Monthly Archives: August 2008

Reflections on my Birthday

19th August

 

A birthday is a time to reflect, to take stock and to look ahead. It is the day you entered the world. No great shakes to anyone else, but to you – everything. Today is my thirty-ninth birthday. I had a small celebration the weekend immediately before, and tonight my partner is taking me out for a meal, but for now I am alone. As an individual soul we enter the world, and as an individual soul we leave it. If we are lucky we’ll have loved ones around us. Certainly our mothers were present at our births – and perhaps our fathers too. And when it is time to shuffle off this mortal coil, then we’ll be received into the embrace of Mother Death. But for now, it is time to celebrate being alive, being who you are, where you are, when you are. It is time when we reap what we have sown, in terms of the relationships in our lives – not that we should act in expectation of ‘reward’, give in order to receive, but the web of community works on reciprocation, of a fluid exchange of energy. If someone needs a hand, help them. A shoulder to cry on, just someone to talk to. Perhaps a disability or illness prevents them from managing a certain task. We all have our fortes, our skills – these can be exchanged for those we lack. Everyone is needed, everyone has a role to play, a niche to fill, a purpose.

 

A birthday is a good time to look with awen at ones relationships – which ones are functional, which ones dysfunctional? Is there love there – openness, trust, respect, warmth? Is there ‘bad blood’, bitter feelings, unexpressed anger, unresolved issues? Blake in his poem ‘A Poison Tree’ wrote: 

 

I was angry with my friend:

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe,

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

 

If there’s ‘poison places’ in your heart, in your relationships – places of pain, of sorrow, of fear, of hate even – then shine the light of awen upon them. Bring them out into the light. Express them – using sound, dance, paint, clay, fire, whatever acts as a catalyst for catharsis. Talk about them – ideally with the person/people concerned but if not, then with a good friend or neutral ‘third party’, counsellor, agony aunt or uncle, etc. In the Celtic Tradition there was said to be a four-sided cup: if three untruths were spoken over it, it would shatter – but if three truths were uttered over its fragments, it would mend.

 

The Shattered Mirror of God

 

Are we the shattered mirror of God? Each of us has a divine spark, a splinter of Divinity, our sacred self. Whenever we connect, collaborate, forge friendships or fall in love, it seems a little section of it slots into place and heals. Life is full of chaos and conflict, but if humanity ever manages to live in harmony with itself and Nature for long enough, then perhaps all of the fragments will join back together once more and the mirror will be mended: at which point the face of the Divine will be reflected in the perfection of Creation, an equilibrium will  be achieved, and maybe the universe will reach its ‘conclusion’, or attain another level of evolution.

 

So, on a microcosmic scale, whenever people come together in harmony, in creativity, in love, then the fragments of God mend and, for a while, there’s a little mirror of Heaven on Earth.  

 

The Blessing of Friendship

 

Side by side with this essential ‘soul-work’ is the joyousness that should attend all birthdays: celebrate the healthy connections you have, the friends and family you are blessed with. A good friend is priceless. Honour them. Employ your bardic skill. Birthdays are good times to write a ‘praise-song’ for a loved one – dedicate a poem to them, compose a poetic portrait. Perform for them at their birthday gathering, or, if this would embarrass them – write out in calligraphy and give them a copy on parchment, tied with ribbon.

 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

 

Janus was the Roman god of thresholds – with two faces, one looking forward, one looking back. His festival was celebrated in the month named after him: January – on New Year’s Day. He is the god of endings and beginnings, and he is a good deity to work with on what is your own ‘new year’s day’ – your birthday. Look back at your last year: what have you achieved? What have you learnt? What have you lost? What have you gained? Do you have tangible things to show for it: a series of paintings, a book, an album, or maybe just a photo album, a bundle of letters, mementoes and souvenirs from places visited or gifts received. Maybe there’s a new life in your life: a new partner, friend or even child. Maybe you have lost loved ones. Had a serious illness. Crisis. Trauma. Perhaps it has been a difficult, challenging year – your annus horribilis – or it could have been bittersweet, the ‘best of times, the worst of times’. Life is seldom one thing or the other for long. Embrace it all. Rejoice in it all, even the pain – for it teaches us many things. From it, we grow.

