Thursday, 8 January 2015

Winter Solstice 2014: a report by Penny Jackson of the HTW Inner Court

According to English Heritage, the winter solstice sunrise of 2014 was on 22 December. However, according to the Met Office, this would be thick with cloud. So I had a better idea - see the sunset on the 20th instead, which contained a possible window of daylight.

The exact purpose of Stonehenge is not known, but celebrating the winter solstice sunrise isn't actually on the list. There is no known alignment associated with it, it just seems to be a less crowded version of the midsummer sunrise. The midsummer sunrise does have archaeological logic, the stones are lined up for it. However, that alignment corresponds with the midwinter sunset directly opposite. Not the sunrise. So why is it celebrated today and not the sunset? I don't know. Probably because it suits English Heritage's opening times better?

Last year, I decided to explore the Stonehenge Avenue about a week after the solstice since it was one of the few days of the year I had free. We happened to arrive just before sunset, and sadly I had not brought a camera. What I saw made me desperate to return with a camera the next year, as it appeared to reveal an alignment not previously known. As the setting sun passed the summer sunrise/winter sunset axis, it projected a long shadow of the stones directly down the avenue. You may not be familiar with the avenue, which is a natural feature which happens to be aligned with the midwinter sunrise/midwinter sunset, and is probably why the location was considered sacred to one of those times of year (maybe both) and inspired Stonehenge to be built there. The part of it visible today is the section nearest Stonehenge, and it is a series of ridges running down the hill. The long shadows in parallel with those ditches was an amazing sight, and far more visible to a large number of people than a small hole only visible from one place and easily blocked by spectators. So I went back a day before the solstice itself to try to get some pictures.

Unlike the main stones, the avenue is free entry. I decided to respect nature (and the likely lack of parking) and get the bus to Amesbury. From there you walk along Stonehenge Road, cross the A303, and enter the field containing the Avenue, which gets you not a lot further from Stonehenge than the paying customers! It is about a 40 minute walk though. I was rather worried on the approach as it had turned cloudy, but noticed the horizon itself seemed to be clear so we probably would get a good view of the sunset. The field contained some of the best fairy rings I've ever seen.



The good news was the sky was clear enough on the horizon to see the sun setting, and we have some beautiful photos. The bad news is that it wasn't powerful enough to cast the shadows I saw the previous year. It's possible that this was due to thin cloud still being in front of the sun and on a completely clear sky it would work, but it may be that the reason for the spectacular shadows last year was that being a week or so off meant the sun was higher when it passed the stones and was therefore powerful enough to cast the shadows, but it isn't at the solstice itself.



A few others turned up to watch, but not many. I think there were about 5 on the avenue side of the fence? It seems a pity that what is probably such a spectacular cathedral to the winter solstice had so few people turn up to see the last actually visible sunset of the waning year. The paying customer side had a fair few but not an unusually high looking number for a day out at Stonehenge, fewer than an average day in summer. I was glad to see most of them looked like they were appreciating the sunset, all lined up by the heelstone. Someone had even brought a camera drone, not sure which side of the fence. This is something missing in most of the ceremonies I see at Stonehenge and Avebury - they ignore the sun. We go supposedly to celebrate it, but then at the moment the sun is supposed to rise the attention is on them not the sun. They don't even notice or acknowledge when it actually breaks over the horizon (or to be more realistic in modern Britain, the cloud). This is why I didn't feel much need to go to the ceremony that morning, I'd already seen the sun.

I think Stonehenge gets an unjustified bad press as big and commercialised among pagans. I love the place because there is so much to it which isn't well known or attended, there is plenty about it you can make special to you. The fire festivals aren't celebrated at all for example, if you attend then, it will probably just be you. How is that overly commercialised?



Getting into the main circle is at the mercy of English Heritage but the area is huge complex of monuments not under their control, and you can get very close for free if you know where the paths are. The Avenue is free access and until recently very little was known about it. And despite probably being the main purpose, very few people turn up to the winter solstice sunset. If you like a huge party where everyone is welcome it can be that, but if you like quiet, mysterious and intimate it can be that. In fact I think the surrounding barrows and avenue achieve that far better than Avebury except at certain times a couple of days of the year.


































