Litterpicking

I have long believed that litterpicking is a powerful act of magic, when it comes to honouring and building relationship with the spirit(s) of a place.  In that sense, yesterday morning was thoroughly magical.

We have finally moved “across the water” to the Wirral peninsula – my love/hate/love/love -inspiring sacred landscape; a few weekends ago I was enthusiastically recruited to the Friends of Birkenhead Park, which is why, yesterday morning, I found myself wandering around the world’s first publicly-funded public park (it really is quite something) picking litter.  It taught me a lot about my new locality.

The park borders some of the richest communities in this area on one side, and some of the poorest on the other, and the litter left in different areas speaks pretty eloquently about the lives of each.  With no litter-picking sticks, we improvised with branches we found lying on the ground; a very particular kind of magic wand, created and used with intention.

Walking with this kind of purpose gave me license to explore more widely and look more carefully than I might have done otherwise.  The park is famously landscaped, but it still preserves something of the old, wild landscape of the birch-wooded headland that became Birkenhead: football pitches are always threatening to revert to marshland, and the wildflower meadows are anchored with marsh grass (which I have just realised I can’t identify by name: I remember it well, from the wetter fields of the Teifi valley, and I know that the insides of its dark, fleshy spikes are filled with a white spongy substance and that it has dry brown flower-heads in the summer; so this is my landscape homework for the day, I suppose).

Further inside the park, where the land begins to rise towards the sandstone ridge that runs down the spine of the peninsula, a natural spring has given rise to a small pond sheltered by mature yew trees – a wonderful place for small, private rituals, especially given that the park is open all hours.  I would never have discovered it, if not for my fellow volunteers.  They have spent all their lives on the Wirral, and know it intimately.  Although they would never describe themselves as pagans, their love and reverence for this landscape is something any pagan would understand.  I often clear litter, as an act of honour and reverence for place, but there was something particularly powerful and uplifting about doing it with others.

Oh – and we were all given a full English breakfast at the volunteer lodge afterwards :)

Now, having spent yesterday up close and personal with the rich, muddy sandstone spirits of the land, I am off for a coastal cycle to revel in the wide-skied freedom of the spirits of the shore.  In case it wasn’t obvious already, I love this place.

Advertisements

walking this path

It has been a while since my last proper post; in all honesty, bar the tenuous, Telegraph-given connection, the subject of my last actual post is a little out of keeping with the blog (oh hai there new followers!  It is very nice to have you, but I thought you all deserved a warning).  Like its non-identical twin sister, this blog fizzled out a little over the latter part of last year.  I had been using them both to skirt around the sayable, while privately, silently, exploring the unsayable.

Last year feels as though it should have been a turning point, though nothing much has turned.  After withdrawing a little from the online community of pagans, and immersing myself in the mystery tradition of Anglesey Druidry, I have emerged with more or less the same perspective as before, but with a much steadier sense of the ground beneath my feet, and a lot more clarity about how I could explore it further.

Mystery is, in essence, inexpressible; finding ways to express the inexpressible is what art is for – and although I make no claims to be an artist, this blog exists to express ideas about druidry: a path which is partly rooted in gnosis, mysticism and subjective experience.  I need to use it to express the things that actually inspire me, no matter how hesitant I am to expose them to the winds of internet opinion; otherwise it has no heart.  I am starting to understand a little more about what it means to be a bard, having thought for all these years that perhaps I could just quietly avoid that aspect of the druid path without anybody noticing.  Unfortunately, “anybody” included me (who, privately, noticed very much); it also included the deepest wellspring of my inspiration, a deity who is not the type to insist, but is not exactly easily suppressed…

So: what am I doing?

This question (“the old song”) is a favourite of Cat Treadwell’s, and I have learned a lot from the clarity of its simple directness.

Right now, I am re-reading Kuno Meyer’s translation of The Voyage of Bran, son of Febal, thanks to the Forgotten Books project.  And I am writing.  Writing here, because over the past few days I have been devouring pagan blogs; clicking my way into a labyrinth of links and references and, gradually, reading my way out again, laden with a list of new books to find and references to check, and correspondences between ideas that had never quite met one another before.  In that context, it seems miserly to read so much and not offer something in return, no matter how little.  There comes a point when there is more to be learned by sharing one’s own ideas than by hoarding other people’s, and some connections can only be made out loud.  But that leap of faith is terrifying.  I know so little.  Will I ever know enough?

