Sunday, 30 December 2012

Rolling with the Season

There have been storms here in my little corner of the world, wild frenzied winds have ripped through the valleys and torn trees from the sodden earth. The nights have been filled with howling and the battering of tattered rain against our windows, with drafts finding every crack and crevice, billowing out the drapes and sending shivers down my spine. The deluge that has fallen from the skies in a seemingly endless pattern through these dark days of winter, has drowned the already sodden land. Water has gushed in torrents and streams where it has never run before, roads and footpaths and gardens and fields have sprouted random rivers that rush and race down hill towards the sea, sometimes clear, sometimes muddy brown like the churned up river below.
My lady and I live high on a hill and so we are not threatened by the floods which have devastated so many people's festive plans right across the country, not just here in Cornwall, but the threat of landslides is a worrying one, there have already been several in our area. Our flat is not the sturdiest of buildings and I do wonder what is going on down in the foundations as more and more of our steeply sloping gardens are washed away. And yet despite that, I am grateful I have a roof over my head, that we have warm shelter from the wind and the rain. These are the things we should all be thankful for at this time of year.
I am well known for my 'dislike' of Christmas. My family affectionately (I hope!) call me Granddad Grinch! It's a reputation I have polished and honed to perfection and I "bah humbug" with relish but if the truth be known, and I'm letting you in on a little known secret here, it's not actually Christmas that I hate. I hate the commercialism and over-indulgence, and the fact that I can't turn on my radio from mid-November without hearing Last Christmas or some other such drivel. I hate that the whole pantomime seems to start earlier and earlier every year, and the tired old 'whose holiday is it anyway?' arguments come rolling out. I hate that people spend money they haven't got on people they don't really like and eat way too much, not because they are actually enjoying it, but just because it's there.
But.... and if you tell anyone I said this I shall deny it...
 I love that warm, comfortable feeling of closing the doors once the family has been visited and presents delivered, and the shopping has been done and settling in to watch my Witch drag in half a ton of greenery to decorate the fireplace for the Winter Solstice, celebrating not only the festival itself but the anniversary of the night we got together 14 years ago now.
We never actually have a tree. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that's because we are pagan and have some sort of aversion to a Christmas tree. You wouldn't believe how many Christians go to great lengths to explain the pagan origins of a Christmas tree to us! As if we didn't know ;) The real reason we don't have a tree is it's our own little tradition. It started when we first moved down to London and were living in a bedsit, we didn't have the money or the room for a tree but my lovely wife was not to be thwarted. She raided the walls of the tower block we were living in for ivy to swag across the fireplace and then strung the fairy lights and tinsel through that before hanging baubles from the leaves.
 Who needs a tree when you have a bit of imagination. We've done it every year since and always will. We wouldn't have it any other way.
And then I love the smells that start to come from the kitchen as the true magic of the season happens and a handful of the most basic ingredients become delicious, aromatic treats to assault my nostrils and delight my taste buds. I know my witch is never happier than when she's mixing something up in her kitchen and as long as she is happy to cook for me, I will be more than happy to eat. When we first met she insisted 'the way to a man's heart is through his stomach'. I think she may have been right. The glorious meal of Roast Duck that came out of her kitchen on Christmas day made me one very happy man. Especially when instead of Christmas pudding (I'm not a fan of Christmas pudding) it was followed by this. All home made. Yes, I think the way to this Druid's heart may well be through his stomach!
I wouldn't want you to think I've done nothing but sit here and eat however. Tempting as that has been, I have made it into my work room on occasion over the festive period and I have several projects on the go, not to mention the multitude of ideas swirling around in my head ready for when I swing into action really get my finger out in the New Year.
Here's a little taster to be going on with... he's just a 'work in progress' at the moment and the batteries have run out on the camera so I can't show you any more until we've got that sorted, but what do you think?

The picture quality isn't fantastic, but hopefully I'll be able to get some better shots of him when he's finished. He's my most adventurous to date, I think, and I'm particularly fond of his nose!

