Blessings of Beauty

I don’t think the most ardent Redditch enthusiast could claim the town is beautiful. It has a lot of trees, and they are very lovely. Some of the parks are nice, and there are views over Worcestershire and Warwickshire that are good. If you walk out into the villages, it is pleasant. The town itself is unremarkable, through to banal, dominated by a rather ugly shopping centre. I spent ten years there, and I can say that it did not feed my soul especially.

The first time I left my Cotswold home and headed into Birmingham (big city just down the road from Redditch, for readers who are further afield) stays with me. Seeing the remnants of heavy industry, the ugly, brutalised urban landscape shocked me. I was just a country girl, used to small, attractive cities like Gloucester. Nothing had prepared me for this. It seemed like hell, I felt soul-scarred by it.

Where we are affects us profoundly. If our environment is ugly, uncared for, degraded etc, then that brings a person down. Grim modern developments, poorly made and badly designed, do not encourage health or happiness. It all comes down to money of course, and those who have it do not seem very inclined to spend it on places that will be lived in, and worked in, by those who do not. Cars dominate too many places, public spaces centre around commerce more often than beauty. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we let people put cheap functionality before quality of life?

Beauty is a blessing. It nurtures and enriches us, improves mental health, inspires and brings so many benefits. Not everywhere is inherently beautiful, but plenty of places could be more so if more thought went into it.

Right now, I am very fortunate. I’m in a lovely part of the world. There are hills and woods of remarkable beauty. I watched the sun come up last week, touching the trees with a blood red sheen. In the sunset tonight, the hills are glowing golden in the fading light. It is so beautiful I have to remind myself it is also real. I am not dreaming this. The landscape here feeds my soul, works a magic on my heart that I do not know how to explain. There is peace, and healing. At the same time, I am aware that the majority of people are not so lucky. Far too many folk are trapped in places made ugly by human stupidity and cost cutting.

Beauty should not be a perk reserved for the wealthy. It shouldn’t be something you try and tack on at the end. Instead, the idea of beauty should be an integral part of everything we make and do. Functionality and beauty are not incompatible. Nor does beauty need to be prohibitively expensive. I look at the new build out here, where people are bothering to try and make it fit, and its good stuff. So much urban development is samey, unimaginative, ugly. Redditch is terrible for it. The new bus station is a memorable exercise in being visually unappealing, and it is a gloomy, chilly sort of place not ticking boxes for functionality either.

We can do anything well. As individuals and communities, we can go into anything with a bit of style and an eye for what looks good. Or we can make cheap, lumpish messes that grind people down. And really, it’s our choice, and we almost certainly can do something about it. At the very least, we can talk, protest and demand better.

Ogham – Q: Quert: Apple

Quert - Apple

  • The Moon-month for Quert runs from 5 Aug – 1 Sep… it shares the month with Coll, hazel, as the wild apple and nut harvests coincide.
  • Apple is the tree of knowing and reincarnation. This is the wild apple, crab-apple. Merlin’s tree that he shares with the Pigling, one of Ceridwen’s children with whom he runs wild deep in the forest of Caledon, eating the apples of knowing.

Merlin, Pigs & Apples

In the Celtic mythos one the most famous connections with the apple is Merlin in his “mad” phase in the Caledonian Forest with his companion pig and Ceridwen.

The main reason usually quoted for Merlin’s madness is the slaughter at the battle of Arfderydd. The Yr Afallennau has Merlin sleeping under apple trees with a pigling that has come to him and coming into his prophetic self. For us, nowadays, maybe many need some “down to earth” reason for madness that can be “dealt with” through psychobabble, however this was not the case in the old days, nor is it now amongst those who walk the old ways.

Madness is a form of changing. How it works out, if the person is still able to function in the everyday world, if they live even, is another matter. The shaman knows this. The old ways – now sometimes called sensory deprivation – when one went voluntarily into a long barrow to be shut in for three days and nights worked to produce the seer, the spirit-keeper, the awenydd. Another way was to go out into the wilds, the mountains, a lonely seashore, the forest, and sit-with the goddess and the gods, with Nature, with the spirits. In America this is known as vision questing. If you’ve ever tried it you’ll know what a scary process it is – to be alone, with nothing but the bare necessities of life.

You are alone firstly with your self and your Self – your personality and your soul. Have you tried this? No distractions, no iPod, phone, radio, TV, no other people around, no-one to help, no-one to comfort you. Only your self and your Self for company.

Arthur's Stone at Moonrise - a barrow used for initiation

The old ones said you come out of such an experience dead, mad or enlightened, often going through some form of death and madness  in order to grow through into the enlightenment. Not everyone made it. the dead were deeply honoured, it was known their spirits had gone into Otherworld and would return again, once refreshed, to try again. The mad were deeply honoured too. It was known that even if their sayings seemed garbled and unclear they would have wisdom hiding in there somewhere, waiting to be found. Those who made it all the way through became as Merlin to their people, the great ones becoming seers known in many lands and for many ages.

It still happens today. If you are willing to sit out in the lap of the Land, with no company … willing to listen to your Elders, the animals, trees, birds, insects, plants, wind, sky, earth and water … then you will find wisdom. If you are able to hold onto the experience then you will be of use to the people, and to the Land and Otherworld itself as well as Thisworld.

