from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

summer solstice & poem 2017

So it's the solstice; I wish I'd thought to take my camera out with me on my already-late-at-7.45am walk in the abundance of the Devon lanes here (this is an old photo). I could soliloquise at length on the flora and the many many young birds of so many different species (I did remember my binoculars), and the sheer joy of having all this to walk in, but there is always Work Undone.

Right now, the longest day, the sun appears to stand still in the sky for three days (as it does, too, on the shortest day). It's time to breathe, pause, reflect, before moving on (all downhill towards winter now, my dad would always say in his most deliberately gloomy voice. Must be time for my annual bath.) In the northern hemisphere, the earth is at its greatest inclination towards the sun at this time. The sun appears to rise at its most northeasterly position of the year, and sets at its most northwesterly.

All around the country, people will have gathered at dawn at one or other of our ancient and sacred megalithic (I guess that's tautology) monuments, many of which were constructed to predict solstices, among other things, to celebrate the sun's rising.

Each solstice, one of the earth's turning points, I like to look back at the last winter solstice, and the previous summer's. This time, I also look back two years, when I thought my life was about to change utterly and that I'd be living solo in France from then on. 

And then today I keep on looking back at the ones I can remember, mainly of course because they were significant.

Forty-something years ago, in my teens, I hitchhiked (unbeknown to my parents, who were probably told I was staying with friends, I can't remember) to Stonehenge for the summer solstice. I got a lift from Steve Hillage of Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth's 'Gong' fame; Gong, very much a voice for the counterculture and we hippies with our anti-Establishment, anti-capitalist, anti-consumer and peace-and-love values, must have been playing at the free festival that Stonehenge was then, though I didn't really know who Hillage was at the time.

In those days, before English Heretics got their hands on the site, fenced it, floodlit it and charged entry, we used to camp up in nearby beech trees around small fires, a loose tribe of people with guitars, poetry, and stars in their eyes, awaiting dawn at around 4am, before we trekked to the stones to watch the sun rise over the Heel Stone of the monument, in an act of celebration at least 5000 years old. This year, apparently 25,000 people attended – very glad I'm not there any more! – and because of the recent terror attacks, there was a strong armed-police presence.

A few years later, I was married on the summer solstice. We were both young adventurers, romantics, restless; he was Italian and exotic. We were both dropouts from university career-prospects (with my particular speciality, the Grail legends and the Mabinogi in their original languages, I couldn't imagine what I'd do other than work in, say, the archives of the British Library – I had no desire to teach). We made a living with our hands, and travelled abroad in the winters in our old campervan, including later with our young daughter, to follow the surf down the Atlantic seaboards of France, Vizcaya, Galicia.

We were young. The marriage couldn't last. Our daughter is well grown up, and he is now dead.

When, decades later, I first met TM, we walked the ancient trackway known as The Ridgeway from the Goring Gap in Oxfordshire to Avebury stone circle (to my mind a more significant site than Stonehenge) over 3 days, with a tent, too many heavy home-made loaves and litres and litres of water as we didn't know whether there'd be standpipes (there are), and far too many pairs of socks on TM's part (in my view).

Things got ditched as we went, and we filled up instead on the experience – the red kites, the various ancient sites we walked through, the burgeoning crop circles. The grasses, the copses of beech, the wide blue sky, the White Horse (or perhaps Dragon) of Uffington. (In my book Bardo I have a prose poem sequence that is about this walk.)

At the end, we found our car had been impounded, so a magical time was rather coloured by having to catch a bus to Swindon and pay a very hefty fee.

However, the walk remains as something very special in our memories.

And then more recently, seven years into my relationship with TM (they say that every cell in your body has been renewed in seven years – of course one might look to a different life! - one is a different person, a little, perhaps), came the upheaval that might have led to our separation and my living in France two solstices ago.

We've come through a lot, and come through strong. (The world, of course, is a different matter.)

So here's my solstice poem. With wishes to all you lovely people for an abundance of good things this summer, and a peaceful heart.

Summer Solstice 2017

After we’d come through the troubles and their repercussions –
small troubles, not like Syria, Grenfell Tower, London, Manchester,
deluded Heads of State, pesticides, genocides, fracking and the travails
of our over-burdened earth, but our troubles – after we’d come through
together we planted a rose in the summer courtyard with its freight
of birds and memories.

            Perhaps there’s always a distance between lovers;
sometimes charged with despair,
sometimes necessary. So then heaping
and tamping the good Devon earth, bedding it in with good water –
this brief gesture is a long moment of convergence, precious intimacy
against the dark.

            The sun’s standstill. This morning, red
globe spilling fire to reinstate what the dark had swallowed, we see
that she, the rose, has offered to day, bee and us alike 

one perfect rich bloom. Here in this fragrant dawn, birdsong 
the only interruption, yesterday's news of that Imam standing firm
to prevent his own from the natural urge to avenge, it’s easy
suddenly to believe in hope, in the earth continuing to turn,
in a triumph, a takeover, of love.