Enough for whom?

Enough by what measure?

If my measure is an inspired and inspiring life, then I think I am at least on track.  The inspiration I feel may not always express itself in art – in the words or music we associate with bard-craft (though the moment on Sunday when I sang to the turning tide and saw a cormorant fly overhead and land in the water with each verse, was a moment of pure magic) – but in some small way I can feel it expressed in everything I do.  Just under four months ago, I was initiated as awenydd; now, I am learning to be one.  It takes faith to spend so much time and effort researching old tales and traditions, and to glean inspiration from sources that have been obscured by time; it takes still more faith to pour our souls into the work of singing this inspiration back into the world.  But it is the work I vowed to undertake.  And – however I try to rationalise it, whatever stories I weave around it –  Manawydan mab Llŷr (and maybe also Manannan mac Lir) is at its heart.

image by the wonderful Thalia Took: www.thaliatook.com

image by the wonderful Thalia Took: http://www.thaliatook.com

Let not thy intoxication overcome thee;
Begin a voyage across the clear sea

The Voyage of Bran, son of Febal

So I begin.

on not sacrificing goats at the Green Party conference

As our national newspapers have noticed, the Green party held their Spring Conference in Liverpool this past weekend – the first since the “Green surge” which saw membership quadruple to 55,000 in 12 months.  Suddenly, Green politics have become impossible to ignore; a fact which some political journalists – raised on a simple diet of two-party politics with the occasional side dish of liberalism and nationalism – are finding difficult to digest.

Predictably, the right-wing press have not reacted well. The Telegraph, in particular, has taken the puzzling editorial decision to base much of its reporting on parodies (which, to be fair, would be pretty funny in another context), presenting them as facts and then proceeding to offer a “serious” political analysis from this basis.  This article is a fairly spectacular case in point and has prompted a fair bit of comment among the druid community already, for reasons which are too tiresomely obvious to state. Instead of taking umbrage at its slur on druids, however, I am going to enjoy the experience of demolishing the political argument point by point, simply because I can. So here we go.

The author of this piece claims to have been “told by party insiders that if the economy should dip into recession in 2016, they’ll get things moving again by sacrificing a goat to Sheba the Moon Goddess.” What a tease! Of course, Sheba and goat-sacrifice are more likely to be found among the pages of the Bible than at any modern pagan ritual, just as interminable focus on recession and growth are more likely to be found at every political conference except the Greens’. I am choosing to believe that the author knows this already. But it is a sad day for British journalism when a paper of this calibre finds it easier to accept the idea of goat-sacrifice than an economic policy not predicated on growth. Dear Telegraph, when reporting on a movement which is changing political discourse, have a go at understanding. You will disagree, of course, but you will disagree much better when you have wrapped your mind around the main thrust of the argument.

The next point on the agenda is some fair criticism of the minority Green-led Brighton council, which merits a slightly more serious response. The council’s tenure in Brighton has not been the Green party’s finest moment, granted, but Brighton is not the only council with problems, and there are Green party councillors all over the country doing fantastic work. Of course it suits the author of this article to cherry-pick the bad examples, but the fact is the worst the Green council has done (so far) is mismanage a dispute with one of their departments and fail to prevent a building that was granted planning permission 4 years before they took leadership. Meanwhile, Labour led councils have been criticised for failing to prevent child abuse, and far worse accusations have been levelled at the Conservative party, yet both are implicitly a better option for our country. But at least they never put forward proposals for “gender-neutral toilets and the option of identifying oneself as Mr, Mrs or Mx on council forms.” Perish the thought! This country is built on gender-segregated toilets and strictly limited tick-box options on council forms.

