying seeds is that you know exactly what sort of plant you're going to get when you put it in the dark ground. In other words, you choose specifically what you want to cultivate because that is what you want to grow. If you wish to grow echinacea, you don't plant spilanthes seeds and hope it'll all work out somehow.
From a magical standpoint, being able to visualize a specific result is key to success. We are talking about internal alchemy here, which works the same way. It doesn't mean you become inflexible about the end result, but having a goal you can envision, taste and feel is a powerful motivator and sustainer of effort. If, for example, you decided some time after Yule that this year you would "be more creative," now is the time to think about two or three ways in which you will specifically be creative. Will you plant seeds that will grow into a recommitment to quilting, perhaps, specifically in the form of a coverlet made of fabric from your beloved grandmother's dresses? Or will your seeds grow into finding a fantastic partner who goes with you to ballroom dancing classes? Maybe you'll plant seeds that will turn into a beautiful newborn baby come next Yule.
When you choose your seeds deliberately, you know what sort of care and nurturance they require. And if you know that, you can provide the best growing conditions for them, thereby ensuring a successful crop -- a healthy, verdant crop of exactly what you intended.
You've got a couple weeks before it is time to harness the magical force of the Spring Equinox to plant those seeds and set in motion the wonderful journey of the light time of year. It would be hard to overestimate the importance of this pre-Ostara meditation. It is the one time of year where the pressure to really choose your path is ratcheted up considerably; the Spring Equinox affords a very finite opportunity during which we may partake of a rare and powerful universal force -- the force of birthing and being born!
Timing is everything on this one, folks. Choose your seeds with prayerful love, care... and gusto!
A view of Glastonbury and Chalice Hill from atop the Tor.
It's been a too-long break here on Herbis Orbis. I have wanted so much to write, but have not had the time! I had a dream last night about my Granddad in Glastonbury, and knew that today was the day I would reflect upon my trip.
We arrived in England after an uneventful yet thoroughly pleasant flight (always the case with British Airways) and took a coach to Bristol. When we got there, what started out as a cool mist had turned into cold rain. After a mix-up with the local buses, I called Grandmum to let her know we weren't too far off. "Well welcome to this lovely English weather!" she exclaimed. She'd let us know in the weeks leading up to our arrival that the weather was quite nice, and she'd hoped it would last.
We pulled in front of the Town Hall perhaps at hour late. Lugh rang the house again, and Granddad let us know that Grandmum had just started down the hill. Soon we would be saved from the cold, dark and wet.
When we arrived at Grandmum and Granddad's place, it seemed as though we'd only just seen them a few weeks ago instead of in May of 2006. Zoe, their sweet chocolate lab, was there to greet us. We sat down to the usual cocktail hour with our wonderful hosts; out came the little glasses of sherry and a fancy tray of crisps. (I want to add here that the Brits do crisps -- that is, chips, to us Yanks -- so much better. Especially these, which were a delectable new discovery.) There hardly seemed to be any catching up to do... We just sat down as though we had never left. Granddad was in good shape -- I suppose he wouldn't mind me saying so, considering he is 92, and Grandmum spritely yet soft as ever. Zoe... well, Zoe'd put on a few pounds. She'd become even more Granddad's girl than I thought she would when I first met her as a pup seven years ago. He fed her crisps when Grandmum wasn't looking.
They told us that a friend of theirs had just written a book on Frederick Bligh Bond, the architect and archeologist who excavated the Abbey ruins using occult methods such as automatic writing and seance. They were surprised that I knew who Bligh Bond was. We got a bit of neighborhood gossip regarding the book's release, as well as some trivia on Bond. This was the first of what turned out to be a rather Bligh Bond-themed journey.
We left our hosts -- I call them our hosts, but really, they are family -- for a pub meal at the Mitre and a look at the town center in the wet November darkness. I felt the first cold I was to feel that would largely define the trip as very, very different from my usual sojourns here in springtime. The cold was just a disguise though, for a thoroughly different Glastonbury.
The only thing we promised to bring home from this trip (and frankly, the only thing we could afford to bring home, considering the weakness of the US dollar at the moment), was water from the Chalice Well. We wanted to be sure we didn't forget and find ourselves running about frantically on the last day, so we decided to make it our first destination on our first morning in town.
