In May of 2016 I was fortunate enough to visit the Republic of Ireland with my partner at the time. I’ve yet to write up much of what was seen in that trip and I’m starting to get a bit of a back log!
I’ve previously written about Gurteen stone circle and the lone Gurteen Menhir that stands in a near by field. Today’s post will be a quick one to detail a trip to An Cathair Cubh Deargh in County Kerry. (See location here)
Locally known as ‘The City’ this ruined site sits 7ooft above sea level and in the foothills of The Two Paps mountains. The Two Paps are also known as the Paps of Danu and their name is thought to be a reference to an ancient Irish Goddess, Danu (or Danann or Anu or Dana) who leaves little lore behind her. Yet who may well be a form of an even more ancient water Goddess connected to the River Danube.
In this case though, she is often thought of as one of the mothers of the Tuatha De Dannan which means ‘The Tribe Of the Gods Of Danu’. In Irish lore Danu is the mother of the majority of the Irish Gods, but is herself, the daughter of the good and mighty God Dagda.
These hills are rich in cairns and possible tombs and some can even be seen atop the mountains; appearing to be the nipple on the breast.
The setting was not, however, the reason for paying a visit to the site. The City was thought to be the first place to be settled in Ireland and has seen thousands years of continuous worship held upon it’s soils! Which makes it an amazing place for cultural heritage in the West. It’s a wonder to think of all of the ways in which that worship alone has changed.
However, the site has nought but a few notice boards and is accessed by a steep and country track like road in the middle of a cluster of farm like buildings. On approach, we thought we must’ve taken a wrong turn and so i nipped out of the car to, unintentionally, loom over a small and geriatric Irish man in order to ask for directions. At first glance the site would appear to be a ruined barn, or outbuildings, if one wasn’t looking for it.
Those notice boards are crammed with information though, and on them it can be seen that An Cathair Cubh Dearg translates to ‘The fort of the red claw’. The Red Claw is thought to refer to a war Goddess of ancient times and might even link in to a past far more ancient than can be easily told.
In ancient times, An Cathair Cubh Dearg was surrounded by a wall of mounded stones, over three metres tall and four metres wide. Some of this is visible today and the site has a clean but holy sensation to it’s air.
The site has a central well spring, stabilised in concrete in more modern times and with cups laying around the area for any to use. The water tastes beautiful, in case you are wondering, although the relatively close proximity of cowpats did give me cause to pause for a moment.
In fact, it’s absolutely wonderful to see that this hidden site is so well used. There are rosary beads and clootie ribbons around the place and deep grooves in the shape of crosses that have been worn in by the rubbing of a stone from worshipful folk over the years.
In ancient times, Danu and other goddesses were doubtless worshiped on this site. It’s even been postulated that the site has developed several times – with the first incarnation being that of a sacred Neolithic mound. Over time the site has been developed and enhanced by the artifice of clever hands and the Virgin Mary now holds court in The Fort Of The Red Claw, as testified to by a brightly coloured statue.
One of the notice boards tells of the the festival of Beltane, in which fires were burned and offerings made to the Gods to seek fertility and good luck. A festival which now would seem to be overtaken by the May Day Rounds.
The May Day Rounds, however, include such things as walking around the outside of the fort thrice and more within it – something that some practitioners of modern day witchery might recognise; certainly those who have looked in to the christianised forms of traditional witchcraft should see some parallels in how it’s done. Despite the number three being held sacred by the Christian faith, I can’t help but be titillated by the idea that the Rounds could be mirroring a pagan practice, even if only in where the feet of worshipers tread at the time of Beltane.
On recent walks and events it’s been brought to my attention that I often find myself lost. Now, you might think that this is a bad thing, but it’s not always.
Maybe it’s not the best practice when leading a group walk to not know where you are going; with all the threats of danger and accidents and savagely wild hedgehogs that are just longing to get a grip on your throat the moment you stumble! (Ok… I admit it, the part about savage hedgehogs is a slight fabrication on my part… I felt an urge to make British wildlife sound as fearsome as that in lands such as Australia. In reality, it’s much cudlier.)
Certainly when leading a walk as part of my job, or for a session I’m leading with any pretension of professionalism, the route is always walked in advance, risk assessments done and dangers minimised where possible.
For most Witchish Walks, I’ve visited the site before or at the very least taken a look on Google Maps to make sure that there is actually a route that can be taken (rather than a hop, skip and a jump in to oblivion with people following me).
In this post, though, I want to defend the art of getting lost.
‘Art?,’ I hear you say.
Art indeed. In today’s world there are many ways to not be lost at all, unless it’s in the time stealing dimensions of social media.
Many people have a miniature computer in their pocket that can connect to satellites, and guide an intrepid explorer right to an ancient site… all while taking photographs and chatting to a friend on the other side of the world.
If not that then maps are at hand, or the ever present sound of traffic and sights of urban sprawl eating in to the countryside. You’re not truly lost if you can find out where you are… bu you could still be lost enough.
It’s my firm belief (or pleasant fantasy at least), that there are invisible and hidden doorways in to other realms that can be only be accessed by getting thoroughly unsure of your bearings.
In a city these doorways might be side streets that you find as you take a failed attempt at a shortcut. A shortcut that opens your eyes to a fancy bistro and a beautiful person’s smile, or an intriguing looking shop with the heavy smell of exotic incense floating though it’s open doors. Perhaps you spy, as you walk, an open green space filled with sumptuously green grass, stately trees and colourful flowerbeds. A space that shouldn’t be there, smack bang in the middle of the city.
Sometimes we are too busy rushing to be seduced in to experiencing the wonders of these stores, spaces and the charming smile of the dark haired stranger whose eyes spark with a hunger, The one who sits alone at the Bistro table seemingly waiting for you to join them.
Sometimes we miss out on opportunities that can flavour our lives forever more.
‘Why do we miss out on them?,’ I hear you ask intrigued.
We miss out on them because these little pockets of wonder can never be found again. No matter how many times you try to find the short cut and it’s shops, no matter how many times you look at where you traversed on the map, often there is no sign of a heavenly park. Or no sign of the Bistro or beguiling shop.