And that brings me neatly to the next assertion: that “a true conservationist* wants to preserve the environment that they’ve inherited, along with its traditions, farming, heritage, old architecture and ancient ways of living.” – a favourite argument of the right, and a fallacious one at that. This country was built on a tradition of slavery and yet, somehow, nobody seems quite willing to argue that we should preserve that aspect of our inheritance. The Greens simply make the same case for coal-fired power stations (so much more beautiful to look at than windfarms, I know), excessive road-building, landfills and that quaint British tradition of selling off our infrastructure to foreign financiers who then cream off marvellous bonuses for themselves while investing as little as possible in return (very prudent).

“Hence,” the article continues, “their emphasis upon building 500,000 new council homes”. It is true, there is a depressing consensus on the need to build new homes, which gets reported almost daily in the media; the Telegraph is no exception. Presumably, therefore, the criticism is that they will be council homes, as opposed to private homes – which (as every good Telegraph reader knows) make a sound investment. In fact, the Greens are the only party I have encountered who have actively campaigned for building on brownfield sites, instead of the more lucrative and immeasurably more destructive greenfield sites preferred by the major housebuilding companies. I would love the author of this article to show me another political party this dedicated to preserving our green belt land.

But even if the Greens’ policies would save a much greater proportion of green belt land than the mainstream parties, we are still not safe from “their desire to cover [it] in wind farms”! I sympathise with the author here; I, too, find windmills so much uglier than coal-fired power stations, nuclear power stations and fracking sites. I long for an uninterrupted vista of smoking chimneys! Unfortunately, not everybody feels the same.  How can such a contentious issue be decided, in a pluralist society? Perhaps voting in a democratic election is a good start. Incidentally, here is a picture of a proposed fracking site, up here in the desolate unloved North:

Dee estuary

photo by Ronnie Hughes from the wonderful asenseofplaceblog.wordpress.com

 

But even if the Greens fail to cover every inch of the countryside in wind farms, they still have to answer for “their antipathy towards farmers and hunters”! The same antipathy, presumably, that led them to introduce the hunting ban. That was definitely the Greens, right? As for farmers, I confess an imperfect knowledge of the farms of Sevenoaks, which no doubt feel the sting of Green antipathy so deeply. The farms I grew up on were in West Wales, and the farms I have worked on since then have largely been in the South West of England. Having witnessed the terrible abuses of the worst, and joined in the invaluable and incessant hard work of some of the best, I have come to understand that organic farming is the only way to preserve the natural heritage of our British countryside. Organic farming is a difficult undertaking: it takes more investment, more effort, more labour. But it is possible. We did it for centuries – remember our “ancient ways of living”? – and it is promoted by Green policies.

Perhaps, however, the perceived antipathy towards farmers comes from the Green party’s support for “a progressive change from diets dominated by meat, dairy and other animal products to healthier diets based mainly on plant foods” – after all, that would be bad news for intensively-reared livestock (although low-yield, high-quality organic livestock farmers might actually welcome this cultural shift). Never mind that doctors and research scientists have been recommending just such a change for years and years; it was proposed by the Green party, so it must be “daft”.

To disclose my own bias: I am a Green party member. I joined because the British countryside means more to me than almost anything, and every other major political party has actively planned to despoil it for the purpose of “economic growth” (see: fracking, housebuilding). The British countryside means so much to me, in fact, that it is the basis of my spiritual life. You see, I am not only a Green party member but a druid. Like many other druids, you will find me, not “sacrificing a goat” to some invented moon goddess, but outside clearing litter from a patch of wilderness, or restoring a piece of wasteland to a state that supports wildlife. To use a metaphor that Telegraph journalists might understand, the land is my church and this is my communion. Not all druids are Green, and not all Greens are druids, but the concern for the plight of our countryside is common to both.

Why am I bothering with this response? Because I still believe in the old-fashioned notion of scrutiny. I actually think that a healthy rightwing press is an invaluable whetstone for leftwing ideas, and vice versa. If newspapers cannot offer a good critical commentary of a political party’s policies, what can they offer? I am not especially interested in consensus and conformity; I am interested in reading people who disagree with me intelligently. Perhaps, in future, Telegraph journalists might base their criticism of the Green party on actual policies and not on the “druid-trostskyist” bogeymen of their own invention. Here’s hoping.