Well, I hope you all had a wonderful Solstice/Yule/Christmas/Winter Holiday and I'd just like to leave you with this...
Let this be a warning to you all.
NEVER keep a witch from her sparklies!
My wife swore her revenge when I jokingly (I was joking, honest!) made her walk through the Christmas department of a local store with my hands over her eyes way back in November when she wanted to ooohh and aaarrh over the sparkly, twinkly things. It provided much amusement to everyone in there at the time (OK, all the men, I think the women may have been on her side) and, eventually, it provided much amusement for my little Witch. This is not a dignified way for a Druid to spend the Solstice!!!
Never let it be said that I don't have a sense of humour. She certainly does! Oh how she laughed, especially when she plugged me in!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Making Sense of the Obvious

I'm dyslexic and sometimes that means that no matter how well written something is, it just doesn't make sense to me. To my utter frustration carefully crafted sentences are no more than a jumble of words and letters on a page. I will read and re-read those words trying to wring the meaning and the import from them through repetition; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. When it doesn't I'll try to convince myself I'm just over tired and I'll try again when I've had some sleep, and again its a ploy that works only sometimes. I hate that my mind trips me up this way, and the harder I try to make sense of something the harder it becomes to understand it.
My wife is a wordsmith, she crafts and hones the language in a way I could only dream of. She weaves magic with words and I am envious, not jealous -jealousy is a destructive thing- but envious certainly. Sometimes I will read something aloud to her and say 'does that make sense to you?' Sometimes it does and I curse my dyslexic mind, others she will say with infuriatingly calm reason that I should read the next line or two and it will probably make things clear. I find that hard to do. I want  need to make each little part make sense before I move on to the next. She will just smile and say 'sometimes it's not meant to. You need the next bit.' I know she's right, but it isn't in my nature.
It is for that reason that I have been struggling these past twelve month with messages of a more spiritual nature. I was trying to make sense of each tiny part, and in some respects I did, but there was a yawning chasm of understanding and I could not make that leap to full comprehension.
Whenever we venture over to Dartmoor we pay a visit to The Tree. My wife clambers like a squirrel up a low bank to stand with her hands upon his ageing bark soaking up the wisdom he imparts in return for her companionship and removing rubbish from a hollow in his trunk left by uncaring travellers. I sit, lazily it would seem, in the car and say 'ask him xyz for me please'. I wasn't being lazy though, there were reasons. Sometimes - no- often, his messages for me made little sense. They were cryptic to say the least and frequently resembled nothing more than gobbledygook. How was I supposed to make sense of that! Occasionally irritation would bubble to the surface and my wife would look at me in confusion because it had all seemed rather clear to her, and with the same implacable calm when faced with my literary frustrations, would suggest that maybe I didn't have the full picture yet.
Sometimes things aren't meant to be easy. They may be obvious to others, they may even should be obvious to us, but sometimes there is a process that needs to be followed, sometimes the working out is as important as the knowing. Sometimes we need that extra bit of information, we need to read the next line. Sometimes we need a kick up the proverbial backside before things can begin to make sense.
The last time we visited The Tree everything finally fell into place. The information had been there, jumbled, but it had been there and the events of the previous few days and long talks with my lovely wife, and confirmation from within our ancient friend pulled together strands that had previously been tangled and the path became clear. I can no longer ignore the message from this Dartmoor tree.
We have a pilgrimage to make.

Monday, 19 November 2012

In the Druid's Domain

There aren't many people I let into my work room. Mainly because it's chaos, organised chaos, but to most people's eyes, chaos all the same. It looks a mess, there is no denying that and no, your eyes are not playing tricks on you, the walls are pink. I did intend to rectify that but in all honesty it doesn't matter what it looks like, it's what it feels like that matters and there is a sense of calm and creativity that seeps out of the very walls and floor and I am at my happiest in here.

You can tell that by the inane grin!
It doesn't matter how tired I am or how ill I feel, just stepping in there for a few minutes, lighting a candle and incense, making my devotions and rearranging my tools is enough to make me feel better and set off a spiral of inspiration. I try not to work when I'm ill, that's when I make mistakes and cut things off that I shouldn't have - not such a problem when it's part of my latest project that ends up lying on the floor, but more of a problem when it's part of me! I'm already missing part of a finger from my apprentice days (a run in with an industrial bed plainer, which took the top third off in slices - you aren't squeamish are you?) and I'd really rather hang on to the rest. Besides, my lovely little witch complains when I bleed on the carpet!
That isn't blood on the wall behind me by the way, just in case you were wondering. I've been known to slice into myself occasionally but nothing that drastic! That's the damage caused from staining the cursed wardrobe earlier this year. I still can't look at that damn thing without shuddering. It was a pig of job, and to think I used to enjoy restoring furniture.