The photo above made up for the disappointing lack of shadows down the avenue. It shows the sun setting through the stones, and a ray of light almost perfectly lining up with the axis marked by English Heritage to show it. Although to be fair it was hardly a disappointing experience, I am one of the few people who have been able to see Stonehenge as it may have been intended, seeing the sun align with the heelstone and the avenue at the midwinter sunset. Not because I arranged special access with contacts in useful places or spent a lot of money, I just did some basic homework, checked the weather forecast, got the bus and went for a walk. Isn't that what paganism is supposed to be about?



Text copyright Penny Jackson, photographic copyright David Willingham.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Daily Affirmation


Light incense or a candle and stand facing either north or the rising sun. Raise your hands in salute and say:

"I am protected, from all harm and injury, be it physical, mental or spiritual. I stand within circles of light that nothing save love may cross.

(Oh Great Gods; my Lord and my Lady, send down thy powers, to guard, guide, inspire and uplift me and lead me in thy ways, now and forever.")

Place your arms out in front of you slightly with the palms downward and say: "I call upon the land beneath my feet."

Turning  deosil in the same position while saying: "The sea that surrounds me."

On returning to the starting position turn your palms upwards, raise your arms slightly and say: "And the sky that is above me, to bless and protect me, this day."

Text and photography copyright the Chattering Magpie.
Section in brackets optional.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

UNTITLED POEM



"Blackbirds sing and hawks, they dance.
Foxes play, while old brock sleeps.
And in the cave, the wild man sits,
And looks deep, into the spiral pit."

Text copyright 1998.
Picture copyright 2010.




.

Monday, 8 December 2014

THE GREEN KNIGHT





"Make we our covenant, ere we go further. First, I ask thee, knight, thy name. Tell me truly, that I may know thee."


"By the help of heaven I was true to my covenant, true to my king, and true to my host; but in this I faulted, that I was not true to myself."


"This is the bond of my blame that I bear in my neck, this is the harm and the loss I have suffered, the Cowardice and the Covetousness in which I was caught, the token of the covenant in which I was taken."















"My sword shall be bathed in heaven!"



























Paraphrased quotations taken from “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” a play by the Reverend James Yeames


All photography copyright D.B. Griffith the Chattering Magpie 2011 to 2014.




Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Talking Oak by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Picture copyright Chattering Magpie 2010 Dale Abbey

Once more the gate behind me falls;
Once more before my face
I see the moulder'd Abbey-walls,
That stand within the chace.

Beyond the lodge the city lies,
Beneath its drift of smoke;
And ah! with what delighted eyes
I turn to yonder oak.

For when my passion first began,
Ere that, which in me burn'd,
The love, that makes me thrice a man,
Could hope itself return'd;

To yonder oak within the field
I spoke without restraint,
And with a larger faith appeal'd
Than Papist unto Saint.














Picture copyright Chattering Magpie 2009 Calke Abbey

For oft I talk'd with him apart
And told him of my choice,
Until he plagiarized a heart,
And answer'd with a voice.

Tho' what he whisper'd under Heaven
None else could understand;
I found him garrulously given,
A babbler in the land.

But since I heard him make reply
Is many a weary hour;
'Twere well to question him, and try
If yet he keeps the power.

Hail, hidden to the knees in fern,
Broad Oak of Sumner-chace,
Whose topmost branches can discern
The roofs of Sumner-place!

