Category Archives: Sacred living

Lammas apples


Working in an office and living in an apartment, nonetheless I try to spend time out under the sky at the weekends and especially at those points of the year where the wheel turns. Tomorrow is Lammas, the first harvest festival of the year.

Where I live we have a wonderful rural life museum built in the house and lands of a Victorian farm, and staffed almost entirely by volunteers. (Have you ever noticed how most volunteers are at or close to retirement? I wonder if the number of volunteers overall is shrinking as we age and die, or if the volunteer workforce is replenished constantly by more “oldies” coming through the ranks.)


I visited the museum today, and sat on this very bench in the sunshine.

The last few weeks, life in the world has seemed so bleak, so almost unendurable that I expect like many of us, it’s taken all my resolution to look at the news each morning to see what latest act of large terror or small meanness has occurred.

What this means to me is that the little things of beauty are not little at all, they are of huge importance. So I’m choosing to focus on the bounty of everything around me at this festival time. Here in the museum’s Victorian garden, lavender plants are smothered in bees, a rosemary bush leaves its astringent scent on my hands when I brush against it, beans are ready for the picking. And the fruit trees are swelling ripely. Not quite ready yet to be harvested but only a few weeks away, like the apple tree in my photo.

Lammas blessings to all.


Light and darkness

Lofoten, Norway

‘What does he sing of?’ Arren asked the mage… ‘Of the grey whales, and the albatross, and the storm…’ (from The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin)

Beyond my window as I write this, a dramatic fire-streaked sunset is submitting slowly to the darkness of the longest night: Winter Solstice.

In Ursula Le Guin’s book The Farthest Shore, the prince Arren and the mage Sparrowhawk witness the Long Dance, performed on the longest night each year by the Children of the Open Sea. Far out beyond any land, they live on rafts, swimming like dolphins, joyful and alive. All of the longest night, they dance by torchlight, and the chanter sings, tirelessly, until dawn.

But the story tells of magic being sucked from the world by one man’s fear of mortality, leading to madness, namelessness, and to the death of dragons. And so the chanter falters in his song, for he can no longer remember the words.

Every year has its share of horror and harrowing events, but 2014 seems to have taken a sharp twisting turn towards inhumanity. I feel that hardness and lack of compassion in myself, often, sitting like a stone in my heart. Not to the extent that I could conceive of, for example, killing children in their classrooms, but I sometimes wonder how many steps away that might be for each of us. What events and convictions might make us feel that torture is acceptable, that mass kidnaps and rape are legitimate political weapons, that it’s somehow alright for carers to abuse people who are elderly or have disabilities, that buying ivory when elephants are being hunted to bloody extinction for profit is just a trinket.

I wonder if, at this sacred time, we can look openly into the darkness and find some answers there.

And I also wonder if we can find the joy in our lives. Sometimes we feel guilty about our experiences of joy, about our laughter, when so much is going on that is terrible. But that’s when we need to own our joy the most. It keeps us truly human and holy – in its original sense of being whole.

At the darkest time, try closing your eyes, and look within. In the distance is a tiny pearl of flame. This is the sun within you. As you breathe, the solstice sun grows in power; reaching out its rays, it touches your heart, bringing life, and renewal. May its blessings fill you with light. (from The Winter King by Danu Forest)


Of bats, quiet, and a full moon

Full moon

Last night was the long awaited Friday 13th full moon.

I’ve been so conscious lately of the sheer noise of life. By which, of course, I don’t mean only physical noise, although there’s plenty of that. There’s so much pressing in on us, so many day-to-day demands, terrible things happening in the world that simultaneously frighten us and in demanding our attention and action serve only to make us feel powerless.

I wonder if, as we grow older, we yearn more and more for longer spaces of “cool, quiet and time to think” (from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song Passionate Kisses).

Last night was a good time for cool and quiet. I celebrated it in a number of ways.

First, candlelight, incense and poetry:

Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,
Great, hollow, bell-like flowers,
Rumbling in the wind,
Stretching clappers to strike our ears . . .
Full-lipped flowers
Bitten by the sun
Bleeding rain
Dripping rain like golden honey—
And the sweet earth flying from the thunder.

Storm Ending, by Jean Toomer

And then at 10 p.m. I went to sit outside in the garden, with my cat, in the near darkness (because of course as we in the North swing ever higher in the circle towards the longest day, the darkness isn’t quite total).

I took in great gusts of scent from the subtly different greens of the plants and of the air, charged and fresh after a brief shower of rain. I felt the nubbly wood of my chair beneath my fingers. I listened to the faint sounds of distant traffic, the shuffling of some small unknown animal in the undergrowth. I saw the faint fluttering of tiny moth bodies around the tops of my gloriously overgrown bramble bushes.