My workshop is a hodge podge creation built from bits and pieces I've collected from all over the place. My work bench is built from the remains of our old bed and a kitchen worktop rescued from going into landfill. It might not look pretty but its solid and the perfect height for me. An old bathroom cabinet has been re-purposed for storing things I need to keep away from dust (although I really should get rid of the mirror- sometimes I look up and scare myself half to death!)

I avoid power tools where ever possible, almost everything I create is made entirely by hand, just me, my knife, a bit of sandpaper and the chisels my lovely wife surprised me with (I think she thought there was less chance of me slicing chunks out of myself with those!). Perhaps the most vital item of my kit though is my mp3. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, would be possible without my music.
And tea, don't forget the tea.


Sunday, 21 October 2012


Inspiration comes from many places, often the most unexpected. Sometimes it's like a bolt from the blue, others it's more subtle than that. The trick is to recognise it when it comes knocking at your door. How many brilliant ideas have never materialised because we have been too busy, too distracted, to pay attention to the things that make that spark?

So where does your inspiration come from? What gets your creative juices flowing? What inspires you to get out of bed in the morning rather than snuggling down under the duvet and pretending the world's gone AWOL for a while?

There have been a few things over the last few months that have really grabbed my attention, that have made me think outside the box and want to go that extra mile. Some of them have been really simple, just a beautiful day, a special place...
Rainbow over the Hurlers Stone Circle
Other times it has been encountering great talent,

Monday, 3 September 2012

In the Still of the Night

I'm sure it must drive my wife crazy, it even drives me crazy sometimes, but I don't sleep. At least I don't sleep at night when most normal people seek their beds. Working nights for most of my adult life has taken its toll on my body clock. I have tried to change it. I've spoken to doctors and taken sleeping tablets, I've read self help guides, I've tried herbal remedies, over the counter medicines and old wives tales but to no avail. Nothing seems to work, I'm a night owl and it seems there is nothing I can do about it. It's not a situation I'm particularly happy with but, despite the inconvenience  of running on a different timetable to everyone else I know, it has its plus points.

I do drag myself out of bed during daylight hours, I try to function in the 9-5 world (OK, maybe noon-5 is more accurate) but it is when dusk creeps up that I come alive. That is when I truly start to function. As others are winding down my brain kicks up a gear. As others drink their cocoa I feel an excitement stir. As others slumber, I go to work.

I do my best work at night. The cool, dark hours are when I get my best ideas. I find my inspiration in the moon and the stars, I hear whispered suggestions in the silence, I see wonders in the shadows. It is at night that my creativity knows no bounds. In daylight I question and doubt, but at night I find a confidence, my true self, and I give it flight. Nothing is impossible, nothing too challenging, nothing beyond my reach. Maybe it is because of this that I find it so hard to sleep. My mind is too busy dreaming to actually dream.

The day for me is for the mundane, the errands, the chores, the practical necessities of life but as the sun sets, as the light dims, as the still of the night descends the world comes alive with possibilities and imaginings, a creative light goes on and in the still shadows, I work. And then when dawn comes calling, when bird song fills the sky and the daylight world begins to stir, I seek my bed. My wife smiles sleepily and indulgently as I wake her with my ideas, my sketches, my wild plans, and all content at a good night's work, sleep overtakes me.

So spare a thought for a sleeping druid as you drink your morning coffee. I may look lazy to those who don't know but I just put in a 16 hour day night.


Saturday, 25 August 2012

Fox and his Companions

It began with a fox. I've always had an affinity with foxes, there is something about them that I can't resist. Maybe it's their curious nature and stubborn determination? Maybe it's their resourcefulness or that playful streak? Whatever it is, there is a charm about them that grabs me every time.

