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Spiralled Edges: Finding Nature in the Edges

May 1st, 2015

Everything Changes

 

Years ago I learned a chant in the Pagan community which went

She changes everything she touches

And everything she touches, changes.

One of the basic tenets of any nature-based religion is that things change. Those changes may be subtle, they may be difficult to see, but over time as we move through the seasons everything changes.

I am not the same person I was a year ago. And neither are you. I’m carrying a lot more grey hairs, a few more wrinkles. And a lot less emotional baggage.

Sometimes, we hang on to ideas or beliefs or emotions that don’t serve us, and don’t allow us to grow. That fear of change is what keeps us in abusive relationships, keeps us from finding a new job, and keeps us from pursuing a dream.

I found myself in just one of these ruts in recent years. When I separated from my ex-husband in 2012 my world was turned upside down. I had become so firmly entrenched in a life that was mentally and emotionally abusive that I couldn’t even recognise it as such.

I knew I was unhappy. I knew that I sometimes had strong urges and a desire to escape. My resistance to change kept me from doing something about it. Better to be unhappy in a marriage I knew than face an unknown.

saying

created by NanLT

 

If my life hadn’t been shaken up, there’s a good chance I would still be there. Even then it wasn’t until I had been out of that marriage for over a year that I was able to recognise and admit that there had been abuse. And now, 3 years later, I am beginning to embrace life once again.

I’m not doing this without structure though. Because while I may be embracing changes and finding new understanding of how very constant change is, I am also becoming more fully aware of how important structure and routines are for me. It is these routines which provide the foundations and scaffolding through which change can occur.

woman

public domain, Wikimedia commons

A good analogy which I have come across relates to weaving. Handmade woven cloth can be very colourful and creative. Weaving can be done on anything from a small table-top loom to larger looms taking up a room. Each works in the same way. Strong warp threads are placed lengthwise on the loom, and the creative weft threads are woven back and forth across the width.

If the warp threads are not strong enough to support the weft threads, the weaving will break apart.

This is how I am striving to create my life today. Daily routines for personal care, and personal spiritual practises provide the warp which supports my emotional and spiritual weft.

The result is an ongoing process. Sometimes, the warp breaks. Usually because I have neglected my routines. Sometimes, I realise that something I am weaving for myself isn’t what I want and I need to discard it.

This is where one of the biggest stumbling blocks would have been for me in the past, and I need to be aware of it in my present and future. That inability to step away from something that isn’t working because I am afraid of change.

I’m not doing all of this alone. Over time I have been pulling together an assortment of tools and support. I’ve been releasing trapped emotions and discovering my voice through various complementary and alternative healing techniques: shamanic journeying, Dr Bradley Nelson (Emotion Code), EFT and Reiki. I have been advocating for my needs and discovering my truth through the daily exercises of HeatherAsh Amara (Warrior Goddess Training), daily morning pages (The Artist’s Way) and David Hamilton, PhD (I {heart} Me: The Science of Self-Love). Most important of all though is I am learning to be more forgiving and gentler towards myself.

What are you weaving in your own life today? Are there broken and unwanted threads that need to be snipped away or replaced?

Spiralled Edges – Between Life and Death

Lately, I’ve been watching our fish swimming in their aquarium a lot. We have platies, which are live-bearers, and apparently they are rather prolific reproducers. So, in the past few weeks we have had a lot of babies being born.

There is all sorts of advice to be found on the benefits of removing the fry, or leaving them in the tank to fend for themselves. I opted to leave them in the main tank, making sure that they have plenty of hiding places.

While some may survive, I know that the majority of babies will at some point be eaten by the larger fish. Such is the way of the fish world. Bigger fish eat smaller fish, some will live but most will die.

It seems a funny thing to be thinking about death so soon after Imbolc with all of the early signs of Spring popping up in the world around me. Birth and death are so very closely twined together though. Each is a stage of transition, and each brings with it great changes.

As a witch and as a healer I have worked a lot with people preparing to make their transition at the end of their life, and I am undergoing training to become a Soul Midwife here in the UK. In my role as a death midwife I try to support and serve those who are transitioning from life to death.