A bit jet-lagged, I remember I got a a little grumpy with Lugh on the way into the Chalice Well Gardens. I can't remember exactly why, but it was probably because he was walking too fast (anyone who knows him will attest that even on pleasure trips he attacks the sidewalks, country lanes, and even rocky precipices like a mountain goat on crack). I walked straight to the Well and sat down. As usual, the keepers of the Garden had adorned the Well with flowers and berries from the gardens, and as always, she (the Well) looked beautiful. I gazed for a long time, going into meditation. Lugh sought out a secluded bench in a nearby stone grotto area. Contrary to my usual shutterbug nature, I brought out my sketchbook and pens, and began to draw the Well before me. It was the perfect meditation and the activity softened my sleep-deprived nerves. During the yang time of the year -- or at least, on all the other trips I have made to Glastonbury, which have been in May and June -- the Chalice Well Gardens have not been my absolute favorite place to visit, even though I have had at least one very powerful experience here -- one which ultimately drew me to my teacher and mentor, Ima. But on this day I listened to the water running deep inside the Well, and looked at her, really studied her for the first time, as I worked in my sketchbook. I wondered if initiations really were carried out deep inside the Well's five-sided cavern, but this thought only lasted fleetingly. I was in a receptive mood.
By the time I had completed my drawing, I had an idea. Lugh and I would pull a tarot card at each of the main sacred sites around Glastonbury, and these cards would address some aspect of our interior lives. The card each of us drew at the Chalice Well reflected our relationship to the feminine -- home, receptiveness, yin qualities -- and how we should develop this in the coming year. I walked over to where Lugh was meditating and we each drew a card. I pulled the Ten of Cups. Doesn't get much better than that! Also, it was a far cry from what I was feeling when I first entered the gardens, but a better measure of what I wanted and was feeling when I finished meditating at the Well. It was the perfect picture of what I would like to see for the both of us in 2008.
Now, the Abbey has always been my favorite place to while away the hours in Glastonbury. It is green, and quiet, and somehow it seems warmer than other outdoor places in the town. I love walking among the ruins of the abbey itself, but to be honest I prefer to just sit on the grass or on the leftover foundations of where the cloisters used to be. The energy of the place is quite unlike anything I've ever felt before, anywhere. Perhaps it is the imprint of the monks' devotion and prayerful routines that outlasts even the violence done there by Henry VIII and his soldiers.
We took our time walking the already familiar place, always seeing things we hadn't noticed before. The holly trees were all in bright fruit, one of the only reminders of the time of year. We found the words 'JESVS MARIA' engraved on a stone to the right of a door to the Lady Chapel -- an up til then unnoticed detail brought to our attention by Sig Lonegren (more about him later). He believes, as many do here, that the "Maria" here does not mean the Virgin. For the first time, we explored the wildlife area (badgers!) and duck pond, where a two-year-old shoved me out of the way (on an empty bridge, the place she wanted to stand was obviously the spot where I had stopped). We took a few photos and then sat in the Refectory (well, on the grass where it once was) and enjoyed the sun's warm rays.
The card drawn here would represent our relationship to spirituality. For me? Eight of cups. I have been feeling like the figure in that card for quite some time now, about my day job. It served a different me, and I do not feel bitter toward it at all; but it is time to move on, if I can just summon up the courage!
Air: Wearyall Hill
On the night before the full moon, we decided to take a walk up to Wearyall Hill, at the other end of town from where we were staying with Grandmum and Granddad. We went up at about four in the afternoon. The sun was low and casting a golden hue along the crooked spine of the hill and its most famous resident, the Holy Thorn (pictured in the previous post). This hawthorn, fabled to be a descendant of the tree sprung from Joseph of Arimathea's staff, was bedecked as usual in colorful pilgrims' ribbons and other airy offerings, fluttering in the chilly wind. We chose a bench near Wearyall's crest and just sat there in the sunset, watching the endless parade of dogs of all sizes, bounding up the hill ahead of their owners, on their afternoon walk. All except one tiny smoke-grey terrier named Guinness, who was wearing a sweater and walked even behind his master, who continually turned back to encourage him along. I couldn't decide if he looked lost, or bewildered, or annoyed, but certainly he looked cold. I could sympathize; the day before we'd taken a day trip out to Wells and I caught such a penetrating chill in the town's famed cathedral that it took sitting a long time before the Mitre's fireplace to shake it.