© Roselle Angwin 21.06.2017

Sunday, 18 June 2017

what am I meditating for?

I wrote this post in 2013, I see. Maybe it bears repeating?

I subscribe to daily quotes from 'Tricycle Daily Dharma'. This helps open up a small space in my day, especially since they arrive first thing, and I read one therefore before getting involved in my work emails.

Today's is: 'You may read that meditation enables you to tame your mind and bring it to a state of stability and peace. Despite meditating as a Buddhist for more than 40 years, I have not achieved even a glimpse of this, nor have I ever seen anyone else achieve it. Admittedly, I am not much of a practitioner, but there may also be a more general reason why this is so.' (Douglas Penick, 'What Are You Meditating For?')

This bold statement made me smile, for its honesty, its courage, its straightforwardness. And – oh yes – I recognised it. Hooray! Phew. And there was I thinking I was the only failed meditator in the world – or at least, I might do if I didn't recognise three things.

One is that 'failure' and 'success' are ultimately delusions of the ego (and/or the culture), and relatively meaningless evaluations on a spiritual path.

Two, that the only way I could 'fail', if I wanted to use that word to beat myself up and judge myself, is by not showing up to meditate, had I made it my committed practice to do so.

And three, there is nowhere to get to, nothing to achieve – the practice, the process, itself is what I'm showing up for.

To look again at Penick's statement gave me a sense of relief. And yes, I'd echo to a large extent what he says. And right now I've barely meditated for nearly six weeks – by the standards of my commitment to myself, I'm not doing too well.

I've been thinking about why we meditate again lately, as a dear friend is undergoing training in Zazen, that most difficult of meditation trainings, and she writes to me of four sitting sessions of thirty minutes each, broken by five minutes' walking meditation, with eyes (I imagine from my own training) only half-closed and a whitewashed wall in front of her. (I'm afraid that too is the point, B, the white wall – one's eyes resting on green leafery outside would be considered too distracting for the naturally-wandering mind – that is, all of our naturally wandering minds.)

Forty years on from my own Zazen training, I have some hesitations about its usefulness to the Western mind, and its harsh 'masculine' emphasis (though in my sangha they didn't actually hit us on the shoulders if we dozed, unlike the usual depiction of Zen meditation).

Nonetheless, as a method of training the mind to cut through distraction to the clear bell-like heart of everything, I think it's unsurpassed; and although a gentler way in to meditation is to focus on something else, like a candle or flower, an image or mantram, I can see the usefulness of not substituting another, albeit 'higher' and single-pointed, focus to distract monkey-mind from itself, but instead cutting through to beyond the point where thought arises altogether.

Does one ever manage that? Yes, in moments. What, stability and peace? – Well, the latter for a little while – by which I mean moments, but better than nothing, surely? – anyway. Does one manage to inhabit that place as a steady state? Of course not. The world always crowds in.

So why do I meditate?

For the discipline.

For the effort and concentration.

For keeping my crazy erratic mind – I think we all suffer from ADHD in the Western world, with its continual media/communication bombardment – and its over-fertile imagination in one place, single-mindedly, for a short while (or attempting to).

For watching and learning about the many ways I delude myself, distract myself, desire what I can't have, dislike what I do have, judge myself, want to be 'there' when actually I'm 'here'. In other words, noting the many ways in which I cause myself to suffer needlessly – and obviously noticing, too, the ways in which I cause suffering to others.

For opening up moments as broad, as infinite, as the sky, or the sea.

For allowing what's really important to rise to the surface.

For seeing into the still and flaming heart of it all.

For moving beyond the ridiculous inner monologue and its trivia, even if only for moments.

For slipping the grip of ego and its insistence on 'I', 'me' and 'mine'.

For the fact that I can at least drop more easily into 'that place' of calmness, even if only for a few moments, in my general daily life, when I'm in the habit of meditating.

For psychological health.

For noticing the insubstantial values and patterns our materialistic culture embeds in us, and for challenging those.

For the sake of noticing transience, and that one day I won't be here. How precious that makes it all, in every moment.

And, actually, because it makes me a slightly kinder person – one who can, at times, stop the unkind word at its arising; can look into the heart of anger rather than simply acting it out; resist hitting out blindly (not least because I'm hitting out at self when hitting out at other).

For finding a stillpoint from which to dance.

Because I can remember more readily that we really are all one.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

the writing life, the land's wild magic & the lost well

My relationship to the writing process at the moment is rather like peering into this dark well for an occasional but very seductive glimpse of the phosphorescence (how do you spell that??) at the back – just there, just behind the tiny eye of the night light. 

So I either have far too much to say – like today, when I'm on a roll and trying to complete my Forest book while also finishing the penultimate essay on place for an older project, and also wanting to write up the most extraordinary time I and 8 other writers experienced last week in the far West of Cornwall – or I have nothing to say.