The History of Soul Midwifery

Nearly every culture throughout history has its traditions when it comes to dying. The work that a Soul Midwife does has its origins going back thousands of years through history and across different world cultures.

It has only been within the past few generations that death has become something apart, something medical which happens alone in sterile hospital rooms rather than at home surrounded by loved ones.

The Soul Midwife today incorporates this multitude of tradition in her work. She is able to call upon wisdom and strength generated across the ages. She stands at the threshold between the living and the dead and through her actions and words guides Souls on their journey across the void.

She may be asked to bless or anoint a dying person with sacred oils, as the Egyptians and Sumerians did. She may spend time washing their hands and feet as ancients (and modern) Jews did, bringing comfort and spiritual cleansing them.

The Soul Midwife may sit vigil at a bedside as the Celts taught, maintaining a realm of sacredness around the person and standing between that person and whatever fears they may face during this time.

She may be called upon to help with Soul Healing, as shamanic healers did in cultures past and present through Soul Retrieval work, or through the use of sounds and toning.

Some Soul Midwives may do psychopomp work in which they work within the Other World to escort Souls through into the realm of the Dead.

Above all else though, the Soul Midwife stands at the edge between living and dying, accompanying the dying on this final journey.

If you would like more information on this subject, I highly recommend:

“Singing the Soul Back Home” by Caitlin Matthews.

“A Safe Journey Home” by Felicity Warner

Over the years I have on occasion had times when I have found myself questioning. Can I still call myself a witch when I am not fully immersed in nature? Am I really Pagan when I don’t fully live my life around an agricultural calendar?

While my grandparents, and their grandparents and theirs, going back further in time were all farmers, none in my mother or father’s generation have followed in that pat. I have lived in urban areas for the majority of my life, and I have been on the outer edge of Greater London for over 15 years.

Add into this the repeated comments I see on social media and in different shamanic and Pagan groups about the importance and need to be in nature, to learn from nature, to surround myself by it.

If I, someone who has been following this path for over 2 decades, find myself questioning my part and my role, and my right to call myself Pagan, shamanic healer, witch where does that leave the newcomer? Are they asking even more questions, or perhaps even abandoning these ideas because they got the idea that they can’t be Pagan because they live in a city flat, or because they buy their ritual ingredients via mail order instead of picking them in a forest glade?

Spiral1

Elephant Walk along the Thames near Tower Bridge

 

The answer isn’t to abandon all thoughts of being Pagan, but to look for and learn to recognise nature in the cracks and edges of the urban life.

I’ve been trying to make a point of noticing nature as I go about my day in recent weeks, and also of doing what I can to bring nature into my environment. If the witch cannot go to Nature, then bring Nature to the witch.

Early each morning, I wake and get ready for my day. On the day I am writing this we are less than 2 weeks from the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. Living as far north as I do, this means that the days are really short. It is still dark when I leave the house for school runs at 7am. Because I am driving mostly towards the East I can watch the gradually brightening sky as I go. Sometimes, like this morning, I am able to see the Morning Star (Venus). While I am driving I mentally say good morning to the Earth, the Sky, and the Sun when I see it peaking over the tops of buildings.

The school run over, I can finally sit down to breakfast and a morning cup of tea. I didn’t rear the pigs or chickens which provide my bacon and egg. I didn’t grow or even pick the tea or the sugar beet, and I didn’t milk the cow. I begin my meal with a silent thank you to those who did grow, pick, and rear this food, and to the animals and plants which made this sacrifice so that I could continue to live.

I do this for every meal, or at least I try to remember to do this.

Finding Nature in the Edges also means doing what I can to bring it into my life. I am very fortunate in that the flat where I live with my sons has a small back garden – it’s about 15

several damson trees and lots of flowering shrubs, and a small lawn. Washing lines strung between the flat and two trees provide space to dry clothing in the sun – when it isn’t raining.

Because I wanted to draw nature into our lives more, I set up a bird feeding station in the middle of the grass. There I provide a variety of seeds, nuts, and fat for the local birds, and one rather persistent squirrel.

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While watching from my window I have seen the above grey squirrel, a group of 4 white pigeons, a family group of 4 great tits, and a mated pair of British robins. More rarely I see a blackbird, and once I caught a fleeting glance and heard the sound of a green parakeet. (Yes, a parakeet!)