Many years ago when I worked as a security guard I 'befriended' a family of foxes who had their den under a trailer parked over on the far side of the car park. Anyone who has ever worked in security will know that a 12 hour night shift can be interminably long and that you take companionship where ever you can find it. I've yet to meet a night security guard who hasn't, at some point in his career, become very attached to one or more species of the local wildlife. I loved that family of foxes and I have fond memories of watching a young cub trying to drag the carcass of a duck (the remains of my Christmas dinner), much larger than itself, back across the car park to the den. They developed a wary acceptance of me and would even, if I left my supper on the floor and kept very still, creep into my office to steal the stew my lovely witch had prepared for me. When the father was run over, and later when the rest of the family was wiped out by an exterminator who had put poisons down to clear a deserted factory of pigeons, I was devastated.
So you can understand, when I finally plucked up the courage to try carving an animal, why I wanted to carve a fox. I've had the idea for a fox spirit staff in my head for months now and I did intend for that to be my first animal staff, but the wood said differently. I've learnt to listen to the wood and for some reason the thick fir branch I had put aside for Fox Spirit didn't want to be a fox. Or rather not only a fox. And so my first Animal Totem Staff came into creation.
wolf carving
There is a wolf,
a badger and a dove,
hand carved badger

dove and ivy carving

 A hare and an eagle,
moon gazing hare
carved eagle on staff

and of course, it wouldn't have been complete without a fox
fox carving
Animal Totem Staff

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name

Summer has seen little of me this year. I have spent my days holed up in my little incense clouded workroom, carving, experimenting, pushing myself through and beyond the bad days, the good days, and the days when I wonder if I should just throw in the towel and go back to the nine to five world that guarantees a wage packet at the end of the week. Wondering is not the same as doing, however, and even when times are tough the challenge fires me and I know that now I have returned to the wood I could never walk away again.
I love the feeling of discovery when I find a new way of tackling a problem. I love the sense of anticipation when I pick up a branch and wonder at the spirit within. I love the endless possibilities, the song of the sap, the call of the forest, I love pushing myself beyond what I think I'm capable of. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but even when it doesn't it is illuminating. A light goes on, the embers burn and I seek the  Phoenix, rising from the ashes of failure.
No longer do I feel frustrated when things don't work out, when my ideas simply won't translate to the wood. I feel my way through it more now. I worry less about how it will look and more about how it will feel. One slender piece of birch sat in the corner calling to me for months and yet I ignored it. It was too narrow, too spindly, to make a good staff I thought and yet it's paleness intrigued me. Cool and ethereal like the Moon Goddess herself...
Spirit of the Blue Rose
Slender, delicate, beautiful. It cried out for a strong, yet gentle image. It demanded contrast and complexity. It commanded those feminine qualities of intrigue and promise, of passion and poise.
Never before have I sweat so much. Never before have I been so overwhelmed. Never before have I felt so much emotion.
She knew the beauty she possessed, the soft romance, the fierce strength,  and she made me work for it, heart and soul.
It was with some regret I completed the blue rose. I wanted to linger a while, drinking in the promise of her scent, the sharpness of her thorns, but everything has its time and it was time to move on...

My Lady and the Rose
Blue Rose Staff

Monday, 25 June 2012

I, Druid

Life as a Druid has many rewards. Some are obvious, some are hidden, some you don't realise until it's too late

I didn't plan to become a Druid. I didn't wake up one morning in the certain knowledge I'd found my path, or even with the desire to look into it. I was looking for something, that much is true. Somewhere out there in this great universe there had to be answers, I knew that even before I was sure what the questions were, and I looked for those elusive answers everywhere I could. I was looking for peace, I think, something to fill the spaces in between my everyday existence and I wandered, lonely, through the crowds in a seemingly fruitless search.
I was looking for something which could make sense of my past, make tangible the present and lend a guiding light to my future...
... and I found it unexpectedly one day, in the basement of a bookshop, when a strange old man in a dirty mac sidled up to me and asked 'have you seen the lights?'
I edged away and shook my head and wondered at my infallible ability to always attract nutters, but it was under his steady gaze that I realised at last what he meant, and that I had indeed seen lights, hovering infuriatingly at the edge of my vision. Maybe he wasn't a nutter after all...or maybe I was.
That man became my teacher, and more than teacher to me. He showed me the heart of darkness and the way to the stars, he opened my heart and eyes and soul to wonders I had never imagined. He made me think and question, always. He was harsh and kind and too beautiful a soul for this world. I watched him open his door to strangers in need, I saw him draw serenity around him in the face of adversity. He was quick and clever and gentle. He was cantankerous and difficult and he made me work harder than I have ever worked. He taught me that I can hide from anyone but myself, lie to anyone but myself, and that the past will always catch you no matter how fast you run. He made me face my fears, discover myself, he showed me my future.
All this he did for me and yet I barely knew him. Of his life before I had only hints. I knew only that he was Druid; of the old ways, bound by no one, he walked his road alone. I was not his first pupil but I was his last and I miss him still. I always will. It will be fifteen years in October since he left this mundane world behind and journeyed on and I still ache at the loneliness he left behind, I still yearn for his wisdom, and still fume that he was taken before my training was complete, and yet in many ways I know he is still with me, still guiding me, still kicking me up the arse when I don't work hard enough!
Trylionn, this mighty man, this Druid, left a legacy of life. He taught me how to find the sun, and learn from the dawn. He taught me to listen to my heart and feel its beat in the earth around me, he taught me to be still, to hope, to find, to live, to see beauty where others see none, to extend the hand of friendship, to help others, to offer hospitality even when I have nothing, to share, to love, to dare to be who I am.
These are the duties and responsibilities of a Druid. These are the rewards. Thanks to him this is the road I walk.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Druid, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Hi, remember me? It's been a while hasn't it?

