Demon est Deus inversus

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A star in the morning; night and day entwined
In liminal afterglow, their passions spent.
Lightbringer, your burden is eternal – to pour out
Yourself on earth, ecstatic, theopoiesis in reverse.
Light of Days, who burns with knowledge of life
And death, the swinging thurible of time,
A pendulum above a pit; the monstrance clock
Timing your descent, a fall so fortunate.
Lux aeterna, lux feram, with wounded independence crowned,
Who bears the sun between the crescent horns:
The old heirogamy repeats itself.

*I’m currently reading about nature mystics, and have just got back from seeing the band Ghost play in concert, so I thought I’d combine the two and challenge myself to write a Luciferian poem. Not my usual thing, spiritually speaking, but it was a fun exercise, and oddly cathartic. Not sure how successful the result is, but it is what it is.

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Green Woodpecker

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Sitting at my table at home, I am frequently delighted to hear a sudden, sharp laughter coming from the garden. Looking out, I see a visitor, clad in green with a red hat looking back at me. A gnome? A fairy? Nope, it’s a resident Green Woodpecker who has taken to using the lawn as a food larder.

The European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) is a large bird, the largest of the three woodpecker species in Britain. Their laughing call, known as a “Yaffle” (the inspiration for Professor Yaffle from Bagpuss) is incredibly distinctive and once you’ve heard it once, you can’t mistake it for anything else.

The Green Woodpecker is a shy bird, and it’s taken a long time for the one in my garden to come down from the willow tree they usually nest in to the lawn, and then to come ever-closer to the house, so that now I can stand at the window and watch them without them flying away when they spot me.

Perhaps surprisingly for a woodpecker, the Green Woodpecker rarely pecks at trees, preferring instead to use the same “drumming” motion to stick their beak into moist soil, looking for tasty ants. Ants, of which there are many here, are the Green Woodpecker’s favourite food, and they use their long tongue to hoover them up much like an anteater does.

According to folklore, the Green Woodpecker is known as the “rain bird” because their appearance portends rain to come, but in my experience they arrive after rain more often than not, when the ground is softened up and easier to excavate for ants and grubs.

I can’t be sure if the one who visits/lives here is male or female, or if there are in fact two. Green Woodpeckers are monogamous, and I do hear call-and-response calls sometimes so I suspect there’s a breeding pair in the area. Males and females of the species are harder to tell apart than in many other birds, as there is very little sexual dimorphism. Both male and female Green Woodpeckers have yellow, green and red plumage and are around the same size. The only difference is that males have a slightly more pronounced redness in their cap and under the bill.

Now a near-daily visitor, the Green Woodpecker in the garden always brightens my spirits with their laughing call and bright, almost tropical, plumage. It just goes to show that if you make a space for nature, and build a relationship with the wild in your area, even a suburban semi can be a haven for life.

A poem for the season

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Grey dawn filters through the falling leaves,
Pale and soft as life’s last breath. The whisper
Of the wind carries not your voice, but your
Absence: cold, a shivering chill of recognition.
The moon’s time-wrinkled face outlasts its welcome;
In spite of us who cling to what remains. The day,
Short and half-hearted barely warms the soil,
Beneath which lie the hopes of ages past.
And if I call to you, who hears?
The dwindling forests, or the endless sky.
A day like any other, a thousand years ago,
Others and still others breathed the same.
A thousand years from now, a day like this again:
The cycle turns, the centre slowly fades.

Book review: Out of the Woods

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9781780722351Cohu, Will. Out of the Woods: the Armchair Guide to Trees. Short Books, 2007.

Out of the Woods is an unusual book. On the face of it, it’s a guide to trees, giving you the information you need to identify different species as you go for a walk, or even drive past them on the motorway.

But, as Will Cohu deliberately works to avoid technical descriptive terms that are confusing to the non-expert, and the book has very few pictures throughout (apart from a section in the middle), it is perhaps not the best book to use if you want a quick reference to actually identify a tree in front of you.

What Out of the Woods is, however, is a walk with a very knowledgeable and often quite funny travelling companion. It is literally structured this way, with Cohu addressing “you” the reader directly and taking “you” on a journey where you park your car and go for a walk in the woods with him. This is an unusual literary device, and one which took some getting used to, but after a while it does start to feel like a conversation.

