Sunday, 24 August 2008

Sea of Steps

The steps to the Chapterhouse in Wells Cathedral

When visiting Wells and Glastonbury earlier in the week, I made a brief visit into the cathredral. My main objective on the day was to see the springs in the gardens of the Bishop's Palace as I had visited the magnificent cathedral on my previous visit to Wells. On this occasion, however, I was able to snap a quick picture of these beautiful worn steps - you can only wonder at how many feet have trodden up and down.
I was going to call this entry "Stairway to Heaven" (see below)
[This link is for my good friend KS]

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Healing Springs

The Lion's Head - where the pure spring waters may be drunk

Today I drank from the healing waters of the Red Spring in the Chalice Well Garden at Glastonbury - the water is very high in iron content which accounts for the name. After drinking from the spring and having a quiet wander around this most tranquil of gardens I walked up Glastonbury Tor. Reaching the top is such an exhilarating feeling - today there was an assortment of people gathered around the tower and almost straight away a driving shower blew in (it could be seen moving our way as I walked up the tor). With or without the rain, the walk up and then back down left me feeling energised and light - I'm not sure how that works but perhaps the healing waters from the Red Spring played a part.

There is another famous healing spring flowing from the tor called the White Spring and until quite recently there was a little cafe at the side of the tor on Wellhouse Lane where this spring came out - tea made from this water was the most delicious I have ever drunk.

One of the springs that feeds St Andrew's Pool at Wells

Before arriving at Glastonbury today I also visited Wells for a couple of hours - although not enough time to familiarise myself with the town I spent the time at the gardens of the Bishop's Palace. This is where the wells and springs that give Wells its name rise - the flow of the water apparently averages 40 gallons a second.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Chapel Perilous

Illustration by Mackenzie
from Chistine Chaundler's book Arthur and His Knights
In this version of the King Arthur myth, Lancelot is tested at the Chapel Perilous with great danger but his courage does not desert him and he eventually comes out unscathed protected by his valour and fidelity to his love for Queen Guinevere.

I have recently rediscovered Robert Anton Wilson - to be truthful it was my good friend and former partner Kevin who was really into his writing. Back then though, the window of perception had not yet opened for me nor had I realised it was me that needed to lift the catch. Yet it is never too late ...... just recently Robert Anton Wilson (RAW for short) has been mentioned on the Avebury Forum where, apart from discussing the many facets of the wonderful Avebury landscape, occasional surrealism and wit gets batted around.

Robert Anton Wilson was born January 18th 1932 and died on January 11th 2007. His work still sparkles with humour, courage, understanding and tolerance. He was a committed agnostic with regard to most aspects of his life and contended that when dogma enters the brain all intellectual activity ceases.

So I have borrowed and am reading a copy of Cosmic Trigger which was first published in 1977. Here's what RAW says about Chapel Perilous:

Chapel Perilous, like the mysterious entity called "I" cannot be located in the space-time continuum; it is weightless, odourless; tasteless and undetectable by ordinary instruments. Indeed, like the Ego, it is even possible to deny that it is there. And yet, even more like the Ego, once you are inside it, there doesn't seem to be any way to get out again, until you suddenly discover that it has been brought into existence by thought and does not exist outside thought. Everything you fear is waiting with slavering jaws in Chapel Perilous, but if you are armed with the wand of intuition, the cup of sympathy, the sword of reason and the pentacle of valor, you will find there (the legends say) the Medicine of Metals, the Elixir of Life, the Philosopher's Stone, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness.

That's what the legends say, and language of myth is poetically precise. For instance, if you go into that realm without the sword of reason, you will lose your mind, but at the same time, if you take only the sword of reason without the cup of sympathy, you will lose your heart. Even more remarkably, if you approach without the wand of intuition, you can stand at the door for decades never realising you have arrived. You might think you are just waiting for a bus, or wandering from room to room looking for your cigarettes, watching a TV show, or reading a cryptic and ambiguous book. Chapel Perilous is tricky that way.......

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Selfish Gene

I have recently been watching the new tv series presented by Richard Dawkins about Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. The first programme in the series was excellent and Richard Dawkins did a splendid job of explaining the work of Charles Darwin in clear and accessible language.