I also have brought Nature inside. On the kitchen window ledge you will find an aloe plant, a crocus, 4 sprouting grapefruit trees, and a sprouting carrot top suspended in water. In the summer, I have pots of fresh herbs growing outside the back door on the patio area.

On the other side of the kitchen, I have set up an aquarium which houses 12 tropical fish. The bubbling sound of the water can be very relaxing, as can taking a few minutes out of a frantic morning or evening to just watch them swimming around.

Spiral2

 

As you can clearly see, even living in a city I am surrounded by Nature. How often do we pass by these signs of Nature and discount them because we’re not in the country? How often do we fail to recognise Nature all around us because we think it only counts when we also don’t have signs of urban life around us?

My task for you this month is a very simple one. Each day, several times a day, remember to look to find Nature in the cracks and edges of your life? Look up the identity of a bird you see, if you don’t know what it is already. Notice the weeds growing between the cracks in the pavement and instead of reaching for a knife to cut them out or weed killer to kill them, take a moment to marvel at just how amazing it is that Nature can find places to grow in even the seemingly most inhospitable areas.

When buying your vegetables and grains and meats at the grocery store, take the time to notice where it was grown, and give thanks to the farmers and the plants and animals for the sacrifice they have made in order that others may live.

Notice when the sun comes up, and goes down. Notice the moon and the stars. If you can’t see them directly, notice their effects around you.

Bring Nature into the cracks and edges of your own life.

 

Parakeets – there are several sizeable colonies of parakeets living in SE London. They frequently make the rounds of back garden bird feeders. It’s not known how or when these non-native birds became established in the area. Apparently, parakeets and native pigeons are providing an abundant food source for native peregrine falcons which are making a welcome comeback into urban areas of England.

 

All images ©NanLT

The weeks leading up to Imbolc are perhaps some of my most favourite in the year. While the Northern Hemisphere may still be in the grips of winter, everywhere you look there are signs that the Earth is beginning to stir and awaken from sleep.

Imbolc is a time of new beginnings, new life, and new birth. And it begins with the Earth itself.

The first week after Yule the earth continues to be shrouded in long nights. Where I live, the sun begins to set before 4pm in winter, and doesn’t fully rise again until close to 8am. Gradually though, from mid- January I begin to notice that the sun is staying up just a bit longer in the afternoons, and rising a bit earlier in the morning. Instead of turning my lights on at 3:30, I can leave them off until 4:30. Instead of leaving the house in total darkness at 7am, I notice the faint glimmer of sunrise to the East.

 

crocus

 

 

This week, I saw the second sign of the Earth’s stirrings. Peeping up from the ground can now be seen the shoots of crocuses and primroses. These earliest flowers bloom in February, and for me it is their arrival which signals the arrival of Imbolc. We may yet have snow this season, but even that doesn’t keep these precious blooms from coming. They push up through the snow to display their colourful flowers on a background of white. Winter is not yet over, spring is not yet come, but there is a promise of new beginnings which can be seen and felt.

It is not just plants that are awakened at Imbolc. In people too there is a restlessness, and urge to break out and grow, to push past that which is holding us down so that we can display our worth and beauty.

This is an ideal time of year for doing initiations, and also for doing work focused on new projects and new endeavours. Over time this has been somewhat pushed back into New Year’s Day at the beginning of January, but in some ways I feel that the promises and resolutions we make at the New Year when the promise of the Earth’s re-awakening is not yet felt, become part of those old and dying things which we discard in the dead of Winter. Far better to make these vows and begin these new endeavours at Imbolc.

If the promises you made at Yule/New Year’s Day seem far away and your enthusiasm is beginning to wane, why not use this season of awakening and new life to re-make those resolutions.

Here is a very simple bit of spell work that you can use to breathe life into your upcoming projects.

You will need a pot of soil (or compost) and some seeds. I suggest a lovely flower from a bulb. That way you’ll have something to hold in your hands and really focus on for the next part.

Place the pot and the seeds on your altar and create a circle (or not) as you usually do. Focus your energy first on what it is you want to accomplish in this upcoming growing season. What do you want to grow in your own life? It may help to write things down on paper.

