Tag Archives: death

Ogahm: Iolo – Yew

I – Iolo: Yew

Samhain & Winter Solstice

Metal – Lead

Planet – Saturn

  • I am the tomb to every hope
  • Death & Rebirth

Iolo is one of the five vowels of the ogham tree alphabet, representing our letter I.

Yew Cauldron

Yew is the longest lived of all British trees, holds great knowing and wisdom. It’s been the coffin-maker’s tree for ages. It was also the tree of weddings, the bright red yew-berries were thrown as good-luck charms over newlyweds, offering their sweetness.

Normally I would talk about this tree at Samhain but I saved it for winter solstice this year. Here in Britain this year we have snow, lots of it, an unusual occurrence for us for the past 20+ years. Now global warming is really cranking up the winters are changing and becoming more severe. No-one knows yet how the new patterns the Mother is making in the weather will pan out, we may get a set of hard winters and then a set of wet, soft ones … we must wait on her and see what she gives.

In case you didn’t know, Solstice is 21st December. Astronomically this may be slightly different each year but for purposes of celebration many folk stay with the 21st. this year we had the added blessing of a blood-moon this morning. The energies were amazing where I lived but I couldn’t physically see much because there was a high mist covering the whole sky. I could sense the covering of the moon, the eclipse, but not see it with my physical eyes.

The 21st is the beginning of the solstice period, the period of three days when the sun appears to rise at the same point on the horizon. This is very well marked at Stonehenge, and at other less well known stone circles. Our ancestors knew …

The three day period of apparent standstill ends with the sun appearing to move forward, rise in a slightly different place on the horizon on the 25th December. In our tradition it’s called Sun-Return and signifies the birth of the King. In early mediaeval myth here in Britain this became the birth of Arthur but before that it was the birth of the Mabon, the eternal child who brings us the journey of the soul. It’s not surprising that the Christians took it up and used it for the birth of their winter king who – like all puer eternis – shows us the soul journey.

Sun-Return is the day the sun begins to move again after the 3-day standstill of the Winter Solstice; i.e. 25th December, and is a symbol of birth out of death. Archaeologists still seem to like to say our ancestors would have been afraid the sun was never going to come back but this is a highly denigrating view. You only have to watch the sun return one year to see it will. If you’re particularly fearful then maybe it takes two or three years … so you’re probably aged five or so when you’ve got the hang of it, especially if your parents take you to rituals and give you the stories.

Besides, people who could build such accurate time-pieces as Stonehenge and the other circles would hardly be so dumb as to not know about the seasons, that would make no sense at all. Sometimes we appear to have gone backwards in our common sense and be trying to pull our ancestors back into the childish habits of thought many people live in now.

Yew’s watch-words are “I am the tomb to every hope”.

What does this mean? What is a tomb? The thesaurus offers the following …

  • Ossuary Grave Sepulchre Mausoleum Burial place Charnel house Necropolis,

A place where things/people are buried after they have died. In the case of ossuary it is a place of bones, a charnel house where the relics – the bones which take perhaps millions of years to decompose – are stored. The word necropolis refers to a city of the dead, a physical vision of the place where the ancestors live. It makes some sense of the habit the Christians picked up of “relics of saints”, the bones. They again use the idea from the far more ancient pagan tradition of keeping a small part of the body an ancestor had once worn as a link back to the ancestors. Unfortunately they mostly don’t know about this tradition and meaning, however the innate human knowing does usually get some sort of a handle on it.

But why the tomb of hope? This can sound frightening to many. Hope … what is this? The thesaurus offers lots of possibilities for this word …

  • Confidence Expectation Optimism Anticipation Faith
  • Chance Likelihood Possibility Potential
  • Desire Aspiration Dream Plan Wish Goal Yearn Long Look forward to

Hmm … what do you make of all that?

And then there is the Greek story of Pandora’s Box. The story goes that

Pandora, whose name means “giver of all” or “all-endowed”, was the first woman on Earth. Zeus command Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship, to create her, which he did using water and earth. The other gods granted her many gifts – beauty from Aphrodite, persuasiveness from Hermes, and music from Apollo.

