Being Sister Patience

I.
It started as a joke.

I can’t remember exactly when. It might have been around this last time last year. I was being characteristically irascible, rash, impatient, none of the qualities that you’d associate with being a nun.

“Sister Patience,” I heard the mocking voice of my patron god, Gwyn.

It irked me, but it also awoke and called to something deep within.

Rising to his challenge, “I will be Sister Patience,” I told him.

And that was how Sister Patience came to be.

II.
She came into my life as an alter ego at first, as I struggled through my traineeship with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust on the Manchester Mosslands, helping me shape and find respite in the sanctuary of Creiddylad’s Garden.

I wrote this poem about her last summer:

The Sanctuary of Sister Patience

Weeks of weeding
are fundamental to the path,

to the wedding of him and her and him –
Gwyn and Creiddylad and Gwythyr.

When Summer’s King vaults over the wall
all the flowers turn their heads towards him, as if to a beam of light.

All the plants need the light and dark reaction to photosynthesise and this is written on her habit in an obscure symbol on one of her voluminous cuffs.

He who stole the light of Bel and Belisama and gave it to mankind…

When he arrives in her garden it is yestereve, yesteryear,
and all the flowers are gloaming and he longs
to know what lies beneath her cowl
for her eyes are two moons
that will shine

upon a future world that will never stop flowering with its own weathernarium…

He is all heat and fire and flame
and she is patience…

in Annwn, in the soil, in the mycorrhizae,
in the roots, in the shoots, in the leaves, in the flowers, turning
towards the light and these are the mysteries –

the poetry of nature not
of the bardic seat.

Like the ranunculi
are the wanderings of
the wild nuns knowing no order –

their names a mixing of Latin, Greek, 
Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Welsh, common and binomial.

This I was taught by the comfrey I bought
when I was first learning to ‘do magic’,
which worked its magic here,

filling my garden with purple flowers,

smelling soothing as the healing of bones,
one of the favourites of Old Mother Universe.

She loves the first one or two tiny cotyledons
of every plant reaching for the light not knowing their origins.

She carries the seeds of all the worlds in the brown paper envelopes
in her pockets rustling when she walks, so carefully labelled
in the language of Old Mother Universe only she knows – 
the names, the dates, the places, so distant…

With them she will build her sanctuary
beyond the trowelling
of my pulse.

III.

Since then, slowly, imperceptibly, the miles between us have closed.

I’ve been patient. I’ve completed my traineeship. I’ve moved on into a new job as a graduate ecologist in which I’ve been faced with a whole new set of challenges. Not only learning to carry out new surveys but a whole new skillset on the admin side – providing quotes, carrying out desktop studies, writing reports, learning to see a job through from beginning to end.

It’s been a steep learning curve and not without its ups and downs. As an autistic person who likes routine and staying close to home I have struggled with travelling long distances to new places and, in particular, with night work.

One of the surveys is monitoring great created newt and wider amphibian populations as part of mitigation schemes on developments. This involves arriving before sunset to set bottle traps, waiting until after sunset to survey for newts by torchlight (as they’re active after dark), then returning early in the morning to empty the bottle traps. This work can only be done in the company of an experienced licence holder who is qualified to handle the newts.

It’s fascinating work and it is a privilege to see these beautiful creatures up close. It’s also a shake-up to my routine, most days get up at 4.30am to do my devotions, meditate, study, and go to the gym or run before cycling to work for 9am, finishing at 5pm, eating, winding down, and being asleep by 8.30pm.

I’ve been lucky to be part of a team who are not only incredibly knowledgeable and experienced, but also supportive and mental health aware. I’ve been able to be open with them about my autism and the anxiety that stems from it from the start. For now, my manager has allowed me to start no earlier than 8am, so that I have time for spirituality and exercise, which are both essential for my mental health, and to do only one night a week.

They have been patient with me and, although I’ve felt like I’ve been slow, looking back, over just a month and a half I have learnt a huge suite of new skills, from assessing habitats and writing species lists on Preliminary Ecological Assessments, wading up rivers looking for otter spraints and prints, investigating buildings for signs of bats, to mastering the routine admin.

When I’ve been tired and shaken and overwhelmed I have walked with Sister Patience and together we have shaped her sanctuary in Creiddylad’s Garden.

IV.
I have been patient.

The garden is coming into bloom.

I have found a job where I belong and feel fulfilled.

On work days I am an ecologist and, in my own time, I am Sister Patience.

I’m hoping the two sister strands of my life will one day intertwine to become one and that this job will provide the financial grounds to shape my sanctuary and, perhaps, one day, build the Monastery of Annwn*.