 

And turn over a new leaf. The journal of your coming year is unwritten. What do you want to manifest? Make a dream list: write down all things you wish to happen. Some things will be firmed up, others may be only fantasies: a new job, a new house, a new partner, children, travel, winning a prize, writing the ‘book inside you’. But unless you give yourself permission for these things to manifest, they never will. Dream them into your life. Visualise yourself enjoying whatever it is you not just desire, but need at a deep soul level. Materialism will not make you happy – ultimately. This isn’t a New Age greed-apologist philosophy – one that tells you its okay to be a capitalist, to be part of the system which is destroying the planet, exploiting people, manufacturing misery.

 

Know Thyself

 

Spend time on your birthday completing a ‘soul-inventory’. Are you happy in your life? Where are you ‘at’ right now? Do you feel fulfilled? Frustrated? Sad? Over the moon? Are you following your life path? Are you postponing your happiness? Think about how you act around others. How you carry yourself in this world? With grace and dignity? Or like a clown? Do you tread on people’s toes? Put your foot in your mouth all the time? Get the wrong end of the stick? Do you flow through life, or find your life filled with obstacles? These stumbling blocks are part of life – it is how you react to them that matters. What are you finer qualities? Your worst qualities? Good and bad habits? What needs work? Physical: more exercise? Emotiona: more openness? Mentally: more studying? Accepting that we can never be ‘perfect’, that we have faults and foibles that needs to be embraced – we can still strive to ‘better’ ourselves. We are responsible for our own development. Living is a ‘boot-strap operation’ – no one else will do it for you.

Most people would rather improve, than worsen. We should never stop learning. Growing. Changing. Be happy with who you are, but accept that ‘person’ is a construct that can alter. It doesn’t have to stay the same way. When things become fixed, they stagnate and die. Life is flux. Dance with the change. Be the change.

 

Party!

 

Finally, remember to be in the here and now. Take the day off – this is your ‘sacred time’. Do the things which nourish you. Things that you love, or always fancied doing. Climb a mountain. Dive into the sea. Take a flying lesson, or book a balloon flight. Have a gathering. Celebrate!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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080808

08.08.08

 

Today sees the start of the Olympics in Beijing, for better or worse – with an expensive and spectacular opening ceremony at the multi-billion ‘bird’s nest’ stadium. It seemed China didn’t have the same problems at finishing it as Athens four years ago – I remember being there, seeing all the paraphernalia in the shops. There was a lot of excitement then, but none of the political controversy like now. All the fireworks cannot cover up China’s shameful human rights record. Some say sports should be kept separate from politics, but it’s impossible. The truth is all the nations taking part are condoning China’s regime by being there. In terms of PR it is priceless. China opens its arms to the world, but incarcerates, tortures and kills its own people…

 

A bard should be aware of the connections. See as many perspectives as possible.

 

Earlier in the Spring, I was in London in a hotel overlooking Hyde Park running a workshop (Awaken the Bard Within) for Alternatives when there was an uproar outside. We were in the middle of the intensive workshop, but it turns out the Olympic torch had just gone by, with its ensuing chaos: Chinese State Security running shotgun – ninjas in tracksuits – a phalanx of London bobbies in fluorescent jackets jogging alongside and a ‘mob’ of protesters with placades, justifiably protesting against China’s presence in Tibet. We watched the rolling footage in the hotel lobby – the game of flatten the protester played against the backdrop of London landmarks. Whenever one tried to make a lunge for the torch they were rubgy-tackled onto the tarmac by a scrum of coppers. Seemed like a new Olympic sport. It was a ‘difficult’ situation – especially since those who were selected to carry the torch were clearly delighted to have the ‘honour’ – it was their moment of glory, but it was sullied by the ‘nasty politics’ going on, and yet…we can’t bury our head in the sand.

            The image of the torch against the snowy backdrop of Hyde Park was a surreal one… (At least that’s how I picture it) And the fact that history had just passed us by, and we had failed to see it! How much of history happens like this – with those nearby oblivious of the momentous events transpiring around the corner?

Earlier, on the train up – I watched, bleary-eyed after an early start, the world turned Narnia after a rare snowfall. It was austere and soothing – in contrast the hectiness of the City, which I always find draining. I always seem to turn my head at the moment when the White Horse of Uffington comes into view. This time, its white contours were filled with snow, and surrounded by snow – white on white. Ancient, timeless…

The Long Man of Wilmington – no longer turf-cut – used to be visible as the snow melted. Some would remain in the indentations, revealing its outline. Now, yellow breeze blocks serve the purpose.