Then: black against the dark sky I saw a small, fast-wheeling shape. You know, I’m 60 years old and never before in my life had I seen a hunting bat. It was a glorious feeling. I watched it come and go for an hour, keenly aware that because of it, there were sounds in the air well beyond the range of my human hearing.

That awareness of things beyond my human senses stayed with me as I stood, stretched my arms to the sky and felt my bare feet rooted in the ground. I slept very soundly, comforted by  the moon and the bat and the quiet.

How do you invite quiet into your life?

Full moon photo: Rachel Kramer

Is yours an Earth Pathway?

Each year, I get a copy of the most beautiful diary you can possibly imagine. Called Earth Pathways, it is chock-full of poetry and other magical words, art work and festivity. Each day has the phases of the moon and sunrise and sunset times, and the festivals which mark the turning wheel of the year. (Northern hemisphere.)

A little while ago, Annie at Earth Pathways contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in writing about them here, and of course I jumped at the chance. We decided to publish in the form of an interview.

And I have two copies of the 2014 diary to give away! For the chance to win one, just leave a comment on this post telling us why you’d like a copy. I’ll put all the names in a hat and will draw out two winners next Monday, 11th November.

Here’s the Earth Pathways interview – such richness:

1. Describe the Earth Pathways diary in six adjectives!

  • EP Inner Cover-page-001 Inspirational
  • Informative
  • Visionary
  • Sumptuous
  • Celebratory
  • Love-full (a newly created adjective!)

2. What are the driving ideas and themes?

Our strapline is ‘Inspiring our connection to the land’ and the diary is very much about our deep love and passion for these isles and our collective vision for a future that is sustainable, fair and that benefits all. It was hugely important to us to celebrate the work of UK writers and artists who shared our vision and we’re still amazed by the most wonderful and inspirational contributions we receive every year.

We wanted the diary to be a networking resource that would inspire all those living with awareness and care for our beautiful Earth. And we also wanted to encourage people to get out there and connect with the land, to really tune in to these special times, create their own rituals and love song to the Earth.

EP Out of the earth-page-001Because connecting deeply to the land is at the heart of all we do, we decided that we would use the cycle of the seasons and the Celtic Wheel of the Year as the structure and context to place all of the diary’s artwork and writing. We also include Moon phases and signs, sunrise and sunset times, moonrise and moonset times and some astrological information for the UK.

As a co-operative, we see community and community-building as essential to making the changes so important to the future of our Earth, which is OUR future, the future of our children and of generations to come. So you will also find in the diary information and inspiration from community-led initiatives such as the Transition Town movement, Permaculture and other eco pioneers.

We use some of the profits from the diary to help projects that benefit the Earth through local community initiatives. Since 2011 we have given funding to educational courses focussing on Nature, biodiversity and wildlife, funded a bursary placement for a herbalism course and made grants to various community gardens and allotments. Most recently we have made awards to an animal rescue centre, a community garden’s bee project, Wool against Weapons, a forest garden and a Sacred Grove project.

3. The diary is full to bursting with beautiful words and images – where do you find your contributors?

EP Soil-page-001For our first diary we tapped into our personal networks. Between us we knew lots of friends who were artists so we just put the word out and had a fantastic response. Each year since we have invited submissions of artwork and writing from anyone who shares our love of this land and our vision of positive change. You don’t have to be a professional artist or writer. All submissions need to be with us by October 31st each year and we look at each and every one of them! Details of how to submit work can be found on our website and in the diary itself.  We offer all contributors to the diary a 40 word profile and a free diary for each contribution published, plus the opportunity to buy copies of the diary at a cheap rate for the year they are in the diary. We felt in this way we were fostering the spirit of co-operation and that it would be a way of us ‘giving something back’ to them.

4. What would you say to people who believe paper diaries are an endangered species in these days of smartphones etc?

EP Woodland-page-001We reckon paper diaries are much easier and quicker to use than an app, plus they’re hard to mislay, unlike a smartphone! And they never need charging up … More than that, our diary is quite simply a visual delight and offers something beautiful and inspiring to look at EVERY day and that’s even before you write in it. You can somehow immerse yourself in a paper diary like ours in a way that you can’t with a flat screen phone app.

Our diary users tell us that the diary speaks to them in more ways than just telling the date or sunrise times. Our diaries are hugely personal. Each edition is unique and makes a lovely reference point to what our users were moved by in previous editions. Unlike an online app, you can simply pick up a past year’s diary, look through and be inspired all over again. It’s a tactile thing too, there’s something about the touch of (recycled) paper that feels more personal than a plastic case, and something about using a pen and paper that stimulates creativity, be it capturing spontaneous thoughts or simply doodling.

