If you take nothing else from this piece please remember that shit makes good fertilizer.
I’ve said that a few times to different people and in different situations recently and each time it seem to have been words that those listening needed to hear. Life is never easy but the past few years seem to have brought blow after blow to many of us. There are days when it feel like you are struggling uphill through thick sucking mud, other days where it feels something in the universe has dumped a big pile of shit on you. For some it may feel like they are having to carry increasingly heavy loads that they don’t feel they can let go of for all sorts of reasons. Grief, pain, anger and fear buffet us like the winds of an unceasing storm. And it’s exhausting!
And so I remind myself again and again that shit makes good fertilizer. I’ve stuggled in the past, feeling I had to hold my pain and fear in, that I couldn’t let my anger out or express my grief. I was wrong.
I discovered that if I didn’t learn to drop the steaming pile of shit, or at least some of it, I would break down and for a while be buried so deep I didn’t know which way was up. I learnt to cry out my fear, to scream my grief out into the winds. I learnt that if I sever the chains that bound me to my heavy load of anger it would fall and shatter apart like a brittle rock and let out the tears of pain bound within. And I learnt that in release I began to wash away the shit clinging to me with my tears. I didn’t get rid of the shit completely but I was able to dump it on the emotional and spiritual equivalent of a compost heap.
Over time huge piles of shit break down and in doing so it becomes fertilizer that helps new things grow.
Patience, compassion and empathy can all grow stronger from the shit life throws at you. How to hold safe boundaries for yourself and others; what love and trust look and feel like; these things also grow from times when life kept throwing shit at you.
Let your tears flow and wash the shit off you for a bit even if it’s only a couple of minutes. Do it again and again if you need to, and you will sometimes. And breathe, just keep breathing.
Sink into darkness.
Embrace my silence.
Trust me to catch you.
Let it go.
Cry, scream and shudder.
Sing to me!
Sing your pain.
Sing your fears.
Sing your sorrows.
Give it all to me
And let me breathe through you.
Let me live through you.
For months doubt had been creeping into my feelings about Epona and the Herd Mothers. I hadn’t really noticed any of Her subtle touches in my life. I wondered if in taking time to get to know other deities our relationship was fading and I wasn’t sure if that was my fault or just a natural change.
Doubt is so much more common in people of faith than some like to accept. It’s a normal part of your journey to question and evaluate experiences. Sometimes the doubt gets so strong that you feel you have lost something. You begin to wonder if that being that you thought was so important is really there for you. Perhaps you haven’t seen any signs of them recently, not felt their presence. Perhaps you feel you have lost something, done something wrong or just simply been left. In some cases a relationship that was once incredibly important fades and comes to a natural end. Doubt is natural. Questioning your faith is a part of your growth. The beings I honour don’t want blind faith, they want you to actively choose them. However, sometimes they will take a back seat for a reason of their own, fade from your awareness and let the doubts creep in.
For months doubt had been creeping into my feelings about Epona and the Herd Mothers. I hadn’t really noticed any of Her subtle touches in my life. I wondered if in taking time to get to know other deities our relationship was fading and I wasn’t sure if that was my fault or just a natural change. I kept my devotions going even though at times they felt a bit empty. I also planned a trip that would be something of a pilgrimage for me, a trip to see the Uffington White Horse, a place I had been wanting to visit for many years.
In early March, during my weekly devotions for the Herd Mothers, while I was praying and in particular asking for healing support for a friend’s horse, my prayer beads broke.
These were my first prayer beads made for me by my mum, restrung once before by her when they had broken through use. But I can’t get mum to restring them this time. I knew at some stage they might break again as I used them so much but for them to break at that moment was a painful shock. That connection to my mum has gone. I have other prayer beads, other sets that she made, other jewellery that she made for me too but these were special.
In that moment I didn’t know if they were broken as a consequence of my doubts or taken as a price for healing support.
I decided to draw three runes and the runes seemed to confirm to me that this was a price and not a kick in the teeth for having doubts. A forth rune fell down from the plate I keep them on to where I had placed the others and this strengthened my interpretation of this being a price. While this still hurts I have now accepted that this was a sacrifice taken in return for Her aid. The beads, none lost in spite of scattering on the floor, are in a bag on my altar waiting for me to know what to do with them now.
A few weeks later finally the time came for our trip down to Uffington. This was a family trip with my eldest choosing to stay at home for a first experience of being home alone while three of us went South. We had chosen Cirencester as our base for this trip which was more than visiting Uffington and it took us about eight hours to get there. We travelled down on Monday 4th April and returned home on Friday 8th April so we had three full days for more local trips.
