Walton Churchyard

The church is still and day bright.
Sun glints from the clock’s saintly blue.
But for the solitary holly tree amongst the graves
there are few signs of that macabre landscape

where Dee and Kelly raised a pauper
from his grave to seek the location of wealth
and received premonitions about each person
in the parish who would die in the coming year,

where a minister and wise-man kept vigil one Christmas Eve
and saw in procession the spectres of each person
in the parish who would die in the coming year
and the minister saw his own face.

There are few signs of where the black dog was laid.
A single holly tree, graves, but no written stone
or evidence of offerings of milk or raw meat
to withhold the portents of the otherworldly beast.

These seem but shiver-stories now,
tales for the hearth fire and a winter of snow
as sunlight glints upon the clock
and daylight keeps its bright and bluey hue.

St Leonard's Church, Walton-le-daleHolly Tree, Walton Churchyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entrance to Vault

Dark Horse

Where are you going horse of my dreams?
I fear I have lost you in the woods.
Untwisting your tail from a nail on a tree
I cord it round my wrist as a symbol of our bond.

Where are you going horse of my dreams?
I fear I have lost you on the moors.
Through purplish heather as the old sun sinks
I follow your penumbra in the distance of my heart.

Where are you going horse of my dreams?
I fear I have lost you to the bog.
Where hoof-prints lead over sphagnum and peat
I splash in your footsteps to the cold brink of nightfall.

Where are you going horse of my dreams?
I fear I have lost you to the dark
Until I see you are standing right in front of me
With your tall, arched neck, water dripping from your bones.

Where will you take me horse of my dreams,
With your handsome smile and skin of slippery moss?
I mount from the foot-worn stone at the threshold of your pool
And we plunge into darkness to the kingdom of our bond.

Brinscall Moors

Town I do not Know

Preston, 1919

The town I do not know
is waiting at my back door
in the shadows of two chimneys,
rags of washing in my backyard.

In the town I do not know
stands a figure in an orphanage.
She draws the blinds as I approach,
turns out the light.

Through the shattered window
I catch a glimpse of a lampshade
and sorrow grips my heart.

I fasten her out with my trench coat.
A puckered breath on a cigarette
joins the clouds’ silver lining
where I peg out my garments.

I pray for sun to fall on my starched linen
with a little rain, a little thunder,
and rain drops to bleach out the soot.

I will not shut my blinds
in the face of my man and children
who flew like Peter Pan.
I will not close my window.

I pull my memories around me,
like a coat in a circle of smoke.
Old town I do not know you
but will not disown you.

Lampshade, St Joseph's Orphanage

The Sheep People

Sheep, Brinscall Moors

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are the people who preach to rebels,
run to the hills, seek lost spirits,
prophesy from locked jaws of sheep.

Tetanus, scrapie, foot and mouth,
antibiotics have no effect
on skeletons hunched
unlike any animal
silent in prayer
to unknown gods.

Our hills cry out in isolation,
baa and bark
to the old skull-picker
who sees wonder sliding down every cheekbone,
looks into eyes without sentimentality.

Our hills cry out
we are not museums,
we do not keep things in cabinets of glass,
we let winds winnow their long dark course,
gliding easily as buzzard or curlew.

We live in places where old gods live,
underground mounds where old blood threads
in bone marrow, livers, kidneys and hearts,
forgotten, misused, where old gods thrive

as keepers of bowels and intestinal functions
scapelands of flesh, a hidden geography;
gods and goddesses, priestesses, priests
dogs and rabbits, kings and queens,

pieces of martyrs, forgotten shapeshifters,
sheep shaped hummocks where the old gods dream.

Book Review: When a Pagan Prays

Pagan PraysNimue Brown is a Druid author based in Stroud in Gloucestershire. When a Pagan Prays: Exploring Prayer in Druidry and Beyond charts her personal exploration of prayer within her particular style of Druidry and in other world religions.

Nimue defines Druidry as ‘a spiritual dedication to seeking knowledge and developing skills and creativity for the good of your land and community.’ She describes herself as a ‘nontheist’ and ‘maybeist’. Writing from a position where the existence of deity is in doubt has ensuing implications for the development of the book and the topics it tackles.

Whilst animism and polytheism are mentioned broadly there is no detailed discussion of Pagan paths based on the presupposition of the existence of gods, such as Wicca, Heathenry and Brythonic and Gaelic polytheism. Instead Nimue covers philosophical issues such as to whom we pray, the ethics of prayer and practicalities such as how to craft Druid prayers and uses of prayer in Druid ritual.

The book charts Nimue’s progress from using prayer as a means of ‘saying hello’ to opening herself to the existence of the Kami of the Shinto religion who she describes as ‘spirits of peace and harmony’ to ‘standing before the unknown.’

For Nimue the core of prayer lies in being open to being changed from outside. She finds that whilst petition prayers do not work, prayers for inner strength, inspiration and the mental tools to handle difficult situations do. She ends by describing the effects that her prayer practice has brought to her life, opening her to a sense of ‘magical possibility.’

The style of the book is lively, engaging and conversational and holds an interest throughout. At some points I found it a little meandering but I think that is due to my preference for rigid, academic style arguments and structures.

If you are looking for a study on evidence for prayer in ancient Pagan religions citing inscriptions and textual references, or on prayer practices and experiences within contemporary deity focused Pagan paths this may not be the book for you.

However I would definitely recommend it to anybody who is interested in the philosophy, ethics and practicalities of prayer in Druidry and world religions, the thought processes that lie behind prayer and in personal accounts of transformation particularly from a nontheist perspective.

Bridge Grottoes

On my recent walks I have been striving to pay attention to the variety of wildflowers on roadsides and in hedges, and have come to particularly admire plants that grow on manmade structures.

Factory Lane BridgeWhilst studying the variety of ferns, hart’s tongue and mosses on the railway bridge over Factory Lane in Penwortham a message entered my mind, this is a bridge grotto. This confirmed my intuition that rich vegetation is an indicator that a place is inspirited.

Factory Lane BridgeWhen I shared this insight and the photograph above with my friend, Peter Dillon, he spotted the figure of a lady outlined in water on the right hand side. If you look closer you will see she has a headress of broad leaved willowherb.

Female Guardian, Factory Lane BridgeWhen I revisited the bridge I saw her outline was still there, and on the left spotted what might be seen as a male figure with grassy hair and beard, stained in sandy water with a more tribal look about him. I interpreted them to be ‘guardians’ of this place.

Male Guardian, Factory Lane BridgeMy curiosity was piqued. Now every time I pass or go under a bridge I question whether it is a bridge grotto. So far I have only come across one other possible candidate. This is the railway bridge near the Continental Pub. Interestingly on the Preston side it joins Avenham Park close to an area actually referred to as a grotto.

Bridge Grottoes, Mr Tufty, Yew and Ash 071 - CopyI’m not sure what it means for a bridge to be a grotto yet, or what it is that makes one bridge a grotto another not. Whilst vegtation and running water can be signals, a positive reply from the place itself seems more important.