5. Who makes the diary happen each year, and how did you get started?

EP Owl-page-001The diary was the ‘vision’ of  Glennie Kindred and Jaine Rose and it began about 6 years ago following a conversation they had at the Big Green Gathering. They’d both admired the American “We’Moon’ diary but felt that they wanted something that related more directly to these isles and that had UK contributors and artists. The idea grew very quickly. That first conversation in July led to a meeting at Glennie’s house in Derbyshire in September 2007 and the concept of Earth Pathways was born. They had no money to set the wheels in motion but then the idea to ask friends to lend them money “came in a big flash” and they created the idea of ‘buying’ a returnable Moonshare of £100 each. In this way they raised £2,500 in 3 months, which paid for the first print run of the diary. While running a workshop on the Isle of Wight, Glennie met artist Hannah Willow and told her about the diary idea. Hannah was very encouraging and put out the word to her large network of friends. Glennie’s reputation as a well-established writer and artist gave the diary project credibility. And it snowballed. Friends told friends, who told others and the money to fund the first Earth Pathways diary was raised. In the beginning there was a great deal of trepidation and some major setbacks but everything evolved from genuine heart-energy and trust. The diary has now become a firm favourite with many people and has sold out several times in the past few years. This is tremendously encouraging for us because it tells us we are on track and means we can continue to give away grants to help new UK Earth- benefiting initiatives.

Diary schedules mean that we are always working two years ahead. Once all the submissions of artwork and writing are received (deadline 31st October each year) all members of the team have a say on each and every piece submitted. We later hold our ‘Weaving Circle’ where those contributions that have made it through the first round of voting are viewed again and the final selections made. This is a painstaking process. Members of the team get very passionate about the contributions they vote on – which is exactly as it should be. Once the selections are agreed, there then follows the huge task of matching image to appropriate writing. The overall art direction, proofing and deadlines are skilfully managed by Glennie in conjunction with her daughter May Kindred-Boothby.

EP Moonlight-page-001The Earth Pathways team grew out of the jobs that needed doing – people just seemed to come along at the right time and do the jobs that played to their strengths. In the beginning Glennie and Jaine did everything and Debs Milverton took charge of the database. All of the contributors to the first diary became the larger network that the Earth Pathways team tapped into for team resources. Several members of the current team were recommended by mutual friends.

About the time the team realised that they needed astrological data for the diary, Glennie had an email from Lucille Valentine asking her about one of her books. In the email Lucille mentioned that she was an astrologer. Glennie said “we’re looking for an astrologer!” She then discovered that Lucille had worked on a similar kind of diary in her native South Africa. Glennie had also met Tam (Peirson) at festivals and she became the “post persona” then head of sales and distribution. Suzi Goose was a friend of Hannah Willow and Mezzie Lucerne Lambourne had been recommended by Carolyn Hillier. The whole evolution of the team was very organic and people appeared in response to the next need …Everyone has day jobs too – Glennie and Jaine are both artists and writers, Debs teaches piano, Tam is an astrologer and NLP practitioner, Suzi an artist and sacred tattooist, Mezzie a textile artist, Lucille is an astrologer, Brian Boothby a masseur, Annie Keeling a celebrant and May Kindred-Boothby, a full-time art student.

6.  I believe you’re a co-operative – what has this structure taught you about working together?

Goodwill, endless patience and chocolate are a must! The obvious thing is that everyone has a voice and equal say in how we are run and the diary we produce. The structure itself enables us to hold firmly to our core values. We do argue, often fiercely, but ultimately when we reach an impasse we go right back to the principles we started off with because they are the yardstick by which we define ourselves and by which we are judged. Invariably our starting point is co-operation, sometimes we may have to compromise, but the original ‘vision’ of the diary still holds true and provides us with that important ‘line of sight’ so that we know where we are headed. It keeps us on course.

As a co-operative we share any profits from the diary sales and fundamental to our constitution is group agreement on how those profits are distributed. We use some of our profits to make annual funding awards to a variety of UK projects that support and benefit the Earth. (For info on the projects we are funding this year or details on how to apply for future funding, please visit our website).

7. How can readers order their copy of Earth Pathways 2014?

Please visit our website: click here.

We value you buying directly from our website as a greater return of the profits becomes available for financing the next production of the diary and to fund small community projects that help the Earth.

You can also keep up to date with what we’re doing, involved with, championing etc via our Facebook page.


Thanks so much to Annie and all at Earth Pathways for such interesting insights and for the gift of two free copies of the 2014 Diary. Remember: leave a comment to this post saying why you’d like a copy for the chance to win. (If you’re reading this in email, click through to get to the site.)

All the sumptuous images courtesy of Earth Pathways: click to see full size.

Bright blessings on…

Sparrow-KeithMarshall…World Sparrow Day!

You thought I was going to say Spring Equinox, didn’t you? Well of course, on this blessed day too, and on the Autumnal Equinox for all in the Southern part of the globe.