The last few months have been a roller coaster of highs and lows, twists and turns that have kept me off balance, busy, exhausted, shell shocked and downright knackered.

I had an operation on my shoulder which, as it turns out, was not as successful as first thought. I had a wondrous few pain free weeks of being able to enjoy normal movement. You know the sort of thing, pulling a t-shirt over my head, picking up a mug of tea, the things we all take for granted until we can't do them, and then slowly it began to return. I'd reach out and find my cursed arm would only go so far without making me scream. Damn! I have to admit I probably overdid it right at the start, the absolute joy of being able to move without yelling out in pain ran away with me a bit and I did develop a habit of flapping my arms about like a demented duck just because I could....

Hand carved staff
It hasn't stopped me working on my staffs though, I've kept at it while I could and when I couldn't I've been busy sketching out new designs. I went through a phase of heads; Kings, Druids, Warriors, and I have to admit I became quite fond of some of them, each had his own distinct character and I enjoyed drawing that out, finding the spirit dwelling deep withing the bough. I fancy having a go at animals now though, I thought maybe a fox, although my witch wants a frog. Trust her to be awkward. 

Everything was ticking along quite nicely until my wife decided to buy a wardrobe. Well, OK, we decided to buy a wardrobe but if I say it was all her idea I've got someone to blame for the destruction of my workroom. Seriously, its absolutely devastated. How can one wardrobe do so much damage? I think I've mentioned before that my work room is in fact our small, spare bedroom, so it doesn't really take much for it to look in a state, but I keep it pretty much alright. It might look chaotic to some eyes but its my chaos, and I know where everything is. Enter shabby 1960's wardrobe.

The wardrobe from hell, Beelzebub's closet.

We rarely buy furniture new, preferring the character of second hand, older items. Character! This hadn't got character, it had a personality defect, psychotic tendencies in fact! And it was out to get me. You think I'm joking don't you? Trust me, I'm not. What should have been a simple act of stripping it down and re-staining became well... have you ever watched groundhog day? I stripped that thing again, and again and again. And it still doesn't look right, but its in the bedroom so I'm only likely to see it when I'm half asleep and its dark. You wouldn't believe how close I came to taking it outside and setting fire to it! It's killed my trusty belt sander and covered my room in an inch of dust, its drunk almost every drop of stain I owned, broken blades and screwdrivers and robbed me of my sanity.

Oh, no wait. My sanity ran for the hills years ago.

My work room is currently closed for renovation which my shoulder is very grateful for. Maybe this is the Lady's way of saying 'slow down', or maybe its just her way of saying 'DON'T BUY ANOTHER BLOODY WARDROBE!'. I can take a hint. The next time my lovely witch says 'that'd look lovely once you've stripped it down' I'm going to say DO IT YOUR BLOODY SELF!

I can hear you laughing. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that I'll do it all over again next time she asks. Oh really? Will I?

Oh alright then.

But only because I love her.

And because sometimes, even after all these years, she can still surprise me.

My wild and wonderful witch is running next year's London Marathon in memory of my grandson, who sadly was born too soon last month, to raise money for Tommy's. Please take a look at her blog, Every Step For Dillon.

