As I walk I am seized by the urge to start collecting sticks to create a new bundle, the wind is howling around my ears and I stand in the clouds with no hope of seeing the sun this Winter Equinox morning. Down a slope off the path I can see my first stick, an arm stretch up in a tree and I stop myself – the slope looks steep and slippy, I might lose my footing, the old blocks rise up in my mind. I turn to go, but I hesitate again, the penny drops and the insight comes. I see my hesitation for what it is – another’s voice from another time, keeping me safe. I don’t need that voice anymore and descend carefully down to the tree and reach up into its dead branches and claim the first stick for my bundle. ‘Risk aversion’ I whisper silently in my head and climb back up to the path.
In a time not now and in a place not here I was sitting in a stone circle with a small bundle on my lap. It was night and it was dark, the dreamtime, a time of celebration and reflection for us, our group. I had been to the circle before, a different time, not so long ago. To join with others to celebrate the life of a man who had passed, a man I did not know, had not known. Others had, a great many others and they had celebrated his life here and they had celebrated his life later at his funeral. And now I was walking in his footsteps in an attempt to seek to know the man I had not known through his land and his Journey. I knelt forward in the darkness and encouraged a flame into a fire, layering kindling and wood into a billowing cloud of woodsmoke in the cold night air.
As I write this, sitting atop an ancient mound overlooking what were perhaps the lands of the Dubunni and the Ordovices, a crow walks purposefully into my vision and turns away from me to my right. He digs into the damp earth with his black beak, standing against the grey rain wreaked sky and I pause to remember another tale of a raven who came to visit upon another man and I wonder what this crow brings me, of what the harbinger is showing me. I shoot off a few pictures and he wanders back over the ridge away from me and disappears. I gather together my new bundle and…
Back in the stone circle I gaze into the flames, seated on a small piece of wood, cross legged on the ground, almost at one with the damp earth. Over the fire I can see the circle of stones and further still the buildings, the places where my brothers and sisters dreamt and celebrated and were at one with each other and the world. The Mission had shook me to the core and I was feeling fractured, distant and broken. As the flames crackled and flickered casting light and shadows around me, every once in awhile I caught a glimpse of something beyond the stones. Dark movements outside the circle, outside the reach of the firelight. Dark wolves waiting in the dark night.
A wise man had advised it was not safe to sleep in the stone circle and I could feel the truth of this at this dreamtime, an anxious feeling gripped me and I retreated away from the warming fire that was calling out to the night sky like a flickering beacon. I retired to my dreaming space on the grassy bank amongst the small trees and saplings which will one day grow and hide this circle in a wooded clearing, and here I watched the fire from afar and the wolves were no more.
Time passed and footsteps approached the circle and the fire, a flickering head torch danced through the night and a silhouette crouched down before the flames. At once I felt as if I had become an invisible, unwanted presence, an interloper, in a story unfolding before me. Pulling myself to my feet I approached the fire from the outer darkness and made my presence known. I was indeed unwelcome, I had intruded upon what was to be a solemn sacred solitary ceremony. Moving from my dreaming space had been the right path to take, however now I had lost both the dreamspace dreamtime and the fire. Another fire lay across the field from the circle and in trepidation I headed out into the world to rejoin my brothers and sisters in their celebrations and ceremony.
It was there she found me. Later. She came looking for me, had reconsidered. Said the sacred feminine wanted to thank the masculine that had created fire and to share the ceremony and would I do her the honour? Returning to the stone circle, we both sat facing the fire, I facing East, she facing North and the ceremony was enacted and we stared for a long time into the flames.
“You remind me of my partner, your story that is, not you yourself”, it was something like that she said. I don’t remember exactly what but I do remember how I felt. It was only a few short weeks ago that I had felt myself laying lost at the bottom of deep dark pit, staring up at the ceiling, paralysed with an intense loss and weariness. Two people, each one different and each one trying to make their way in the world and falling over so many times. I remembered a story I liked to tell and that had recently been told back to me.As the flames died and we shared our silence I felt this urge to hand on that story I had once told and had once heard and so I asked if I might tell the story of Tam Lynn –
“There was once a young woman in a place far away a long time ago. Every day she would ride her horse across the fields along the edges of the wild wood but never entered that dark space. One day a wolf surprised and frightened her horse causing it to bolt for the safety of the trees and although she hung on with grim determination as the horse crashed into the forest and turned this way and that riding hard under low trees and branches and jumping over gullies and streams there came a point where she lost grip and fell to the floor. Some time later she awoke and was looking up into the eyes of a handsome young man who had calmed her horse and watched over her until she was awake. Grateful for his kindness and falling under the spell of his beauty they talked for hours until it had become dark. With the wolves abroad it was safer that she stay with him in the forest until morning came by which time she was so taken by love she wouldn’t leave. The young man reminded her of her family and life outside the forest and explained he could never leave the forest. He was a prisoner and slave of the faery queen and doomed to serve her from the moment he was captured seven years ago until…. tonight…. when she would sacrifice him and find another to serve her.