Say thou, whereon I carved her name,
If ever maid or spouse,
As fair as my Olivia, came
To rest beneath thy boughs.---





Picture copyright Chattering Magpie 2011 Sherwood

"O Walter, I have shelter'd here
Whatever maiden grace
The good old Summers, year by year
Made ripe in Sumner-chace:

"Old Summers, when the monk was fat,
And, issuing shorn and sleek,
Would twist his girdle tight, and pat
The girls upon the cheek,

"Ere yet, in scorn of Peter's-pence,
And number'd bead, and shrift,
Bluff Harry broke into the spence
And turn'd the cowls adrift:

"And I have seen some score of those
Fresh faces that would thrive
When his man-minded offset rose
To chase the deer at five;

"And all that from the town would stroll,
Till that wild wind made work
In which the gloomy brewer's soul
Went by me, like a stork:

"The slight she-slips of royal blood,
And others, passing praise,
Straight-laced, but all-too-full in bud
For puritanic stays:

"And I have shadow'd many a group
Of beauties, that were born
In teacup-times of hood and hoop,
Or while the patch was worn;

"And, leg and arm with love-knots gay
About me leap'd and laugh'd
The modish Cupid of the day,
And shrill'd his tinsel shaft.

"I swear (and else may insects prick
Each leaf into a gall)
This girl, for whom your heart is sick,
Is three times worth them all.

"For those and theirs, by Nature's law,
Have faded long ago;
But in these latter springs I saw
Your own Olivia blow,

"From when she gamboll'd on the greens
A baby-germ, to when
The maiden blossoms of her teens
Could number five from ten.

"I swear, by leaf, and wind, and rain,
(And hear me with thine ears,)
That, tho' I circle in the grain
Five hundred rings of years---

"Yet, since I first could cast a shade,
Did never creature pass
So slightly, musically made,
So light upon the grass:

"For as to fairies, that will flit
To make the greensward fresh,
I hold them exquisitely knit,
But far too spare of flesh."



Picture copyright Chattering Magpie 2011 Cresswell Crags

Oh, hide thy knotted knees in fern,
And overlook the chace;
And from thy topmost branch discern
The roofs of Sumner-place.

But thou, whereon I carved her name,
That oft hast heard my vows,
Declare when last Olivia came
To sport beneath thy boughs.

"O yesterday, you know, the fair
Was holden at the town;
Her father left his good arm-chair,
And rode his hunter down.

"And with him Albert came on his.
I look'd at him with joy:
As cowslip unto oxlip is,
So seems she to the boy.

"An hour had past---and, sitting straight
Within the low-wheel'd chaise,
Her mother trundled to the gate
Behind the dappled grays.

"But as for her, she stay'd at home,
And on the roof she went,
And down the way you use to come,
She look'd with discontent.

"She left the novel half-uncut
Upon the rosewood shelf;
She left the new piano shut:
She could not please herseif

"Then ran she, gamesome as the colt,
And livelier than a lark
She sent her voice thro' all the holt
Before her, and the park.

"A light wind chased her on the wing,
And in the chase grew wild,
As close as might be would he cling
About the darling child:

"But light as any wind that blows
So fleetly did she stir,
The flower, she touch'd on, dipt and rose,
And turn'd to look at her.

"And here she came, and round me play'd,
And sang to me the whole
Of those three stanzas that you made
About my  Oh giant bole;'

"And in a fit of frolic mirth
She strove to span my waist:
Alas, I was so broad of girth,
I could not be embraced.

"I wish'd myself the fair young beech
That here beside me stands,
That round me, clasping each in each,
She might have lock'd her hands.

"Yet seem'd the pressure thrice as sweet
As woodbine's fragile hold,
Or when I feel about my feet
The berried briony fold."

























Picture copyright Chattering Magpie 2011 Cresswell Crags

O muffle round thy knees with fern,
And shadow Sumner-chace!
Long may thy topmost branch discern
The roofs of Sumner-place!

But tell me, did she read the name
I carved with many vows
When last with throbbing heart I came
To rest beneath thy boughs?

"O yes, she wander'd round and round
These knotted knees of mine,
And found, and kiss'd the name she found,
And sweetly murmur'd thine.

"A teardrop trembled from its source,
And down my surface crept.
My sense of touch is something coarse,
But I believe she wept.

"Then flush'd her cheek with rosy light,
She glanced across the plain;
But not a creature was in sight:
She kiss'd me once again.

"Her kisses were so close and kind,
That, trust me on my word,
Hard wood I am, and wrinkled rind,
But yet my sap was stirr'd:

"And even into my inmost ring
A pleasure I discern'd,
Like those blind motions of the Spring,
That show the year is turn'd.

