A New Year and Castlerigg Stone Circle

Castlerigg Stone Circle

As the title of this post may suggest, I have been on holiday in Cumbria, where we welcomed in the New Year by doing a lot of walking in wild spaces. Oddly this particular stone circle is not wild at all, being in a well maintained field, a few yards from a road with parking spaces just outside Keswick. However it is surrounded by mountains so must have the best views of any circle I know.

A circle represents completeness as well as the cyclical nature of life and each year within it. All people and all compass directions are represented equally, just as on this day there were many visitors speaking three or four different languages (that I heard), a great sharing global community. Many circles were built in alignment with sunrises and sunsets; this one is no exception, with several possible sight lines for sunrises at different times of the year, especially the solstices. While not there at sunset, I was able to see that all directions are visible, and that several rocks to appear to line up with specific fells and with compass directions.

Castlerigg showing part of the inner enclosure.

The circle is on an ancient trade route from Langdale, a centre for stone axes, three of which have been found on the site. It is probably no coincidence that it is also one of the oldest stone circles in the country dating from the late Neolithic period rather than Bronze Age, just after the transition from henges. I had a sense of a demarcated space – the inner, square enclosure felt different to the circle as a whole and seemed reserved for particular people or ceremonies. I also had a sense that it may have had different purposes over a long period of usage, but overall it had a spiritual rather than a trading feel; any trade that happened here was probably on the periphery by virtue of people being brought together, rather than the intention of the site.

I was there on the last day of the old calendar year, and took the opportunity to say thank you for the year I have had, as I continue growing in inner peace and harmony with the world around me, doing lots of what I love. I can now walk 6 miles on a good day provided I sit down when I stop, and have managed 4 new ‘Wainwright’ fells over the year bringing my total to 54, a quarter of the 214 he wrote about. I may not do them all, I may not even want to, but each one is a walk in a new place I haven’t been before. Best of all, they have been done with my family, my daughter now walking as far as I can.

Castlerigg looking West.

A year ago I set myself a challenge “to love more, to see the good in everyone and every situation, even when I am not feeling calm inside.” Somehow I had forgotten I wrote this, and yet it has happened anyway – once again proving to me how when I set my intentions strongly they manage to come through. I recently made a new intention, remarkably similar: to make sure all my relationships are positive. It started when I realised how much easier it was to start a conversation by commenting on something bad such as complaining about the weather than it is to say something good. I have already been working to change that, and to protect myself from negativity where necessary, but I would like to feel that even the shortest, briefest contact with a person can increase happiness in each of us. I have a little way to go yet…

I also realised that it isn’t just relationships with humans I should ensure are positive, but with everything in my life. Trees and most plants already are, but money, transport – I have long talked to my bicycle but am not so keen on the car, sewing machines, pens and pencils, books, musical instruments … anything I bring into my life and use, I develop a relationship with. A positive partnership is more pleasurable and life-affirming than regarding everything as tools to serve me, or even worse, getting frustrated with it.

This is certainly what I saw at Castlerigg circle; people being happy together and in the wonderful mountain space that surrounded us, Earth and Air in perfect balance and harmony.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

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Garden Thoughts

I have been weeding the garden over the past couple of weeks, with winter pruning finished and everything bursting into growth, and it has proved very enjoyable, especially now that M is able to entertain herself running about and picking daisies while I work. It has also been very helpful for crystallising some of my thoughts on developing the garden.

I have mentioned before that I have some big plans for the garden, and would like to work closer with nature spirits. I have started to draw up scale plans for the changes I want to make – so that I can see which plants will be kept in current positions and which will need moving or propagating. It will hopefully save me from planting things in annoying places this year! However I have not yet made any direct contact with nature spirits, and even opportunities to try are not presenting themselves to me. This is unusual, so temporarily left me puzzled and a bit frustrated. But weeding has proved wonderful for gaining insights, and this is what I have learned.

1. I need to develop my own intent for the garden, and to carry it through.
This is particularly important for me as when I was ill, then pregnant, then with a baby, I basically asked nature to look after the garden for me. If I am to develop the garden as I want it to be, then I need to focus my will and intention – not defer it to anyone else. Nature can only then work to bring it into growth.