This week, however, Richard Dawkins talked largely about his own best selling book The Selfish Gene which I haven't read yet, though will make a point of doing so in the near future. He talked about the selfish gene also being a subtle gene and that altruism exists in human nature only to make ourselves more acceptable and liked by our social groups. I found this a rather bleak but credible view.

Questions quickly surface however, what about the majesty of the universe and humankind's struggle to articulate its place within the Great Order? What about the astonishing art, architecture, literature, music, medicine and scientific achievements that have come from the species of animal called Man? What about the fragile balance of our own beautiful blue planet Earth? Can all this be rationalised away as just the accident of evolution.

I personally don't hold any particular religious belief except for a great appreciation, verging on reverence, for Nature, especially Spring when the world comes back to life. I feel as though Richard Dawkins, as much as I respect him as an academic, has missed something essential to the human condition.

One of my favourite mystical writers is an Irishman named George Russell, also known as AE. I am fortunate to own a little book of his poetry called 'Homeward Songs by the Way' and the first poem in it is called The Unknown God.

Far up the dim twilight fluttered
Moth-wings of vapour and flame:
The lights danced over the mountains,
Star and after star they came.

The lights grew thicker unheeded,
For silent and still were we;
Our hearts were drunk with a beauty
Our eyes could never see.
(AE 1867 - 1935)

To also quote him from The Candle of Vision.
For some years my heart was proud, for as beauty sank into memory it seemed to become a personal possession, and I said "I imagined this" when I should humbly have said "The curtain was a little lifted that I might see"

I don't have any answers and as I grow older, the questions don't seem to matter that much either. But I do know there is more to the universe than just that which is visible and provable. That the world works on evolution cannot be denied (not by me anyway). Neither would I deny the existence of the unseen, the mysterious and the mystical. Something that cannot be seen and cannot be touched but sometimes it touches you.

(musings by June Jackson)

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Harvest Moon

One of Samuel Palmer mystical pastural moonscape painting's (image courtesy of British Museum). Samuel Palmer 1805 - 1881

The Harvest Moon
The flame-red moon, the harvest moon,
Rolls along the hills, gently bouncing,
A vast balloon,
Till it takes off, and sinks upward
To lie in the bottom of the sky, like a gold doubloon.
The harvest moon has come,
Booming softly through the heaven, like a bassoon.
The earth replies all night, like a deep drum.
So people can't sleep,
So they go out where the elms and oak trees keep
A kneeling vigil, in a religous hush.
The harvest moon has come!
And all the moonlit cows and all the sheep
Stare up at her petrified, while she swells
Filling heaven, as if red hot, and sailing
Closer and closer like the end of the world.
Till the gold fields of stiff wheat
Cry 'We are ripe, reap us!' and the rivers
Sweat from the melting hills
Ted Hughes (1930 - 1998)

Blackberry Picking

Blackberry Picking
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: the summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots .....
extract from a poem by Seamus Heaney (b.1939)

Sunday, 10 August 2008

August observations - a hint of autumn

Berries on a Yew tree

Sunlight on leaves

Ripening apples over a garden wall

Fungi on tree bark

Out for a walk today, it is still early August but the weather has been changeable and blustery. There is more than a hint of autumn in the air - berries are turning red or purple, apples are ripening on the bough, the sunlight casts leafy patterns on the ground. As always, the beauty of nature is all around us in the small as well the majestic.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Scary old tree

One of the old sweet chestnut trees as you enter the garden at Stourhead - reputed to be 600 years old.

Perspectives and Reflections

Today I visited Stourhead with a friend who is a National Trust member and who didn't want to drive the diagonal journey across Wiltshire on her own. Stourhead is an amazing garden full of astonishing perspectives and reflections. As I pondered on what to write about this visit, it occurred to me how often we use words such as perspective and reflection as metaphors for trying to make sense out of our own life's journey. I wondered whether the creator of Stourhead, Henry Hoare II (also known as Henry the Magnificent) had encoded this same idea into it's vistas with the replica temples to Flora the goddess of flowers, spring, and fertility and Apollo the god light and the sun, music, poetry and medicine.