The first was Uffington on Tuesday. You can’t see the whole figure from close up. Even from the car park area the top of the next disappears of the hill but still when I got to see my first glimpse standing on that landscape my heart swelled with emotion and I had tears in my eyes. I had made it!
We walked across the fields and up towards the horse itself. As we walked I spotted hoofprints on the path and felt the presence of the Herd Mothers in the land. There’s a rope boundary protecting the horse due to increased erosion but you can still get pretty close. We walked to the nearby Dragon Hill to see if the view was any better. It wasn’t but the winds were wild and cleansing. As we walked down Dragon Hill to climb the other side of Whitehorse hill I noticed a fresh twig of blossoming blackthorn on the ground. I’m sure it hadn’t been there when we went up the path to the top of Dragon Hill. It was freshly broken off from the blackthorn it came from and dropped there like a gift. I carried it away with me. And on Whitehorse hill I made an offering to the spirits of that landscape thanking them for the gift.
From there we walked to the structure known as Uffington Castle. It’s a large hill fort probably originally built in the bronze age and inhabited into and throughout the iron age. It’s one of the largest hillforts I’ve experienced so far and a very impressive location. I was pulled towards the centre of the hillfort area and felt the need to sing out wordlessly for a time. I made another offering before leaving.
After that we returned to the car to get our packed lunch before walking to Wayland’s Smithy. Wayland’s Smithy is a restored Neolithic long barrow about a mile and half away from Whitehorse Hill. It’s surrounded by some beautiful beech trees. I found the presence there to be quiet and gently welcoming. And although it had nothing to do with Wayland or was ever a smithy the links have encouraged someone to add a horseshoe to a fallen beech log near the front of the tomb.
Needless to say it felt appropriate to make an offering there too and I poured a little wine from my hip flask over the horseshoe.
It was a good day and by the end of it I felt a sense of renewal in my relationship with Epona and the Herd Mothers which has stayed with me. I feel stronger for this period of doubt and renewal and more trusting in my relationship with Epona.
I don’t think I’ve written about the mystical island of Hopeless on this blog before. For those who have never heard of it Hopeless, Maine is the creation of Tom and Nimue Brown and it’s an odd place with a lot of gloomy weather and tentacled beings.
On Saturday 22nd January an online festival of Hopeless Maine things took place called Voices of Hopeless Maine and you can read more about the what and why on Nimue Brown’s blog “Druid Life”. I feel very lucky to have been able to take part in this festival.
The event included poetry, songs, stories, music, videos of wonderful artistic creations and live interviews. Some pieces were written by Nimue Brown, some illustrated by Tom Brown, but many were creations of other artists that have been inspired by the weirdly wonderful place of Hopeless.
My own small contribution was to read a short piece by Nimue called To Ride a Surf Horse. Having watched and listened to the entire festival as it took place I feel incredibly privileged to have had the chance to be included with such a talented group of people. I’m incredibly grateful to all of those involved in the organisation of this event for such a wonderful experience!
If you haven’t heard of Hopeless, Maine before please do follow the links and maybe you too will be drawn onto this island of fog, tentacles and weirdly glowing eyes!
Edited to add that the videos from this event are now available on YouTubehosted by SteamPaper’s channel “SteamMedia.”
I walked along a rough path. On my right a small stream burbled along in a ditch with shrubs and trees beyond, on my left were fields. The day was pleasant, neither too hot or cold and just a gentle breeze. I relaxed to the sound of the stream and the song of birds going about their business.
As I walked I could see that the stream curved away into a pool. The path led me to the edge of an area with rough flat stones laid in the ground that curved part way round the side of the pool. There were a couple of rough wooden seats made from tree trunks beside the paved area, clearly placed so people could sit beside this pool and rest. The far side of the pool looked marshy and it looked like a range of wild plants grew in the marshy area. The land on the near side of the pool beyond the paved area curved into the edge of another field. Another stream ran out from the pool between the two areas of land making the pool a liminal place between wild and tamed land.
I sat on one of the benches, watched the dance of light across the water and listened to the insects and birds around me.
After a while I realised the light wasn’t reflected sunlight as the sun was behind a cloud. A quiet voice said “It’s healing energies.” I turned my head to see a woman sat on the other bench. She smiled and told me that healing energies gathered in this pool and that they could be added to and taken from but it was important not to disturb the balance. Healing energies added would gradually seep into the land at the edges of the pool and from the stream that flowed away from it. Adding energies to that flow was usually fine, taking it had to be done with care not to dry the pool out. I asked her if the pool had a name. “Many,” she said smiling, “but I know it as Eir’s Pool.” I thanked her and looked back at the pool for a moment. When I turned back to ask another question she was gone.