I am reminded of how Nature itself defines a garden, as told to Machaelle Small Wright. (Behaving as if the God in All Life Mattered.)

“A garden is any environment that is initiated by humans, given its purpose, definition and direction by humans, and maintained with the help of humans. For nature to consider something to be a garden, we must see humans actively involved in all three of these areas. … Nature does not consider the cultivation of a plot of land as the criteria for a garden. Nature considers a garden to exist wherever humans define, initiate and interact with form to create a specialised environment.”

If I do not supply the definition, direction and purpose, then I cannot interact effectively with nature and nature would not define my small plot of land as a garden. Strangely this definition does not require plants to be present…

2. Letting wild corners into the garden is good.
Creating habitats and going as far as I can to actively include wildlife in the garden gives me a commitment to nature. However, I have been having a dilemma over providing a properly ‘wild’ area into which I do not enter. At the risk of writing a very long blog post this week, there are two quotes which have made it clear how important it is to have a wild area.

From ‘The Gentleman and the Faun – Encounters with Pan and the Elemental Kingdom’ by Robert Oglivie Crombie, known as Roc. Chapter 13 – The Wild Garden by Peter Caddy

“Roc’s work with the nature spirits also pointed out to us the importance of the wild garden. In Britain, where there is a tradition of fine gardens, almost invariably an area of each is left wild. There is also a folk custom among farmers of leaving a bit of land, where humans are forbidden to go, as the domain of the fairies and elves.
“One Sunday afternoon, Roc had accompanied a group of us on a visit to a local walled garden at Kincorth. At one end of the landscaped area ran a stream with a wooden bridge across it. On the other side was a wild place, cool and dense in contrast to the neat and colourful beds on our side. Roc, obeying an impulse, wandered off across the bridge and into the foliage. Later he told us that beyond a certain point in the area he had suddenly felt like an intruder.
“There Pan appeared beside him and told him that this part of the garden was for his subjects alone and was to be so respected. He said that in any garden, no matter the size, where the full cooperation of the nature spirits is desired, a part should be left where, as far as possible, man does not enter. The nature spirits use this place as a focal point for their activity, a centre from which to work.
“Pan also told him that at Findhorn we did not have enough respect for our wild garden. Indeed, we had developed the habit of crossing this area when we went to the beach for a swim, and right in the middle of it Dennis had set up his tent. You can imagine how quickly he removed both himself and his gear on hearing this message! Thereafter, we made sure to enter this area as seldom as possible.”

From ‘Behaving as if the God in All Life Mattered’ by Machaelle Small Wright. p122-3 – What’s This Crap About Fairies?

“I had read that at Findhorn there was an area set aside specifically for the use of nature spirits. It was a place where humans didn’t enter and it was left wild. I felt that I should do the same at Perelandra. So I picked a spot on the edge of the woods next to the garden and roped it off as a gesture, designating that this area was now to be exclusively for nature spirits. After roping it, I stood in the middle of the area and invited the nature spirits to come to this special place that I called the “Elemental Annex.” Immediately, a great rush of energy streamed in and I heard, “Finally! Now we can get down to business!” Feeling very much out of place, I gingerly stepped out of the area. The Elemental Annex was now the base of operations for the Perelandra nature spirits.”

My own garden is not large, the back part being around the size of a tennis court or a standard swimming pool, and the front very much smaller. There are hedges down both sides which need cutting regularly, and there simply are no areas where I do not go. But there is a cow field behind us, which has a corner behind my garden that is rarely touched, as well as other wild areas close by. I am hoping that these will suffice at least initially. And meanwhile, the plans I am making are putting wildlife as a much higher priority than it has been in the past.

3. Nature values active love rather than a hug.
Sending plants love won’t get them watered in a drought. My side of any partnership with nature is to do the work – and having not done so over the past few years, I apparently have a bit of ground to make up to prove that I am committed to the garden.

I have been left wondering how much of the proof of my commitment is to nature, since nature can surely read our intentions better than we can ourselves, and how much it is to change my own mindset and make sure I am committed to the job!

