Interfaith Week 2014

Over Interfaith Week (Sun 16th Nov – Sat 22nd Nov) members of UCLan Pagan Society and myself have been involved in events led by UCLan, Lancashire and Preston Faith Forums.

For me as Interfaith Rep this included giving an introduction to Paganism and the river Ribble as a sacred site on Preston’s Faith Trail, placing some tiles in UCLan Faith Forum’s Multifaith Mosaic, taking part in a panel on religion and gender at Cardinal Newman College and attending a Celebration of Faith at County Hall.

Building Bridges from Burnley at the Celebration of Faith event

Building Bridges from Burnley at the Celebration of Faith event

The latter was organised by Andy Pratt, who is the leader of Lancashire Faith Forum. This was a great opportunity to meet with members of forums from across Lancashire and to introduce UCLan Faith Forum and Pagan Soc to others. I was surprised to discover that few forums had contact with Pagans and none had Pagans on their executive committees. I’m hoping that now Paganism is recognised as a religion within the Interfaith Network this will change.

A more detailed write-up of the week can be found on Pagan Soc’s blog: http://uclanpagsoc.weebly.com/our-blog/interfaith-week-2014

Crow on the Old Tram Road

I photograph the long line of lime trees
yellowing, framing it like a painter,
catching patchwork colours
as if painting by number.

The caw of a crow
makes me lower the camera.
It is chasing two house martins
although crows do not chase house martins.

The crow is too big.

Approaching down the old tram road
getting bigger and bigger,
more upright,
tall as me, it passes through me
and I know I have crossed something on the spirit road.

Not long ago I made a powerful choice.

This is my world now. Not that picture
of a crowless scene but a road of omens and possibilities.

Old Tram Road, Penwortham

Oddity House

It’s a rickety old house with tainted windows.
Spiders coiled in corners cannot unthread webs
like linen sheets draping straight-backed mahogany chairs,
a dishevelled settee, skewed cushions. Soft mould grows
from china plates, green-grey spilling down table legs.
Over stray toys, dumb bells, metallic dog bowls and a cloudy poof,
mice chase an obstacle course, nesting in torn bean bags.
Chewed wires crack and fizzle like nerve endings.
Lights flash on and off. What weird moribund enchantment.

Did he leave her? Did she leave him? What happened
to the children? Could this be an evacuation?

Sirens wail overhead. Mice hunker down and spiders curl.
The ceiling opens to spiralling constellations.
A whirlwind unwinds the house in streaming webs,
dog bones, broken light bulbs of illumination,
a chest of love letters unlocked. His words to her
and her words to him insigiled on the night air.

Are they safer in the North; a man and woman, three children,
one dog, crouched in a cellar beneath terraces, cuddled round
a photograph of Oddity House as kind and angry words, spat
out Ludo pieces and coat hangers ricochet from slate roofs?

Or is there no escape from brutal engines, new walls, the house
that survives the hurricane to greet them in their next life?

Slugless

Most people do not like admitting to slugs
oozing in under their back door,
magically slick as solder,
rearing shining intelligent heads,
drivelling a slow glide across lino, up walls,
peering round the handle of a coffee cup,
dropping accidentally into tepid dregs,
entering the fridge to nurse an iceberg lettuce.
But they will admit to their slugs hesitantly
when everyone has gone home
and the silence is too big,
the need too great, the need to tell somebody
about the slugs! How they were seen
at midnight glistening spookily,
antennae raised like little radios,
sliding curiously as water
across work surfaces, on the draining board,
about fear of picking them up, though
they are only cold as the temperature,
of their shivery, mucousy skins,
mainly of treading them between the toes.
Most people will admit to their slugs
when the night is dark and shining
and icy bicycle trails serve as a reminder
of their flaxen bodies heading for doors
or windows. We take strange comfort
in the shared knowing they will be there.
However, one of my friends cannot
admit to any slugs. Instead he treads
the borderline, the perimeter of his garden fence
every night, hoping they will be there.
Not wanting to consider being slugless.
And even I, to whom the slugless confess,
cannot fathom the meaning of sluglessness.

Light Brown Slug - Copy

A Heron

not appearing as he should,
more like a rag, a bin bag, a piebald pony,
a ‘what is that?’ on the Ribble train bridge.
By the river Bela I near mistook him for a calf.
He hunches over like a shrouded old man,
tucks himself into a ball of mystery,
tufted beard blowing in the wind,
taking off stretches out, a grand grey dragon
shooting down the long-drop of sight.
On mudstone flats he catches his eye in nether regions,
reflection coming to life cloaked, feathered,
a shapeshifter balancing on one leg,
narrowing from sight, blinking out
into something else entirely.

HeronHeron, river Ribble

Review: Creatures by Greg Hill

Creatures by Greg HillGreg Hill lives in Wales. He was editor of The Anglo-Welsh Review and contributes regularly to Welsh literary magazines. I’ve followed his blog for a while and was delighted when I heard about the release of his first full length collection of poetry in print; Creatures.

