News update from the Eco Shamanism camp
A story from the Winter Solstice and event reminders
This newsletter is back to front! Instead of writings first we start with updates and reminders as the main writing is a story from Mandy involving a Winter Solstice adventure, similar to last years if you remember it. Jane and Freya will be back for the February issue. If you want to read the story scroll on down but if you want to see current news and an events list it follows immediately.
We all hope you have a stunning and instructive 2019!
Mandy, Jane and Freya.
The first news is sad - we say goodbye, for now, to the poet Jay Ramsay who died on December 30th. Jay and I held a poetry event in Avebury last May and were set to run another this year. I had known Jay for a little over a year and in that time he gave me great confidence in my poetry, we seemed to have an 'understanding' that is rare and somehow our souls touched, albeit briefly. The evening before we ran our event last May we strolled out over Avebury in the magical dusk and came across two giant bracts growing from the Ash tree near the Cove Stones. Jay photobombed my attempts at photographing them. Now, as I look back at them, these two bracts were reflections of us, spirits appearing in sacred space with Earth as our true source of inspiration. Rest well Jay, I know you'll be checking in on my pen.
Shamanic Sundays - Morning 6th January - Millers Farm
This Sunday 6th January is the first Shamanic Sunday of the year at Millers Farm in the Forest of Dean. All are welcome including beginners. Please note price increase to £10. 10.30am - 1pm at Millers Farm nr Blakeney GL15 4AP
There will be the usual tea, coffee, biscuits and fruit and this is included in the cost. A selection of beeswax spirit candles will be available for sale . . . please bring a mat, blanket, eye cover and pen and paper. Directions to Millers Farm can be sent out on request. Email me if you'd like more information. A NOTE RE PARKING - please park efficiently in the parking area at Millers Farm and block others in if necessary. If there is no room please use the verge outside the farm gates but not further up the road. If there is still no room please park up on the Green.
Extinction Rebellion Web of Life Walk - Afternoon 6th January
1.30 for 2pm start Welshbury Hill Fort
Following Shamanic Sundays I am leading a walk for the Forest of Dean Extinction Rebellion group around Welshbury Hill Fort near Littledean and Flaxley in the afternoon. This is the last day of the seven days of the Protect and Honour Life Campaign which is a series of daily individual meditations on life culminating with a group walk themed on the Web of Life. Meet at 1.30pm to arrange parking for a 2pm start on the Forestry track between Flaxley and George Road/Asha Centre from Littledean (nearest postcode GL14 1JR which is Flaxley Church - go north towards Mitcheldean or south from the triangle at the Asha Centre and you'll find us). Details on the Forest of Dean Extinction Rebellion Facebook Group page. Everyone is welcome.
Oak Eye - a restructuring of the word Okay
2019 events update
in date order
What's happening this year - anything in blue and underlined is a weblink.
Any questions or enquiries please get in touch.
Winter Solstice Instinction Story featuring Knepp Estate rewilding project
The human New Year is here and the solar New Year which began at the Winter Solstice is already gently growing. Many of you know that the Winter Solstice is 'my' time - I was born at night under the dark moon at the time of the dark sun. What I find in the darkness or void is akin, I believe, to the dream world, spirit, universal consciousness or where our essence originates. It is also possible that our animal 'instinct' comes with us from the void. When we are born or when we die is instructive to our lives and can grace us with inspiration, amongst other things.
Last year you may remember I went to an island in the middle of a sea, fell in a bog up to my waist and mirrored my goaty Sun sign of Capricorn which has the head and body of a goat with a fish tail. This year I could not decide what to do so left it to chance . . . the back drop to this has been the growing Extinction Rebellion movement which is concerned with activism re climate change and the possible extinction of all life, including human life.
A week before the Solstice I happened to watch a short video about the Knepp Estate, a rewilding project on 3500 acres in Sussex. I have known of the place and it's project for a couple of years and then a couple of friends had mentioned it to me recently but I had let my prejudice about the landed gentry stop me from following it up. There is a book about the estate, published this year, called 'Wilding' by owner/guardian Isabella Tree. The video inspired me so I read the book, in a couple of days, and was severely engrossed. The dust jacket itself brought tears to my eyes and sudden outbursts of the same as I read. It touched a part deep inside me that felt very right. On reflection I now see that it was like a really large example of what I do in my garden, let nature decide what happens rather than 'over manage and tidy' it. I decided that this was the place to go on the Winter Solstice, as a sort of pilgrimage to species instinction and by that I mean the opposite of species extinction . . . before that story here is a little bit of information about the Estate.
