Solstice Spring Blessing

Blessing Sharpthorne SpringToday is the Winter Solstice, the day the sun stands still, waiting. The year hangs poised on it’s fulcrum, about to turn us once again into lengthening days and the long journey back towards the light. Today felt subterranean. Beneath a sky of grey lace, Kevin and I found ourselves on a hill beside a spring near the village of Sharpthorne, Sussex. We were there with seer and shaman, Wind Singer to bless and honour the waters, a slightly different way for me to spend the shortest day of the year.

Blessing Sharpthorne Spring

Chalybeate Spring near Sharpthorne

A Water Goddess

There is something I have always found special about bodies of water and rivers and springs are no different. Springs have been honoured for millenia – where there’s fresh water straight from the ground, it is life-giving and carries the note of the rock from where it issues, iron or other minerals which are beneficial. The waters of many springs were – and still are – believed to heal. The spring we visited today is a chalybeate spring. The word chalybeate derives from the latin word for steel which originally comes from the Greek word khalups, single for Chalybes, a mythical people who founded iron working from Mount Ida in Anatolia and where, incidently, Cybele, an Anatolian Mountain, Mother Goddess was worshipped.

In the russet landscape beneath an intensifying sky, We stood in a triangle around the spring pool. Bubbles rose up to the clear surface periodically – it seemed to be alive. Wind Singer felt the landscape energies and led the blessing. We laid holly for the male, mistletoe for the female and ivy for the light. And then we placed a woven square of twine beside the pool and scattered flowers on its surface to drift above the last water boatmen. I put my hands into the water and was surprised by its warmth and softness.

We will revisit this little spring and would like to give it a name. Something to do with Cybele perhaps, or iron or even a still, frozen sun.

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Moving Below Vulture Rock

Blue tit, tree creeper, bullfinch;
fallen acorns and the dry crunch of dwarf oak leaves;
scent of lemon and lavender as I wade through cloud fields
flower husks, the dry, deadhead suns of Autumn,
burnished mists, soft on the gaze.

A cricket zips past with a flash of blue sky in its wings;
a praying mantis strikes a combative pose on the path, quizical, as I walk past lonely ruins,
rocks that could be sacred.
And above me, vultures caress the currents and gather on the pink-grey vulture rock of vulture cliff.

What is the land saying?
It sloughs off Summer insignificantly,
in layers and earth warming browns,
in shards and bones,
in dry, bone trees in skeletal stances,
twisted and rattling,
abrasive and catching at my trousers.
Birds flit from tree to tree,
tick tick, tack, tack…
browns, honey, straw colours, beiges…
Even the snake wears beige.

In this basin of rock outcrops,
place of layers and silence,
shades of blue fade to more watery, distant, blues,
a valley of liquid air,
a valley I fall into with my gaze,
that I could almost swim into if I reached out…

I am the cliff,
I am the vulture,
I swim the valley and push to fly;
I am the knarled tree,
the scissoring cricket,
the lizard’s liquid escape,
the overarching sky.

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Exploring the River Adur, Boats and Wrecks

River Adur in MistRecently I added a couple of papier mache bowls to my Folksy shop featuring A Letter At Twilight and Dancing at Sunset designs which I had originally made into cards. I thought about the series of photographs that I used to overlay my illustrations, they’re of the River Adur and were taken one evening in November 2011 when the sea mists were rolling in. We lingered for a while, chasing deeper into the mists as the sun went down. It was very atmospheric.

I thought it would be interesting to explore the River Adur a little, to know a bit more about one of the four main rivers of Sussex. So recently, Kevin and I started our investigation at Shoreham where the River Adur finds the sea.

A wreck that I’d seen featured on a paranormal website, intrigued me and I wanted to find it. According to local legend, the wreck was once a fishing vessel that became caught on the rocks during a massive storm in 1893. It is said to be haunted by a group of shadowy figures who seem to be trying in vain to dislodge the boat. They are said to be the boat owner’s family, destitute after the stranding. The nearby footbridge, built in 1781 as a Tollbridge and now a Grade 2 listed building, is also supposedly haunted by a certain “Blue Lady”.  This stirred my interest a bit as I paint blue “ladies”, but I haven’t been able to find out any more of the story.