Dillon's time in this world was all to brief but his spirit, and his memory, live on.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Out of the Dust

I have been a bit lazy recently when it comes to blogging but I have still been busy. I may be a stranger to my laptop but my workroom and I are bosom buddies. My poor wife thinks she has been abandoned for my dusty mistress, but when the wood calls I am helpless to refuse.

Many an hour has been spent slowly turning a branch in my hands, lost in the intricate patterns of the grain. Many a day has disappeared in the blink of an eye as the spirit of the wood has slowly emerged and a pile of bark and shavings has appeared around my feet.

Clouds of sawdust and incense have diffused the light as I work. Flickering candles have danced to the music of the plane and saw and blade. Magic has been made.

And finally I have emerged from the dust to find that spring has crept across the landscape and the heady, intoxicating, sweet scent of green is returning to the land.

It was on a mist shrouded afternoon that we headed for the moors to renew our spirits and feed our souls.

And to take a few photo's, of course.  I even managed to persuade my lovely witch to model a few of them for me.
Hand Carved Staff
Hand Carved Druid Staff
My first attempt at carving a head. He's not quite right, technically speaking, but I like his character and I learnt so much from him.

A Witch, the moors, and a staff of twisted willow

Twisted Willow Staff with Carved Head
Weather Magic
Don't Mess with A Witch!

So now you know what I've been up to while I haven't been blogging.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Can I really be a druid?

It's a question I've been pondering quite a lot just lately. Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and ask 'Is that who you really are?' At first the answers seemed obvious, and the question silly, but over time it niggled away at me. Is 'Druid' what I really am?

I have often found it hard to reconcile my past with my faith today. My military career, a career that was in my blood, doesn't sit easy with the peace loving druid. From the moment I was born my Dad raised me to be a soldier, and although I fought against his brutality, and was released from any pressure or obligation by his death, a soldier is exactly what I became.

The things I was trained to do, the things I was expected to do, are not the things expected of a Druid. I was no angel. I fought hard, played hard, lived each day like it was my last. Hell, it could have been! I saw things no man should ever see, did things no man should ever have to do. I thought things I should never think, felt things I wish I didn't feel.  But I was a soldier, a warrior. I was loyal and true, and brave, and scared. Just like every soldier, every warrior, before me down the centuries.

Civvy street was not, is not, somewhere I feel comfortable. I was a fish out of water. I still stumble from day to day, still struggle to find my feet.

So can I be a Druid?

I am at odds with OBOD, or is it that they are at odds with me? Either way I don't fit that 'druidic ideal' that so many aspire to and feel comfortable with. I don't read the 'right' books and like all the 'wrong' ones. I voice opinions that make others uncomfortable and I don't conform to what others expect. I take my inspiration, and lessons, from the strangest of places. I don't observe things I should observe, I talk to the Gods in a manner some, most, probably all, would consider disrespectful, so, I ask the question again, Can I really be a druid?

But then I think Can I really be anything else?

It's me you see. It's the way I am. It's what is deep inside of me. It is the beating of my heart and the rising of my chest. It is my breath on cold winter mornings and my sweat under the sun. It's the light in my eyes as I gaze at the stars, and my whispered prayers in the dawn. It's the love I hold for my wife, for my children, my grandchildren, my fellow man. It's the trust I have in the Lady, the hope I have for each new day. It is what I was, what I am, and what I will be. It is everything. And more.

I am a warrior. I am a druid.

I am me.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Time Out

I've been a bit quiet on here lately, not because I haven't wanted to blog and certainly not because I haven't had anything to say (hell would freeze over, hens would grow teeth and rocking horses would produce enough fertiliser for the whole south west before that happened), but rather because I have been on a roller coaster ride of feeling so ill and run down I could barely move one minute and working like a demon to make up for lost time the next.

My dragon fixation seems to have faded and been replaced with heads. Druids, Kings, Knights, Warriors, all have been filling my head and finding a place atop a staff. So far I've chickened out of attempting a female face - you can hide a multitude of sins with a beard- but I think I shall make that my next project. This is all new to me and I'm learning as I go. It has been frustrating at times, and some pieces have gone through several incarnations before a character has emerged that both I and the wood are happy with, but ultimately it has been very rewarding, if challenging, process.