And then we are left longing. Wondering if we imagined it after all? Wondering whether or not we wasted a world of riches in our haste to find our way to a destination?
Sometimes we’ll catch the scent of heavy, exotic incense on the breeze as we near the place that we cannot find again…. and we almost mourn that which we could’ve known more sensually.
Now, I’m the first to admit that my sense of direction isn’t always the best. I navigate mostly by trees and memories of foraged foods. Yet there are some places that seem to make no sense to me at all. Places like Rivington Terraced Gardens, near Chorley, which has many routes up and down and which I always think I’m somewhere else when I’m on a connecting path.
Rivington leads me astray. It’s not quite pixie led, but it’s a dreamscape to my mind which scatters my sense of direction to the wind like loosened feathers knocked free as a hawk snatches a songbird from flight .
Rivington is part of the moorland upon which lies many ancient remains. Up on those moorlands I’ve found myself more than a bit lost before, but because of my being lost I’ve discovered things that would’ve been truly hidden from me had I gone another way.
Sometimes these lost spaces yield up a treasure that I’ve been searching for – a sheep skull here, a carved rock there, a stone circle or a gargantuan tree.
I learned many years ago to allow myself to get lost; to find the spaces that sit between the known and unknown… and to explore them fervently.
An example: Borsdane woods is a long scar of a semi natural ancient woodland. If one enters through the Tunnel Entrance found at the top of Hindley, and alongside the Graveyard, then the woods extend in front of you and to the left a little as well.
One of my first solo trips to Borsdane woods saw me scrambling along a muddy track in the late winter mists. I went perhaps 500 metres in to he woods, crossed over the small brook and turned back on myself for at least a mile.
That mile heading back toward the tunnel, but on the far side of the stream should have taken me over a railway line and through fencing and brought me out further than the farthest boundary of the grave yard.
Instead, I found myself stood in a wide open woodland staring at the largest tree I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. An ancient looking beech with a trunk that could swallow a small cottage.
The mist was thick, the pull towards the leafless tree strong and centuries of beech mast and leaves crumpling and crunching under foot.
Now, this happened ten years ago – I had neither a camera nor a phone frequently on my person back then, so I have no pictures of this beautiful tree. I know I could retrace every step… if only the path was there again for me to find.
I spent plenty of time with that tree, as druids do. I walked back out the same way I had come in. It was when I reached the tunnels again that I realised something wasn’t quite right about my experience. There is no section of woodland where I walked that day. There is no behemoth beech tree there. There has been no way back either.
Nowadays I put a map marker via Google Maps when I find somewhere worth returning to. There have been times when I have returned to the very spot, only to find it far from how it was last experienced, mind you.
In a less ethereal manner, the simple act of being lost means you open your eyes wider, you listen more intently and you find interesting stuff that would’ve never even become a memory for you had you not found yourself in a quandary.
By straying off the beaten path, by letting yourself get a little lost there is so much to discover.
As a second example, today, I went for a short walk, looking to take a few pictures for this blog post. I strayed of the beaten track and was rewarded with an odd find in Wigan. A terrapin (?) shell amidst the fallen leaves.
Probably the final remains of someone’s pet which perished after being released in to the water at Low Hall Nature reserve …. but an interesting curio for me now.
So… if you go down to the woods to day, or over the moor, or tread a valley path … take a few extra provisions, put away the phone and GPS until you need it. Give yourself an extra hour or two…. and let yourself get lost.
Or maybe you are taking a shortcut or exploring a town or city… why not see what you can stumble upon and embrace it if it’s a soon to be lost treasure?
We can accrue much in this life, but one experience can be more valuable than millions in the bank or a new and fashionable bathroom suite.
Or maybe, you’ll find yourself lost in a conversation; maybe you’ll take a different meaning than was meant and maybe that will open up a new thought, a new possibility and from that moment of being lost you might discover the world as an oyster at your fingertips. Either that or you might find yourself in an argument.
There’s an art to getting lost. There’s an art to working with your own vulnerability and find much more than you sought.
So take the rough and narrow path, follow your nose and strike out towards the thing that caught your eye… go where you do not know.
However you do it. Wherever you do it. Whoever you do it with…. Please GET LOST! 🙂
Ever since my first trip to the Isle of Man I have felt a strong connection to Manann as Manannan Mac Lir is know on Ellan Vannin.
As soon as my feet touched it’s shore some seven or eight years ago I knew a bond had formed between he and me. Over the ensuing years I worked with Manann regularly and it was in August of 2016 that I visited the island again. The reconnection was intense and immediate and hasn’t left me since even though I have left the shores of that beautiful land.
It was upon my return to the mainland that I started to sense his very obvious presence up on the moors, in the damp and crowed thickets of the woods and often in the rhythmic falling of the rain as well as on the shores.
As such, in the manner of a God charge as used frequently in Wicca, I have written the below.
Feel free to use it yourself if it speaks to you, just credit me if you do.
I am never fully what I seem. I am the son of the sea adorned by a cloak of mist.
My touch is in the dew upon every blade of grass and every bell of heather on every mountain and moor.
My footprints are all but seen on the salted marsh and sandy shore; in all places that trick the eye,
Always I am where I am not,
I am in the writhing ocean,
I am in the endless thicket.
I breathe in the depths of the pine forest as the rain falls
And I will lead you in the losing of yourself, until you discover the shores of your being.
Trust in me and the use of Fragarach, the sword of answers, shall be yours.
Trust me with your deepest secrets and wholest truths and the deception of the Feth Fiada, my clouded cloak, shall be yours.
Cresting the waves aboard my wakeless ship scuabtuinne, I move across the wavetips and through the hidden places with equal ease.
For a caring trickster am I, dressed in the robes of a sage, for without the pain of awakening we are nought but a hare who dreams of sleep
Manann, Manannan, Manandan, Manawydan am I.
Walk in my ways.
Join me on the shore or the rocky scree topped hills and I shall answer the unspoken question and with graceful mirth and sharp tongue guide you through life’s mysteries and tribulations.
Then when you are utterly spent, I will lay you to rest in an earthen barrow or a cairn of fine stones
And I shall guide your spirit in to the land of the dead to be cradled in to the cauldron of renewal .