Wrecked Boat Shoreham

Wreck at Shoreham

The Blue Lady of The Old Shoreham Footbridge

River Adur Mudbank

Carving in St Nicolas' Church

Green Man?

 

We wandered over the bridge looking upriver where a tongue of mud shaped like a cuttlefish harbours gulls, ringed plover and cormorants open winged like phoenixes towards the sun. Apparently there are over 30 words for “mud” in the old Sussex dialect, from thick mud, “slub”, to “smeery”, wet and sticky mud. The muddy silt of estuaries with mudbanks is supposed to be rich and fertile – full of lugworms and the other life like soup – it shifts and rearranges the land, laying it down and sculpting it in a kind of peripheral dance. A swan signet of beige smudges passed beneath us and I thought about the beautiful work of India Flint and her times spent beside rivers, collecting, dyeing, writing and musing. Over the bridge, we watched a murmuration of starlings over Shoreham airport swirl and pulsate like ink dropped into water. We passed a World War II pillbox beside the path crammed with vegetation and junk; this was becoming an interesting, “Edgelands” experience. (Check out a review of the book, Edgelands, and an interesting radio programme by the poet authors.)

Our wanderings took us to nearby St Nicolas’ Church first built around 900 AD. At first I thought, just another church, but inside a few things caught my eye. First, one of the turret windows smudged green by the foliage outside pressing in against the glass as though seeking a light within, and then, amongst decorative stonework of limpet shapes, a few, charming carvings of heads – could one be a green man? – a cat mask and elf carvings too. There were hints of a maritime nature in the church and graveyard that I liked.

River Adur Gull Mud

Over another bridge, the Shoreham Houseboats came into view; well into Edgelands territory now. It is a smorgeborg of wonderful junk put to elaborate and creative use. I had little idea the place was so interesting and artistically inspiring; we saw a group of sketchers with eyes cast out over the mudflats and boats. The flotsam and jetsum of defunct war shells, sheds-on-stilts, a boat made using half a bus, ropes and tyres, log-piles galore, walkways of flower pots, children’s toys, bicycles,…I half expected to see a figurehead or two.Peace One Day Shell

A Shoreham Houseboat

A Shoreham Houseboat

Today I visited an exhibition at Fabrica here in Brighton called Reef by the artist Simon Faithfull and collaborators. It is a poetic exploration of the idea of collapse and renewal. Back in August, an old fishing vessel, the Brioney Victoria, that had reached the end of its human use, was ritually set fire to and sunk off the south coast at Weymouth in Dorset. It was rigged with five cameras that transmited underwater footage of the wreck for 6 days showing the first signs of colonisation by other, non human life. The artist wanted to witness something that was once part of our human world of appointments and schedules, enter a new ecosystem, a world of which it will be a part for hundreds of years, part of geological time. With Reef, he wanted to create a portal into this “other paralell universe” in the murky green depths of the sea. Reef by Simon FaithfullReef Exhibition

A film of the boat being set alight was displayed on a large screen in the darkened church that is Fabrica. The clock – that no longer works – is set at the time the boat sank. Below there are smaller screens where films play of underwater scenes described as of a “deep mournful green colour”. Alien or pea green soup came to my mind or a haunting pea green soup. Bubbling, glugging, muffled underwater sounds emanate from the screens. I like the whole idea of the project and that the boat will become an artificial reef, but I was slightly disappointed in the display; I don’t much like tv screens as display units.

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Working on a New Booklet

Drawing desk

My makeshift desk where I work. I like to sit on the floor rather than at a table.

I seem to be continuing the woods and trees theme this year with my new booklet. This time it’s a story, a kind of folktale and I like to describe it as a “tale from the forest” and it’s called The Memory Tree. It is taking time though, already I have worked on several drafts and done many pictures – some for a colour version which I’ve decided to shelve for the moment.

However, I thought I’d show one or two pictures from the tale, a colour spread of a forest scene and it’s equivalent in black and white (the one I’ll use for the book) and a picture of the main character, a girl named Echo.

Night Scene in Colour

Night Scene Black and White

Girl in Leaves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While she slumbered, a dream came to Echo, a dream of tree spirits and creatures she had never seen, watching, waiting, spying and humming in the darkness around her. It was a dream too, of forgetfulness, her tree, her garden, her parents and her past seeped away into the darkness as she slept.