But my online friend Deb Swingholm (you should check out her website) mentioned on Facebook that today is also World Sparrow Day, and as she said: who knew?

You don’t see many hedges these days, and the hedges you do see they’re not that thorny, it’s a shame, and when I say a hedge I’m not talking about a row of twigs between two lines of rusty barbed wire, or more likely just a big prairie where there were whole cities of hedges not fifty years ago, a big desert more like, and I mean thick hedges, with trees nearby for a bit of shade and a field not a road not too far off so you can nip out for an insect or two when you or the youngsters feel like a snack, a whole hedgerow system, as it says in the book, and seven out of ten sparrows say the same, and that’s an underestimate, we want a place you can feel safe in again, we’re social animals, we want our social life back, and the sooner the better, because in a good hedge you can always talk things over, make decisions, have a laugh if you want to, sing, even with a voice like mine!

Richard Price

Not a sparrow falls…

When he was a very young man, my father went out into the woods armed with an air rifle and a very young man’s strange idea of what might be fun. He shot and killed a sparrow.

The experience turned out not to be fun at all. A moment of elation: he had hit his target. The sparrow fell at his feet; he picked it up. He thought he felt the last breath leave it. The tiny body light as air (birds’ bones are hollow). The lead pellet embedded in its breast, flecked with blood. The claws clutching at air. The eyes bright and lively, not yet clouded over. He saw beauty.

He felt like – the word he used when he told me this story was the old-fashioned one “heel”: A dishonourable man; a cad. He swore at that moment he would never again shoot any bird or animal for so-called sport.

He kept his word, and in the years of his all-too-short retirement, one of his great delights was watching the garden birds flocking around the feeders. He even bought a pair of binoculars but didn’t use them much. I suspect he felt there was something about them that turned watching the birds from a joy to a pursuit.

What about you?

I wonder, how many of us have had experiences with living creatures in our youth which have changed, at least in some small degree, our adult lives. Have you?

Photo credit Keith Marshall (no relation!)

Sunday Collection: Women’s spirituality

Avalon - Alice PopKorn

Why a spirituality for women? Isn’t spirituality simply that, spirituality? Well perhaps. None of us can really share what spiritual experience means to us, no matter what gender we are. What I’m talking about in this week’s collection is spiritual practice and expression.

And there are many reasons, some obvious, some more subtle, for spiritual practices focused on women.


One reason is to counter the essentially patriarchal nature of most of the major religions.

I was brought up Christian, and my main practice today is as a lay Benedictine monastic. But of course Christian history is patriarchal in the extreme. And its emphasis has been largely on conquering nature, rather than regarding the earth and her gifts with awe and wonder. Which is why I’m drawn also to Pagan expressions of spirituality.

The Divine Feminine

Less easy to define. What is it that makes us female, and how is this expressed in our spiritual practices? Is it merely fluffy bunny stuff to say that as women we are more intimately engaged with the creative pulse and interconnectedness of the earth? Indeed is that another way for women to be discounted by men?

Many of you will already have read this, but Sue Monk Kidd’s book Dance of the Dissident Daughter is a great discussion on these issues.

This week’s links

So with those thoughts expressed, here are some links I’ve found this week around women and spirituality which I really enjoyed.

First up is the prayer found at Feminism and Religion by regular commenter Sarah, a reworked dreaming of the Hail Mary and the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Mother whose body is the Earth,
Blessed are you,
And blessed are all the fruits of your womb.
You give us this day our daily bread,
And we share it with others.
Our Mother whose body is the Earth,
We love you with all our hearts,
And our neighbors as ourselves.

Click here to read the original post.

You may have noticed that the Catholic Church has a new Pope! Before the election of Francis I, Claire Bangasser posted a poem called If I Were Pope by Jan Philips (together with the same writer’s The Real Woman’s Creed).

If I were pope…
I’d ask half the bishops and cardinals

to replace themselves with a thoughtful woman
and complete their ministries in a prison or homeless shelter

If I were pope
I’d pay the mystics to write poetry all day
and have their words read at the Sunday Masses

Click here to read both poems in full.

Creativity is one of the most spiritual forces there is, and artist Rima Staines (who painted the banner art on this site for me) always amazes me with her words and her art. Her latest piece is for a record cover,  entitled From the Mourning of the World:

The Woman of the Earth weeps. Her sorrow for The Dying is heavier than we can know. Into her garment are stitched the ghosts of extinct species.

But from her tears grows music: music to wail and sing out and bow and strum and beat out the thrum of our griefs. And from the music grow green leaves, spiralling their new life from the alchemy of tears.

Click here to read the rest of Rima’s words and to see her painting.

And finally, a video called Woman Shaman by Max Dashu  (a female Max), whose site The Supressed Histories Archive is here.

(Video link here if you can’t see it above)


Have a wonderful week, everyone.


Image credit: Alice Popkorn

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