The Temple to the goddess Flora

The Pantheon - reflected in the lake

The Temple to Apollo - set up a steep hill to represent Apollo's choice between the easy path of pleasure and the more arduous path of virtue.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

The Black Sheep

The Black Sheep

From their folded mates they wander far,
Their ways seem harsh and wild:
They follow the beck of a baleful star,
Their paths are dream-beguiled.

Yet haply they sought a wider range,
Some loftier mountain slope,
And little recked of the country strange
Beyond the gates of hope.

And haply a bell with a luring call
Summoned their feet to tread
Midst the cruel rocks, where the deep pitfall
And the lurking snare are spread.

Maybe, in spite of their tameless days
Of outcast liberty,
They're sick at heart for the homely ways
Where their gathered brothers be.

And oft at night, when the plains fall dark
And the hills loom large and dim,
For the shepherd's voice they mutely hark,
And their souls go out to him.

Meanwhile, 'Black sheep! black sheep!' we cry,
Safe in the inner fold;
And maybe they hear, and wonder why,
And marvel, out in the cold.

(Richard Francis Burton, 1821 - 1890)

Richard Francis Burton was an English explorer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, ethnologist, linguist (he spoke 25 languages plus another 15 dialects), poet, hypnotist, fencer and diplomat. He had a special interest in Eastern Erotica and translated the unexpurgated version of The Book of 1001 Nights, (Arabian Nights), Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden.
Photo taken at Avebury Henge: 2/08/08
Now here's is a piece of interesting synchronicity: I had just completed the above post when I went to check my bulk emails, there to find an email from Head Heritage informing me that Julian Cope has just released an CD called Black Sheep. For those that don't know, Julian Cope as well as being a talented musician and songwriter, is also an leading light on megalithic sites and lives very close to Avebury - where I took my picture.

Magical mugwort

This herb was one of the many herbs and wildflowers I encountered on my Lammas walk up to the Ridgeway yesterday. My two adult companions, Rose and Steve (we also had a little berry of a child with us) had much knowledge which they were happy to share, and thanks to Steve for identifying mugwort.
Mugwort has been used for magical purposes in times gone by, and probably still is. The generic name comes from Artemis, the Greek form of Diana, goddess of the moon. Medicinally the herb has been associated with child-birth and mixed with chamomile and agrimony was used to alleviate cramp. Before hops, mugwort was used in brewing to make beer more intoxicating. It can also be used to enhance dreams.
Mugwort is associated quartz crystal, silver, pearls and moonstone. It is deeply connected with Midsummer's Eve - as if used as a bathing herb prior to the shortest night offers many blessings. Bunches of dried mugwort from the previous year's harvest may be tossed into the Midsummer fire.
In Holland and Germany one of it's many names is St John's plant because of the belief that if gathered on St. John's Eve (Midsummer's Eve) it will protect against diseases and misfortune.
ref: Herbal Magick by Paul Beyerl and The Illustrated Plant Lore by Josephine Addison

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Lammas (Lughnasadh)

The first day of August is the Festival of Lammas or Lughnasadh which marks the time of the first (grain) harvest and is named after Lugh, a Celtic deity of light. Summer is still at its height but the days are shortening and autumn is on the way.

Today I met up with some people from the Avebury Forum for a walk from Avebury up to the Ridgeway. When I turned up as planned just before mid-day, it was still raining and the forecast said 'heavy showers' all day. Avebury worked its magic however, and the skies cleared, the breeze freshened and we enjoyed rather lovely wildflower walk up to the Ridgeway.
The original objective of our walk - to find the mysterious Polisher Stone was not achieved on this occasion as our guide and Stone expert, PeteG had been unable to join us.

The walk back down was just beautiful, the sun was shining, there was a warm wind blowing and the golden grain stood high, ready for harvest. Crows rose from the downland fields and filled the sky with swirling symmetry.

It had turned into a perfect Lammas Day (albeit the second day of August).

Now came fulfilment of the year's desire;
The tall wheat, coloured by the August fire,
Grew heavy-headed, dreading its decay,
And blacker grew the elm trees day by day.
About the edges of the yellow corn,
And o'er the garden grown somewhat outworn
The bees went hurrying to fill up their store;
The apple-boughs bent over more and more;
With peach and apricot the garden wall
Was odorous, and the pears began to fall
From off the high tree with each freshening breeze
(William Morris 1834 - 1896)