It's been a rather dry time for me lately. This has not been helped by a discovery a little while back that someone has poisoned my well, shall we say – a long story and I won't go into it. I'm cheered by the fact that this kind of thing usually rebounds on the perpetrator. I'm sitting with the idea of 'right action'. You can't choose what happens to you, but you can choose how to relate to it.

Nonetheless, I've been sitting by the well for quite some time waiting for it to fill with clear clean water again, and mercifully it's beginning to.

In fact, the tide – to mix my metaphors – has come in in a bit of a rush recently. Yes, good things come in threes too.

One of my old collaborators and occasional publisher gave me a poetry challenge, and had the sense to gently insist on it. I wrote a poem. It was terrible. I binned it. I emailed to say I couldn't participate. He wouldn't take no for an answer. After a further email exchange I sat down and wrote the best poem I've written in a little while, and in just five minutes.

Utterly fantastic news, for me, is that a publisher who asked to see my Isle of Iona poems has taken the manuscript on, for next year. Look out for A Trick of the Light!

And finally, for any of you who are close enough to come, Book Stop in Tavistock, Devon (UK) is organising a talk and reading with me. Here are the details: 'LIVING A WRITER'S LIFE: an evening with Roselle Angwin', where I'll be talking about the very twisty and unconventional route I've taken to here – broke, overstretched and utterly in love with the work I do. (Questions and discussion on any writing-related subject welcome on the evening.) I'll also be offering short readings from various of my ten books, most of which draw on the power of the imagination, and the significance of place and our relationship to the land. Bedford Hotel, Tavistock, Friday 7th July, 7.30pm. Tickets on the door or from Book Stop: 01822 617244. I'd love to see you!


Each morning when I step out into the courtyard the birds and their families gradually gather. I love this. I'm especially fond of one individual bird of two families of robins; this one comes very close, and has twice taken food from my hand. Often, his or her wings brush my head or my shoulder.

I was alarmed for a minute this morning when I sat outside in a patch of sun with a cup of coffee, and he (or she) appeared as usual but then collapsed onto a slate stone a foot away from me, beak agape, wings and tail fanned out and chest feathers puffed out. Then I remembered that my bantams used to sunbathe in exactly that way. 

What grace, that the robin has come close and relaxed like that within touching distance three times today. 

And our garden is producing, after a slow start. We're eating globe artichokes, new potatoes and broad beans, accompanied at the moment by a succulent harvest of rock samphire collected from a sea wall down at Cape Cornwall last week, at the end of my The Land's Wild Magic retreat.


And now that it comes to writing up last week's outdoor retreat, I find I don't have the words for it. I think I'm still processing what was (also) for me a deepening of my lifelong relationship to this my ancestral homeland. The whole week felt both grounded, very earthy and watery, and transcendent too (was it Wendell Berry who coined the phrase 'inscendent' for the former? That's it, anyway.)

It was a hugely rich, sensory and spiritual experience, profound and (two people told me) transformative to be out walking the cliffs, to the megalithic monuments, and exploring sacred sites such as stone circles and holy wells in silence, writing as we went. This part of West Cornwall has more megalithic sites per square mile than almost anywhere in Europe (with the possible exception of parts of Brittany), and on foot you start to see what the ancient landscape would have looked like, and how the sites all interconnect.

The day before we arrived, it was sunny and clear. The day we left, it was sunny and clear. In between were gale force winds and rain – and yet we barely got wet. Times, weather conditions and sites seemed to coincide in a conspiracy of protection. The winds accompanied us – and added to the inspiration (one might say quite literally). My campervan felt as if we were out at sea all night, to borrow an image from Ted Hughes.

I was sad to find that two wells, one of which I know intimately from the past, were in a terrible state. One of them, the one I've known for decades but not visited in several years, is Madron's Well. (That's the path to it on the left.)

Some consider this well to be the Great Mother Well of the Westcountry ('Madron' is probably cognate with 'Modron', a name for the Mother Goddess of our ancestors). I can't tell you how shocked I was to experience the atmosphere of neglect and disrepair in the baptistry. This is, of course, not only symbolic of the general wasteland, inner and outer, of our times, but also requires some redress. I sense a working party coming on – outwardly but also psychically. (Look out, Wellkeepers!)

I had a good group who, if necessary, suspended their disbelief. They helped me sing to the spirit of the wells; interesting how obvious it was which wells needed which kind of song, or sounding.

I'm glad I took the group to Caer Bran, a 'masculine' site to counterbalance the many more 'feminine' sites such as the stone circles and the holy wells (I personally visited seven this time, including one I didn't know existed).

I'm glad I found Men Scryfa, the stone with an inscription that's only visible in certain lights, that I swear included the name 'BRAN', the raven god of the Celts, whose singing head is supposed to be buried at the Tower of London, where of course the ravens are a significant presence.