Trees, woods and forests are so important to me. I need to take frequent trips out to the woods and it has been particularly lovely walking out in the Autumn woods recently, just before the storms hit and the blustery weather made its debut. Here is a favourite tree at Markstakes Common where we walked recently. It’s a large, spreading oak that’s been climbed in and well loved over time. All the woodland and forest visits I’ve made around the world – from woods like this to rainforests in Costa Rica – are distilled into my little story making the forest in it a lush, fictious kingdom from anywhere and nowhere, a forest of my imagination.

Oak at Markstakes Common

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New Paintings and a Pop Up Shop

The Forest Rises detailThe Forest RisesGoddess of the VineWater MaidensHere’s an update on the painting front – and back into the world of blue.

In Brighton, there’s a new Pop Up Gallery next door to Retail Therapy where I sell cards and various other creations. Back in August I was invited to display some of my large paintings on reclaimed scaffolding board. I welcomed the invite and painted two new boards in acrylic, Goddess of the Vine and The Forest Rises.

I also gave a large, acrylic canvas called Water Maidens (Emerging in the gallery) which has undergone various incarnations and now features two “Water Spirits” inspired by the Russian legends of Rusalka. ( These are fish women who were said to live at the bottom of rivers and lakes and bring fertility to the land in Springtime. Some thought them to be the souls of young women who had died beside the waters. I’d like to explore these legends further…) Looking at the painting obliquely one can see the relief created by the scrim and oak leaves I added for texture.

To my surprise and pleasure, the first two paintings sold quite quickly and journeyed up to Derbyshire apparently. The gap they left needed to be filled, so I gave two more painted boards, my Moanna, River Goddess – she’s well acqainted with the River Cuckmere – and one called Mother Nature both of which had been happily guarding my living-room. (See the photo with both either side of a lamp in the gallery.)

Ten days later and Mother Nature acquired a new home. So back to painting I went and created another two goddess board paintings that are currently on sale in the gallery, Wings of a Dove and Butterfly Maiden.

The imagery for the paintings just comes to me. I’m not looking for anything typically symbolic, I guess I just like doves, vines, waves, macaws and butterflies – morpho butterflies of the tropical Americas especially! I am influenced by shamanic art and traditional religious art too and I think of the paintings as sort of totem poles or stelae, without the grave association :)

Butterfly MaidenWings of a DoveGuardians in Retail Therapy

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Hummingbird

Hummingbird has entered my life. I’m not quite sure what I think of Spirit Animals, Animal Totems, Western Shamanism, I try and keep an open mind about it all and find myself drawn to it sometimes.

Feathers

From left to right: 3 tawny owl, feral pigeon, carrion crow, 2 magpie, herring gull, 4 jay, 2 buzzard, pheasant and an unknown.

I’m always interested in animals and wildlife, although this rarely creeps into this blog. A jackdaw has taken to frequenting the scaffolding outside my bedroom window; we were curious about each other. Sometimes it feels as though nature/wildlife has a message and that I should listen. I’ve found myself collecting feathers from woodland paths and even the street. Recently I found a buzzard feather and now I actively search for them – owl, jay, woodpecker – any feather of any bird. Summer may be the best time to find feathers when birds are moulting, but now is OK as well. Feathers give me a tangible link to the natural world; I even had a dream about one. I’m being drawn to birds, to the sky, to flight and freedom.

So often I’ve thought (symbolically) that my “wings” are torn and broken and however much I wish to “take off”, I can’t. It is a sort of freedom I seek, but something has always held me back or down.

My first experience of hummingbirds was in a garden in Mexico. The bird came quietly like an apparition to visit some red blooms – probably hibiscus flowers. It seemed as though it was an uncanny link with an “Otherworld” at the time, as though this was a special, silent messenger. I’ll never forget the memory.

Hummingbird

Hummingbird on reclaimed wood block.

I mentioned another hummingbird encounter in a piece of writing recently published in the magazine Earthlines:

“…After a few minutes I hear a noise, more like a vibration than something audible, coming from my left. It is like feline purring, a soft tinnitus, another sound in this place of voices. A fragment of the forest’s heart splinters off and a tiny hummingbird comes into view unlocked from its own chasm of sound, beating within its own silent bubble.