That icy day in Winter seems a long way away now, here on a muggy Summer’s evening in Bath…

 

Journey of a Bard – the wild hart

8th August

Just been for a lovely amble in my local woodland and came upon a roebuck – I was quiet enough not to alarm him. We both froze and stared at each other for a good ten minutes – then, incredibly, instead of dashing off, he stooped under a barbed wire fence and came nearer passing within ten or twenty feet of me. It was a real thrill – a natural blessing, and reminded me of this poem I wrote after a similar experience:

 

Roebuck in a Thicket

 

As I walked through the darkening wood

rain shadowed the shoulder of Solsbury

and wind worried the bare beech crowns.

The heavy air

weighed me down.

 

I paused,           

leaning upon an elder,

small yet firm enough to be my staff.

The wrinkled bark chaffed the whorls of my fingers.

Heartened I noticed buds breaking the twig tips.

 

A startled deer stood up,

a young buck of sapling tines,

yet wearing the coat of winter.

 

Freezing, holding breath

amid bronchial branches,

I made no hostile move.

The roebuck did not bolt,

he could not work me out.

 

For a full minute we stared at each other

in mirrored enchantment.

I tried to tell him I meant no harm,

that I was not the enemy.

 

Did Herne hear?

He began to walk towards me.

Reality buckled a little,

but our pact with nature was broken.

The deer thought better of it

and bounded away, into the forest tapestry,

antlers amongst the trees.

 

The freed waters came on its heels,

pattering through the canopy.

I let go of the young elder,

feeling the sap quickening within.

 

Restored

by a draught of the wild

I returned to my habitat,

the roebuck to his thicket.

 

Hampton Rocks, Bath, 2 February 2003

Kevan Manwaring

In the Celtic Tradition the appearance of the white hart foreshadowed love – who knows what this encounter portends…

Kevan

Journey of a Bard continued

Wheat of Song

 

Gwion turns himself from a small bird into a germ of wheat to escape Ceridwen’s wrath – within an inch of his life he made himself smaller and slipped through her talons down, down, down onto the threshing floor of a nearby farm – there to hide amongst the grains. The story has travelled from May Eve, when Elphin makes his discovery at his father’s weir, to late summer – from Beltane to Lughnasadh, suggesting the chase is a cyclical one reflecting the turning of the wheel, the life-force as it manifests throughout the seasons (‘the force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ as bard Dylan Thomas expressed). Here we have come to the rich field of harvest rites. Brighid has become Demeter. An ear of wheat was a symbol of the Eluesinian Mysteries, as enacted at Delphi. A symbol of the rebirth that comes about through sacrifice. We must give of ourselves for the greater good. At this time the grain god is slain in his prime. Llew, Baldur, Bacchus, Sir John Barleycorn – he is known by many names.

 

There is no escaping this fate.

 

Even Orpheus, grieving for his Eurydice, high in the mountains cannot escape it though he has renounced Dionysus for Apollo. The gods are jealous. The wine-deity sent his Bacchanae after him – wild women who tore him to pieces when he would not join in their sensual frenzy. He had gone to one extreme (turning away from the world, from women, from the needs of the flesh – virtual self-mortification) and the Bacchanae were the other (driven crazy by bodily lusts). The two collided, resulting in Orpheus losing his head (torn off in the attack it floated down the Hebron on his lyre to, of all places, Lesbos – that which you avoid…) and the wild women being turned into trees (withered, juiceless and bark-skinned – perhaps a symbol of old age, of the physical cronedom that awaits all women). The poet was ‘harvested’.

 

Death is very much in the air at this time. The glint of the sickle in the corn. The days have an added poignancy as they start to get shorter. We must savour every drop of sunlight – as rich and golden as mead. There is an easing of pressure, of pace – after the harvest is gathered. First we must sweat in the sun, even work through the night, under the fat harvest moon. A collective effort, to bring the harvest home. The stooks of wheat stacked in the shorn fields, raw stubble like Ysbaddeden’s beard after Culhwch had managed to give his future father-in-law a haircut: with the scissors and comb gleaned from between the ears of Twrch Trwyth. In the Welsh story of Henwen, another giant boar, wherever she fled she dropped various symbolic offerings, amongst them a grain of wheat. A symbol of potential, of how our every action, our every word creates an effect –

wherever we find ourselves. Through the katabolic winnowing of the goddess Gwion is reduced to his bare essence –  his soul-seed. As this germ-sperm he ‘impregnates’ the crone-goddess, making what is barren fertile once more. The black hen is very much a figure in the same lineage as the Morrigan, Cailleach, and Kali. Death is made fertile. Returned to his primal essence, Gwion ‘dies’ to be reborn again: as a twice-born, shining-browed, bard – Taliesin.