I'm glad to have found three wells in very good health; to have rediscovered one on the cliffs I thought I'd seen; and to have found both a new one, and one which had been lost to me for years:

The Lost Well

It's always closer than you imagine,
and simpler. All these years. So here
a step into unbelief is all it takes –
the hidden is only the secluded to the seeker.

Part the thicket of yellow irises, step
through foxgloves, and there – a drift
of shingle, tumble of ancient stones, and
her water of course the purer for being lost.

© Roselle Angwin

Which says it all.

Monday, 12 June 2017

100 words from Thea Bailey

I'm just back from a rich, profound and warming experience of a week in the company of 8 other (diverse) writers and many holy wells, cliffs, stone circles, standing stones, thorn trees, holed stones and wild weather in West Cornwall.* More of that anon; right now, I'm too close to it all to be able to speak of it.

So meantime, courtesy of Thea Bailey, is a little 100-word prose poem written in response to my request last month. Thank you, Thea.

'Drenched in sunlight, they lined our route northwards, past fields and lush, rolling hills.  Huge majestic beech tree after magnificent beech, adorned in blankets laid upon their dark and rich elegant branches, a fresh multitude of vivid greens.  And as if dipped in rosé wine, new copper colours shone, a shimmering aura of diamond light, dazzling the thick creamy white May blossoms below.  Above, stillness, as a hot blue sky melted into a golden miasma, and the ghost of a full silvery moon emerged, while a kite, her forked tail tilting, hovered at the cusp of another moment in time.'

© Thea Bailey

* 'The Land's Wild Magic' will happen again next June, 4th–10th


Friday, 2 June 2017

100-word prose poems from Chris Vermeijden

I'd forgotten where I'd posted the invitation to write, as practice, little 100-word prose poems. Turns out it was at the end of my last newsletter.

I'm delighted to post two here from Chris Vermeijden, whose many little prose poems written on my online poetry course knocked me out.


Yesterday I came back to The Island, leaving at dawn with only a small case, my two dogs and a thermos. Full throttle, I came rushing back through Tyndrum's open snow gates, barrelling my way through Glencoe in an habitual rite of passage, the sun highlighting windscreen and streams. I bridged the Kyle breaking chains as I let go of the mainland. I came back over the high moor towards home to see the sea surging to greet me, heaving across the loch in welcoming waves. This is where I become insignificant. This is where I come back to myself.

Today time moves at a different speed, the ancient earth and rock that surround me are steeped with the stories of the years, stories that are revealed slowly, piece by piece, as I become part of their ritual, learning to understand the language of their song. I sit in contemplation until dusk approaches and distant pier lights appear. The loch dons a nightgown of silk that ripples as she turns. Darkness rolls towards me from over the ridge, buffeting against the cliffs that sheer down to the sea, absorbing another day. I am so near the edge I may fall.


© Chris Vermeijden

Monday, 29 May 2017

100-word prose poems from Sheena Odle

Sheena has reminded me that way back when some time a few weeks ago I invited people to spend some little time in a favourite spot and respond in 100-word prose poems – a discipline I set for myself and others frequently. Here are Sheena's lyrical contributions:


The woods are singing spring – in cuckoo call, in the juicy green of new beech leaves, in the air that smells of growing things. Perched on a lichened log, I let the life-energy around me flow into and calm my too fidgety mind. I share my seat with tiny scurrying insects; a kaleidoscope of primroses, dog violets, celandines and sorrel lines the path. Behind me the first bluebells are opening and, as the warmth of a shaft of sunlight releases their scent, foraging bees arrive. Bird music, butterflies, all these flowers, the magical and healing trees – I feel so blessed.


Dimpsy – how I love the word, and the time of day. Between dog and wolf a world of wonder lies, as birdsong falls away and the garden holds its breath. This is a potent silence, full of unspoken meanings. The diminishing light is reborn in the petals of white columbines and roses; pale moths appear with the first stars. Now is the moment to wait, to be prepared to learn. Even harder, to believe. At threshold moments like this it seems heartbreakingly possible that we could return to something that we have lost, but know in our hearts to be ours.

© Sheena Odle

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Ragbag: poetry and prose; sea and forest; bluebell time; naming

At last. The final draft of my new poetry collection (collected poems from my 17 years leading retreats on the Isle of Iona) has gone off (by invitation) to a publisher. No guarantee she'll like it, but the process of collecting and revising has given me a serious boost at a time when my writing well, other than the work of narrative non-fiction I've been writing in Brittany, is rather dry (that's partly why there've been no blogs).


I've had a dreamy time in the Forest, especially by the local pool, and the first draft of my new book is just about there. As a contrast from sitting and thinking and typing it was a delight to discover the local voie verte, the long-distance green lane by the river, from a bicycle.

Coming back, the sea is once again a mirror; an obsidian mirror this time, black and oily despite, or because of, the haze hanging below the summer heat.