Soon a huge, watery moon appeared low above the horizon and we decided to see if we could wait til after dark to see it in all its glory. The temperature was dropping rapidly and it was certainly very windy, as it often is along the ridge of Wearyall Hill. As I mentioned in a previous post, I like to imagine that a heavenly force comes down through the Tor, down its slopes, echoes down the Chalice Well and moves her Gardens, whistles through the ruined Abbey's arches, then, picking up speed, soars off the back of Wearyall, carried on the wind -- or perhaps, carrying the wind. From here we could see the whole town and directly opposite us, the Tor, with the just about full moon rising next to it; behind us was the setting sun; and down either side of the hill endless farmland and the road leading out of Glastonbury toward Bath and Wells.
A view from the crest of Wearyall. See if you can find our shadows!
A view from the crest of Wearyall. See if you can find our shadows!
I thought about Joseph of Arimathea, and decided that the Wearyall card would reflect our journey and ultimate destination -- the place where we would one day arrive, lean wearily but contentedly upon our staff, and say, "Yes. This is definitely it." For my own card, I also intended it to mean what brought me to this place -- Why always Glastonbury? We decided we'd better draw our cards before the light was gone. I drew the Magician. Interesting. Interesting and a bit intimidating!
Starlings flew in staggered groups above our heads once the sun had disappeared.The moon looked huge as it rose and the sky turned purple and mauve around it. Soon it was quite dark and the moon looked about as beautiful as ever. It was a lucky thing we didn't wait another day. This was the only clear night we'd have for the rest of the trip.
The morning of our final full day in Glastonbury, Grandmum told us that she was walking Zoe in the countryside around the Tor and had lost sight of her ("Probably doing her usual thing, eating cow poo," Grandmum said of Zoe, who was dozing away in her bed in the kitchen). Grandmum decided to keep on walking, knowing that the dog would catch up with her once she realized she was gone. Wondering herself where Grandmum had gone, Zoe let out a bark. Grandmum turned to see "a rather miserable-looking bullock" standing not far away. Zoe's bark set off the bull, which went chasing after Zoe, who was running straight for Grandmum. The two of them charging at her, she had to quickly climb over some barbed wire into a neighboring pasture. Zoe got the picture and began to run in another direction to get the bull away from Grandmum. "Zoe saved the day!" I said over my fried eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and sausages, to which Grandmum responded that it was Zoe who started the trouble in the first place. She said she went right to the farmer's house to let him know that he had a disgruntled bull separated from the rest of the herd, being a menace on the public footpaths.
That night, the night after the full moon, I persuaded Lugh to climb the Tor once again by dark (as I did the first time I had brought him to this place, a year and a half ago). As we walked the dark lanes to the Tor, I had completely forgotten Grandmum's story... Until we arrived at the gate and saw the "front yard" of the Tor absolutely covered in cows. Well, that's an exaggeration. I should say it was netted with a loose matrix of bovines. I couldn't tell which of these were bullocks, though. I've walked naively past cows and what turned out to be bullocks in the meadows of Glastonbury before -- an action I never repeated after walking through a pasture of them in Ireland with Lugh and having him tell me to "Go quickly and quietly and don't make eye contact." Lugh, having grown up on a farm, is a person whose opinion I trust when it comes to livestock. He said that sometimes cows get spooked -- or are just plain ornery -- and may charge you.
I stood at the gate and looked at the cows. I could hear some of them breathing in the chilly night air. The moon was invisible, tucked away under clouds. It was very dark. Some rodent was squirming around noisily in the National Trust box. I wondered if there might be these terrifying nocturnal grazing cows all the way up the Tor, as they are known to be (in the daytime, at least).
"I don't think I want to go in there," I told Lugh.
"Why? They're just cows," he said. "They're probably sleeping."
"They're not sleeping, look at them!"
"Cows sleep standing up," Lugh said.
"Yes, that's where the sport of cow tipping comes from."
"Cow tipping? You flip a sleeping standing cow? Where's the sport in that?" I asked.
"It'll be fine," he said. "We won't tip any cows. Come on."
I held my breath as we walked past the scary cows. Once we were on the steps on the steep side of the Tor, all was fine (although in my paranoia I did wonder if a cow might come suddenly over the side of the hill at any moment).
We reached the top and found that we had the Tor and its tower all to ourselves. The wind rushed through St. Michael's. We sat on one of the benches inside (there are only two, facing each other), and looked out what was left of a window, high on the wall, which was curiously and very accurately shaped like a monk. You could see his tonsure, his cingulum, and what appeared to be a lamp in his hand, much like the one the Hermit holds.
