Love, life and new beginnings

The love affairs that drive our myths are powerful, epic connections that create wonder and chaos in equal measure. I’d never thought my own life would contain anything that momentous. A quite sort of love, a house, a child – I didn’t aspire to much. 

Love found me. Impossible and irresistible all at once. I fell in love with the gorgeous artwork and inspiration of a man I had never met in person. Divided by the Atlantic, and with me already married to someone else, it didn’t seem like a feeling I could pursue. But we kept talking, sharing work and ideas, very carefully not courting each other. We created huge stories, and there is a strange magic in that kind of shared creativity. There were all kinds of complications along the way, other people who passed through both our lives, times when we drifted away from each other a little, but we held those threads of connection.

Then, in the summer of 2009 Tom asked me if I would consider going to America for a Cthullhu convention some time, to promote the work. I didn’t even have a passport, and had never been out of the UK. But I thought about it. We thought about it together, and we dared to consider the consequences of being in the same space. After that, there was no going back. I crossed the Atlantic and we had a week together. It took us slightly over a year from there to jump through all the hoops. A year full of dramatic changes and challenges, that tested us both – for me, it meant going far beyond where I imagined my limits would be in terms of what I could feel and endure. Webcams kept us just on the right side of sanity, but to see and not be able to touch… to only have words to offer through those hard times. A friend of mine died, and those thousands of miles of distance were cruel indeed, needing to be held. But we survived, and stayed true to each other. We jumped though the legal and paperwork hoops and slightly over a year after our first meeting in person, Tom arrived in the UK. On Wednesday the 29th of December, we married.

No one in their right mind would volunteer to suffer. But at the same time, the trials we face teach us and make us stronger. In ease, we seldom find the true value of things. After all that we’ve been through already, I will never doubt the strength or sincerity of this relationship. We have been tested, and in proving true to each other, have gained far more than I can put into words.

I’ve seen, this last year, how others have responded to our story. The support from friends, family and wider community has been tremendous. Folk all over the world who know us only through our work and online presence have been there to cheer us on. There is magic in this, a sense of wonder and connection that ripples out in all kinds of ways. To those of you who have supported us with your words, actions and thoughts, we are both profoundly thankful.

I feel I have been given an opportunity here, unlike anything else in my life. Tom and I have managed to do a great deal working across the Atlantic, but being together, the possibilities are huge. This is not the end of a romance story, it is (I promise you) the beginning of something even more epic.

Care and Respect

Relationship is not a status update on facebook. It’s not a thing we make once, and can then take for granted. Whether we’re thinking in terms of inter-human relationships, our connections with places, creatures or groups, relationship is something we do, moment to moment. It’s not enough just to label it and assume it will conform to that shape.

Good relationship, as best I can make out, is shaped by two things – care, and respect. Everything that happens within a good relationship is underpinned by these two concepts, or comes as an expression of them. How we express care and respect defines our relationships. There are many different way of manifesting these critical sentiments – with words, actions, in tone of voice, in body language… we can speak of care and respect with our whole selves, or we can fall short. If we lose tempers, shout, blame, use, force, deride or otherwise put down, we are failing. Once we go down that route with a connection, it ceases to be good and honourable relationship. Once mistakes are made, it’s not easy to rectify them – not impossible, but that calls for courage and a willingness to relinquish pride.

One of the features of bad relationship, so far as I have seen, is that a person who is not demonstrating care and respect will always have justification for doing so. If you find yourself in this situation, look hard at your reasons and at yourself. What do you want to achieve? If the answer is anything other than equitable relationship, then there are serious questions of honour to consider. If the relationship is broken such that care and respect for the other are beyond you, is revenge or point scoring appropriate? It can be appealing, but this is not a response that encourages peace or brings honour.

If a relationship is broken beyond any scope for care and respect, the honourable thing to do is acknowledge it as such and move away. If a person behaves with carelessness, malice or disrespect such that holding a peaceable line of care and respect becomes impossible, moving away is essential. Some people mistake peacefulness for weakness, and service for willing slavery. No matter what the named relationship, we do not owe care and respect where none is given in return.

No relationship runs smoothly all the time. We all have our moments. However, a relationship underpinned by care and respect will endure, even if those in it flail and struggle. Where care and respect are absent, there is no true relationship. There may be the illusion of connection, there may be some possessive word to hold people in place, but there is no real relationship. There may be use, convenience, power trip and trophyism, but there is nothing honourable.

If what you see does not look like care and respect, then it probably isn’t. Speak clearly about the ways in which you need to be treated to feel cared for and respected – we’re all different and it’s always worth having a go. Care should always be on the terms of the person receiving it. If it is in any way unwelcome, forced, or wrongly shaped, then no matter what the professed intent it is not true care, and not true relationship.

When these two essential things are present in a relationship, there is strength, scope for profound trust, plenty of room for love to flourish and for all involved to benefit in many ways. We are nourished by such relationships. We grow in them, find joy and security as a consequence of them. They are one of the greatest blessings available to a person – to all people. Manifesting care and respect in all things takes effort and attention. It will often call on us for generosity, patience, kindness, understanding, willingness to listen, empathy, but we will find those returned to us as we come to need them ourselves. Consciously building honourable relationship with others is an act of beauty and spirit.