After Prometheus stole fire from Mount Olympus, Zeus sought reprisal by handing Pandora to Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus. Pandora was given a jar that she was ordered not to open under any circumstances. Despite this warning, overcome by curiosity, Pandora opened the jar and all the evils contained within escaped into the world. Scared, Pandora immediately closed the jar, only to trap Hope inside.

This story is very like the creation of Blodeuwedd by Gwydion and with perhaps som of the same purposes. Hope is a funny, tricky thing. W often say things like, “my hopes were dashed”, “there’s no hope”. Hope can turn very sour and evil when we have pinned all our faith on it and it doesn’t come to pass as we expected … as we’d hoped!

This takes me to a gift I was given many years ago. One of my teachers told me he went into every situation “full of expectancy but without any expectations”. Do you get that?

He is open to anything that may come but without pinning his own ideas, wants, needs, expectations on it. He leaves room for the universe to be, he walks the universe’s path rather than trying to constrict the universe into walking the path of his own small desires.

So the watchwords of the Yew make some sense now?

If we bury our little personality hopes, desires, wants, then we make room for the big gifts the universe wants to offer us. The yew takes in these petty personal desires and composts them for us, buries them, allows them to decompose and go back into their constituent atoms so they can be remade anew into the good things that Life, the Universe and Everything really needs.

It also makes sure we don’t try to make everything live by our own scripts. We put space and boundaries around ourselves and allow others to be different. We can still grumble about the difference – inside out own space! – as long as we leave space for others.

So we put our hopes into the tomb the yew provides for us and go out to find the new path.

This is the death and rebirth thing of this time of year, of the going down of the sun and his/her return after the three days, to begin a new cycle, to begin the stirrings of springtime, of the herbaceous plants who demonstrate this so beautifully for us by dying down into the ground over the winter and then springing back up out of the soil as the seasons change.

Ponder on all this for the season of Sun-Return. I’ll talk more about the planet Saturn and the metal Lead later on today.

To a dear uncle…

I received a phone call today from my mother that shocked me. To be honest, I’m still in a state of denial. And that’s just how I’m feeling. I can’t begin to imagine how my stepmom feels.

Her brother Freddie was a truck driver, and one of the sweetest, greatest teddy bears I’ve ever known. They were very close as siblings, and Mama (stepmom is her partner of 20 years) loved Freddie like a brother. I felt close to him. Then again, everyone who knew Freddie felt a connection with him. He was open, loving, wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’d been through so much hell in his life, yet he managed to conquer his personal demons and became an inspiration.

This morning… he passed away. According to the New York Highway Patrol, his rig veered off the road, hit trees, and a fuel tank exploded. They don’t know if Freddie had a heart attack, a stroke–whatever. There will be an autopsy, though, and then he’ll be cremated and his ashes scattered around blueberry bushes in Decatur, AL.

Love your family–no matter how far they might be from you.