In a previous blog post I mentioned that I hold the role of ‘Ritualist’ for the Circle of Pagans moot.
This is a longstanding moot that serves Liverpool and the surrounding area as well as any one else who might be passing through.
Part of my role is to create simple rituals for each of the eight spokes of the Neo-pagan wheel of the year. These are rituals that anyone can follow, regardless of how new they are to their pagan path or their ritual experience.
The rituals are based on Wiccan, Druid and Traditional Witchcraft ceremonies; like most followed by Neopagans today.
They are rituals that can be used by sole practitioners or adapted to group use easily; feel free to tweak them until they suit you and yours.
Circle of Pagans aims to share knowledge and reach out to the wider community. Which is why I thought I’d post the rituals on my blog for others to see, adapt and use.
So here we go……..
Samhain Equinox ritual:
– The word Samhain has it’s origins in the distant past as a word meaning ‘summers end’. In many ‘celtic’ or gaelic tongues it’s also the word used for the month of November.
Historically. it is thought, that the term Samhain actually covered the first three months of the coming winter – November, December and January in the modern calendar – rather than just one night or one month.
Samhain was the name of the darkening night and the descent in to a frigid world fringed with the death of leaves and as such the death of the Land itself.
– In many pagan books and links you’ll see Samhain referred to as the ‘Pagan New year’, yet, this is often debated. Many would say that the turning point that is the Winter Solstice would be the beginning of a new year.
However, those that do might be painting a modern interpretation over and older worldview. You see, to much of the ancient world, the day started with the dusk – after all, life starts in the darkness of the womb and the seed is the beginning, not the seedling, at least not until it is covered with the darkness of soil.
And it’s not a bad thought to think that we could start the day eating and then sleeping is it?
– The Samhain that we know, falls on All Hallow Eve or Hallowe’en and indeed, is known to have birthed the latter one way or another. Mainly through continued folk practices of the ‘celtic’ world and an adoption by the Roman Catholic church in the Middle Ages… and from there via a ship to America and the New World. Across the pond, many of the customs brought by the new arrivals found a commonality and were pooled together to create what we know of as the modern Halloween.
– Like many ancient festivals, it would have been celebrated with a bonfire – in this case though the bonfire would have helped to chase away the more malicious spirits that were set loose upon the wind by the thinning of the veil. In some cases juniper and similar were added to the fires and the smoke breathed in as a method of self purification and protection.
– One British folktale, which ties in well with old Romany Gypsy lore, was of Old Jack – a human trickster who was so devious in his antics that neither God nor Satan wanted him when he died – dooming him to wander the in between worlds a s a spirit for ever. It’s said that Satan threw coals from Hell’s eternal fire to get rid of Jack, but he caught one in a turnip and so created the first Jack O’Lantern.
Which makes you wonder about the use of the turnip or pumpkin lanterns in the past – was it a sign that he had already visited, or that there was already a trickster in place… or was it to keep him away via the old tradition which states that when you know someone’s real name then you have power over them. Perhaps then, the lanterns were in place to say ‘we know who you are, so don’t even bother trying to trick us or we’ll name you and then we’ll own you for the night!’
– It’s often assumed that a fear of the more malicious spirits and the marauding dead birthed the Jack O Lanterns of the ancient age. In the days of old, and even still today, faces would be carved in swedes and turnips, while today we use the wonderful berry that is a pumpkin before having a candle or coals placed in them and set looking away from the property.
The lanterns in popular lore served two purposes – one to draw familiar spirits to them and the other to scare away mischievous and malicious spirits or beasts that might stalk the night at this time of year.
Indeed, the Jack O’Lantern is also the name given to marsh lights and Will O’The Wisps – those who appear to lost travelers carrying a source of light and then lead them off to a watery end in the marshes or to another world altogether.
– Much of what we think about for a modern Halloween still fits well in to the Samhain of old and to my mind, there’s little harm in combining the two – though one is arguably more serious and sinister than the other, which only lends a touch of enchantment to a increasingly secular world.
– At Samhain, the veil between the living and the dead thins, along with other veils that hide our world from creatures of malice and the Fey folk. Yet the thought that our Ancestors are easier to reach than usual can easily fill us with the same giddiness that a child wearing a costume might have. After all, many of us have experienced that happy feeling when we are heading to our grandparent’s home and expecting a sugar high from sweets and cake and being otherwise spoiled.
– One of my own thoughts around the thinning of the veils is to do with the ancient’s understanding of blood as sacred.
From time immemorial, blood has been offered to the Gods and the Spirits as a sacrifice and an honouring. There’s a lot of power in living blood, but it doesn’t stay alive for long.
It might seem peculiar to throw this thought in here, until we look at Samhain as the third period of the harvest -a harvest of apples and flesh.
As winter closed in, farmers would need to make some hard decisions based on the hay harvest or on foggage (grazing) left in the fields to use over winter.
If too many animals were kept then they would all go hungry and a farmer risked loosing all of their livestock and starving themselves, if too few were kept then a limit was set on meat production the following year – or the farmer could again loose all, if one fell sick in the winter.
As such, The end of October was a time of slaughter and meat preservation. A lot of life would be taken and a lot of blood spilled to feed the living. So much death always calls to Death by necessity.
– The thinning of the veil also calls to more than just the dead – the Fey and Otherworldly things come through with more ease as well and many modern witches report an increase of spirit and otherwise activity at this time of year. In the past, this was felt too and often those who wouldn’t otherwise practice magic would be compelled to do so.
– The magic practiced at this time of year was often divinatory – meaning literally ‘knowledge from the divine’. People would cast runes and twigs and apple peels to see the initial of their future lover, or they would seek an audience with The Devil to see who would die that coming year.
To do this wasn’t thought of as nefarious by many – the Folk Devil as Master of Magic has always been seen a little differently to the Lord of Hell. [On that note actually, it’s worth saying that biblically speaking, the Devil was cast down to Earth and will only end up in Hell, where he too will be tortured (much wailing and snapping of teeth says the Book of Revelations repeatedly) at the end of days… until then he’s one who moves in this world with the rest of us…. if you follow the Christian mythology of course. A subversion of the Horned Gods of Old or not he, The Devil, has a huge part to play in many forms of witchery.]