The title alone creates intrigue. What kind of creatures? The epigraph replies; ‘All creaturely things… Plants growing, / Roads running, / Rivers flowing, / Places that sing.’ It is clear from the outset this collection is about an animate landscape where every being is a creature, alive and sentient.

The first ekphrastic poem is based on the picture on the cover; Fidelma Massey’s sculpture, ‘Water Mother,’ who dreams thoughts of water into being. Here, the ‘cosmic ebb and flow’ of thought and water is contained in the poem. Analogies between living water and perception recur throughout the book. In ‘Cwm Eleri’ the poem’s tight structure fails to contain the river, which slips from grasp like time. In ‘Myddleton’s River’ water-ways link London, Wales and the underworld, forming a conduit for complicated alchemical processes of mental and physical transformation.

The contrast between our immediate perception of creatures and those aspects of their being impossible to grasp is central. A jackdaw sitting happily in the hearth becomes ‘an image… a token of wildness… like a jigsaw piece from another puzzle;’ a homely and familiar event made strange. Greg writes that as a heron dips out of sight ‘a part of me fell out of the sky with it,’ lost ‘except that something / settles in the flow of these words.’ We can never completely grasp our perceptions. Only through words can they find permanent representation.

Several poems present roads, paths and boundaries as living entities and how our understanding of them shifts once they are crossed and they slip into memory. If we try to return, the roads are ‘dull,’ ‘dusty,’ ‘empty.’ Our former selves are shadows, unfamiliar reflections. ‘Strange border guards’ usher us ‘from what / we neither know nor recognise.’ These haunting and complex poems demonstrate how choices shape our relationship with the landscape and hence our memories.

The mysteries of the Bardic Tradition and its creatures are explored in novel ways. ‘Awen’ depicts a shepherd lad inspired to speak poetry by a spirit ‘like a forest god’ who is elusive as the words he inspires. Four episodes from the Mabinogion are covered. I was fascinated by ‘A Scaffold for a Mouse,’ which depicts ‘Manawydan living in a dream / landscape with the life / conjured out of it like a flat plane.’ Through his ‘firm grip’ on the mouse, ‘a small thing / for a great purpose,’ he breaks the ‘powerful magic’ of Llwyd, awakening ‘form to its true nature’ thus freeing Rhiannon, Pryderi and Cigfa.

This collection depicts a relationship with the creaturely world that is on the surface simple and direct yet beneath mysterious and disconcerting. Each time I return to these poems I discover new meanings and thematic relationships within the whole. I’d recommend this book to anybody who likes poetry with lots of depth and has a love for nature, myth and creatures.

Creatures can be purchased through Lulu here: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/greghillpoetry

Greg Hill’s poetry site is here: http://greghill.weebly.com/
Greg’s blog, Hill’s Chroicle can be found here: http://hills-chronicle.blogspot.co.uk/

Coin Tree, Middleforth

I was walking on the Middleforth bank of the Ribble. It was a grey November day; grey sky, grey river, grey wind blowing lime green, yellow and bronze leaves from adjacent trees.

Oddity House and Coin Tree, Middleforth 004 - CopyIn the distance I saw a pale trunk, devoid of bark, that I’d walked by many hundreds of times. Today it stood out with a strange fervour against the grey. Growing closer I saw a shape that may have been an expression of the tree’s spirit.

Coin Tree, MiddleforthAt first I thought it wanted me to come closer to examine the exquisite cloaked and hooded fungi that seemed to be melting from gaps in its exterior.

Fungi, Coin TreeFungi, Coin TreeThen I realised the reason for the gaps, the congregations of fungi. Legions of two pence coins had been hammered into it, mainly on top, also down the sides.

Coin Tree, MiddleforthCoin Tree, MiddleforthCoin Tree, MiddleforthI felt nauseous, disorientated, disbelieving as I struggled to perceive the reason, whilst seeing why moulds and fungi exuded from crevices the battered coinage had split.

Later I read from the internet about ‘coin trees.’ Apparently hammering a coin into a tree was percieved as a ‘votive offering’ to a tree spirit in order to grant a wish, particularly in relation to curing illnesses. If the coin was removed the illness would return (1).

Oak trees take 300 years to mature, spend 300 years in their prime and take another 300 to die. I don’t know what type of tree this is, but it is evidently still living its death, and people are hammering coins into it. To me this is not a reverential way to treat a dying tree and is certainly not a mode of making offerings that would gain the favour of its spirt.

Whether these are ‘votive offerings’ is a dubious matter. A more trustworthy article on Northern Earth suggests the pennies are inserted by passing individuals copying the behaviours of others and that at certain tourist sites staff members hammer the coins in to create attractions (2).

In this case, the latter can be ruled out. My suspicion is that the copycat explanation is more likely. What could bring people to hammer coins into a tree remains undecipherable to me. Why people might perceive this as a votive offering to the tree spirit is even less explicable. More uncanny is the call of this tree to bear witness to its fate.

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wish_Tree http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2036581/Mystery-wishing-trees-studded-coins-illness-away-sick.html
(2) http://www.northernearth.co.uk/cointree.htm