Staring Death In The Face…

Back in 2005 I had a vision. I’m not prone to visions, I’ve had about 2 in my entire life. This one came as I was waking up. I did not open my eyes, but I was fully conscious. The vision came into my mind clear as a TV screen. I was in a classroom, with the old style wooden desk-chairs with the curved half desk table top. A green chalk board was in the front and a friend of mine was sitting in his seat in front of me in a way blocked the teacher’s desk. When my friend turned to face front I was able to see the teacher’s desk and sitting behind it, staring at me…was Death. Skull face, hooded robe. There was no doubt in mind it was Death, though I did not see the scythe. He was looking right at me. I was caught in his gaze and I kept saying; “Do not look away. Do not look away. Do not look away.” I stared him down for about 30 seconds to a minute. Finally, he lowered his head and turned his back on me. The vision faded to black and I opened my eyes. I told a friend of mine about this vision, and she said, “Death was the teacher?” It took me off guard, but she stated the obvious and I had not put two and two together. But she was right. Death *was* the teacher. And he was the one who broke the stand-off and turned his back on me. I am now living that vision. Death is the teacher and I am facing him down. I’ve had cancer for five months now, uterine cancer, at least starting in the uterus. Doctor thought it was a fibroid tumor. The Endometrium biopsy showed ‘negative’ results, but the tumor turned out to be an Endometrium Stromal Sarcoma. It carries a 15% survival rate. It’s a very rare cancer that hits 4% of women. Of course I would get *this* cancer. When they removed the uterus and the tumor, we had no certainty that the cells did not breach the uterus wall. The oncologist gave me a choice, which was really no choice. There was nothing to radiate, and no guarantee that they didn’t get all of the cancer and remove it with the uterus. I decided to ‘watch and wait’. I should have gone with the chemo therapy right then. The new tumor grew to the size of a softball within a month, located in my pelvic region right over my vagina. I was told this was an aggressive form of cancer. When the tumor finally showed, we had to start chemo right away. The good news is that there’s no pain, not like I had at the beginning of this fight. The second CT scan showed the tumor had not grown in two months and the lymph nodes around it had started shrinking. I had another CT scan this week, results TBA, But there’s no pain, not like before. Death is teaching me things. It’s been five months. Other than being ill after the chemo, I feel normal, I feel fine. As aggressive as they say this cancer is, it’s slowing down. It’s a long road, I’ve got a heavy fight still in front of me, but this day my blogs will be dealing with what Death is teaching me. I wanted to start with the vision, first. I’m facing Death in the eye and I’ll be damned if I blink first. He’s going to turn his back on me. He’s going to give up before I do. I’m holding onto that. With that being said, let the day begin. 🙂

Honouring my Grandmother

Had my grandmother lived long enough, today would have been her 90th birthday. Diana Patricia Beatrice Barton (Barty to her friends)  died a few years ago, and I still miss her. At the date closest to her birthday, I sing songs of hers at folk club, as a way of honouring her memory. In previous years that’s been a private thing, but my son is sharing it this time round.

In many ways, I am a pagan because of my grandmother. Both of my parents explored Wicca when I was a child, and I grew up in a house full of books on myth, folklore, magic… I met witches, had a few interesting experiences along the way. But none of these things actually made me pagan, they just helped when I realised I was.

 It all came down to one conversation with my grandmother.

Like many teenagers, I wasn’t an especially happy creature. There were reasons. Not extraordinary reasons, most of them to do with being a lost and confused young person with low self esteem, convinced that I was too fat to be loved, struggling with my parents separating, hungry for affection but not knowing how to do relationship, socially inept, painfully shy, self conscious, and full of need that nothing seemed able to answer. At the time it seemed like a very big deal, but I had only seen molehills and had yet to learn that mountains are something else entirely.

My grandmother had a much harder life. Hers included horrendous poverty, divorce when that kind of thing wasn’t very socially acceptable, abuse, and dreadfully poor health. She had far more to be unhappy about than I did, but she handled it with grace, and stoicism. As a self obsessed teen, I didn’t really appreciate that, but I think I see more looking back than I did at the time.

I can’t remember why I was having a bad day. Which says a lot about whatever had made me miserable. She told me, quietly and without judgement, that when things were getting to her, she would go outside, and look at the sky and the hills. She reminded me that nature is beautiful, and always around us, and that whatever else is happening, the beauty of nature is something to find joy in, take comfort from, and trust.

I took those words onboard, and from that day I started looking around me more, taking notice, and learning to care. Boys might be fickle and unkind. School might be stifling. Family life might be uncomfortable. The hills were always there, constant, dependable, full of beauty and their own kind of magic. Thanks to her words, I learned to see.

Since then it’s been a process, deepening that relationship with the natural world, letting it feed my soul and ease my heart. Most people are not much use in that regard, and it took me a long time to learn not to be so people-centric in my affections. The hills do not approve of me. I do not need them to. That works. I can cry into the wind, howl to the soil when my heart is breaking. Being able to do so makes it easier to manage those ever-challenging human relationships that tend to cause all the pain.

My grandmother considered herself Christian, but on her own terms. She could tell a person’s character from their handwriting, and had premonitions. She saw ghosts. I don’t know much about what she believed, I think it was a private thing for her. But she took me chasing rainbows as a child, taught me to bake, and some needlecraft, shared her art, stoicism, and love of nature. That I am a pagan now, is very much due to her. So today, I honour her memory.