Cohu’s descriptions of trees are colourful, and down-to-earth, while maintaining some evocative sense of the tree’s personality. Ash, for example, is described as having branches that are “hooked and tipped with black buds as if it were giving you the come-hither with a crooked finger ending in a filthy, unwashed nail”, while the Douglas Fir is “like the face of Pete Postlethwaite“.

As entertaining as these descriptions are, and they are fun, I’m not sure that they would actually help me identify an Ash or Douglas Fir or a Sycamore (which apparently has “unruly pubic hair”) in the wild. Perhaps I don’t have Cohu’s visual imagination.

Yet, the book is filled with interesting nuggets of information about not just the botany of trees, but their historic and social role in Britain, such as when they were introduced, what their wood was used for, folklore associated with them etc., all of which was fascinating to learn.

Each section ends with a little revision quiz to test what you’ve learned, which was a useful tool, although it did bring me out of the imaginary walk scenario.

Out of the Woods is a short enough book to work through in an afternoon or two and does make good reading on a rainy day when you can’t actually get outside to look at trees much.

If you seriously want to learn to identify trees, I would recommend you also get a tree guide like the Collins Tree Guide, which comes full of images and useful quick reference notes about the trees’ appearance. But if you want to go on a ramble with an interesting companion who  clearly has real affection for trees and woods, then Out of the Woods is worth a look.

Kubo

Last night, I saw Laika’s new stop-motion animated film, Kubo and the Two Strings. Set in a mythical ancient Japan, the story follows the heroic adventures of Kubo, a young boy on a quest for magical armour.

Or that’s the basic plot anyway. In truth, Kubo is a surprisingly poignant and bravely melancholy meditation on love, loss and memory, alongside some very nature-based imagery that I found beautiful.

The animation, like all of Laika’s previous films, was visually stunning, and the storytelling was inspired. I felt like I was watching an old myth be retold rather than an original story, which speaks to the truly Bardic talent of the whole team involved in its production.

If you were put off by the overly-silly trailers don’t be. The jokes are well-spaced out and not overpowering and, while I felt the humour didn’t always land perfectly, the more serious and emotive parts of the story outweigh the comic relief, especially in the final act.

If you must blink, do it now.

Book review: Rewilding our Hearts

Rewilding our Hearts, and Marc Bekoff with a wolf. Image from "Read the Spirit".

Rewilding our Hearts, and Marc Bekoff with a wolf. Image from “Read the Spirit”.

Bekoff, Marc. Rewilding our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence.  Novato, CA., New World Library, 2014.

“When human beings lose their connection to nature, to heaven and earth, then they do not know how to nurture their environment or how to rule their world – which is saying the same thing. Human beings destroy their ecology at the same time that they destroy one another. From that perspective, healing our society goes hand in hand with healing our personal, elemental connection with the phenomenal world” -Chogyam Trungpa.

This quote opens Marc Bekoff’s Rewilding our Hearts, and it sums up the central theme and argument of the book: that our current ecological crisis is a personal crisis, and that the solution to our society’s imbalanced relationship with nature has to involve changing our mind-set and how we interact with it.

In wildlife conservation, the term “Rewilding” refers to restoring habitats and creating “corridors” between preserved areas to allow declining species populations to recover.

Bekoff, a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, takes this concept and applies it to ourselves, suggesting that we can heal our disordered relationship with the natural world by “Rewilding our hearts” at a personal, community and broader sociological level.

Bekoff says that “Rewilding our hearts is about becoming re-enchanted with nature. It is about nurturing our sense of wonder. Rewilding is about being nice, kind, compassionate, empathic, and harnessing our inborn goodness and optimism”.

By contrast, much of society today is the result of “unwilding”: “the process by which we become alienated from nature and non-human animals; it’s how we deny our impacts and refuse to take responsibility for them; and it’s how we become discouraged and overwhelmed, and thus fail to act despite the problems we see”.

Rewilding our Hearts is a short book, only 150 pages (followed by a large amount of references, bibliographies and endnotes) and it only took me two days to read through it. But it is vast in its scope, taking a “big-picture” look at the problems facing our world today, including climate change, overpopulation, loss of biodiversity and ecological devastation, and proposes a way to begin to fix them.