A coil of memory, recalling a poem by D. H. Lawrence, spools out in my mind,

‘Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.’

The bird hangs needle sharp, chest out, suspended in a brief blur of wings, threading the air. No brilliance here, more like a moth it hovers, patiently in the half light. But, there’s something misplaced, unravelled, something lost and found in the single, graceful poise of this tiny bird fluttering like an off key note against some invisible membrane.

I feel privileged to be caught in a moment with this bird. When the Sun seeks the Moon, says Mayan legend, it becomes a hummingbird. I feel like the moon, feel as though the bird has a message from another world just for me. The moment passes and the White Bellied Emerald is gone, disappeared into the gloom.”

Now I’m painting hummingbirds. And not just in blues! So much of my painting is in blues and turquoises – that I love – but I’ve broken the blue spell and want to paint in yellows and maroons and golds and ….

According to various sources, hummingbirds can symbolize many things – energy, joy, perseverance, flexibility, Eternity and Infinity. Apparently hummingbird wings flutter in a figure of eight, the symbol of Infinity. Hummingbirds appear playful and light encouraging enjoyment of life and positivity. I do feel joy, after sometime of shadow, should I trust it I ask myself…

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Virgin Film 2

Photo from Virgin FilmIn a previous post, here, I mentioned a project by Megan Hollingsworth that involved creating a film called “Virgin“. Megan put the project out there for crowdfunding. Now the film has been made and can be seen here.

Megan quotes the Palo Alto Medical Foundation:

“Virgin was a label of strength and independence by being used to describe the goddesses who were immune to the temptations of Dionysus, Greek god of seduction and wine. Virginity was once a term of power.”

The film is a gentle, eloquent plea. It begins with some haunting singing which has something primeval, archaic about it; I imagine forests of trees that have been standing for centuries, even millenia. They have witnessed so much time in their long lives. The film is a plea to protect them, to spare them the savage devastation that has wrecked so much of the natural world. Megan calls, sings, recites from the depths of her heart and from her past with a poignant passion. She feels keenly for forest destruction and feels the invasion into the lands of uncontacted, tribal people, as a violation of herself. Her boundaries, her body and her being were once violated; now she can say “No”.

The words are simple and beautiful, the film, a filmpoem. It takes courage to speak out and create something beautiful from a terrible experience, and send it, as a plea, into the world.

Extinction Witness supports many of the organisations that mean a lot to me: Survival International, Pachamama Alliance and others.

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Long Barrows

Belas Knap with Kevin

Belas Knap

Continuing the subterranean theme, on a recent trip to Gloucestershire I visited a couple of long barrows with my partner. Walking part of the Cotswolds Way we came upon Belas Knap Long Barrow, an elongated mound which can be seen from quite a long distance away. From the side it is triangular in shape, rucked up from the earth. We approached it on a path the colour of terracota.

Belas Knap Side Chamber

Belas Knap Side Chamber

Belas Knap with False Entrance

Belas Knap with False Entrance

Belas Knap – possibly meaning “Beautiful Hill” – is Neolithic, 5500 years old and is, indeed, a beautiful hill; marbled white butterflies flit amongst the field scabious and red clover flowers. It is a rounded, elongated mound – the earth’s pregnant belly – and has a “false” entrance and four cave-like side chambers where 38 human skeletons have been found entombed within this womb of earth. The small chambers, with neatly layered dry stone walls, make adequate shelter from the elements if one enters on hands and knees.

Boat to the Afterlife

Boat to the Afterlife

According to Robert John Langdon,  the area was once a land of water and long lost rivers, and the long barrows may have been “Boats to the Afterlife”. It’s a beautiful, but controversial, idea. It was later, during the time of the Vikings in Anglo-Saxon Britain, that the dead were buried within real, wooden boats intended for the Afterlife – Ship Burials.

Uley Long Barrow Entrance

Uley Long Barrow Entrance

Uley Long Barrow Chamber

Uley Long Barrow Chamber

The other Neolithic long barrow we visited was Uley Long Barrow just off the Cotswold Way. It is also called Hetty Pegler’s Tump after the wife of the seventeenth century landowner where the long barrow is situated. This long barrow can be entered and its interior chambers explored.