It was said that either by sitting in a chair in a crossroads or by attending a church at midnight on All Hallows Eve you’d have a conversation or be listening to the Devil’s service. As a part of which he’d reel off those who were to die in the following year.
– It was also a traditional time to gather grave yard dust or dirt for darker workings or to tend to the graves of those long gone.
– In some areas of Britain it was said that the Faeries moved between barrows (mounded tombs as gateways to the other worlds) twice a year – once at Beltaine (1st May) and once at Samhain. As such, it would be unwise to join in a procession of the fey as you may end up in a different world to be used up and cast out as an ancient while only hours have passed in the outer world… or to be returned as a youth to your town decades or centuries later to see that all has changed and all your loved ones are haggard or dead. Within the Faerie tradition you are more easily trapped if you eat Faerie food.
The Fey folk aren’t human and operate by different set of morals (if any) than we do in lore. Yet, to tempt them in to a deal (a bad move unless you form the small print yourself under the advice of a lawyer) or to bribe them to stay away if you live near a Faerie site, such as a stone circle or barrow or a solitary hawthorn in a field or a copse of Alder etc, you’d leave out milk and beer and unsalted bread… or you’d use bits of old iron, such as horseshoes, nailed to, or by, the door to keep them away.
– With Samhain we enter in to the darkest quarter of the year, or so it seems as the nights get longer and the days darker and we feel the bite of winter in the very air that we breathe. It’s a time that harbours the first life of many plant and animal species though – from the acorns sending down their first roots, securing themselves and begin ready to sprout come spring; to the stag battling for the right to mate in the rutting season.
– The colours of Autumn are also filling up our sight lines at this time of year, with the crimson and butter yellow of Acers and elms and Ash and the burnt purples and browns of the Manna ash and the drying beech speckling the world around us.
The fallen leaves also frame the oft bright colours of autumn fungi on the woodland floor while Liberty Caps grow readily in dew soaked longer grass. This is a time of transformation and of birth for the fungi as many throw up reproductive mushrooms, from their hidden mycelium, to scatter spores and grow in number across the world.
– In some of the colder pats of the world, yet those where winter bathing was less frequent, the poor would often be sown in to their clothes with sheets of brown paper fitted between layers to reduce lice and add insulation, preparing or the winter ahead.
– Those same peasant folk, from which many of us are descended, would gather up dried leaves to remake their mattress for the winter if straw or hay was in short supply – echoing the animals that seem to melt in to the landscape over winter. Animals such as the hedgehog or slow worm who find sheltered spaces to stuff with leaves and sleep out the colder weather.
– It is also said that the Druids of ancient times would have netted off some elderberry trees and allowed the fruit to dry and ferment on the tree until Samhain when these fruit would be gathered and added to water to ferment again -this double fermentation of wild yeasts and fungi leading to a psycho active wine that would be drunk the following Samhain to attain prophetic visions.
– As far as deities go, this is often a time of year favoured by modern witches to work with those more haggard aspects of the divine – the Crones and the Lords of Death; those with the power to take away parts of the self that are no longer wanted and to usher in transformation by virtue of the dying of parts of you.
What to do?
Here are a few ideas for activities that you could do to recognise the time of Samhain:
– Visit the graves of your kith and kin, leaving the gift of an apple or bouquet of autumn leaves. Or create, or update, an Ancestor shrine at home with photos or trinkets from those lost to the past.
– Take a bag, some tubs or baskets and go on a mushroom foraging walk (trust an expert if you don’t trust yourself and always make sure they are safe to eat). Perhaps dry some mushrooms at home, to practice an ancestral skill.
– Make a sacrifice yourself to echo the loss and gain of the third harvest of old – perhaps go without meat or dairy for a week. Or give a banquet to he homeless or donations to a food bank. Not all those who have gone before you would have had plenty to eat at this time of year and the generosity of others will have kept them alive – honour their struggle by easing that of a living person or family today.
– Set an extra space at the table on Samhain night and leave the door ajar so that your Ancestors and the dead can come to visit. Maybe even take this a step further and host a dumb supper. Set up empty spaces on the table and eat in silence by candle light. Maybe even an empty chair per person eating. Allow everyone to serve themselves from platters/bowls in the centre of the table – the dead can have as much as they want that way by means of aroma without letting food go to waste.
– Go for a long walk to appreciate the colours of Autumn, or a mini pilgrimage to a local grave site or stone circle / barrow/ well. Tidy it up a little if needed – collect litter, perhaps cut back the bracken hiding the stones. Leave nothing that isn’t biodegradable as an offering.
– Leave out a collection of shiny copper coins or tuck them in to cracks in tombs (don’t damage them to do this though) or walls – that way the restless dead can pay Charon to cross the river Styx (if you or they follow the classical Greek Mythology)
– Consider going on a shamanic journey to visit your Ancestors in the Underworld. See what they have to teach you. Don’t try to get in to the Land of the Dead in the shamanic worlds though… even extremely well practiced Shamans have been trapped and lost there in the past.
– Set up a circle or working site and invoke an appropriate deity of your choice, or your Ancestors, and speak with them about what you have harvested in your life over the past season or so and what you’d like to harvest in the coming months. Perhaps speak to a Crone Goddess or a Dead/Underworld God and ask them to take away aspects of yourself or your life that no longer serve you or are holding you back.
– Or simply go for a walk in to the woods, or meadows or park and see what changes the season has brought to the land near you.
– Share a libation of mead or wine or beer with the dead – perhaps even in a graveyard.
– Look at making a witches ladder with bones that you’ve found or saved – hang it in a tree or a hidden place – again make sure you use only biodegradable materials. Your intention is your own business.
Think of bones as the liminal part of the body – the core of the corporeal in life yet the residual parts of living things after death and decay. A link to the dead that we can’t hold easily while they live.
– Collect the best coloured autumnal leaves as you find them and perhaps make a leaf mask to use for Samhain. Masks are a great way to experience yourself in a different role or as an embodiment of a chosen energy or being.
– Carve a Jack O’Lantern out of what ever takes your fancy – a pumpkin, a turnip, or even an overly large parsnip. Make sure to collect the flesh and make seasonal soup, or wine or pie – never waste it and a well hollowed pumpkin is one easier to carry too!