The Knepp Estate was formerly (20 years ago) an arable and dairy farm, deeply in debt and trying to 'manage' heavy clay soils which baked hard in the summer and became almost untouchable in the winter. They decided to give up conventional farming and turn the estate over to nature together with the introduction of large old breed domesticated livestock such as Longhorn cattle, Exmoor ponies, Tamworth pigs and Red, Roe and Fallow deer which were 'similar' in their browsing habits to ancient free roaming grazing animals. Apart from the animals introduced on a low stocking density they were happy to see what turned up rather than introduce endangered species as a conservation programme.
Outer perimeter deer fencing was erected and inner stock fencing eradicated, the animals were to have free rein together with the flora so hedge cutting was abandoned, scrub was allowed to regrow, marsh, swamp and natural river courses were left to themselves, trees were left to biodegrade where they fell and new trees to rejuvenate amongst protective bramble clumps etc. 20 years on and the landscape challenges our ideas or perceptions of what our land should look like - it is peppered with regrowth of all sorts including the supposed bane of farmers, creeping thistle and ragwort (there are interesting accounts of these supposed weeds in the book). What has happened on the estate is that species on the edge of extinction in this country are actually beginning to revitalise. Picture this, the number of nightingales, owls, bats, purple emperors to name but a few and a range and quantity of the less pretty species like beetles, worms etc are beginning to climb. In some cases species such as the turtle dove, raven and peregrine falcon have 'returned' to an area where before they had not been seen for decades. When I say 'returned' I'm sure you imagine the birds coming in from elsewhere and this is a very obvious and natural inclination yet in my world, it feels like they have emerged from the void, that their spirits have re-embodied as the element of 'human' control has slipped away: that they have always been there and will always return.
Ratty and Mole out boating (Wind in the Willows)
Extinction is a very final word and no matter how scientific and logical the world is the science paradigm leaves little room for the inspiration of creation, or, what I like to call 'instinction'. I have an example of this in my garden in 2018. I live in a fairly built up area with a field behind my back garden. There is a hedge of about 50 metres that runs from the field into my front garden and is the only link between the two as on each side is either hardcore drive or path ways. My front garden is pretty much concrete/tarmac locked too. In the summer I saw the soil in one of my vegetable beds moving as if there were a burrowing animal and my immediate thought was a Mole, but probably a Rat. Both creatures were beautifully captured in The Wind in the Willows and although I liked Ratty, Mole was my favourite. There is some talk of Ratty being based on the rare, and becoming rarer, Water Vole although the numbers are increasing on the Knepp Estate . . .
Over the course of a few more days, tunnels along the edge of the bed appeared and the turf path had been disturbed. My logical mind said the resident cat population would soon see to the Rat but my spirit and heart hoped for a Mole. Logical mind could not comprehend how a Mole could get there but heart still hoped. I went away for a few days to train some Eco Shamans and on my return, the earth shifting was a little more widespread. The next morning I went out to investigate and found a dead Mole lying on it's back with it's great spade paws clinging to air, not soil. The resident cat population obviously didn't mind if it was a Rat or a Mole. My heart sank at Mole's death and I buried her/him with due ceremony. Yet my heart also rose at the shear determination of nature. Mole had either been brave enough to walk down a garden path or had arrived from the void. Being a dark or black creature (the Mole) I prefer the latter option. A Mole is a sign of a healthy worm population and my vegetable beds have been fed every year with compost and well rotted manure, rarely dug and weeds, wildflowers etc are given a lot of space in amongst that which I choose to grow. There was a snake in 2017 and I have seen sparrowhawks take sparrows from the bird feeder area on a number of occasions. Lizards, frogs, woodpeckers, owls, bats and beetles, ants, moths, caterpillars etc are abundant. Instinction can happen in even the smallest of places.