Once you have in mind what it is you wish to grow, hold the seed in your hands and focus your intentions into it. Speak your intentions either out loud or in your mind. If you wish, you can assign a specific project to individual seeds.

 

soil

 

Now hold the pot of soil in your hands and focus what it is that *you* need to do in order to bring these projects into being. It’s all well and good to say you are going to learn how to dance, become healthier, read 10 books, complete a course, or what have you. If you don’t actually go to dance classes, eat healthy foods and exercise (however that is defined for you), pick up a book, or do the coursework, your seeds will be trying to grow on barren soil.

Having focused your intentions and your desires fully, take any bits of paper you may have written on and bury those deep within the pot of soil.

Speak your desire into each seed and push it into the soil to plant it. Cover it over and water it.

Keep your seed and pot in a protected environment. Nurture and water it over the coming weeks. As the seed grows, so too will the things you are growing in your life.

Spiralled Edges: Seeds of Change

We are moving out of winter, a season of potential and stillness, a time for reflecting on the past and planning for the future. There may still be days with snow and frost, or where I live rain and chilly mornings, but the subtle signs of a month ago that the Earth was waking from slumber are now clearly visible. I saw a magnolia tree in bloom the other morning, and every day I pass dozens of patches of blooming daffodils and crocuses.

I’ve noticed that I am becoming more fully awake as well right now. Ideas and thoughts which I had begun ruminating over back in December are starting to come together. Gentle synchronicities are guiding me to put thoughts into actions.

In thinking of these things, I am reminded quite clearly of the Amulets I use in divination and oracle work. Winter’s time of stillness can be found in the ‘Hand with Seeds’ amulet. This is an amulet of responsibility, or as I like to say it “response – ability”, but it is also an amulet of potentiality.

spiral

 

A potential for growth is present, but is not yet ready to emerge. The tools for change and growth are in your hand, but you have not yet planted them.

This is where I was over the past few months. Slowly finding and gathering the seeds needed for my next stage of growth. One very clear message I kept getting is that I need to find a ‘warrior’s healing’ and continue practicing being in my body.

Not sure where it would lead, I planted those ideas, those seeds, and left them to grow. The thing with seeds is that once planted, you can’t keep digging them up to check their progress. Have they grown enough? Are they ready to come up through the soil yet? Doing so will kill them.

It’s the same with our own potential for growth when we plant our ideas. We have to allow them to grow in darkness. We have to trust that even though we can’t see results, things are happening as they should.

Some seeds peep through the soil in a matter of hours, some take days, some may take months. Some ideas may be planted in a place that can’t sustain growth, others fall on fertile ground. I am reminded of one of the parables of the New Testament Christian Bible.

The Parable of the Sower.

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

This parable, according to biblical passages refers to people hearing the messages of God and heaven which Jesus was telling.

I think it can also very easily bring meaning to the Hands with Seeds amulet. We each hold the seeds for change and growth which we need in our hand. Those seeds which we plant in good soil are the ones which will come to fruition. Those which we carelessly scatter on unsuitable ground may begin to grow but will quickly perish.

I planted my own seeds over a month ago, and in recent days and weeks I have seen the beginnings of growth starting to emerge. My seeds in hand have become seedlings.

spiral2

 

These ideas which were planted are beginning to emerge. One friend’s off hand comments about Forrest Yoga which led to me reading “Fierce Medicine.” A Tai chi/qigong class I started taking in February. An opportunity to be a case study for someone seeking certification in Emotion Code Healing, and work I have been doing on myself in this area. A link a friend sent me on a global EFT webinar which led to reading a book on using EFT for body acceptance. Another friend’s random recommendation to her Facebook followers for a book on learning to love one’s self. “I (heart) Me: The Science of Self Love”. A computer generated book recommendation based upon other things I have read which led to my finding “Warrior Goddess Training Becoming the Woman You are Meant to Be”.

Some seeds which relate to ideas I have on my own body image have emerged that I don’t particularly like and believe me I would love to be able to stamp them back down into the ground, but I can recognise that these seedlings are opportunities to remove obstacles from my past which have held me back and kept me from being fully present inside my skin.