Light it up and place it looking out of the property to keep away the malicious spirits and welcome in the good ones.
– Light a fire and scry in the flames – add green juniper or smokey foliage to aid your sight
– Leave out milk and unsalted bread and butter to appease the faeries on the top of a wall and leave out cat food on the floor for hedgehogs wanting to fatten themselves up before they sleep (bread and milk gives them bad tummies… aka The Shits)
– look in to traditional divination techniques and local customs for your area and tradition – maybe have a go at the practice of ‘tapping the bone’.
A brief solo ritual for you to practice.
Rituals are always better with meaning and purpose that is more than just a recognition and a tugging of one’s forelock to a deity or time of year.
These words are my own, but not necessarily the ones I frequently use. If you would like to, please feel free to ad lib or replace with your own words.
Edit if you will, but please cite me as the author if you are sharing (Mark Buxton or this blog).
The circle cast used here is one aimed at connection rather than separation or safety, feel free to use a different one if you feel in need of a more secure space.
This circle is in a similar vein to the majority of Neopagan style circles and is losely based on both a Wiccan and Druid ceremony format.
The purpose of this circle is connection, this allows for some vulnerability, but please don’t use this if you are in a place that creeps you out or feels ‘wrong’; wait and work elsewhere.
Find your working space. An area with a 9 foot (3 metre) diameter of open ground will be more than sufficient. You will need a lighter or matches. Please make yourself aware of fire safety.
Mark out the North with a stone and an unlit candle.
Mark out the East with a feather (or jos stick) and an unlit candle.
Mark out the South with an unlit candle and something golden in colour.
Mark out the West with a small bowl of water and an unlit candle.
Place a candle, a some cider, apple juice or mead in a glass and an apple or fruit in the centre of your circle. Place also a fire proof dish/ bowl/ cauldron/ pumpkin along with a lit candle. Also have paper, pen and some kindling ready to go. Gather also a fresh bundle of green rosemary or sage or juniper. Place also a pitcher or jug of water.
Begin by standing in the centre of what will be your circle.
Take three deep breaths, feeling your lungs fill completely. Feel yourself centred, calm and ready to begin. Face the East.
Extending your finger (or wand, athame, staff or whatever you choose) hold it against your heart. Move your finger to point outwards and be aware of power moving with it.
Feel the energy flowing out of your finger and move your hand slowly to face the East. See that the energy flows out and pools in the air just beyond the Eastern candle, creating a wall that extends both upwards to a point directly above your head and down wards to a point directly below your feet.
Move clockwise, feeling the energy drawing a spherical curtain around you. As you move say the words below. Keep moving in a clockwise direction (deosil) until you reach East again.
A circle of Joy I wind around me like a cloak, A sphere of presence and of love, These walls borne of my own spirit, weaving a circle of connection, A circle of power, joy and strength Shared with the world around me.
Once you have reached the East pull your hand back in towards your chest and allow yourself to feel the presence of the sphere of your own energy around you.
Walk to the East and say:
Hail to the East, place of dawn and the Spirits of Air! Spirits of the Mighty Winds and Living Breath!
Come also all of my Ancestors from the East. I ask that you join me and watch over me in my rites.
Light the Eastern Candle
Move to the South and say:
Hail to the South, place of the midday sun and the Spirits of Fire! Spirits of the flickering flame and the body’s chemical fires!
Come also all of my Ancestors from the South. I ask that you join me and watch over me in my rites.
Light the Southern Candle
Walk to the West and say:
Hail to the West, place of dusk and the Spirits of Water! Spirits of the Falling Rain and the water in my flesh!
Come also all of my Ancestors from the West. I ask that you join me and watch over me in my rites.
Light the Western Candle
Walk to the North and say:
Hail to the North, place of Midnight and the Spirits of Earth! Spirits of the fertile soils, stones and bones!
Come also all of my Ancestors from the North. I ask that you join me and watch over me in my rites.
Light the Northern Candle
Walk back to the centre of your circle. Bend and touch the Earth beneath you, then stand and reach up to the heavens. Lowering your hand and tuning the full circle where you are say:
Ancestors of my blood, Ancestors of this land and Ancestors of my Tradition I call to you! Spirits of this Place and of this Time, Those seen and unseen,
With the thinning veil of Samhain
I call for you to lend me your ears, Walk with me and guide me in my ways. I ask that you join me and watch over my rites
Place your burning bowl / pumpkin in the centre of the circle and light a small fire therein. Save some of the paper for later. Once the fire is going well carry on with the working.
Alternatively, if doing this inside, light a tealight in your bowl.
Spend a few minutes in silent thought and clearly write on the slips of paper anything that you wish to give away. Perhaps an aspect of your life that doesn’t serve you or an ailment, addiction or aspect of your life that has held you back from your goals. Be strictly honest with yourself, if it is caused by your actions or words then take that aspect of yourself rather than blaming another or a situation.
Kneel or stand in front of the items in the centre of the circle facing west and look in to the flames. Add more wood if you need to do so, but keep the fire small.
Speak now to the flames while looking deeply in to them;
I call to the guardians of the Western Gate To the keepers of the Underworld,
To the Goddesses of the Dead,
Persephone, Hel, Mania, Calleach and Morrighan,
To the Gods of the the Dead
Arawn, Anubis, Erebus, Odin and Dis Pater
[note: please feel free to replace the deities with simply ‘those who keep the dead and the land of the dead’]
I call to my Ancestors to open the path and line the way May your presence here be blessed by the smoke of sweet herbs.
Place the herbs thinly on top of the flames and let them smoke.
I offer you these parts of my life,
these slivers of myself To break, remove and renew as the smoke clears let them be taken away.
Cast the slips of paper with your writing on, one by one in to the fire and watch them burn.
Sit for a while until the smoke from the paper and the herbs is gone. See and feel the things you want rid of disappear and dissipate along with the smoke.
Take time to meditate if you need to.
Take up the apple now and eat it along with a sip or more of the mead/wine. As you do so, see and feel the apple replenish you. Feel the rough edges left by the removal of your written offerings smoothed over and yourself being made whole again without that which you have cast aside.