All work and no play makes Jack this druid a dull boy however, so I haven't been entirely confined to either my sick bed or my work room. As Imbolc loomed on the horizon I was struggling to prepare for spring having not really seen or felt much of winter this year. As much as my aching bones enjoy the milder weather we had been experiencing, on a more spiritual level it seemed unnatural to be greeting Bride without having met with the Hag. With that in mind, when out running errands we spied a blanket of white across distant hills, the pull towards the Snow Queen was strong.

I am only a weak willed Druid, married to an even weaker willed witch (seriously, she was bouncing up and down with excitement, squealing 'can we go play in the snow? Can we? Can we, Pleeeease?') so we abandoned our plans, turned around the car and headed towards Dartmoor and the sprinkling of white stuff. I just can't say no to my Lady, not the one I'm married to nor the Lady of the Winter Wilds.
Dartmoor Snow

The peace I always find on the high moor was multiplied ten fold by the hazy sky and the crisp winter moor. The air was bitter cold but it told me I was alive. The wind cut like a knife but carved away all my troubles. The snow chilled me to the bone but cleansed my soul.
Hazy Dartmoor Moods

On the day before Imbolc, winter finally arrived for me.
Winter Sheep

Snow Dusted Moor

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Free Will

What is it you want when you petition your Gods? When you light your candle and say your prayers? When you make your offering and listen for a response? What is it you are really asking for?

I imagine the answer to that is different for all of us, even if on the surface we are asking for the same things, be it money, love, health, protection. How many of us have given it much thought? No, I mean REALLY thought?

I'll put my hand up and say I hadn't, not really. I thought I had. I thought I had enough experience to know exactly what I'm doing each time I light a candle on my altar. It would be foolish to do otherwise, right? My prayers are second nature to me now, and I liked that. I could no more start work on something without having lit a candle, blessed my workspace and made my devotions to The Lady, than I could fly to the moon or breathe without air. It was instinctive. A ritual I couldn't imagine ever forgoing. Still can't.

But something happened recently that made me see my devotions with new eyes. When I ask a boon of The Lady am I asking her to take over? Am I relinquishing my self control? Is that really what I expect? What am I actually asking for? I have always said, always believed, that the greatest gifts She gave us are Life and Free Will.

I shouldn't work when I'm tired, I know that, nor should I work when I'm in pain. It's when I make mistakes, it's when I have accidents. I know all this and yet sometimes there is an unknown force which drives me, a need which cannot be ignored. Sometimes the wood calls to me, pesters me and will not let go until I give in and take it in my hand, turning it, feeling it, knowing it. Last Friday was one of those times. I tried to ignore the urge, I really did, but the call was strong.

I began as I always begin. I prayed to The Lady and lit her candle, I cleansed myself and my tools with purifying sage, and I asked for Her blessing on my work, that she may help me work with the spirit of the wood, and I asked for Her protection.

And then I sat down to work and dug a brand new blade into my hand.

Things had been going so well, the piece of twisted willow I was working on was positively singing. The ideas flowed freely and I felt that hope which always accompanies the start of a new piece. I was happy. And then Bam! A tough grain suddenly gave way under the knife and....blood everywhere.

It was careless, it was stupid. It was deep. And it wouldn't stop bleeding. Damn my heart and those blood thinners! And just before I left for the hospital I turned to my altar and said 'I thought you were supposed to be looking after me!' (Before anyone takes offence, I have the greatest respect for Her but she knows me and I'm a straight talker!)

My wife quite rightly pointed out then that maybe she had indeed protected me and that there was no telling what damage I would have done had She left me to my own devices.  Thank you my lovely witch, for those words of wisdom. Harsh but true! The Lady will protect me from from many things, but not from my own stupidity.

The greatest gifts The Lady gave me are life, and the free will to cut myself to ribbons if I choose.