Last month I took part in my first Witchtober, a variant of inktober. It’s not well past the end of the month and I wanted to finish the process off with a bit of reflection. My previous post on this subject explains how I got started and where the prompts I used came from.
Each day I managed to come up with some piece of art that reflected something of the prompts. Some days this was easier to do than others and as the month continued I grew more and more determined to complete the whole month. I didn’t have to complete it, there was no one I had made a deal with and nothing I would get for completing it but my own sense of accomplishment but still I grew increasingly determined as the month progressed.
Each day I had the opportunity to reflect on different images and ideas around witchcraft. I found that a very useful thing to do. I don’t consider myself to be a witch. I sometimes do things that fit under the heading of witchcraft but those things are not the main thrust of what I do. I am a polytheist druid and heathen and my practice revolves around two main strands; devotional activities for multiple deities and energy healing work (usually distance healing). So this month of activities around witches and witchcraft gave me a wonderful opportunity to reflect more deeply about what these things mean to me.
The other major benefit was in having a topic to try and produce art about each day. For most of my efforts during this month used coloured pencils or watercolour type paints but I also used modelling clay three times and wrote a poem for the Hedge Witch prompt. I didn’t have to try and come up with something I wanted to draw, paint or make, I just had to come up with a way of expressing the idea for that day. I really liked that. I’ve not done nearly as much art since I finished witchtober although part of that has been due to other things happening too. I’m looking into other prompt lists though as I enjoyed the process of having a prompt to think about and then express. I’d really love to have a similar set of prompts for druidry and heathenry as the process definitely helped me think more deeply. If any readers know of any such prompt lists or have ideas please do let me know!
Perhaps one aspect of inktober type projects that is most intended is that of developing your skills. The witchtober prompts pushed me to try things I probably wouldn’t have tried otherwise. I believe my art skills have developed as a result of that push. For example for one of the prompts, green witch, I drew hands with fingers in soil and used my own hands to try and get the right shape.
For another prompt, crone witch, I attempted a self portrait. I never would have considered doing that otherwise.
Hands and faces are hard! But I did it and although I can see that there is a lot of scope for further improvement I’m also pleasantly surprised at how well I managed.
I also tried to come up with things that were a bit different like my spirit witch and bat.
I’m really pleased and proud that I have completed my first witchtober. I’m grateful for the opportunities for thought, learning, and the sense of community I experienced because I was doing something that others were also doing. I’m also very grateful for all the supportive comments I received during this process.
Hopefully next year I will be able to join in with another witchtober!
Many of you will know about inktober where individuals are encouraged to draw something each day that fits a particular prompt. This year I’m joining in with a variant called Witchtober with prompts from @saffrussellart and @jacquilovesey. I’ve never done anything like this and I’ve had encouragement to give it a go from the ever wonderful Tom and Nimue Brown.
I’ve been posting most of my efforts so far on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (mainly because my Instagram account is linked to my Facebook account). One effort, a poem has been posted on this blog. For me this has become a multi media art project as my efforts have now included poetry, modelling clay, paint and pencil.
I’m finding the process of doing this to be fascinating. I look at the prompts well before I try and do anything and I think about how I can express the theme. As the day progresses I get to see what others have done too and if I haven’t come up with an idea that sometimes sparks something.
The different prompts are making me think about different aspects of witchcraft and what it means to me. I like trying to come up with something a bit different if I can so it’s making me think deeply which is good. I’m also having fun creating a bit of art each day. I can see improvements in my skills too.
I’m very grateful for what I’m learning in taking part in this Witchtober.
They reach for the twig
Tangled in their hair
As they straighten.
They mutter as they tuck it
Into the canvas bag
Hanging from their shoulder.
I don't think they know
That they have mud
Smeared on their face.
"Isn't it beautiful?"
They ask with wonder
Sparkling in their eyes.
I look at the hawthorn
With it's deep red haws
And rich dark leaves.
"Yes," I agree "but we should go."
They gaze longingly
At the tangled hedge.
"But perhaps not with your guest."
I say pointing at the spider
Resting on their sleeve.
They whisper "Thank you,
But you are needed here."
And gently move the spider.
We gaze in awe
At the jewelled webs
As we return to our hearth.
I wish I could tell you
I'll fix this
For I hate to see you in pain.
I wish I could tell you
I'll sort it
And make it better again.
I don't have the power
To mend this
But please don't suffer alone.
I can't wave a wand
And dispel it
Nor weave my spells as a crone.
But I'll listen to all
You share with me
As you fight to change your life.
And I'll cheer you on
From my corner
As you overcome each strife.