We sat for awhile. I took off my mittens and pulled out my cards. The tarot keys drawn on the Tor were to respresent our relationship to the masculine -- ambition, drive, force, and what we were to do with these. I drew the Fool. The Fool! Of course! I laughed. I could blindly step off the side of the Tor and take my chances, begin at zero, start over again. Just like the others, it was perfect.
Lugh sang a blessing in the Tower, a blessing and a prayer for Abbot Whiting, the last abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, who was drawn and quartered, and hung on the Tor. A pilgrim appeared in the doorway during the song, then left.
When we exited the tower, we again found ourselves alone on the wind-whipped hill. We started to go down when I decided I couldn't leave. I hadn't done my energy exercises on the Tor this whole trip. Lugh let me have my 20 minutes outside the tower to do my Middle Pillar and send the energy coursing through the other sacred sites.
After that we started down the hill again. We were only a few steps from the top when Lugh noticed that the clouds were beginning to part. We decided to stay put until we saw the moon.
After that we started down the hill again. We were only a few steps from the top when Lugh noticed that the clouds were beginning to part. We decided to stay put until we saw the moon.
"Ah, there she is," Lugh said after a few minutes. We could see the moon through a few streaks in the clouds. Then, enough of them parted so that we could see her whole face. And that's when something curious happened.
"Look, it's a rabbit!" I said. A hole in the clouds passing across the moon was shaped exactly like a lean, running hare!
"Well I'll be damned. That is a rabbit if ever I saw one!" said Lugh, who usually doesn't go in for my 'visions.' But this one was unmistakable. Ears, legs, tail and all.
We watched the celestial hare drift slowly across the moon, lit from the inside, as if it had swallowed the moon itself.
We discussed the omen's meaning as we descended the Tor. The first thing that came to my mind was fertility. The first that came to Lugh's was courage.
"Courage regarding cows," I joked.
I asked him if courage implied hardship. He didn't think so.
I love Grandmum and Granddad. When I first met them in 2000, I never imagined that we would ever share such a close relationship, and I am so grateful for it now. We were able to enjoy several evenings of cocktails with them. Grandmum made us Thanksgiving dinner on that Thursday -- I think I may forego turkey for duck next year! She is such a great cook. They asked us what Thanksgiving was about. "Is it giving thanks that you were rid of us?" We explained that we do have a holiday for that, but that Thanksgiving commemorated the pilgrims' first harvest feast in what would one day become the United States. After dinner we teamed up against the two of them for a game of parlor bagatelle, which is sort of the precursor to pinball -- spring loaded plunger, several silver balls, nails and points, but no flippers. We won by a narrow margin, if I remember correctly. We knew the competition was fierce when Granddad, whose medication dulled his digital reflexes, responded to Lugh's cheerleading with "Oh, do shut up."
We were also honored to share traditional English Sunday lunch with them and their friend, W., who was once keeper of the Chalice Well and the opposite of boring. After another of Grandmum's feasts, we left Granddad to a nap and Lugh accompanied all us girls (me, Grandmum, W. and Zoe) on a long walk over the peat marshes in a part of town we would never have otherwise seen. I got a chance to walk and talk one-on-one with W., who shared with me a little bit of her amazing romantic spiritual journey with her late husband, which took her to many places all over the world. She did mention to me that Dion Fortune, with whom I am quite fascinated, did not "do much" for her; she suggested I read Alduous Huxley's "Perennial Philosophy" and go from there. I will, but I know that I still have much to absorb from Ms. Fortune, and that my connection to her is something I will need to understand better in the future.
Away from town and marked a protected place for wildlife, the marshes were very flat and very quiet. A few "travelers" (Americans would call them Gypsies) had set up camp in a few spots. A few signs about the prehistoric life of the area were posted. It was so silent that we could hear the starlings make their sunset flight home over our heads -- a truly remarkable sound, the sound of hundreds of wings beating at once.
The trail through the peat bogs.
The trail through the peat bogs.
It is always bittersweet to say goodbye, especially to Granddad, because I have to admit that I do wonder how long it will be before I return and whether or not he will be there when I get back. He's in very good shape, without a doubt, but... well, I just feel a pain in my heart about him sometimes. When we said good night on our last day we also said goodbye to him; he said to me, "Tomorrow morning if you want to give me another hug I'll be in my bedroom" to which Grandmum said, "There will be none of that!"
As Grandmum put us on the bus before dawn the next morning, she said, "Next time you come I hope there will be three of you." Fertility and courage of the cosmic hare indeed!