Gannets dive past the bow window where I'm sitting. Off to my left what I think is a gannet primary wing feather drifts past westering, then I realise it's another sliver of plastic off to join the great smother that is the plastic party, happening somewhere in an ocean near you.

What if we established a national group with local branches for a picking-up-plastic beach day every month? Maybe there is such a group?


Now, this May dusk, is the perfect time for TM and I to head out to the little wooded coombe on Dartmoor where we go in May each year for a spread of bluebells (they're later up on the moor) so rich their ultraviolet hurts your eyes.

We trek in a perfect luminous lilac-pink dusk along beside the beautiful brook. (My camera has packed up, so these photos are old ones.)

I love this place. It's a scrap of ancient woodland, with small birches and rowans, the pioneer trees, on the edges; in the heart of the coombe little oaks, sessile and pedunculate, much broader than they are tall, and hosting hollies and ashes in their arms, wrapped around granite boulders.

It's the only time TM does anything other than stride. I need slowness and dreaming time when I'm out walking, so it's a treat for me to stroll, to greet the trees I know so well.

As in this photo, above, the hawthorn trees are drowned in their white blossom. Some among them are pink this year – I never remember why some usually-white blossom turns pink some years – presumably to do with changing seasonal weather conditions, and minerals? If you know, I'd love your comment. (Not enough connectivity for me to check it out on the internet.)
There's a cuckoo; then another. The Dart, where the little brook joins it, has garlands of chrome-yellow gorse and broom flowers tidelining its rocks. We sit and gaze in a dream of silence for a while, until the midges drive us off our mossy rocks.
To my utter bliss, there's a small herd of feral Dartmoor ponies in the coombe. They're plump and glossy – some winters are so hard that they're bony even in May, but not this year.

Horses have played a big part in my life most of my life. I've been deprived of their regular company for 4 or 5 years now, though, and I need a dose of Horse Medicine. (There's an early blog of mine about this here.)

I sit quietly in the middle of the herd on a rock, and the bolder ones approach and sniff my face and hair.

I'm in paradise.

On a different note, I think a lot about naming: I mean the act of giving something a name. I was thinking about this as I greeted the trees, with their species' names.

On the one hand, it allows an intimacy; on the other, it stops us really seeing. (I've written various articles on this and have probably written about it somewhere in these blogs, too.)

I was dipping into a book by the non-dual teacher Adyashanti this morning, and refound this:

'The great spiritual teacher Krishnamurti once said "When you teach a child that a bird is named 'bird', the child will never see the bird again."' Adyashanti continues: 'What they'll see is the word "bird". That's what they'll see and feel, and when they look up in the sky and see that strange, winged being take flight, they'll forget that what is actually there is a great mystery. They'll forget that they really don't know what it is. They'll forget that that thing flying through the sky is beyond all words, that it's an expression of the immensity of life. It's actually an extraordinary and wondrous thing that flies through the sky. But as soon as we name it, we think that we know what it is...' (from Falling Into Grace)

The remedy? Make relationship with the small, the local, the specific. Watch it; learn its habits. Be quick to know its ways; be slow to name it.

Monday, 1 May 2017

beltane fires, obby oss & the goddess of the land

Unite and unite, oh, let us all unite –
For summer is a-coming today
And whither we are going we will all unite
In the merry morning of May.

So begins the ancient May Day song of my childhood, for the equally ancient rites of 'Obby 'Oss in Padstow, north Cornwall, as the Old Oss, a fearsome snapping black and red ‘stallion’ of winter meets his death at the hands of incoming summer on May Day evening, welcomed in today.

The Obby Oss* is led on by a dancing ‘Teaser’, who prods him – he is of course in effect a pantomime horse – with a padded stick, or wand. Behind the teaser are the drums and accordions, and the crowds – these days many thousands – sing the traditional songs. All the time the Oss makes dives into the crowd to snatch a girl or a woman to drag under his cape, in a symbolic and laughing reflection of the old fertility rites of Beltane, for some say that this ritual dates back four thousand years (others say it’s more recent).

The whole event which, in true Celtic style, begins at midnight of April 30, involves much drumming, dancing, laughing, singing and general merriment, and even though the days when it was merely an event for the locals, as when I was a child, have long gone, the general excitement and fizz of its original power still remain. The town is decorated with flowers and a maypole – phallic symbol – and in addition to the Old Oss there is now a more recent ‘Blue Oss’, as well as a ‘Children’s Oss’.

In the old calendar, the year begins at Samhain, November 1st. Beltane, in honour of Bel, the ancient sun-god, six months on, is seen as the beginning of true summer.

Traditionally, fires would be lit on the beacon hilltops, and younger people would jump over or through them to ensure fertility. Sometimes pairs of fires were lit, and cattle would be driven between them, for the same reason. (This was also traditionally the time when cattle would be turned out onto summer pasture.)