Inside it was dark, musty, silent. The interior chambers were coal black so I set my camera to flash and took a photo; it was like entering a cave. Were the ancients trying to replicate caves in an otherwise cave-free landscape? I shouted into the void but my voice died on my lips, muffled and lost in the blackness. It felt close, slightly oppressive – I could almost feel the weight of rock and earth above. There was I within the womb of peace, the resting, liminal place of ancestors. Perhaps a place to commune with their spirits and acknowledge death. I pondered a moment and felt, ever-so-slightly, my materiality, my sense of self, dissolving into the velvet darkness about me.

Some long barrows have acoustic properties and I’m reminded of a programme on Radio 4 last year called Noise, A Human History by Professor David Hendy. In two episodes, he explored the acoustics of stone circles and caves. Sounds, or their absence, may have played an important role in making these sites sacred.

In some studies of Neolithic burial chambers, it has been found that during acoustic experiments, researchers experienced deep trance-like states and drumming vibrations were enhanced within the chambers.

“[West Kennet Long Barrow] was never just a tomb, it was a liminal crossing place, where shamans journeyed to ancestral realms for knowledge and healing”. Peter Knight

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Dreams, Crypts and Grottos

A few nights ago I had a dream that made an impression on me. In the dream, I was involved in a centenary project concerned with a crypt. My role was to update the crypt website. The crypt had a story, a legend involving a seventeenth century woman who would steal down into the crypt perhaps to meet her lover (?) One night the crypt flooded and the woman persished. Her ghost walks the crypt to this day.

Dream Ghost in Grotto

The woman in the dream is, perhaps, a part of me, the crypt may symbolize or the unconcious, the hidden vaults, rooms, labyrinths of my mind. And that it is flooded? – I often dream of water – the sea, rivers, estuaries, swimming pools – emotions, the unconcious or memories. Centenary? … well, a hundred years ago, the First World War had just begun.

Dream Ghost in Grotto 2

Shell Grotto Lizard

I made some sketches of my dream but what illustrates it best are a couple of montages I made with an old illustration and photographs that I took when visiting the Shell Grotto in Margate in 2012.

The Shell Grotto is an amazing and mysterious place with an unknown origin. It may date back 3000 years. Some wonder whether it was made by the Knights Templar. The shells decorating the walls are all of local origin but some of the designs are similar to those of ancient Phoenicia and it is thought that the name of the Isle of Thanet, once an island where Margate now lies, derives from the Phoenician goddess Tanit. Could this be a temple to the goddess?

The grotto walls are encrusted with shells in patterns of turtles, flowers, Gods and Goddesses, phalluses, planets, wombs, skeletons and there is what looks like an altar and a skylight, the only source of natural light. One theory proposes that the Grotto imagery symbolizes a journey from Birth through Life and Death to the Afterlife. One walks down into the grotto along passageways until one arrives at the main Altar Chamber. It is mysterious, magical and quite overlooked in a way.

Shell Grotto Altar

The grotto suits the dream well although it’s not a crypt. The woman ghost or goddess of my dream wanders sea shelled passageways throughout the centuries.

Sound II

I googled flooded crypts and seventeenth century ghosts to build a story. I found lovely images of Winchester Cathedral crypt that floods at certain times of year. In Winchester Cathedral crypt stands an Anthony Gormley sculpture of a man contemplating water in his cupped hands; it’s called Sound II. Anthony Gormley believes that there is a connection between memory and the basic physical elements of the world. He wondered whether it is possible to make something fresh like dew or frost, “something that just is, as if its form had always been like this”. I think the flooded crypt and sculpture beautiful. (Image of Sound II by David Spender.)

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Two New Paintings

I was really pleased to sell my Water Goddess tryptich recently. And on the same day I had a commission to paint a version of Sun Dancer that I sold a few years ago. This was good encouragement to get some more paintings out there. Here are my latest, a River Goddess painting and another version of Siren:

River Goddess

Siren 2

River Goddess is on sale in Goddess Temple Gifts in Glastonbury and Siren 2 is in the Park View pub, Brighton.

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