Keep the home fires burning!

Central heating means that you can go out of a cold winter’s night and come home to a warm house. Hurrah for human innovation and technology… And for most people the central heating can be topped up with gas or electric heaters. Instant warmth! In the past rich people had servants who, when you get down to it, could be used much like the central heating – you go out, you come home to a nice fire. Although some of those huge houses must have been cold and draughty, and I can’t imagine that castles were warm.

Then there were all of our poorer ancestors. Most of us won’t come from wealthy, aristocratic stock. Our forebears will have lived a lot closer to the soil. And the fire. While there’s nothing more cheery than a fire in the hearth, they’re very different to live with. If you go out for the day, the fire does not light itself for nightfall. If you’re very clever at setting it up, it might stay in and a bit warm for as much as 12 hours, enough to stop your house from freezing, but not enough to keep you comfortable if the temperature drops below zero. (I write from experience).

When all you have for heating and cooking is the fire, then keeping it going becomes essential to survival in winter. This also means that you can’t all decide to go out for the night. Rolling back from the pub at midnight to a frozen home, ice inside the windows and a bed that will make you yelp from the cold (because no fire means no warming pan in the bed, no hot water bottle…) is no kind of fun. The man of the house might head out, but the odds were a woman would stay home, look after the children and keep the fire in, historically speaking.

Using electricity or gas to heat a house means not really seeing how much energy you use. Not until the bill arrives, which can be a shock. Heat happens by magic, and until we have to pay for it, it’s easy not to envisage that as resources used. Burning wood and coal is a much more immediate experience. You rapidly develop a keen sense of how much it takes to keep you warm. Once the snow and ice settle in, you aren’t going to be able to fell more trees, and most of them won’t burn green anyway. Anyone who has tried foraging sticks for the fire will know how much work it takes to bring home enough wood for a few hours. Sticks burn fast. Rotten sticks don’t burn well. Foraging in freezing conditions is hard. Snow-covered wood rapidly becomes wet and reluctant to burn wood.

Now add into the mix single glazing, no cavity wall insulation, no loft insulation, windows and doors made of wood that might not keep the drafts out, and the implications of winter for our ancestors, even relatively recent ones, start to become more apparent. To be warm at the touch of a button is a luxury they could not have dreamed of.

One day, the supply of natural gas will run out. We are pushing the limits of electricity supplies in the UK and sometimes this results in power cuts. Do we want more nuclear power stations? The fossil fuel burning stations are going to run out of supplies too, eventually. Can we really do it all on renewable energy supplies? Most modern homes don’t have fireplaces in them. How would you cook if the power went off for a few days? How would you keep warm? We’re so used to the comforts of modern life, most of us, that we take them for granted and imagine they will always be there. How would we cope if obliged to live as our ancestors did? How many of us even know how to do that? And what is the likelihood that we might be going to have to learn, if we can’t better manage our energy consumption, as a species.

Ogham: A – Ailm: Scots Pine


Ailm’s day is 25 Dec: Sun-Return – the day the sun begins to move again after the Midwinter standstill/solstice

  • Winter Solstice is 21st December, the 3-day standstill is 22/23/24 December
  • Sun-Return is the day the sun begins to move again after the 3-day standstill of the Winter Solstice; i.e. 25th December.

This is an important turnaround in the year. We go from the days getting darker and darker, there being less light every day up to the solstice, the 21st December, to the changeover. From the 25th December there is gradually more and more light each day up until the summer solstice when it turns around and after 25th June there is less and less light each day until Midwinter.

  • Midwinter is about the rebirth of the sun.
  • Midsummer is about the death of the sun.

Ailm is about birth. It’s watchwords  are “I am the womb of every holt”.

Womb is a word to take into your sit-with. What is the womb? What does it do? Think about how the spark of life enters the womb, fertilises the seed, how the seed grows within the darkness to finally birth out into the light. All of these things are what Ailm is about – in every sense, plant, planet, star, animal, human, building, country, nation, idea, book, painting, cooking, each journey you make in the everyday world, everything … yes, everything, goes through this cycle. Ailm holds this energy for the Earth and all her creatures, including us.

Scots Pine

In Britain, this principle is often held by the Scots Pine, an ancient tree that is about breaking up land so that it becomes earth and soil that will support growing things. When you understand the principles that Ailm holds and guards for us all you can ask to be shown the wood – in your land – that will be right for the spirit-house of Ailm where you live. This is about working with the land where you live, not trying to force the land into working in a way some human has written about and, as such, has become “gospel”. We all need to learn to change ourselves to fit with the world rather than trying to make the world fit with our wants.