It may be that over time some ideas will be thinned away so that the strongest can thrive as I re-evaluate just what it is that I want and need. For now though, I am letting each grow to see what it can become.

What seeds are you growing right now in your life?

 

Hand with Seeds and Sprouting Seed Amulet images are both taken by NanLT.

Spiralled Edges – Looking at Death and Dying

A recent report released by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman highlights the tragic number of people who are dying without dignity here in the UK. Specifically mentioned were too many incidences of people not receiving adequate pain relief, poor communication between health teams and families leading to family members not being present at time of death, inadequate out-of-hours services, and people being wrongly denied the right to die at home.

One can only hope that the recommendations for improved palliative, end of life care are acted upon and improved. While not mentioned specifically, dying with dignity includes more than just tending to physical needs and communicating effectively and sensitively. It must also include providing for a dying person’s spiritual and/or religious needs, however that may be expressed.

Every major religion has rituals designed to ease a person’s spiritual transition between living and dying. There are prayers and rituals to be whispered in the dying person’s ear in the moments before death, rituals of atonement (sometimes called Last Rites), and prayers to ease a family’s grief.

In my studies I have found a small amount of very good resources for Pagans on the subject, but they are an exception rather than a rule. “The Pagan Book of Living and Dying” by Starhawk, M Macha Nightmare and The Reclaiming Collective is one of the only books currently available to give guidance to Pagans on the subject.

Death and dying is a subject which we, as Pagans, need to look at and address, and put into written form for future generations to look to for guidance. It would be impossible to sit down and say when someone is Pagan you do X, Y, and Z readings and rituals. As individuals though, we can say, “I am Pagan and this is what death means to me.”

As part of the written work to become a Soul Midwife I was asked to take a look at what I would want my own end of life to be like, both in the days and weeks before and after death occurred.

While reflecting on these questions, I discovered many things, some trivial and some major.

I would want time for quiet reflection and introspection. While I might at times want the comfort of having friends near me, I wouldn’t necessarily want conversation. I would not want people around me who insisted on filling silence with words. Silence and solitude are both very important to me.

While I love music, I do not like it to be played loudly so any music would need to be soothing and kept to a very low volume, if played at all.

I like things that are soft and textured, and feel calmer when I have something to keep my hands busy. Fiddle patches, prayer beads, and textures on blankets to trace work well for me if I am confined to bed or a chair.

I am particularly sensitive to smells, so would not want any strong scents around me. Many essential oil scents give me headaches including lavender so I would not want these around me, unless it was very subtle and in the background only.

In visualising what I would want to happen after death I realised one thing that is important to me, but would seem trivial to most anyone else. I don’t want my feet to be wrapped in shrouding or covered.

Given a choice I would rather die at home, surrounded by my life. I don’t know if I would want family and friends around or not. Perhaps I would be able to handle having one at a time, and only those who would be comfortable sitting in silence.

I do not fear death, and have not feared it for a very long time. Death is not an enemy to be fought off at any cost; it is a necessary part of life. Without death, nothing could live. Even the soil in which we grow our food in is made up of plant and animal life which has died and decomposed. Death is part of a great cycle we all must travel – birth, life, death, rebirth (whether one believes this to be the rebirth of the soul or the decomposition of the old life and birth of new life or both together).

I would ask my friends and family to hold a celebration of my life rather than a mourning of my death. I have already discussed with my eldest adult son some of my wishes with regards to organ and tissue donation and the disposal of my body (cremation) as well as my desires for a Pagan-centred memorial service.

I would want to know that my children were going to be okay when I was gone. And I would be more at peace if I had had the chance to make final plans for them. I would most want to be able to speak final words with my children. I wouldn’t necessarily want to say goodbye because I don’t believe that death means goodbye. While we may have a time of being apart from each other, in time we will be together whether after being reborn again in a new body or in the spirit realm.

I encourage you to spend a bit of time talking to your family and friends about your own death. What things would bring you comfort? What things would help you to have a “good” death? And have these conversations now because next year it may be too late.

For more help and information, and guidance on forming these discussions with friends and family, I would recommend these websites:

http://www.dyingmatters.org/ Dying Matters

https://www.finalfling.com/ Final Fling

http://deathcafe.com/ Death Café

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