*Whether this is meant to be a physical or spiritual place I don’t yet know…

The Call of the Hooded Man

He started appearing in my tarot readings at the beginning of the year: the Hooded Man. In my reading for 2020 on New Year’s Eve in the place of ‘home’, then again and again, strangely, mysteriously, as we shifted from a stormy winter to a glorious spring and I was spending more time with people outdoors.

In the Wildwood Tarot the Hooded Man occupies the traditional position of the Hermit. His ‘Position on the Wheel’ is ‘the mid-winter solstice’. Dressed in a black cloak adorned with holly he stands amidst the snow with a wren at his side, a staff in one hand, a shining lantern in the other. He points towards a doorway in a great tree with a wreath upon it, offering solace from winter’s harshness.

The main meaning of this card is ‘this is the time of solitude and contemplation’. Why was I getting this card when I was busying myself with work parties five days a week and preparing for an internship at Brockholes, which involved outdoor work and engaging with large groups of volunteers?

The answer came as the arrival of coronavirus, as the lockdown, the perfect reason to respond to his call. But what did I do for the first three weeks? Spend my time watching what everyone else was doing, beating myself up for not being busy, for not having a proper job, resisting the call of the Hooded Man.

And yes, I felt it, and he spoke to me clearly. On one occasion this was through the new module on ‘Holly’ in the Tree Spirit Medicine course on the Way of the Buzzard Mystery School. The course leaders, Jason and Nicola associate holly with ‘sanctuary, resilience, and protection’. These were qualities I felt I needed to draw upon and immediately I associated them with the Hooded Man. I journeyed to holly to ask ‘how to slow down and participate in the Hooded Man’s sanctuary.

Holly said:

The berries of life
are not always yours.

So what is yours?

How will you
grow your berries?

What can you offer?

How will you shape
your sanctuary?

I took this to mean that I couldn’t just barge into the Hooded Man’s sanctuary and assume his berries (the hard-won fruits of many years of solitude and contemplation) are mine for the taking. That I must take the time and effort to shape my own sanctuary, grow my own berries, share them with others.

What was particularly significant about this journey is that the day afterwards, after I had cut back and cleared the blackberry bushes which were taking over the bottom of my parents’ garden, I found a little holly sprig. Immediately I knew this was ‘the Hooded Man’s corner’: a place I could find sanctuary.

But still I resisted for fear that retreating would make me less of an awenydd to my community and gods. When I first set out on the awenydd path it was with the purpose of serving Gwyn and the spirits of the land through sharing poems and research on mythology and my personal journey.

Somewhere along the line, when I was involved with Dun Brython, when Greg Hill and I founded ‘Awen ac Awenydd’ I felt these responsibilities were nudging me toward community leadership. However, Dun Brython never grew due to a lack of interest in Brythonic Polytheism. Whilst the Awen ac Awenydd Facebook group generated some interesting discussions, the participants didn’t mesh enough to develop a shared practice, and the plans for a physical meet-up failed completely.

I reached the conclusion that Facebook is not a suitable platform for building meaningful relationships and left. ‘You’re not a follower but you’re not a leader,’ the words of my wise friend, who read my tarot, haunted me. What am I then? What is the role of an awenydd who neither leads nor follows?

“You must focus on your gift,” the voice of my god from within.

Reflecting on the nature of this gift I realised that it is the awen and the meaning of ‘gift’ is manifold. The awen is not only my gift, my talent, my role in the world, my destiny, but is given by the gods and something I have a responsibility to give back to others. This being gifted with and my giving of awen is of value in itself. I don’t need to be a leader or a spokesperson for my path.

This revelation came as a huge relief and has given me clarity about where I’ve made mistakes in the past. After watching a podcast with Martin Shaw on ‘Pandemic and Mythic Meanings of this Cultural Movement’ in which he posed the question ‘would this not be a good time to re-establish a relationship with our souls?’ I realised over the past few months I have neglected my soul’s journey.

When I journeyed to the Hooded Man for advice on how to focus on this he said I need to ‘clear space outer and inner’ and ‘cultivate a longing for the mysteries’ in the place of my anxieties.

What was of interest, and slightly disturbed me, was that he told me has had burning ambitions, been riddled by doubts, that he has made made mistakes, that his aura of calm is the result of centuries of inner work. That sometimes it is just a facade that covers over the conflicts he feels within.

For some reason I thought he had always been the Hooded Man at perfect peace in his self-mastery. Yet a story, or many stories, lie beneath the the hood of this man who has many faces.