Scots pine has a long and rich history in mythology. In The Golden Bough, James Frazer relates various stories involving pine trees from classical mythology, which may or may not have been Scots pines, such as how the ancient Egyptians buried an image of the god Osiris in the hollowed-out centre of a pine tree. He writes that “it is hard to imagine how the conception of a tree as tenanted by a personal being could be more plainly expressed.” As a symbol of royalty the pine was associated with the Greek goddess Pitthea, and also with the Dionysus/Bacchus mythology surrounding the vine and wine making, probably as a fertility symbol. Worshippers of Dionysus often carried a pine-cone-tipped wand as a fertility symbol and the image of the pine cone has also been found on ancient amulets as a symbol of fertility. For the Romans the pine was an object of worship during the spring equinox festival of Cybele and Attis. As an evergreen tree the pine would also have symbolised immortality.

The Scots pine groves or ‘shaman forests’ scattered over the dry grasslands of eastern Siberia were considered sacred by the Buriats, a Mongolian people living around the southern end of Lake Baikal. These groves were to be approached and entered in silence and reverence, respectful of the gods and spirits of the wood.

Closer to home, Druids used to light large bonfires of Scots pine at the winter solstice to celebrate the passing of the seasons and to draw back the sun. Glades of Scots pines were also decorated with lights and shiny objects, the tree covered in stars being a representation of the Divine Light. It is easy to see how these rituals have given rise to the latter day Yule log and Christmas tree customs.

In the old Gaelic alphabet, where each letter is denoted by a tree whose name starts with the letter, the Scots pine is not listed under its Gaelic name of Guibhas but rather under P for Peith, which is the alternative Gaelic for the tree. Guibhas (pronounced goo-ass) crops up in several place names in Scotland both in its native Gaelic, such as Allt na Ghuibhas in Wester Ross and Glac a Ghuibas by Ardgower, ‘Pine Stream’ and ‘Pine Hollow’ respectively, and as Anglicised derivations such as Dalguise and Kingussie; Goose Island, Lough Derg, may originally have been Isle of Pines, not geese.

Note  … I use the Guelder rose for Peith but am very content with it being Scots Pine.

Scottish folklore surrounding the Scots pine seems to be fairly sparse. This may be due to the sort of uses to which Scots pine was put, mainly as a building material. In the days of wooden boats and ships several of the products of the tree proved useful in shipbuilding. The high resin content of the sap of the pine means that the wood is slow to decay. The tall, straight, flexible trunks proved to be ideal for masts and spars (witness Beinn nan Sparra, Hill of Spars, in Glen Affric), and the wood was also used for the planking, and sealed with pitch made from the resin (which was also used to seal the beer casks!). In fact there used to be a ‘superstition’ about not felling the pine trees for shipbuilding during the waning of the moon, as the tidal influence of the moon was said to affect the resin content of the wood; and indeed botanists now recognise the complexities of sapflow in plants which are to some extent affected by the gravitational influences of the moon’s cycles.

Hugh Fife, in his book Warriors and Guardians – native highland trees, suggests that as much plant folklore stems from the uses and influences of the plant on people’s everyday lives, and that as the uses of Scots pine were mainly on a larger, industrial scale, less lore about the pine has evolved or persisted, ie no rituals for annual harvesting, coppicing, medicinal/herbal uses and the like. There are nevertheless some medicinal uses derived from the pine: the resin and needles of the pine have been used, particularly as an inhalant, to treat respiratory problems and as an expectorant, and also have antiseptic and disinfectant qualities. The Bach Flower Remedies recommend pine to treat despondency, despair and self-condemnation.

A persistent theme in the folklore of Scots pine is their use as markers in the landscape. In the Highlands there is a recurrent theme that they were used to mark burial places of warriors, heroes and chieftains.

In areas further south where the sight of Scots pine may have been more unusual and their use would have stood out more, they can be seen to mark ancient cairns, trackways and crossroads. In England they were commonly used to mark not only the drove roads themselves, but also the perimeters of meadows on which passing drovers and their herds could spend the night. There is also the possibly more fanciful suggestion that Scots pines were planted in England by Jacobite farmers or sympathisers.

This relates them strongly to Elen of the Ways, and to her sister the Apple Woman and Washer at the Ford (Morgan). Elen is the lady of the roads and tracks. Morgan is the Lady of the crossroads, the Greek goddess, Hecaté, is similar to Morgan.

What does Ailm mean? Here are some words for you to sit-with and ponder on to help open up your mind and intuition to what Ailm is about, what it does, what its job is.

Birth, nativity, beginning, origin, dawn, start, founding, opening, foundation, creation, initiation, begin

You can see that both the words this month are about similar things – beginnings of various sorts. And both trees are  initiators of change, they break up concrete and stone and rock, they help make the stone into soil that will support new growing things.

Take all these ideas, concepts, together and feel your way into them. Feel into the similarities … and the differences. Both differences and similarities are important. The words are not all the same. The concepts that each of the spirits hold are not the same, you cannot interchange one with the other … but they support each other, they work together. This is important! It is how the world works J.

Humans tend to work from a competitive basis, against each other, against anything they perceive to be in their way. Working with the rest of the world is not something most humans have even contemplated yet, let alone had a go at living! You have the opportunity to begin working this way for yourself … as you begin the course.

Sit-with the words. What pictures come into your mind from them? Take them into your journey as foci, guiding and directing you towards finding the spirit.

Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …


Wye’s Women Elen’s Books Rainbow Warriors

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