Valentine’s Day Swans

2 feb

Last year I took a photo of this beautiful pair of swans on the lake in the park at the back of my home, where they lived and produced young each year.

This is a sad picture, because unfortunately people visiting the park had been feeding these swans (and the other water birds) with large amounts of bread. Too much bread isn’t good for anyone! …and definitely isn’t good for swans. Rather tragically there is now only one swan on the lake. The other swan died, apparently of botulism, due to the volumes of bread thrown into the lake – not all of which was eaten, but instead rotted in the water.

It brought me up short when I heard this had happened, as it seemed that kindness on this instance really had killed.

Keeping love alive isn’t always easy. We can easily get carried away with indulgent thoughts and actions. We need to think as well as feel, and when we make a mistake (which is inevitable) we need to learn quickly and change for the future.

Love is expressed in many forms – through family, friendships, colleagues, comrades, lovers, and of course the Divine source of love itself (however we perceive that).

I believe love is the purpose of life….and the lesson.  Love is costly and sometimes painful, but we cannot truly life without it.

I don’t know if the remaining swan can find another mate – I hope so…..

 

St Bridget, Bride and Candle Blessings

The Goddess Bride and St Bridget are closely linked in Irish belief and mythology. Both are very beautiful beings.
Bride is the Goddess of healing, poetry and blacksmiths. She symbolises the elements of Fire, the Sun and the Hearth. She is seen as bringing fertility to the land and its people and is closely connected to midwives and new-born babies. The pre-Christian festival of Bride is celebrated as the Eve of St Bride on 31st January and Imbolc on 1st February. This is a time of expectation, when evenings are ever so slightly longer and the hope of spring becomes a reality. Lighting a fire and candles is a lovely way to mark this turning point day.

Brighid Mother Goddess of Ireland 14" x 28" Signed Limited Edition Giclee on Fine Art Paper          Irish St Brigid named in honor of the goddess, Brigid, whose name means "Fiery Arrow" and who was akin to the Roman goddess Minerva, who concerned herself with fertility, prosperity, and poetry, and who was symbolized by a spear, crown, and globe.              St. Brigid's Day is celebrated on February 1st. It is traditional to make a St. Bridget’s cross on the day. - See more at: http://traveltoireland.ie/en/what-to-do/events-what-to-do/february-events/st-brigids-day.html#sthash.udlI67le.dpuf:
Brighid -Patron of poetry, the hearth, healing, things with high dimensions such as high-rising flames, highlands, high spirits and love; and of activities and states psychologically lofty and elevated, such as wisdom, excellence, perfection, high intelligence, poetic eloquence, craftsmanship, transcendental abilities, druidic knowledge and skill in warfare. Quality craftsmanship.: From wickedstones.com
Bride – Green Maiden. Symbol of youthful feminine energy and fertility of Spring Time.

The 1st of February is St Bridget’s Day. St Bridget of Kildare is as well-loved in Ireland and was a contemporary of Saint Patrick. Having consecrated her life to God at the age of 15, she went on to became the Abbess of the Kildare where she presided over both male and female communities. Bridget was a strong and capable woman who made her monasteries great places of learning; with an art school devoted to making highly decorated copies of scripture and other holy writings. As a highly generous and practical lady, she is said to have performed a miracle by turning a tub of bath water into a tub of excellent beer so that a group of lepers could ease their thirst! St. Brigid saw that the needs of the body and the needs of the spirit intertwined and understood that all things rightly used could be a means of bringing glory to God. Like so many of the great saints, she was as earthy and real as the soil she walked on.
Bridget died shortly after her 70th birthday in 525, she is the Patron Saint of poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers, cattle, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives, new-born babies and brewers.