Windmill at Shipley village at the beginning of the adventure
Back to the Winter Solstice and my visit to the Knepp Estate, which also runs 'safaris' for keen naturalists and the like. My aim was to walk around the main path of the Estate as a sort of pilgrimage, my intent was to honour it's 'instinction' and witness it if need be although with wide swathes of scrub and regrowth and it being the winter I didn't expect to see much in terms of animals or the buzzing of insects. I started at the landmark Windmill in Shipley village and wandered down a green lane before entering the estate. I was accompanied by the eerie and threatening baying of the local hunt dogs which I presumed (hoped) were 'practising' or being 'exercised'. As I entered the estate through the high gate of the deer fencing the baying almost instantly ceased. I continued along the green lane with no fences between me and the invisible livestock and I had a sense of being on an equal footing with nature. The fields were full of clumps of brambles, scrub trees were growing away untended, I met a couple of dog walkers but the deeper I went into the estate the fewer humans I saw. I felt happy from my feet upwards, as if the land was welcoming me. I walked for quite a way until I got to a bit where I couldn't decide which path to take on a corner of a track. I stood waiting, undecided. I tried the path to the right and came up to the deer fence and hedges that had been cut, and beyond a blank green sward of field. That suddenly felt very wrong, I didn't want to go that way, my heart felt an aversion to the tidiness of it all, it's lack of diversity and clipped neatness. I was also aware of how quickly my eye had taken in the difference between conventional and rewilding English landscape. I went back to the junction and stood still again. The other track just didn't seem wild enough! And then I heard a clopping and a young woman on quite an unruly and chunky horse came trotting/cantering along, she was having trouble keeping the horse under control, which was fitting for the ambience of the 'wilding' estate. She shouted a 'Hello' and rode past on the unwild track.
Longhorns at a distance, backlit by Oaks. Scrub pasture.
Within seconds I heard a bellowing from a cow and my ears pricked up. I immediately took the track towards the noise hoping to see some Longhorns and within minutes there they were, a herd of 14 Longhorn cows, some with their young, grazing peacefully in amongst the deep grassy scrubland. Then a whole multitude of fauna - two large stags, buzzards wheeling above, the calling of a woodpecker, then around the next corner and a herd of Roe deer running for cover from me, birds a plenty with all sorts of familiar and not so familiar songs and shoutings. Then two Herons in the distance. I marched on feeling excited that I'd actually seen something. The two Herons turned into seven Herons and I was aghast, there must be a Heronry too. They floated off down what I assumed was the river and I lost sight of them behind a tall and thick over grown hedge. My attention drifted towards the ground and I became intent on some seed heads for a minute or two and then there was a loud and lazy flapping above me and the Herons were flying low over the hedge right above me. And then I saw that they weren't Herons. I had to look them up later to find they were White Storks, nothing I'd ever previously seen in 'wild' Britain. They settled in the same trees I had seen them above originally a way off and immediately disappeared, their wings are half white and half black and at that distance, and to my eyes, they weren't visible any more. But what a treat! It felt as if they had come to check me out.
Moving on and I passed two rootling Tamworth pigs, an old breed that weather our climate well and happy to keep on rootling despite the appearance of a human. Down the track a bit further and then the recent heavy rains floored me. I had arrived at the river and the river had taken over the bridge which was invisible beneath the waters. Later I found out it was a brook but it actually looked more like a river on the day. On the other side was the campsite and various other buildings. I was flummoxed. It was nearly midday, the centre of the shortest day of the year, and I had a sudden flash of the bog experience the previous year. I was about half way round the 7 mile walk and would have to walk miles out of my way to get round this obstacle. I couldn't cross without fear of ending up as the reincarnation of the Capricorn goat again. I stood, waited, looked back and forth, sighed. I could see the flat bridge and guessed the water was ankle deep and would flood my boots easily but couldn't see the depth of water on the other side where it flooded. I could very well end up up to my waist in water again. I waited a bit more, let the land feed me a solution, and sure enough, it did. I would take my socks and boots off and wade through the river. I was on it in a flash and felt my way into the water, navigating across the bridge slowly, the cold river water streaming up past my ankles, river pebbles bruising my arching feet, laced boots swinging from my neck. I waded through to the other side triumphant and dry, but for my feet which were pink and raw but soon tucked up in my socks and boots again. It felt like a Solstice trial all over again, with me being reborn the other side slightly less damp than the previous year's adventure.
Lancing Brook, successfully navigated!