It’s hawthorn day, that heart-balancer, whose five-petalled blossom represents the Goddess.

At Sancreed Holy Well

And you, solitary waykeeper hunched by this stile

and then again standing proud by the cloutie-well, 

one among multitudes, and yet to each of you 

your own song, here on this granite peninsula

at the land’s edge where you lean to the northeast

in a slant sweep, your compactness

like the people of this land, surrendering 

to wind, to seafret and rainfall, to the deep 

lodestones of the ores beneath your roots.

Midsummer, and your spilt five-petalled blooms 

a bouquet for Her, sparks of milky light 

harvested from sun, from cloud, from the misty

rains that stroll these ancient downlands. 

To you, then, hawthorn, the secrets of guardianship 

of this land, the protection of her sacred

waters, the wisdom of yielding to the elements

without giving up the one place

where your roots are nourished into blossom.

© Roselle Angwin, Sancreed, June 2016

It would be now that the May Queen, she of the hawthorn, may blossom, as chosen representative of the Goddess of Sovereignty, the Goddess of the Land, in early times would lie with her consort, Cernunnos, the Horned One of the Greenwood. This was in order to bestow kingship, sovereignty, on him that he might make a true servant of the land.

The gift of sovereignty was always more than the right to rule over a country and its clan. It was a divine power, bestowed by the goddess of the land in the guise of a particular living woman on the king, who thereafter acted as her representative. 

In his symbolic marrying of the Goddess he was also marrying the land. It was only through such a union – either a recognised marriage or ritualised sexual encounter, but always in the spirit of the Sacred Marriage – with her that the king could rule. By joining with the goddess of the land, he in turn became profoundly connected both to the land and to its people.

One such archetypal May Queen, Queen of the Land, was Gwenhwyfar, she who bestowed kingship on Arthur.

On an inner level, this is a time to celebrate the bringing-together of our own masculine and feminine aspects, or anima and animus, ying and yang; for bringing together our inner and our outer lives. It’s time, too, to close the door of winter, for now, and welcome in the building energies of the summer months.

© Roselle Angwin 2017

* for photos, see: (the essay is slight and not entirely accurate but the pictures are true)

Monday, 24 April 2017

all our relations

I'm exhausted: two back-to-back intensive retreat weeks on the Isle of Iona, 630 miles' drive back home in a day, then hitting the ground at a gallop to try and scoop up all the undone and very overdue work immediately. In the last 12 days I've had little sleep. This means that the last thing I feel like on a Bank Holiday Monday, after just one day off, is another workshop.

But as soon as the 15 participants arrive and join the circle of chairs in our sunny and currently-unusually-neat courtyard, everything changes. I'm alert, excited, and delighted to be offering, once again, the work about which I'm so passionate: finding a way that words might help us explore, re-vision and express the experience of our connectedness with – well, All That Is.

And we begin with the silence of the singing bowl, and then a gentle attention to the many ways in which the world insinuates itself into our beings through the senses.

Immediately I drop into a calm, still, wakeful place from which I can give my best.

It's at this point that the tamest of the four local robins, who's been perching in the hydrangea immediately behind my head, skims my shoulder and lands on the boot of one of the participants. This seems to settle an extra grace on our work.

'All Our Relations' is an outdoor workshop; my favourite kind. I'm offering it to celebrate 10 years of Transition Town Totnes (the TT movement began here).

TM and I are fortunate enough as to be custodians to 2 acres of meadow, apple orchard, deciduous woodland and a big veg garden, plus some little herb and soft fruit beds (I say 'fortunate', but much of this is down to his building and planting before I arrived in his life).

Today, I'm guiding these people in a deepening of their felt and imaginal experience of the land and the rest of the natural world in this secluded spot, where buzzards tilt, hare leap, roe deer graze, a fox appears from time to time, and nuthatches and sometimes woodpeckers come to my call at the feeders.

When I originally conceived this workshop, I'd hoped that these creatures might also figure. It didn't take long, though, to realise that none of them was likely to remain still enough as to be observed and met at length. So – trees. Trees are very much in my consciousness; more particularly at the moment when the book I've been working on focuses on forest.

Trees love to be met, and encourage a kind of deep-time experience. And so, with various promptings from me, the participants meet and create relationship with one particular tree on 'our' land: the knobby oak shading the courtyard; the big holly intertwined with other species growing from an ancient Devon bank up by the holloway; a spindle; an ash; a sweet chestnut and a horse chestnut; bird cherries; and the apples, just now breaking into a foam of blossom. Then they write to and for 'their tree'.

It's beautiful for me to gently stroll around and see people in various positions: back against, bare feet upon, arms around the various trees who had, they felt, chosen them; to feel the deep repose and quiet. (Yes, OK, tree-huggers. There are worse things.)

An hour, it appeared, was far too short to be in silent conversation with a tree. A day would be better. That's good to know, as I'm planning my TONGUES IN TREES course in Brittany this autumn right now.