Image result for free images for st bridget and bride    Image result for free images for st bridget and bride   Image result for free images for st bridget and bride February 1 is the feast day of Saint Brigid of Kildare.   Saint Brigid is a patron of Ireland, along with Saint Patrick and Saint Columba.Hymn to Saint BrigidWhen faith’s light of freedom to Ireland first came,You, Lord, raised up Brigid to make known your name.Her proud chieftain father’s wild rage she defied,And followed your way, with the gospel for guide.In silence of fields, while she tended her fold,You spoke to her heart words more precious than gold.White figure of peace, through our country she went,In your loving service her whole life was spent.With keen fiery arrow she set hearts aflame;To live ‘neath her rule many monks and nuns came.The poor and the hungry were fed from her store,For open to all were her heart, hand and door.For Brigid we praise you, our Father and God,We praise Christ your Son in whose footsteps she trod,We praise your kind Spirit who guided her ways,We praise you, blest Trinity, all of our days.Saint Brigid of Kildare, pray for us.
The poem below has been attributed to St Bridget.

I’d like to give a lake of beer to God.
I’d love the heavenly
Host to be tippling there
For all eternity.

I’d love the men of Heaven to live with me,
To dance and sing.
If they wanted, I’d put at their disposal
Vats of suffering.

White cups of love I’d give them
With a heart and a half;
Sweet pitchers of mercy I’d offer
To every man.

I’d make Heaven a cheerful spot
Because the happy heart is true.
I’d make the men contented for their own sake.
I’d like Jesus to love me too.

I’d like the people of heaven to gather
From all the parishes around.
I’d give a special welcome to the women,
The three Mary’s of great renown.

I’d sit with the men, the women and God
There by the lake of beer.
We’d be drinking good health forever
And every drop would be a prayer.
St Bridget the Midwife

There is a beautiful story within the mythology of St Bridget which tells of her being carried by angels to the place of the birth of Jesus and being allowed to act as midwife for Mary. This vision/experience/myth is depicted in this wonderful painting by John Duncan.

Within the concept of eternity we can travel forwards and backwards in time.

Candlemas

The Christian tradition of Candlemas follows through on the 2nd February. This is the churches festival of light when church candles are blessed in the church ready for the coming year.

This day is also closely associated with ceremony known as the ‘Churching of Women’ during which a blessing is given to mothers after recovery from childbirth, and  includes giving thanks for the woman surviving the birth (even if the child is still born or died during the birth).

The usual reading for the festival of Candlemas is Luke 2:22-40 ‘The purification of the Virgin’, where Jesus is taken to the Temple to give thanks for his birth as the first born son, and for the ritual purification of Mary. The Churching of Women ceremony has developed from this Jewish rite, although this ceremony is essentially a celebration and blessing not a  purification ritual.

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This image is from my calendar ‘Lord of the Seasons’ – Simeon takes Jesus in his arms and blesses God.

I love the way the old Celtic earth based festivals blend and melt into the Christian. I believe that the meaning comes to life and goes that much deeper when we respect the connection of Old and New.

Happy St Bridget’s Day!

 

Praise be to the tree

Last Christmas I completely broke with my traditional theme and chose a non-pine, needle free Christmas tree.

In my original home we always had a real tree, one with roots on if possible, which we could plant out afterwards. Very rarely did these trees take, but there are three survivors in the garden there now at various stages of development and all looking quite healthy.
After leaving that home I continued the genuine green Christmas tree tradition, but rather than buy something that I might vainly attempt to plant in the garden afterwards I maintained a tree in a pot which lived happily outside throughout the year, only to be stressed out by the mid-winter heat of my home for about 15 days of the year.

In 2014 I decided to give my long suffering tree a break, and in all honesty the pot’s now really too big to be lugging in and out of the house. Since most of the trees in the area around my house have dropped their leaves for winter and stand unveiled in their delicate nakedness against the wintry skies, I decided it would be more in harmony with reality to find a simple branch for the representative tree in my home for the Season.
Having been much part of the festivities across northern Europe for centuries, the Christmas Tree was popularised in Britain during the reign of Queen Victoria. Although Christianised in its use, the bringing in of a tree to your home almost certainly has its roots in pre-Christian Paganism.