Once completed, stand up and pour a little of the mead/ wine on to the fire as a thank you to the Ancestors. Before raising your glass to each of the directions in turn and taking a sip. Pour a little of the mead in to the water jug and then set the mead down while raising the jug up.
With mead / wine sweetened water I give thanks, thanks to the Goddesses and the Gods of the Dead, I pray you ever guide me and comfort me when my time is due, But today I hope it is not even close, I offer thanks to my Ancestors who today have lined the way. I offer thanks to the vehicle of fire, that I shall light again another time.
Pour the water on to the fire and put it out fully.
Drink the rest of the mead or wine , or pour it as a libation to the spirits of the circle.
Facing the North say the following
Spirits of the North and Earth I thank you for watching over my rite, I offer blessings and farewell.
Facing the West say the following
Spirits of the West and Water. I thank you for watching over my rite, I offer blessings and farewell.
Facing the South say the following
Spirits of the South and Fire I thank you for watching over my rite, I offer blessings and farewell.
Facing the East say the following
Spirits of the East and Air. I thank you for watching over my rite, I offer blessings and farewell.
Standing in the centre of the circle and turning round say:
Spirits of this Time and Place, This Land and of All my Ancestors I thank you for watching over my rite, I offer blessings and farewell, Walk with me as you will.
Stand in the centre and face East
Reach out with your finger (wand etc) and see the energy of the circle begin to flow back in to your body as you turn anticlockwise winding all your energy back in.
Once done say:
This rite is now complete and done, I return to the apparent World.
Put out the quarter candles.
Once the rite is done, drain off the water from the remains of you fire. Set any charcoal or partly burned wood to one side to dry. You can use these to start a fire another time to work with the dead or scrying or even to light your yule fire in a few weeks time.
You can listen to the podcast version of this blog here:
I’m currently in the midst of preparing a big Samhain post and hopefully a podcast with it… but I’m also in the midst of doing a great many other things too!
The weekend just gone saw me in Shropshire, working on my parent’s new place, a stone cottage/house near the LLanclys crossroads, and helping them to move in.
For the past half a year they’ve been renting a place called The Lodge, some ten or fifteen miles away but still rural.
The Lodge sits on the periphery of a large estate and the building itself has a charm… though, with the low doorways, it’s a charm that can be steadily knocked out of a tall person like me.
As nice as the house is, that’s not what has inspired my post today – you see, not more than a hundred metres away from the property edge you find yourself approaching the shade cast by two huge sweet chestnut trees.
Unusually for many, these trees are absolutely covered in fruit; nuts encased in coats of thin and numerous spines – like a tree’s impression of a hedgehog, but without the soft underbelly!
Luckily, the green spiny cases often split as the ripe clusters fall to the ground, dispersing their precious cargo of shiny, beautifully coloured seeds.
In many places, sweet chestnuts grow more as a multi-stemmed tree rather than the behemoths in front of me, but often the multiple stems are the results of coppicing and human interference.
Most sweet chestnuts wear what appears to be a good crop… but often is just the seed cases filled with hollow, slim nuts, the fattest being small by comparison to shop bought ones; often imported from warmer climes.
Indeed the sweet chestnut favours a more Mediterranean climate for good nut production but excels at producing wood that has a plethora of uses in our wetter lands.
I was aware that, historically, some communities in Italy would use chestnuts as a staple food , almost in place of grain, but I’d never had the pleasure of seeing a tree that made me believe that it was possible in the UK until, looking up in to the branches of these sweet chestnut that were almost dribbling fruit down their boles, I was awe struck.
With little effort and with around half a rotation of the trees I had filled a plastic bag to the brim – easily six or seven kilograms had been picked with ease. I had been fussy too; leaving the smaller nuts. I also left those even slightly touched by the few squirrels that had scarpered off as I approached. If all had been gathered from the floor around the trees there would have been easily thirty kilograms of nuts to eat.
Speaking to my parents it would seem that the ease of gathering had been the same for the last few weeks and the trees were still covered with nuts that were yet to fall.
The squirrels would feed well this year!
With my bag of fat nuts in my arms I waddled off to place them in my car for later use.
I wondered if this was simply a mast year for the nuts – many trees have years where they produce a glut and then barely reproduce at all the following few years while they recover from the effort spent. A survival strategy whereby, by the grace of numbers, not every seed can be eaten before it takes root. Only a few more years of observing would tell me.
As a reward for producing so many nuts I promised the tree that I would sow a load of these tasty seeds – and then give away and plant them out once germinated at one or more of my tree talks in the coming year. In this way, I would be giving back to the tree, ensuring it’s genetic future by spreading it’s seeds far and wide. It’s a bargain always worth making with a tree or fruiting plant. After all, if a tree can grow so well on the rainy, cold Welsh border, I’m sure it could fruit well up in Wigan or even Blackpool… though I might need to wait forty years for a full crop.
A part of me wonders if this was a similar process of bargaining to that which our ancient Ancestors might have used to begin humanity’s foray in to the world of horticulture. If you plant the best nuts from the best tree, or the seeds from the sweetest apples, then not only do you and your descendants benefit, but that individual tree could even come in to a greater prevalence by virtue of it’s offspring. If we sacrifice a little of our harvest to honour a gifted yield, perhaps we magnify it also?
And maybe that explains our predilection for sacrifice and bargaining?
Maybe the tree, knowing that it has an ally, will continue to fruit well, nay, be encouraged to fruit even better.
So, this morning saw me cutting and peeling hundred of nuts (barely a third of the bag!) and placing them in to a dehydrator. Dried they will keep for years and can be added to soups, stews, broth or even ground up as flour…. but left as they are, they loose their capacity to germinate within a few weeks – almost as soon as the initial shine is gone from their shells even! Then, those not lucky enough not be destined to be sown will start to turn to mold slowly but surely.
As I go through the bag I’ll select the biggest and best nuts and put them to one side to be sown in the very near future – my sacrifice or my bargain held to.
As for the others, I’ll spend hours preserving another batch and the rest are in a fridge draw, cool and safe… until I slice in to the top of them to prevent them exploding when I place them in a crock pot and slowly roast them atop the wood burning stove.