4. I can ask for help once I have established what it is I want.
I look forward to this stage! I will admit to being surprised and disappointed to have to make all the decisions myself, as I fully expected nature to tell me where particular plants would be happiest, and how they would like to be grown together, as other writers have reported. But clearly I am not at this stage in my own development yet – and I am also a reasonably capable gardener with many years of experience (seventeen in this garden alone) so I need a little faith and belief in myself! I also need to remember point 1, that I set the intention and definition for the garden. I appear to have some way to go to really develop this in myself.

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I said at the start that weeding had formed part of the insight and led to the rest following on – my intent was strong enough to remove a weed, without doubts, without wondering if I should or if it was balancing something else or otherwise needed in some way. I didn’t want it growing, and that was sufficient. No guilt needed. I also found it easier to get on with the job if my energies were not being split into worrying whether I was doing the right thing in removing particular types of weeds. (Some are obvious thugs, others have good qualities but have got out of hand.)

So here are my intentions for the redeveloped garden:
Front – all the herbs I want to eat, enough fruit to supply our basic needs with surplus for friends, and enough vegetables to always have something we can pick for dinner.
Back – fun, exciting, peaceful, beautiful, and full of wildlife. A space we all want to spend time in, just being, sitting, relaxing and enjoying ourselves. A place where nature and natural cycles can be honoured. It looks likely that most of the grass will go, in order to make a pond and ‘stream’ garden and of course the whole thing will have to be designed around the garden railway the rest of my family want…

Why Write?

Ever since I was a teenager I have liked to explore ideas through writing about them. Strangely I got into writing because I was very poor at expressing myself by talking; the words I wanted always seemed to arrive long after the time they were needed. I started keeping a diary as a teenager, like so many people do, and found an outlet, a way of exploring what I was feeling, of working out what I should have said at the time. The diaries (there were two) served their purpose in allowing me to express myself and work out what I was feeling, but gradually they went from a daily exploration to something to be written when I was feeling unhappy or lonely. They became downward spirals, dwelling on what was wrong without any balance of what was right, or even any plans for the future. When I found them during a clear-out in my early twenties, I burned them. I had moved on and didn’t want that in my life; with hindsight transforming them with fire was probably the best thing I could have done.

A little later I became a letter writer. This was a much happier form of writing, as there was someone to respond to and it was a two-way process. The friendship aspect of this was and is important to me, but on a personal level there was a greater benefit. I came to realise that by the time a letter arrives any negative thoughts no longer apply; they frequently either made no sense to the recipient, or else simply worried the recipient into thinking there was something wrong when in fact it was now fine. I therefore found myself editing them out and trying to put a more positive spin on what I was trying to say. It helped me to see things in a different way as well, and with a bit of distance, see what I learned from whatever experiences I had been through. I found this a helpful process in my life.

Earlier this year I started this blog, for a whole range of reasons, but a key one was that some of my letter writing was coming to an end and I wasn’t ready to stop writing down my experiences in a way that I could continue learning from them. One of the most fascinating things I have found is how I sometimes find myself writing truths that I didn’t know I knew. For example, the new page I have created, “About this blog”, wrote itself from just the germ of an idea, triggered by this post, and I now fully understand why I am a witch and not a shaman or a druid. Aconitum (12 July) told me about itself as I was writing, and I made the hitherto unconsidered connection with Yew. There have been others, including some still unpublished posts, where I started with one idea and then learned something quite unexpected.

There are of course many other benefits to writing a regular blog. It gives me a reason to write regularly and not make excuses as to why I can’t find the time this week. Another is maintaining my sense of self, not always easy with a toddler underfoot. It even gives me an incentive to complete a craft project that seems to be taking weeks, or to go out with a camera when I want to include some photos in a post.

However there is a good reason why witches often carve runes or sigils or other forms of writing onto candles before using them as part of a spell. Words have power and intent, and used positively, can create real change. For example, I can have an idea of something I would like to do, but the chances of success are around 30% at best. Writing down my ideas or desires increases the likelihood of them happening – because I have stated my intent clearly, and over-ridden some of my doubts or negative programming. I probably have a 60% success rate when I do this. But telling others of my intentions, such as blogging about them, increases this power to the point that, provided the circumstances don’t change, they happen. Success rate is at least 90%. Magic.