There are various theories regarding the meaning of trees and greenery within the Pagan traditions of Europe. My understanding is that the tree was thought to have a spirit which we might see as the Green Man or life force of nature. This life force within the tree could be honoured by bringing it into the home at this time, and so in an earth based Pagan understanding, such honour would encourage the eventual return of the warmth, light and lengthening of days, with the hope of Spring returning.
I like the idea that humans felt that they could both respect and take part in the natural processes of the Earth. Simple and limited by scientific standards though their understanding was, these earlier people had a strong sense of both their vulnerability and their power within the environment, and demonstrated consciousness of dependence on the provisions of our Planet.

And so it struck me that Christmas (a Christian festival overlapping in time with the Celtic/pagan mid-winter festival of the Solstice) might be an appropriate time when the tree, as representative of the Planet’s Life as a whole, might be honoured.

As a Christian my understanding is that Earth is the wonderful creation of God and that His son Jesus is both Saviour and the ‘Living Word through whom all things were made.’ John 1.3. In this sense we can see the finger prints of God in everything and the Divine presence running throughout the natural world and the whole Universe.

The teachings of the Church have largely emphasised God being beyond everything, with Jesus as the Saviour of the World, while there has been less emphasis on the omnipresence of God or recognition of the Devine within. Because of this there is little within the Church calendar (with the exception of Harvest Festival), which provides a base from which to celebrate the natural world or to encourage a sense of our responsibility as humans to care for the Planet. Recently, and most notably in the Popes publication of Laudato si’ (a strong comment on the responsibility of all people to take note of the need to conserve, respect and protect the Planet’s resources), there have been efforts made within the Church to put care of the environment on the agenda. But until now my experience has been that, apart from a few excellent hymns, there is rarely much of an opportunity to demonstrate respect, awe and wonder at a World which God has made and through which He moves, and on which we are all (for the time we are on the Planet) dependent.

Because of this I have looked for a way to honour and celebrate the seasons within my own life while remaining true to my Christian Faith, and I have found the 8 Celtic Earth based festivals of the year a helpful base from which to honour and celebrate the Earth’s natural cycle.
So that’s how I came to get creative with my Christmas tree of 2014, developing a way to celebrate each season throughout the year (not just Christmas). My simple twiggy branch has been a way to express the changes in the natural world around me using some odd bits I’ve found, been given, made or bought. It’s been a really satisfying thing to do and spiritual in its expression; as I performed a little ceremony of my own with each change. The process has helped me feel more connected with the earth and more mindful of the way I use its resources as well as being an interest to those who have visited my house this year.

Here are some photos that I took of the tree as each season progressed, with some explanation for the choice of decorative symbols.

 

My original 2014 Christmas tree, looking jolly with decorations.

Christmas 2014

 

1st February – Imbolc coinciding with St Bridget’s Day and swiftly followed by Candlemas.

St.Bridget of Kildare is a strong Irish Celtic Saint born in 451. She was the only woman to be made a bishop, and founded a monastery at Cell Dara (Kildare), “Church of the Oak”, on the site of an older pagan shrine to the Celtic goddess Brigid. This festival marks the beginning of Spring and the lambing season. Traditional Saint Bridget’s crosses are made from rushes – like the ones above that we made at the St Bridget’s meal that I held at my house last year.

I left just a few of the Christmas baubles on the tree and added some pictures of Saint Bridget and little Saint Bridget’s crosses. The ceramic ram represents the coming lambing season.

 

Spring Equinox – Ostera (around 21st March)

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An equal balance in the length of days. A time of new life bursting forth, celebrated with the symbols of eggs, spring flowers, the Easter Bunny or hare. Easter is closely linked with this festival, Easter always being the first Sunday after the full moon after the Equinox.
I bought these eggs from a local gift shop – they caught my eye in the window as I was passing.

 

Beltane – May Day 1st May.