And there’s little to top that sweet, stodgy, soft and moist nutty flesh when you pop it in you mouth still warm from the fire.
So…. I encourage you all – strike bargains, plant seeds and help spread abundance in to the world…. and then eat the rest of the unborn children of the trees… nom… nom….nom.
A good friend of mine, Brian, and myself took a day away from the grindstone yesterday to head up to the sandy beach of Formby.
We were joining a party of folk all interested in seeing the prehistoric footprints trapped and eroding layer by layer in the eluvial layers of estuarine mud.
It would appear that the beach at Formby is vanishing; the wind and tide stripping almost ten metres from the edge each year.
Although Formby is well known for the dune people texted pine forests which house a delightful cluster of red squirrels, it wasn’t always so.
Jamie, our National Trust guide explained that the melt water of the most recent ice age dragged sediment and sand out to sea and effectively goes a sand bank, enlarging the coastline some four or five kilometres further out than it is today. This sand bank in turn trapped both water and debris until in time a mosaic of habitats had formed.
Habitats such as both salt and fresh water lagoons, wet forests, grass lands, salt marsh and scrub; ideal for a large array of animals and as hunting and gathering grounds for ancient humans some between four and six thousand years ago.
Due to the nature of the place it was regularly covered with flood brought layers of mud. This mud captured imprints in it and baked in the sun before a dusting of wind brought sand covered it over…. and then a new layer of mud arrived and so on.
As the sea encroaches upon the land the dunes are forced to retreat …. as they do they are uncovering many footprint storing layers of mud. The sea in turn is slowly wearing theses away – a dynamic landscape revealing ancient track ways.
On our visit the tide had left a lot more sand covering the mud layers than was ideal…. but we still saw a good number of species preserved – gilded in the imagination due to the heavy mud.
Contained in the mud could be seen the foot print of a juvenile auroch; a now extinct species of wild cow which would dwarf even a large modern bull by thrice the bulk.
Note the squared shape, the splayed toes and the rear imprint of the redundant bovine toes.
These incredibly heavy and strong animals are well known as powerful, ill tempered brutes to those who read legends of European origin.
Two species of deer were also traced – roe deer (above) and large red deer (below) – it seems that the red deer of old were bigger than our current moor land loving beasts.
Add to this the ancient foot prints of millenia old oyster catchers, amongst the eliptical burrow marks of molluscs from the 1700s (below) and we had quite a lot of finds.
Yet for many this obvious trail of tracks which show evidence of our own kind was the most fascinating.
Thousands of years ago people with a significantly different culture and world view to us walked in what was a significantly different landscape than the one we were seeing…. but for all the difference, they were still human – still us.
These layers of estuarine mud go down around six metres and may have many more treasures to share as they wear away.
Full red deers skulls replete antlers have been found buried in this mud and there must be more.I know I’ll be keeping an eye out.
The retreating dunes have also begun to unearth more modern finds… the remnants of an old caravan park.
A caravan park which, with every tide, disgorges chunks of concrete and bitumen and bricks.
Further up the coastline is a thick layer of compressed and shredded tobacco waste from a the Victorian era.
Seemingly dumped and shredded stems; abandoned after the nicotine had been extracted for the pesticide industry. It now looks like rock… but is soft enough to break apart and crumb up by hand.
Yet still potent enough to leave your hands stinking like stale tobacco.
However, going back to that caravan park debris. Some of it became a temporary stone circle of alternating monoliths and stone stacks.
All in under twenty minutes, yet unlike to last the evening tide.
It was a mixture of play time and of mystery – the query from a couple out walking along the beach as the light dimmed was enough to know that a little enchantment had been spread in to the world. … and all from bits of concrete foundations and tarmacadamed road.
And… as big kids do…. we couldn’t resist the urge to make ourselves feel like giants 🙂
I’ve found myself building more and more stone stack shrines these last few months, and some of that could be a reflection of what’s going on in my own life. Yet, I suspect that a lot of it is due to the fact that I’m being called to build them by the Spirits of the places I visit.
I cannot recall a time before which I enjoyed making simple things by hand. Don’t get me wrong, I found wood work and any ‘technology’ class other than cooking to be incredibly dull and frustrating – at no point have I ever wanted to make something according to a curriculum not of my choosing.
The sea of inspiration smacks hard against the wall of a curriculum without room for creativity… and like a fish leaping from the sea to find itself hurtling wetly towards a wall, the otherwise inspired suffer much from it.
There’s a simple beauty to be found when a rock or log or similar can be stacked or worked with to create a change in the landscape that engenders a recognition that there is something other than the self in a site when stumbled upon by another. An echo of what is and what was, possibly moments before, possibly centuries.
Stone stacks are found all over the world and in varying sizes and shapes – I claim no artistry here, as I have seen some stone balancers who truly have made it in to an art form. The ones made by my hands will never win awards, but they echo the voices of the places they are found – rough, unshod and if not wary then belligerent.
My little shrines are a mixture of the ephemeral and almost permanent – they both have their value.
In the woods, I sometime stack sticks from a fallen tree, in the form of a stepped pyramid, grids of sticks lined up to form a pyramid, but that’s rare as I’d hate for them to become an invitation to light a pyre for local pyromaniac youths. More often in the woods, I slide feathers in to cracks in bark. Done at eye height; a deliberate change. A recognition of the tree and the bird; designed to be seen.
I have in the past also made witch’s ladders from bones and compostable twine (or cordage), and hung these from branches in trees.
With the coming of the winds, the bones sing an odd and jaunty rattle as if glad to be granted movement again. While the feathers flutter until they are knocked aloft, flying once again; even if momentarily.
From a recent Circle of Pagans Trip to Anglesey, in a cove just beneath Barclodiad-y-Gawres Burial Chamber
From a recent Circle of Pagans Trip to Anglesey, in a cove just beneath Barclodiad-y-Gawres Burial Chamber
From a recent Circle of Pagans Trip to Anglesey, in a cove just beneath Barclodiad-y-Gawres Burial Chamber
From a recent Circle of Pagans Trip to Anglesey, in a cove just beneath Barclodiad-y-Gawres Burial Chamber
From a recent Circle of Pagans Trip to Anglesey, in a cove just beneath Barclodiad-y-Gawres Burial Chamber
Yet, more recently I’ve been called to make more and more of these little stone stacks out in the middle of seemingly nowhere – the desolate moor, the cliff top, the stream bed, the beach at dawn. Or, as in the pictures above, on a recent Circle of Pagans Trip to Anglesey, in a cove just beneath Barclodiad-y-Gawres Burial Chamber as part of a mini ceremony of gratitude to Mon.