This is what Merlin did – battles or no battles. It was a test of initiation, of growing into the seer, the awenydd, the spirit-keeper.

The apple holds all of this for you.

Ceridwen & Pigs

White Sow - suckling her piglings

One of Ceridwen’s totem shapes is that of White Sow. The pigling that Merlin lives with in the Caledonian Forest is one of her children. The pig, like the horse, was integral to the Celtic tradition, customarily it was thought to be the inexhaustible beast that could and would forever feed the people. Recent diggings at Stonehenge have shown that pig-feasts were an integral part of the celebrations there.

Many of the heroes, such as Culhwch, were swineherds – keeping the pigs was a priestly duty. The heroes were also often hidden through their job, kept safe and produced when the time was right for them to come into their inheritance.

Ceridwen fostered them, kept them as her piglings, nurtured them. In a sense she does this with Merlin in Caledon.

Ceridwen’s pig-form is very much a part of Thisworld, of manifestation, rather than of the Upperworld of ideas or the Lowerworld of ancestral wisdom, about making things manifest here and now. Merlin, as awenydd, needed this, needed to be able to help the everyday world of which he was a part – despite his half-fairy parentage. As a half-blood (unlike Harry Potterites!) he was acclaimed, known for one who very directly had a foot in each camp, and so was very valuable. Ceridwen was able to help him walk between worlds. His journey to do so was difficult and dangerous, involving him in losing his everyday mind to replace it with a wiser form that could see Otherworld and Thisworld side by side and work in both. The Lady of the Cauldron fostered him and tested him and provoked him while he made this journey. She did not make it safe … she made it possible.

Avalon

Avalon, from the Welsh word derived from Old Welsh abal “apple” or aball “apple tree” (Middle Welsh aval, avall; Modern Welsh afal, afall), though an Old Cornish or Old Breton origin is also possible – they too being Brythonic languages.

The Isle of Avalon features in the Arthurian mythos and is famous for its beautiful apples. It first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 1136 account Historia Regum Britanniae (“The History of the Kings of Britain”) as the place where King Arthur’s sword Caliburn (Excalibur) was forged and later where Arthur is taken to recover from his wounds after the Battle of Camlann. As an “Isle of the Blessed” Avalon has parallels elsewhere in Indo-European mythology, such as Tír na nÓg and the Greek Hesperides, also noted for its apples. It is associated with Morgan le Fay, one of whose titles is “apple woman” and who is goddess of the crossroads, the ways between Thisworld and Otherworld, between life and death.

Trying to locate Avalon as a geographic entity, in what we call the real world, is about as useful as attempting to herd kittens and with a similar lack of results and consequent frustration! There is no point. The concept of Avalon can be located on a physical reference point … anywhere, but that doesn’t help the Seeker to find the apples of wisdom to which s/he aspires. The apple isle is the place of initiation and discovery for the person who is searching for such. The various histories – all written by people, each with their own prejudices and axes to grind – are largely reiterations of the writing of those before them. They remind me of the old adage … “Big fleas have smaller fleas upon their backs to bite ‘me. Little fleas have lesser fleas … and so ad infinitum!”

It is similar to many teachings, they give you “techniques” but nothing of the real thing. They wash out so much colour and fire in order to make the techniques safe one might as well be playing charades. Reality is not safe. Like the apple that Snow white is given it has a red face and a green face, one is poisonous and will transport you across the divide of change, of death, sometimes physical, sometimes the death of old ways and beliefs, throwing you into turmoil, forcing you to change, to grow.

Fairy Horse ...

This is what the apple does in stories all around the world. It gives wisdom … but wisdom is not safe, it’s wild and huge and free. It will set you on its back as the Kelpie does, and run away with you …

From Wiki – Its hide was supposed to be black (though in some stories it was white), and will appear to be a lost pony, but can be identified by its constantly dripping mane. Its skin is like that of a seal, smooth, but is as cold as death when touched. The horse’s appearance is strong, powerful, and breathtaking. Water horses are also known to transform into beautiful women in order to lure men into their traps.

The apple is the fruit of wisdom … all wisdom seekers would do well to work with this tree, and its fruit.

Spirit-Keeping – Awenydd

Awen is a Welsh word for poetic inspiration. It is historically used to describe the divine inspiration of bards in the Welsh poetic tradition. Someone who is inspired, as a poet or a soothsayer, is awenydd.

Apple Pentacle

The apple is the fruit of Apollo, the Greek god of the arts and poetry – poets are keepers of farsight, wisdom, song, and many other things, wisdom, awenydd, spirit-keepers. Cut an apple in half, crosswise, as opposed to from stem to base, and you will see the five seeds make the pentacle-pattern of many initiation-cults.

To be spirit-keeper is to hold the gateway to spirit for the people and, even more so, for the Land. This involves learning to know, and be befriended by, the Spirit of Place where you live and work. This can be as small as your village or as great as your land, your country. In either case this includes all that live and moves and has its being therein … not just humans but all the other kingdoms of Nature including rocks, soil and mineral, atoms, bacteria, molecules from the most infinitesimal to the hugest.

The pentacle at the centre of the apple signifies the four element and spirit, encompassing all things, seen and unseen.

Ponder on all the above and watch it change the way you relate to all Life.

writer artist gardener shaman
Wye’s Woman Rainbow Warrior
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Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier Wye’s Woman at Madley Pool