And then we made our contribution of words via an interwoven long poem created from everyone's lines to the 'Earth Stories' evening of Transition Town Totnes celebration on Friday last; a moving and rich time of spoken words, poetry and story, songs of wild geese and salmon, offerings made to the fire-candle altar of writings on leaves, and a final very beautiful round of 4-part chanting on Chief Seattle's 'the earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth'.


The courtyard's thick with birdsong. Over across the brook, hillsides blaze with gorse. The lanes now are almost at their cusp of fullness. We've the deep mauve of dog violet, periwinkle and early purple orchid; the ultraviolet of bluebells; dark pink and pale pink campion; white wild strawberry flowers, the stitchworts, Queen Anne's lace, jack-by-the-hedge and wild garlic in abundance; and of course the gold embroiderers: dandelion and buttercup, against the buttermilk of primroses.

Since February wild garlic has loomed large in our cooking, accompanying the last of our leeks in various dishes, added to salads with our rocket, chopped into leek, potato and nettle soup.
So here's a vegan sort-of pesto sauce for you:

1 large handful of wild garlic leaves, washed well
Half that amount of rocket
1 handful of nettle tips, picked young, stripped from the stalk and wilted for 1-2 minutes in boiling water
Whizz up together with a generous gloop of olive oil and a couple of tablespoons of pine nuts.
I added the juice from one lemon; or to taste
If you can find it, 3 tbsps of Coyo – vegan yoghurt made from coconuts – completely transforms this.

Pour onto hot or cold vegetables, or stir into pasta; dip fresh warm bread into it. 

Friday, 14 April 2017

word temple

Just back from the Isle of Iona and my two weeklong retreats, I find I have no words as yet for the profundity of the experience. Instead, I want to write a few words on poetry that I'd intended to post before I left.

I should say that I'm in a poetry-trough at the moment – not as in 'feeding like a pig' but as in the lull between two big waves. It's been two years since my own poetry-well was really brimming, and as long since I was deeply inspired, except once or twice, by new poetry that I've read.

I expect it mostly says something about me and my own processes: perhaps I'm simply worded-out for the moment, although my Forest book – when I get the time to work on it – is moving ahead well; just not so much poetry.

I also have a sneaking feeling, however, that after a lifelong immersion in poetry, and many years of teaching it, what I'm increasingly looking for is that left-field surprise: poems that set me aflame, that enliven and catapult or seduce me into new ways of seeing and being; and frankly there aren't that many of those. This of course doesn't mean that there isn't plenty of good poetry – there is; and it might simply suggest that the romance of discovering new poets and ways of making words sing together is, like romantic love, a phase, and that I'm well settled into the quotidian experience of co-habiting with poetry.

What triggered the thoughts below was a comment from someone about the heartfelt and 'true' but nonetheless safe and predictable poems I had tended towards posting in my LOST SPECIES series.

Well, the focus was on the subject matter, and I wasn't looking for tricksy self-important poems but ones that conveyed the urgency of the issues raised. 

To which, of course, an answer might be that a poem can do both: speak of important things and make us see anew through the art of its making.

Anyway, these are the scribbles I'd made a few weeks ago in seconds, just retrieved from the back of an envelope in the recycling box under my desk:

Chase Twichell said that poetry is not about cleaning the windows but about breaking the glass.

Poetry is arguably offering a threshold from feeling to meaning.

Poetry's job is to wake us up.

Poetry is perhaps the closest words get to profound silence.

Some say the Chinese word for poetry is made from the characters for 'word' and 'temple' (others say it's 'word' and, variously, pile/heap/ritual/feet/beat/aspiration/eunuch/song).

A poem needs to set up a fizz on the tongue like sherbet.

It needs to be a lightning bolt.

It needs to change us, no matter how slightly.

It needs to set up collisions and resonances that carry on ringing.

It needs to be the gap that is a lost filling that your tongue probes over and over.

It needs to be that thing you find under a stone that needs to be kissed before its truth can be revealed.

It needs to be one of those Chinese paper water flowers.

It needs to be that 7th sister of the Pleaides that you only see by looking away.

It needs to balance on the cliff of the heart.

A poem needs to set up in the mind a stormcloud of questions, then it needs to run away into the rain before you've quite grasped it.

A poem needs to be a new land.

Other than that, it's simple: 'the best words in the best order'...

Monday, 3 April 2017

storms, leaky tents and foraging in february

I’m in that cosy potentially-creative place between having waved off the first group of my ISLANDS OF THE HEART retreatants on the Isle of Iona (earlier than intended for some of them, as the ferry crossings from the mainland have been on amber alert for 48 hours), but (most of) the second have yet to arrive – weather and ferries permitting. I’ve had two whole days to write, and yesterday I carried on redrafting my Forest book, sadly neglected this year.