It’s a compulsion almost, my hands tingle, the Spirits of the place seem to add a gloss to exactly the right rocks to use and whisper… and so the back pack is dropped and some time is spent making these structures; with me seemingly at play.
Atop an old post in the riverbed,next to a not on the map stone circle and monolith (new?), near Sulby Glen at the side of the A14 Isle of Man
Up close, decorated with quartz that’d just be visible from the road… enticing an exploration
So I thought I’d share a few from a recent visit to the Isle of Man and my time on Anglezarke moor – both places where Mannanan’s presence is strongly felt, both landscapes that seem open but that hide a lot… but Mannanan is a topic for another blog post or two.
The majority of stone stacks will survive for a long time if in a sheltered spot. Some can be made in to pretty permanent things, but often the top third or so falls off with a strong wind or when a passing animal uses it as a scratching post.
Using big stones in a big and barren landscape was an Inuit tradition. It can be awfully lonely out on the tundra and the iced up sea when out hunting, fishing or walking.
To combat the loneliness, they would build big stone stacks on the shore line, enough that they could be seen by passing boats and to act as a reminder that you aren’t alone, nor are you lost. Others have been this way before you and will come this way again.
In many cases it would be remembered who had built which stack and so, as they were seen, you’d remember a family member or a friend.
The heather against the shoreline, under the eye of the Light house at the Point of Ayre, Isle of Man … and a rabbit skull.
In an incredibly windy spot at the edge of a cliff top at the Chasms, Isle of Man
Atop a concrete bunker a stone’s throw away from Meayll Hill burial ground in Isle of Man
Many of the small ones pictured, will be little more than one stone tall now. They are built in exposed areas. It pleases me in someways to know that I’ve given the Wind something to play with.
For me, making these isn’t about achieving any form of immortality, nor is it to be remembered in the short term. They’re made by going with the flow of inspiration received while out in these places. They are made to recognise the dynamism of the spirit there; and as such they should be changeable, movable and yet still obvious while they exist.
up close … a windy spot on the South Western shoreline of the Isle of Man. The Coastal path runs almost past it, over the hillside cover ed with heather.
A more distant shot – it stands out, but not overtly humanly.
Some however are built in such a way as to give others a tingle as they come around a corner in to a landscape speckled with stone stacks shrines, they know about it. There’s an eeriness in the air and a giddy energy – the Spirits of the Place and Time are recognised even by the non-magical traveler.
Niarbyl rocks Isle of Man
Niarbyl rocks Isle of Man
The south west mountain side coastal road
The south west mountain side coastal road – a stack of quartz
It’s rare for me to aim for permanence, but sometimes that’s what’s called for. In the pictures below you can see a stone stack on Anglezarke moor, made in a place of exposed stones, where I’m pretty sure they’re from a a naturally exposed ridge rather than a settlement footprint. Either way the spot blasts out potency and I made a simple stack on my first time visiting.
A couple of weeks later I was in the area again and checked on how the stack was doing, it had lost the top third or so of it’s stones in the windy weather. As I began to rebuild it inspiration came in that led me to make it more resilient and more likely to survive for a long time… it’s now a little over a metre tall and about 60cm across at the widest point. It’ll be checked up on and the Spirits greeted next time I’m up there.
The first incarnation on Anglezarke moor
The second incarnation on Anglezarke moor – a tripl stack with most stons leaning slightly inwards to support each other.
Quite to the contrary though, it’s just as important to make things of fleeting presence – a sacrifice of energy and awareness.
As such, I often find myself creating seaside stone temples in miniature whenever I’m on a stony beach.
The images below show a small, not quite, stack shrine and a metre wide shrine, made on the beach. The stones were just south and east of the point of Ayre on the Isle of Man. Within ten minute the sea had rushed in to claim them, leaving no trace after a few waves had broken over it. Although it took quite a few more waves than anticipated to fell all of the stones.
The resistance of both of these little structures to the sea’s advances is oddly hope giving.
What we might expect to be washed away in mere moments, we find stands strong until almost fully submerged by rolling waves.
It’s long been said that there’s a beauty in decay and as you watch the work you made to be eaten, slowly become other than it was – returned to it’s constituents, that beauty creeps in to the mind.
It’s almost as though the same beings that suggested you build it just here and with these exact rocks and in this pattern are also reminding you that the world is rife with impermanence. Showing that even the strongest of us will find peace from the ceaseless conflict of change, of becoming and unbecoming, if we surrender to that which makes us what we are in the here and now. Or it will come if we wait it out for the greater whole of the world to subsume us again in it’s regenerative embrace.
There’s a power in accepting how vulnerable we are, how mortal we are, in the grand scheme of things. Whether you believe in reincarnation or otherwise, this life, this form, this self will never exist again in exactly the same way after we are gone.
The ephemeral nature of life and being means that every breath we share with others truly is a blessing – we gift ourselves to those we spend time with, as they do to us.
And so, from the apparent permanence of stone we can catch a glimpse of our own mortality and smile, knowing we are truly gifted with the present moment… even if not all present moments are nice or pleasing.
Finally though, there’s another blessing that stone stack building can convey; enchantment.
By leaving a foot print free stone shrine on a beach, or in a landscape known for it’s magical properties, we can keep the world a little bit more magical for those who find it.
Like this one, done shortly after dawn on Ramsey beach, Isle of Man. It’d be hours before the sea came in and hours before the beach was filled with children… enough time for the wind to hide my footprints and for the mischief found both in myself and in the Spirit of that place to leave a little mystery and hopefully a little enchantment for those who found it.
And then, finally, if not kicked over, it’d become a sacrifice to the Sea God Mannan.
A sacrifice freely given and made of my time at play.