 

Lughnasadh is the name of the Celtic fire festival related to the funeral games of Lugh, a sun god who dies at this time of year. In Saxon parts of Britain the festival was known as Lammas, or ‘loaf-mass’. A sacred loaf was made from the first or last sheaf of wheat. Corn dollies were made, mirroring the Bridey doll’s, Bride’s bed and Bride’s Cross made at Imbolc. This is the promise of the Spring Maiden given full potential. The maiden turned mother. Demeter is the quintessential harvest mother – she wanders the fields, searching for her lost daughter, her grief shrivelling the fields in her wake. Yet, her daughter has tasted forbidden fruit – three pomegranate seeds from her dark captor, Hades; her own fruit of the harvest – and must spend three months of the year below ground. Spring maiden must wear the colours of winter. Her innocence has been ‘defiled’ – or rather, she has reconciled her Shadow self. The ‘virgin’ and the ‘whore’ two patriarchal pigeon-holes, categorising – and thus restricting – women’s sexuality.

In the story of Llew Llaw Gyffes from the Mabinogion, Blodeuwedd, the bride made of flowers by Math and Gwydion, betrays her husband and orchestrates his assassination so she can run off with his rival, Gronowy. This apparently heartless act may have been part of a bigger pattern – the consort of the goddess ‘changing guard’ from the solar Oak King (Llew, in the form of a golden eagle hides in an oak tree) to the shadowy Holly, (Gronowy’s spear shaft is hewn from holly) symbolising not a woman’s fickleness but the turning of the year from its bright to dark half, from its waxing to waning tides, as days shorten and nights lengthen.

 

I feel more connected to this festival than any, perhaps because it falls less than three weeks before my birthday – a time I always feel a sense of my own mortality. This year, the festival had intense resonance, for the week before I had scattered my father’s ashes and planted a tree for another ‘father figure’, Tim Sebastion. Both were Barleycorn-esque figures, larger-than-life characters who enjoyed a few too many beers! Both died before their time – Tim at 59, Dad at 69. I commemorated what would have been Tim’s 60th last year, and my Dad’s 70th last month, a week before the Bardic Camp where I performed ‘Grim Reapings: bloody tales for harvest tide’. My performance had an extra depth and edge to it because of the raw reality of its subject matter. My life is transformed into my art – and like the grazes acquired during the slog of harvest, raw scratches against the skin from the sharp stubble, the process of harvesting was painful. What can be gleaned from life’s fields?

 

My first Lughnasadh was spent in pilgrimage, during the my gap year, to Croagh-Patrick in the far west of Ireland, the climb the sacred mountain of the Celts at the beginning of August. Unlike the Catholic pilgrims, I deigned not to climb it bare foot. I did hitchhike to it from the East Midlands, so still felt like a pilgrim – making to just outside Westport around midnight. My last lift came when I actually prayed it at a roadside shrine with its effigy of the Holy Virgin-Mother. It was late and it seemed like I’d never get a lift – who’d give a lift to a single bloke at that time of night? And yet I had come so far, having crossed Ireland. I came upon the illuminated shrine as I trudged the dark road out of Westport, past the pubs closing their doors. The lift took me to its flank and I slept in the arms of a tree to the sound of the Atlantic, waves crashing on that far shore. I climbed the mountain the next morning and felt euphoric – what had been a vision made a reality, through my own efforts. I passed the stations of the cross until I reached the summit. It wasn’t completely clear, but the view was still stunning. I gazed out over the bay, watching the white breakers roll in. It was literally a peak experience. It seemed anything was possible, if done with the right intent. When you are a pilgrim you are on the holy road and it seems the universe acknowledges that and conspires to help you.

 

Lughnasadh, like all of the festivals, makes us reflect. It is time to take stock. Decide what to keep, what to cut. We must work hard now to gather in enough to see us through the harder months ahead. Life seems easy now, in the fat of summer, but lean winter awaits. The grain stores must be filled.

 

What sacrifices are you prepared to make for your harvest?