May Day Tree

May Day Tree

May Day

A celebration of life and the unity which fosters it, often noted for the dancing around the maypole, and Morris dancing on sacred sites and church towers. The Church equivalent might be Rogation Day (the ancient practice of marking boundaries and blessing crops), which always falls on the 5th Sunday after Easter. The following Sunday being Ascension – the day when Jesus returns to Heaven.

For decoration I used little bunches of white blossom which I bought from a craft shop, the white blossom represents the may blossom which covers the hedges around the fields where I live. The ribbons and bells represent the May Day Morris dancers.

Litha – Summer Solstice (around 21st June)

Summer SolsticeSummer Solstice

A time when the sun is at its greatest height in the sky and the days are longest. The Church has no special festivals around this time of year.

For this season I added Helichrysum to the blossoms and the ribbons.

 

Lammas – 1st August

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Marks the beginning of the harvest, with a focus on the ripening of the grain.
I gleaned some wheat stems from the local fields to make a small wheat sheaf for this season.

 

Autumn Equinox (around 21st September)

Harvest Acorns DSCF3992

 

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Mid-harvest. At this time the days and nights are of equal length. The Church celebrates Harvest Festival around this time and thanks God for the bounty of the Earth.

 

Samhain – 31st October

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The end of Summer and the end of the harvest – a time to reflect and remember deceased loved ones. The Church celebrates this as All Saints Day on 1st November and All Souls Day on 2nd November.

I took everything off the tree and added these natural Chinese Lanterns, they seemed to represent both death and light to me.

 

For Christmas 2015 I added a few traditional gold baubles and an angel or two along with my Father Christmas/St Nicholas figure.

2015 Christmas   2015 Christmas

2015 Christmas

Yule – Winter Solstice – Mid winter festival. A time of hope as we celebrate love, friendship, the birth of a very special baby and the light once again returning as we pass the longest night.

May your year be fruitful and harmonious, may you grow in yourself and in your community, may you find peace and find ways to express the beauty of which you are made, while you enable others to do the same.
Amen.

Introducing Myself –

Lover of nature and people

Growing up close to the Kentish countryside with chickens, ducks, guinea-pigs and even a sheep or two in the garden, I have always felt close to nature. We spent plenty of time outdoors as a family, and holidays nearly always involved camping on a farm somewhere. I was lucky enough to have a mother who loved nature as much as I did and actually paid for me to be taken on nature rambles by a couple of local elderly ladies. I learned lots from these timeless trips, and quickly developed a love of hedgerows, fields full of wild flowers and all sorts of creepy crawlies. I absorbed into my system a love of the changing seasons with all the smells, colours and sounds that tell us where we are in the year’s calendar. I almost never complain about the weather, because I know that all seasons carry their own beauty.
I attended Christchurch University and thoroughly enjoyed studying Ceramic Art and Religious Studies. After graduating I opened a pottery in an old stable at Tong Farm, Headcorn in Kent. The pottery provided a great place for me to develop my creativity and my ideas as well as to teach. Many students came to learn simple ceramic skills and enjoy the peaceful ambiance of the studio. During this time I developed a variety of work and found ways to link my love of nature with my understanding of spirituality and my Christian faith. In the year 2000 I created five pieces depicting the life cycle of nature using the imagery of the emergence of the tadpole from frogspawn into a frog and beyond into death. These were in exhibited in Rochester Cathedral as part of a special exhibition to mark the millennium.
After ten years of running the pottery I felt that a change was due, and started to focus on painting and photography. Hoping to use my camera and love of nature to capture the simple and available beauty around me, I began to develop visual presentations and calendars as a way of helping people recognise the value and wonder of the natural world.
My view is that while modern lives are very busy, it’s good for us to stop for a moment to appreciate the world around us – the world that we are a part of and that sustains us – Mother Nature. Sometimes we can go a little deeper even and feel as so many before us, that presence of a Greater Peace that we may call God.
People feel happier and healthier when they are not too far from nature. I hope that my work helps people to feel some of that sense of wonder that I experience, and to appreciate the simple beauty that each changing season brings.

Sally
07 tree in mist