Blog written by Jan.
Our final circle gathering took place on a sun drenched Saturday just before Midsummer’s Day. All around us, nature was bursting with beauty and fullness – completing the long journey from last year’s flower through seed-resting-in-the-darkness and on to new life and steady growth which burgeoned into abundance and sharing.
And for us, there was so much of the same experience. I was struck, as I listened to our shared wisdom, how far some people felt they had travelled over the 2-3 years together and how all of us felt we had changed in some way. Our gatherings had become a regular rhythm in our lives, creating a community and a space where we were able to say whatever needed to be said in a very special physical place (thanks and blessings to Juliette for her beautiful house and garden). And in that space, everything was welcomed: joy, excitement, fear, rage, despair, confusion, contentment, gratitude……… And as we learned to accept that knowledge and wisdom are both dark and bright, we opened up to the alchemy of transformation. In the heart of the storminess and mess, there is gold. And for many, that gold is prayer: praying for the greater good of everyone, not caving in, believing that Someone knows, that there is a greater reality, letting kindness emerge.
I realise that learning to embrace paradox is one of the biggest gifts that I am taking away from my time in Wild Wisdom School. It is a very lovely feeling to be able to say to myself “both…and” instead of “either…or”. Living with the tension of opposites is tough, but I have increasingly found it possible to reach a point of balance and in those moments, something else is born from the holding of the polarities: a feeling of peace, of wholeness and wonder. A glimpse of the Divine. And, together, we have encountered those opposites in many ways and many places. From the start of our travels in paleolithic times we found that those early peoples were not just focused on survival – there is evidence of wonder too. Ritual, community and art alongside hardship and death. We do not know what, if anything, they “worshipped” but as we travelled through time we saw how that sense of wonder evolved into different spiritual traditions, with myth and story interwoven through everything. I have learned so much from the myths and stories that Sam has shared with us over the years, and they have helped me find different ways to hold paradox: the descent into darkness is necessary for the return and transformation, willing sacrifice offers new hope, death allows for the possibility of rebirth, the ugly becomes beautiful when it’s accepted. And listening to my companions in the circle, I have learned too that there are many many ways to experience the stories, not just my way; and those experiences can be diametrically opposed and still both be true.
So, we started our day with a meditation which reminded us of the fourfold way of knowing on which our practice has been based. The body and the natural world, and the wisdom that comes from both; the psyche, listening to the wisdom that emerges from how we feel about things, and from our memories and thoughts; the witness capacity, stepping aside, stepping back, getting out of our own way; and the Divine, the ground of all being, the wisdom that comes when we ask “what would You have me learn in this moment?”. All of our meditations have been beautiful, and this was no exception. As one of our community said afterwards, these have been opportunities over time to organise the purple blobs of the mind into a pattern.
Then we shifted our energy from the internal to the external and turned our thoughts to magick. Sam asked us what the word meant and what images came to mind. Inevitably we had magicians, witches, fairies, Merlin, Hogwarts, stardust and black arts……but when we settled down to listen to some of the history/herstory of magick, it became very clear that it was a deeply respected tradition for many years and was seen as a normal occupation for educated people, that was held within a Christian tradition. Queen Elizabeth had a magical advisor, John Dee, and magick that was in the service of God was seen as perfectly acceptable. When Henry VIII brought in the first Witchcraft Act in England, in 1542, it was specifically against demonic and destructive magick, not all magick. There are many definitions of magick, but let’s settle for: “The art and science of magick causing changes in matter and at a subtle level by altering states of consciousness”.
We all know about the period, about 200 years, of persecution of people accused of practising magick, and in that time some 50,000 people were tortured and executed across Europe, about 80% of them women. Of that number, only about 500 were in the UK, probably because Henry VIII’s Act was very specific about demonic magick. Tempted though I am to dwell on the reasons underpinning the persecution of so many women, that is a subject in itself and not for today.
Magick has never gone away. In Britain, it moved on through Freemasonry (another fascinating subject)and then, like so many esoteric traditions, it moved underground as rational science took centre stage. There were many occult and esoteric schools, most of them fairly secretive to outsiders: the Rosicrucians and Order of the Golden Dawn are two of the better known, and later The Society of the Inner Light (founded by Dion Fortune) and Servants of the Light (founded by WE Butler and Gareth Knight). They drew on alchemy, astrology, Free Masonry, Kabbalah, and often Christianity and their focus was on self-transformation.
In the 20th Century Gerald Gardner started the Wicca movement, bringing an incredible focus on the natural world, and Ross Nichols founded the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. They created the Eightfold nature of the year, drawing on ancient folklore and Christian traditions, and it is widely used today by many different groups and individuals. I think they would be surprised (as I was) to know just how recent a “truth” this is!
We broke at this stage for our customary bring and share lunch, which was the usual riot of colours and flavours, and for relaxed conversations in and out of the sunshine.
This was followed by our quiet time, a period of digestion at many levels, and a chance for companionable and contemplative silence. When we gathered once again, Sam led us thought a wonderful magick ritual. Not unlike a guided meditation, this was inner work and an invitation to change and growth through imagery and the union of our own conscious and intuitive processes.
And then our final wisdom pot, our last time of sharing as this group in this sacred space. We decided not to have one of our Ramshackle Rituals to end the day as we would be meeting for a final end of year celebration the next day, and would have an opportunity then. Listening to our closing reflections, I am once more struck by the differences held lovingly in our circle, and how everything really is made welcome in this amazing community. We spoke of stillness beneath an ash tree, of contentment, of grief, the certainty of being wrapped up in angel wings and the unknowingness of new beginnings.We asked “What can I harvest as well as emptying myself?”.
And I am straight back to paradox. I know that I need both to harvest the fruits of wisdom from this 3 year journey and empty myself as an invitation to future possibilities; to stand in stillness and to move on; to feel the joy of our circle and the sorrow that it no longer exists in external form. And the lessons from our short exploration of magick? That it is both Christian and pagan…..and that is absolutely ok. The split is within us. The world would be a kinder, safer place if we could heal the split that leads to “we vs. others” and “I’m right therefore you must be wrong”. I am learning every day to be less judgemental, to be aware of conflicts in my own heart and mind, and to hold paradox with a little more ease and grace.
So as I end my last blog, I would like to thank my travelling companions for their company over the 3 years. The work we have done matters. And the work that each of us will take back into our everyday world matters too: every prayer, every meditation, every moment of mindfulness, each loving thought, all our explorations on our different spiritual paths – it is all sacred work, and that work is desperately needed by our world today. I feel very privileged and full of gratitude to Sam, and to us all.
Safe onward journeys my friends.
17th June 2017
Photos by Beth