My room is snug from the hotel's air-source heatpump, there’s a new dressing table that serves as a writing desk, and rain and wind are whipping the Sound into a grey-green frenzy. The oystercatchers, gannets and gulls have all disappeared, apart from one lone gull cruising very close to shore below me. Rain is chucking itself at the window and I don’t feel much of my usual compulsion to get out into it, for once. All boats bar the small dinghies that are their tenders have been taken to the Bull Hole, behind the Island of Women, for safety.

In the lounge below me a child is picking out chopsticks on one finger on the piano.

Today was to be another writing day. A publisher has reminded me that she’d like to look at a(n) ms of my Iona poems, written over 18 years now but uncollected. You don’t get that kind of offer every day.

It’s actually turned out to be an eating day, so far. Lunchtime, and I have a double burden of guilt. (Triple, in fact, as I spent much of the morning both eating and drinking, and being distracted by emails, facebook, twitter in addition to not writing.)

I’m going to blame it on Dan Boothby’s book on Gavin Maxwell’s lighthouse island – you remember Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water? – Island of Dreams. It’s absorbing, and a very good method of procrastination. 

In it, Boothby speaks of his time hitching north into the wild places with no money, no food, no shops, and a shaky tent in precarious Scottish weather. Oh, I used to find that so exciting! (Not any more, though; the idea of starving in a leaky tent, or under a mere tarp, in a midgey place with no prospect of food or dryness and no money to find either is no longer romantic for me. I must be growing up. I’m enjoying my snug room here with the weather on the outside, not inside, of my sleeping place.)

It’s reminded me of a time when my then-boyfriend and I decided we were going to take a break from university and hitch to a forest in Scotland and live off the land for three weeks. In February. The plan was to forage and tickle trout, though neither of us knew anything about the habits of trout, and as it turned out of course there was very little of anything to forage that time of year other than pine needles.

I have a photo somewhere. S has long hair. Me too, and I’m wearing an Afghan coat (remember those?), green boots and a long skirt that was more patch than skirt (I actually wore it, along with barefeet and green hair – this is back in the  mid-70s – to my interview for Cambridge a year before in the hopes they’d turn me down as my previous boyfriend and I were embarked on a project to live à quatre on a Hebridean island being self-sufficient; to which end I’d been learning plant-dyeing, spinning, weaving, knitting, pottery and drystone wall building, as well as herbal lore and animal husbandry including milking and making butter and cheese. He’d said if I got in and went to Cambridge we’d split up. I did and we did.)

In the photo S and I both have small rucksacks and I’m carrying slung over my shoulder what turned out to be an extremely insufficient sleeping bag which I’d bought for a fiver in the local Army & Navy store. (The first thing I bought with my next grant – those were the days – was a very good sleeping bag as part of my running-away kit. It lasted, the sleeping bag, about 20 years.) Instead of a tent, we had a decorators' plastic sheet as a tarp. Practical, I was, as you can see.

We allowed ourselves to take along a bag of oatmeal and a few oranges and many books. I lasted about 3 days before cracking, and talked S into coming with me on a very long hike to find a shop, where the chocolate we bought with some of the few coins we had tasted so good.

Anyway, here I am snug, well fed – too well fed today – and er honestly about to start collating all those many poems. And ‘they’ tell me the weather is due to improve in time for the second group to arrive tomorrow.

Friday, 31 March 2017

IONA: even the rain

It’s barely light, there’s a small squall in the Sound, and the wind rips the gulls’ keenings past my window as I lie in bed with the curtains open on the tin-sheen of the dawn, watching the way – so close – breaking daylight plays the fractured tips of the waves.

I’m in love already with it all, once again as every day, even the rain.

This is the best kind of day: watching Neil, next-generation islander still at school when I led my first retreat here, steer his little top-heavy one-man crabber with its mast-lights out to the stormy sea, knowing that I don’t have to.

Of course there is an edge to my pleasure: the sea is always more powerful than us, and young men have died, not so long ago, in this Sound. Plus he’s bringing in crab and lobster to be boiled alive before being eaten by humans – something in which I’ve chosen not to participate myself. But my ancestors were seafarers, fishermen (and lifeboatmen) among them, and there’s always a frisson that spells excitement and danger mixed in me at seeing this tradition continued, pleasure that there are still small family working boats, sometimes single-handed, in a time of factory farming and factory fishing. And it’s local, and fresh, food, harvested in the face of danger.

And I can lie here warm, safe, listening to the ocean’s restlessness, noting an island thrush proclaiming Iona home.

Then to get up and write. And how to write of the tenderness I feel towards these twelve people so willing to trust all they are to the work we do together, to feel their way back to belonging in their own boots, in their own hearts, with each other, in this whole vast web?

And I think again what a fine and delicate act we perform, highwire we tread, when we learn at last to give responsibility for our own life to nothing and no-one else, while remembering the most important lesson: we are made of all this; we are part of all that is; everything has a place; everything counts; everything matters, yes, including us.

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