So I moved on, saw more wildness regenerating, Green Woodpeckers yaffling away, got a bit lost and ended up on a road which had a wildness all of it's own with it's noisy cars although there were few of them . . . then another herd of deer, a gang of roughly 25 stags, hanging out in their natural environment.
Stag herd with Oaks
And then a most tremendous Oak which reminded me of the book I had read before the book about the estate, The Overstory by Richard Powers. This is a fictional book set in the US about trees and a group of giant redwood protectors/activists that, at one point, inhabit a Giant Redwood for over a year which harbours it's own ecosystem way up in the canopy. This is the magical point of that particular book. The Oak in the picture below had another ecosystem in it's branches too, a small Elder had taken root it's branches.
The Elder Oak - an Elder growing in the arms of an Oak
This part of the Estate began to feel a little different. The A24 skirts it's borders here and there is a constant stream of traffic noise. But on this skirt is the ruin of the old castle which sits on it's own grassy mound above the River Adur whose bridge had not been bridged by the river and so there was no more wading to do.
Corvid eyes at the old Knepp ruin
I stayed a little while but then made my way over towards the main Estate with it's grand lake, tenant houses and the more recent Knepp Castle, home to Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree. On the way I had to cross a rather swampy area. My fears rose again especially when I saw that in order to get through it I would need to cross a small wall. Memories of my last year when I fell in the bog by trying to leap onto a partially submerged wall came flooding back (excuse the pun) but this was more visceral, it was a wall and a bog again, not a flooding brook. As I hesitated to step onto the wall and cross I started to look around me for alternative routes and then noticed what appeared to be ice on top of a small grass mound. The temperature was far too high for ice! I prodded it with a piece of rush and it wasn't ice, it was like jelly. Scattered about in close proximity were little blobs of what looked like caviar and at the base of the mound were deer droppings. I am told that this is 'star jelly', left over frogspawn that is discarded after a frog has been predated. Maybe the caviar were the frog seed/egg - but why were they in separate clumps? I have sent an email to the resident ecologist to see if she can shed any light on the matter although I am happy to be at a complete loss, after all, instinction can come out of the void.
River Adur in full spate with Knepp ruin in the distance: transparent jelly and (bottom left corner) caviar mystery
This episode had diverted my fears of a dunking and I stepped confidently up onto the wall and strode across without the tiniest fall.
I trundled on up past the large lake with many water birds, had my lunch in the bird hide and then moved on up to the current Knepp Castle. Here I passed alongside another large herd of Longhorns all mainly lying on the ground chewing the cud and not at all threatening. There's no fencing between them and the Castle, they really are free to roam. There wasn't much left of my walk. I left the estate shortly afterwards passing through the high deer fence and through a 'normal' field and small fir plantation into the village of Shipley where all was quiet and ordinary. Got to my car, changed my boots, pulled out of my parking space from behind a hulking landrover and got beeped at by someone passing who thought I hadn't seen them. I hadn't and it was a rude awakening. I thought I was still in the wild, my instincts still geared to crossing water features and navigating large free range animals and I had to filter back into conventional human territory.
The finale to the story was a few days later on my return home when I watched a film called The Survivalist. Set in Northern Ireland it paints a possible portrait of life following the collapse of the fossil fuel industry and a consequent human apocalypse. To cut a long story short it shows a lone human being befriended by two others, the dynamics of a limited food supply, packs of marauding humans with weapons and hope in the form of a deer fenced human community . . . the irony of it was quite surreal.
As an addendum and holding of this story, returning to the ritual of following the Sun and Moon and Stars as they step into our turning world, I have been working with Jane Embleton and another colleague and the idea of re-wilding in southern Africa. It is a large piece of work that is not finished and refers to opening up a virtual hole in the ground in southern Africa where the dream of species can rise up out of our Earth and repopulate the surface of our globe. Why southern Africa? Well Jane was there before the Solstice and was visiting many sacred sites, mainly of the San people. While she was there I worked with a South African client at the same time who had wanted to see me on a personal level but it transpired that this 'hole of the species dream' arrived within the work instead. This was all before I read the 'Wilding' book about Knepp Estate. The synchronicity, in my eyes and heart, is astounding. There are areas in southern Africa that are species rich, like the Okavango Delta, a swampy inland delta full of species of all sorts - it has over 400 species of birds alone. From my little garden to the Knepp Estate to the Okavango Delta, species are returning, instinction is on the rise!