Oh, and just in case you're wondering, the lovely nurse at my local hospital stitched me up a treat and I'm recovering nicely. But shhhh, don't tell my little witch, she might stop the extra TLC.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Giving Something Back

I had an interesting conversation with my ex-wife back in December, a very interesting conversation, and one I never expected to have. You see, she's a cradle Catholic- as are our children- and has always viewed my pagan beliefs to be, well, weird. She just didn't get it, and that was OK; each to his -or her- own, after all. Only now she does get it. Now she's kicking herself for not having seen it earlier. Now she has a deep and profound respect for Mother Earth. I am overjoyed. Not because she said 'You were right, I was wrong' (although that was good too), not because she's become a fully paid up, tree hugging, goddess worshipping member of the pagan community (because she certainly hasn't), but because it has brought her an inner peace, a connection, an understanding, and that is always good to see.

In all the hustle and bustle of pre-Yule, all the visiting family and excitement of new babies, I didn't really have that much time to think about it; it kind of got bundled up with everything else. But something my wife said to me the other day brought it back. I asked her who the candle was for, merrily flickering away in the kitchen, and she looked at me a little surprised and said simply 'I always light it when I cook.'  'Yes, I know, but who is it for?'  It wasn't for anyone specific, she told me, just a more general 'Thanks', to whoever happens to be paying attention. That seemed odd to me. When I light a candle on my altar I know exactly whom I'm lighting it for, and for what reason. I deal in specifics. For my lovely witch however, her kitchen altar is more about generalities. It says thank you for the food we have on our plates, and the hope that our bellies will always be full. It is thanks for the sun that ripens, and the life giving rains. It is thanks to the hearth spirits, and to the Earth, and a nod to whatever spirit it is who keeps pinching the teaspoons or hiding the salt. It takes in everything, and everyone, it needs to. It works for her, so who am I to question it? It takes just a moment of her time but every time she cooks, be it a slice of toast or a roast dinner, a candle burns and a portion of the meal is given, in appreciation of all we have and the light that guides and protects us. 'It's about giving something back,' she said, and is just one of the many things she does each day.

And then it dawned on her that neither one of us had answered my ex-wife when she asked what should she do to give something back? (My fault, once I get talking my mouth runs away with me and no one else gets a look in. I go off on a tangent -just like I'm doing now- and the original topic gets lost). So where was I? Oh yes, I remember. As has happened to so many people before her, my ex, having had that realisation about this land, and how we are connected to it, and what the Earth gives us, came to that ultimate conclusion. I need to give something back! But what?

As a pagan, and a Druid for many years, the answer seems simple to me now. But if I'm honest, back when it was all new, I hadn't got a clue what to do either. We take so much, we are given so much, that we find it hard to think of something suitable, something big enough, to say thank you. A prayer? a candle? An offering? How can that possibly be enough?

But then, one day the truth finally dawns. When the Lady has claimed you for her own you never stop giving back. Every thing you do is in Her honour. You give something back in a million different ways, you do it every day, every month, every year. Small things, big things, simple things, everything.

Some of us do it consciously, in a manner that is obviously 'pagan', some find ways within their more mainstream belief system, others do it without even knowing. Like my in-laws. They aren't pagan, they aren't even particularly religious at all, but they are the Lady's children, they move with Her cycles. They are connected to this Earth, and blissfully unaware, they give something back. The birds in their garden are well fed all year round, their allotment is thoughtfully tended, providing for most of their needs and cutting down dramatically their reliance on the big supermarkets, and all the waste that goes hand in hand with easy, one stop, grocery shopping. They make jams, and pickles, and beer, and wine (on a huge scale! My father-in-law is the King of Home brew), and share this bounty with family, friends and neighbours. They recycle, not just enthusiastically participating in the local scheme of doorstep collections, but anything they find that others have discarded and thoughtlessly dumped is put to good use. They go out of their way to help others, in any way they can. To them this is all just normal, everyday things, but it is still giving something back.

You can plant a forest full of oaks, or a single seed. You can whisper a prayer of thanks on the wind, or shout it to the world. You can feed the birds, or the homeless. You can commune with nature, or with the lonely in your community. You can volunteer in big environmental projects, or just pick up litter while you are out. Plant a tree, sing a song, create a wildlife pond, grow your own veg, rescue battery hens, say a prayer for road kill, take your children for a nature walk, leave the car at home, shop local, support a charity, smile and say 'hello', spread the word.

In short (if I can manage that), it doesn't really matter what you give, or even if you are consciously aware of why you are giving. It doesn't matter how you give, or the size of the offering. What matters is that you give, and give often. Just think, if every one of us were to give back one thing each day, what a difference we could make.