Bekoff does not dwell on the negatives. While he sets out in no uncertain terms the severity of the problems we face, he remains an optimist, and sees Rewilding, both in the ecological sense and in the sense of Rewilding our hearts, as the key solution, a way of returning to a deep, even spiritual, sense of connection and interdependence with nature.

Rewilding our hearts fundamentally takes place at a personal level: by spending time in nature, immersing ourselves in it, learning its ways and adapting to it, we can be filled with a love of the natural world and non-human species that can inspire us to work for change, great or small, and start Rewilding our world as well.

This is not a task for governments or politicians alone, this is a task for us all.

Rewilding our Hearts is a clarion call to action, and to deeper contemplation as well. While by no means a Pagan book, it is one I would recommend to anyone on a nature-centred spiritual path such as Druidry or Paganism.

Bekoff concludes by saying:

“We live in a magnificent and wounded world. Despite all of the rampant destruction and abuse, it remains a magnificent world filled with awe and wonder. If you’re not in awe, you’re not paying attention. So let’s get on with it. Open your heart to nature and rewild as you go through your daily routines and rituals. The beginning is now.”

Flying Witch

Flying-Witch-12-15-700x385If you want a peaceful, relaxing escape from the political chaos at the moment (and remember, self-care is important, especially at times like this), you could do a lot worse than checking out the new anime series Flying Witch.

I first came across this via a post by David Pollard on Nature’s Path over at Patheos Pagan, and it seemed like an interesting enough prospect to give it a watch. David describes it as being “a modern-day version of Kiki’s Delivery Service“, one of my favourite Studio Ghibli films.

The official synopsis of Flying Witch says:

flying-witch-broomFlying Witch is a simple and relaxing “slice of life” anime, in the genre known as iyashikei, “healing”, which aims to create a sense of calm. Anime Evo describe Flying Witch as “a show without plot”, where “plot” is defined as “a succession of events revolving around a central conflict”. And this is key to why Flying Witch is, for me, such a beautiful show.

There are no villains, demons, evil magicians or monsters-of-the-week to battle against, and this makes it a welcome break from the usual supernatural/magic dramas you see everywhere.

Rather, Flying Witch is utterly and wonderfully ordinary. There is very little flashy magic, and where it is used it is done sparingly. Most episodes focus more on daily life in rural Japan than on witchcraft, and simple things like picking herbs, growing vegetables, cooking, relaxing, going to school and even following a cat around the village (this takes up half an episode: nothing happens, and it’s wonderful), are depicted in such a way as to seem magical in their ordinariness. It reminds us that the real magic of life, and its real richness, is in the day-to-day details.

Flying-Witch-10-Farewell-483x276The magical and mundane elements are entwined in such a way that both seem perfectly natural alongside each other, and most of the characters take a matter-of-fact view of the fact that Makoto is a witch, and this isn’t seen as anything to be scared of.

Anime Evo says:

“One of the more interesting things that came to the foreground regarding the series was how it showed a beginning sketch of sorts of how many different types of witches there are out there. We have Makoto, a very earthy, nature-oriented, green thumb sort; then there is her older sister Akane, who is a great practitioner of the magic arts (and a bit of a genius mad scientist sort with regards to casting); we have Inukai, who specializes in fortune telling; we have the the owner of Cafe Concrucio (unnamed at the moment); we have the latter’s daughter Anzu, who is also in high school, loves archeology and is a history buff … there is a huge variety.”

As befits a show set in a rural town, the natural world is always at the centre of life. Many of the magical beings have a connection to nature, such as the Harbinger of Spring and the Veil of Darkness (who brings the night), as well as magical animals and plants. As well, we see traditional farming and orchard-keeping, foraging for food in the woods, visiting the cherry blossom festival, and plenty of good cooking (much of which is refreshingly done by Kei, Makoto’s male cousin).

Flying-Witch-10-Header-490x276Flying Witch reminds me of what life as a nature-centred Pagan, or Druid, could be like. Gentle, simple, in harmony with nature and with each other.

And above all else, the artwork is simply beautiful throughout. The fact that the town is based on a real place gives it a verisimilitude that brings it to life, and now I really want to visit!

So if you want 20-30 minutes of utter bliss, give it a go.

Flying-Witch-02-06-490x276All images from Anime Evo (http://www.anime-evo.net/2016/06/27/flying-witch-review/).