There was only one plan that would save him, but it was dangerous and carried much risk, she agreed to do everything in her power to save him even risking her own life. He told her there would be a procession tonight with him at the lead, many faery warriors and the queen following behind. He would be bound and placed on a white stallion and the procession would follow him on horseback to the place of sacrifice. The route they would take would take them past a place where she could hide herself in the hedgerow overlooking the path and, if she time it right, she could leap out, catch hold of him and hold him tight and together they would fall to the ground. This is where the plan would become dangerous as the faery queen would use her mysterious magic to make him appear to be things that he was not in order to frighten her into letting him go. Whilst she held him tight she could not intervene – she could not cross from the faery realm into the human realm so she would try to trick her into letting go by turning him into her deepest fears – into a wild animal, perhaps a lion or a wolf, and if that didn’t work she would do worse, perhaps a fire-breathing dragon with sharp claws and teeth or perhaps an image of her father when she hated him most, or her brother when she hated him most or her mother when she hated her most. She had to hold on at all costs as if she let go the faery queen would reclaim him for the sacrifice and she would never see him again.
And so she agreed to this dangerous task to save her one true love from the faery queen and the fate which awaited him and that night she found a good position in the hedge on the high banks overlooking the path which the faery procession would take that night. As darkness fell, it was as he said it would be – a horseback procession lit by flaming torches emerged from the darkness and gloom of the forest. She could see her love bound with ropes and vines and mounted on the lead horse which walked purposefully along the path followed by faery warriors and the faery queen in all her faery woodland finery. Before too long the procession was upon her just below her hiding place and she summoned all of her courage and all of her love and leapt out of the hedge and flung herself off the high bank and arms open wide she grabbed for and clung onto her man. The force of her landing threw them both off the horse and onto the ground, but she remembered his words and clung tightly to him ignoring the pain and shock from the heavy landing. at first the procession was stunned and for a moment nothing happened then from the very depths of hell came a scream from the faery queen. The faery warriors quickly formed a circle around our two lovers and stood guard as none could intervene physically from the faery world into the human. Again, as foretold by our enslaved young man, the faery queen wove her magic. before the eyes of our young heroine, her love turned into a huge slavering wolf with sharp claws and sharp teeth which howled and snapped and scratched at her, but she held on tight to the wolf and it did her no harm. At once the wolf changed into a huge lion with a head the size of a well and a body as large as a cart and feet as large as doors and claws as sharp as razors. It roared the loudest lion roar you could imagine and looked as if it might eat her with one bite of its massive teeth. But she held on through her fears and the lion changed into a fire-breathing dragon, larger still than the lion with smoke rising from its nostrils and a long scaly tail. A blast of scorching fire came from its mouth and she felt she might be burnt to a horrifying death but she remember the words of her love and held on to him with all her heart. And then the dragon changed and before her was her father, in rage, at one of those things she might have done wrong when she was small and when she feared and hated him the most, yet she held on and her father changed into her mother as she remember her when she was growing up, in her rage at some transgression she had made and she was small and frightened and shamed, yet she held on still, tighter than before and her mother changed into her brother in those moments she hated him for teasing and bullying her and yet she held on still and then there was a scream of rage and her brother changed into the faery queen screaming in her face and threatening to scratch her eyes out and pull out her hair and to cut off her nose and to kill her and all her family. Yet she held on tight and with a final scream the faery queen and her band of warriors disappeared. Daylight returned to the forest and the birds and animals which had been silent began to sing and call out and move once more. And she looked into the eyes of her love and he looked back into hers and they rejoiced.”
With that we thanked each other for the time we had shared and I left her there with the smouldering remains of her bundle and retreated once more to the main fire and circle and rested there.