"Thrice-happy he that may caress
The ringlet's waving balm---
The cushions of whose touch may press
The maiden's tender palm.

"I, rooted here among the groves
But languidly adjust
My vapid vegetable loves
With anthers and with dust:

"For ah! my friend, the days were brief
Whereof the poets talk,
When that, which breathes within the leaf,
Could slip its bark and walk.

"But could I, as in times foregone,
From spray, and branch, and stem,
Have suck'd and gather'd into one
The life that spreads in them,

"She had not found me so remiss;
But lightly issuing thro',
I would have paid her kiss for kiss,
With usury thereto."



Picture copyright Chattering Magpie 2009 Calke Abbey

O flourish high, with leafy towers,
And overlook the lea,
Pursue thy loves among the bowers
But leave thou mine to me.

O flourish, hidden deep in fern,
Old oak, I love thee well;
A thousand thanks for what I learn
And what remains to tell.

"Oh Tis little more: the day was warm;
At last, tired out with play,
She sank her head upon her arm
And at my feet she lay.

"Her eyelids dropp'd their silken eaves
I breathed upon her eyes
Thro' all the summer of my leaves
A welcome mix'd with sighs.

"I took the swarming sound of life---
The music from the town---
The murmurs of the drum and fife
And lull'd them in my own.

"Sometimes I let a sunbeam slip,
To light her shaded eye;
A second flutter'd round her lip
Like a golden butterfly;

"A third would glimmer on her neck
To make the necklace shine;
Another slid, a sunny fleck,
From head to ankle fine,

"Then close and dark my arms I spread,
And shadow'd all her rest---
Dropt dews upon her golden head,
An acorn in her breast.

"But in a pet she started up,
And pluck'd it out, and drew
My little oakling from the cup,
And flung him in the dew.

"And yet it was a graceful gift---
I felt a pang within
As when I see the woodman lift
His axe to slay my kin.

"I shook him down because he was
The finest on the tree.
He lies beside thee on the grass.
O kiss him once for me.

"O kiss him twice and thrice for me,
That have no lips to kiss,
For never yet was oak on lea
Shall grow so fair as this.'





Picture copyright Chattering Magpie 2011 Sherwood

Step deeper yet in herb and fern,
Look further thro' the chace,
Spread upward till thy boughs discern
The front of Sumner-place.

This fruit of thine by Love is blest,
That but a moment lay
Where fairer fruit of Love may rest
Some happy future day.

I kiss it twice, I kiss it thrice,
The warmth it thence shall win
To riper life may magnetise
The baby-oak within.

But thou, while kingdoms overset,
Or lapse from hand to hand,
Thy leaf shall never fail, nor yet
Thine acorn in the land.

May never saw dismember thee,
Nor wielded axe disjoint,
That art the fairest-spoken tree
From here to Lizard-point.



Picture copyright Chattering Magpie 2010 Sherwood

O rock upon thy towery-top
All throats that gurgle sweet!
All starry culmination drop
Balm-dews to bathe thy feet!

All grass of silky feather grow---
And while he sinks or swells
The full south-breeze around thee blow
The sound of minster bells.

The fat earth feed thy branchy root,
That under deeply strikes!
The northern morning o'er thee shoot,
High up, in silver spikes!

Nor ever lightning char thy grain,
But, rolling as in sleep,
Low thunders bring the mellow rain,
That makes thee broad and deep!

And hear me swear a solemn oath,
That only by thy side
Will I to Olive plight my troth,
And gain her for my bride.

And when my marriage morn may fall,
She, Dryad-like, shall wear
Alternate leaf and acorn-ball
In wreath about her hair.

And I will work in prose and rhyme,
And praise thee more in both
Than bard has honour'd beech or lime,
Or that Thessalian growth,

In which the swarthy ringdove sat,
And mystic sentence spoke;
And more than England honours that,
Thy famous brother-oak,

Wherein the younger Charles abode
Till all the paths were dim,
And far below the Roundhead rode,

And humm'd a surly hymn.

Picture copyright Chattering Magpie 2011 Sherwood