I suspected that Glastonbury and its sacred sites would be quite different from the way I experience them in the spring, and I was right. The experience this time around was indeed very inward; and if I were to attempt to put it into words, it would be that at this time of year a pilgrim does not draw energy away from places like the Tor or the Chalice Well, but rather, gives. While the weather was by no means inclement, it was hard to engage with our surroundings the way one does when the sun is out and the breezes are warm. It is no easy thing to just stand at the top of a hill and leisurely take in a view. On this trip I was often so busy pulling my collar up or my hat down or my mittens on while walking that I couldn't appreciate what was going on around me until I reached my destination. The days were short and chilly, but everything was still so green and flowers were blooming all around.
I didn't feel motivated to perform any rituals or visit out of the way places that I normally would. This trip was really more about sitting still.
It was sort of sitting still that allowed us to synchronicitously meet author and lecturer Sig Lonegren. We met the geomancer and dowser at Gigio's, an Italian restaurant in 'downtown' Glastonbury. A resident of Glastonbury for 20 years (I think I have that right!) and a British citizen, Sig is originally from our side of the pond. He overheard our accents and came over to talk to us. We talked about the history of the town, about cosmic "coincidence," what Sig calls "daysigns," the darker origins of common nursery rhymes, dowsing, and Druidry. He also told us about the labyrinth he helped to set up in front of St. John's Church on Magdalene Street. After some time Lugh lamented the state of the Abbey and said he wished it could be rebuilt (this was one of those many times on the trip that Bligh Bond and his work came up in conversation). Sig said that he believed the reason nothing could be done, and the reason so many things fail to gel in Glastonbury, is because of the "black magic" that had Abbot Richard Whiting executed on the Tor during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. The Abbot's head was placed on a spike at the entrance to the Abbey, and parts of his body were sent to other monasteries in the surrounding lands as a warning.
The Tor had never felt a particularly tranquil place to me, but the story of Abbot Whiting's fate is some bad, bad mojo. Perhaps the monk in the window in St. Michael's Tower is Abbot Whiting, ever watchful over the Tor (and the northwest side of the town). It turns out that he was beatified in 1895 by Pope Leo XIII. Perhaps what we need to lift the curse of any "black magic" is to get him canonized. My guess is that the Cause for Sainthood of Abbot Whiting is not exactly an active one. I would also guess that any type of healing taking place in Glastonbury is more likely to be attributed to some New Age mechanism than the intercession of Blessed Whiting. His feast day is Nov. 15, which is just a few days before we arrived.
Sig gave me a present before he left the restaurant -- a simple metal pendulum. I look forward to working with it! And if I'm good, I'll keep in touch.
You may remember Antony (the Rainbow Man) from my Nov. 19 post. No sign of him, but the day before we left we looked at a shop window display of rich silks, zabutons and more brass singing bowls than you can imagine. At the center was a mannequin wearing Antony's rainbow hat and sweater, complete with matching rainbow scarf and mittens.
All in all, a wonderful, magical journey to Glastonbury as usual -- or unusual, as the case may be. I know now that I will have to see the town during winter and summer as well. In the meantime, it gives me a clear Autumn message (Autumn being the time of letting go):
To find bliss:
Let go; then,
For now, just a photo from our trip to Glastonbury over the Thanksgiving holiday. This was taken the day before the full moon, from Wearyall Hill. In the foreground you see the holy thorn fabled to have sprung spontaneously from Joseph of Arimathea's staff when he plunged it into the ground upon landing at Wearyall Hill. In the midground we have the town of Glastonbury, a couple of hours or so before dinnertime; in the background, the Tor with its lonely St. Michael's tower, under a newly-risen moon. You can click on the photo for a larger version. More to come.
P.S. This is not the "Brian May-worthy full moon shot" mentioned in my recent Twitter. I'm saving that one for the full report!
Hey kids, click on the graphic above for a free wallpaper of the lovely daucus carota, also known as wild carrot or Queen Anne's lace. (For my less computer-savvy readers, when the larger picture comes up, right-click and choose 'Set as desktop background' or a similar option. The size is 800x600... cropped from 1200+ by Typepad; I'll work on finding a way to post the larger option.)
If this photo does not help you appreciate the exquisite fractal symmetry of the botanical world, at least meditating on the deep purple flower at the center of the umbel will help you differentiate this medicinal herb from the deadly water hemlock (which lacks such a signifier).
I've got the "Herbis" covered; for a more "Orbis" wallpaper, check out Brian's shot of two Perseid meteors taken Monday night.