Thursday, 3 April 2014
Within the Hearth of the Turning Wheel it has become something of a tradition as with many, to make a pilgrimage to a particular sacred site or place on one or other of the Solstices. This pilgrimage which has taken the form of camping trips, short breaks or simply a one day trip; is sometimes to a local site and sometimes to one of some notable distance. These trips have happened so often and it is with a nod to Professor Hutton; that we often referred to them as 'something we have always done.'
So it was that in the early hours of the 21st of December 2013 a small number of us journeyed to Stonehenge by car with the aim of meeting friends and watching the sunrise. As usual we travelled in hopeful expectation of a visible sunrise, in the full knowledge that such an occurrence is rare. The further south we travelled, the heavier the rain appeared to become and we were forced not unexpectedly, to accept that our hope was a vain one.
Parking up at about six we found ourselves directed to a lane reasonably close to the stones, joining a single file of parked vehicles that extended behind us as more joined the line. This gave us almost an hour before the police would allow access and so we settled down for a nap, it had been a long enough journey with only one 'refreshment' stop and our designated driver appreciated the break.
During this time we had a telephone call from the friends we were expecting to meet and were pleased to discover, that they had parked up only a few cars behind. So it was that once the all clear was given by the Police, some half dozen of us made our way along the lane to the gate and our entry into the site.
The weather did not really improve and I was grateful that I had come in my heavier winter cloak, as it kept me quite warm and importantly dry, underneath. Standing on the bank we awaited the dawn, if one can call it that and had a moment of peace, amongst the grey clouds and the increasingly heavy rain.
We walked our way around the circle, preferring in my case to keep to the perimeter and avoid the crowd in the centre. I was rather slower in my perambulatory circumnavigation, as I kept bumping into people I knew or being asked to stop and pose for a photograph. You would think people had never seen a man in a woollen green cloak carrying a horn before.
Amongst these friendly enquirers was the usual grouping of journalists and semi-professional photographers, including a young lady by the name of Emma Wood who took the picture I use on this BLOG post. By the time I had finished playing the part of a media tart, posing with and for various curious solstice attendees and blowing my horn for the professionals, my friends had not only completed their own circuit but started a second.
Photograph of the Summoner at Stonehenge on the 21st December 2013.
Picture copyright Emma Wood photography 2013: http://www.emmawoodphotos.co.uk/blog/
Post this wet, grey dawn we travelled on to Woodhenge, so that those members of the Most Ancient and Venerable Order of the Skylark and Hawthorne, could claim another mark towards their eventual chivalric knighthoods. Here too the wind and the rain continued and we were eager to return to the cars and depart for Avebury.
At Avebury as per our wants and obviously it is something we have always done, our own tradition as it were, we lunched at the Red Lion before taking our walk around the stones. Once again we bumped into one or two people we knew, including Bill Willth Thorpe, a Druid from Swindon. Indeed in the Venerable Order of the Skylark and Hawthorne, Bill is titled as a Knight of Swindon.
Our walk about the Avebury Stones themselves, in continuing heavy rain was also subject to strong gusts of wind. So strong and bearing in mind that many of us had cloaks, that part of the walk along the bank was at times dangerous. It was however, a very pleasant and worthwhile day.
On the 22nd of December and allowing a day for recovery, the Hearth of the Turning Wheel met at Caer Bran for our Yuletide observance and our usual exchange of gifts. Our Yuletide ritual includes our version of the Secret Santa, which we like to refer to as the Secret Odin. This once again has become something we have always done. This year the ritual was written by Lady Jane, an invited guest who renamed the ritual as Rudolphmas.
Yuletide is a celebration and the exchange of gifts, coupled with a little humour, can lift our spirits in the depth of winter, which is obviously an important element of any mid-winter festival.
Wednesday, 2 April 2014
On Wednesday the 5th of March 2014 I travelled over to Nottingham to attend an informal lecture at the Theosophical Hall on Maid Marion Way. This hall plays host to several community groups, although it is itself owned and run by the Theosophical Society in England. That particular organisation was founded in New York City by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge, and several others in 1875.
Tonight however, I was attending a meeting of the Empyrean Pagan Interest Group, an independent community group that has been in existence over a quarter of a century. The speaker for the monthly lecture in March was the eminent local historian and folklorist Frank Earp, who planned to discuss survivals of Paganism in the County of Nottinghamshire.
Mr Earp, a gentleman of learning and considerable mental astuteness; chose to speak without notes, to field questions as they arose and to focus primarily on two particular examples of local Nottinghamshire Folklore. Mr Earp’s primary hypothesis is that oral tradition is preserved within season festivals, which in turn provide a basis for a belief system. The two examples that he eventually chose to focus upon being the Wise men of Gotham and the Fair Maid of Clifton.
To begin with Mr Earp gave a general overview of mythological symbolism, from national to regional, before focusing on the local county level. The introduction was therefore a brief journey from a macrocosmic overview to a microcosmic one.
So from mentioning Heathfield in Sussex and linking that area to Dame Hethel, he was able to move to an old Nottinghamshire place name such as Vernometon. By linking this Roman name with that of nemeton, we are able to surmise that this was once the site of a sacred grove or spring
Frank Earp is therefore looking for clues found within the place names of villages, natural objects, rivers and hills. Two particular local examples being Breedon on the Hill, which literally means Hill-hill on the Hill having been named ‘the hill’ by three different groups of tribal settlers and the River Trent. He further noted that research postulated by the University of Wales, now suggests that the name of the river translates as ‘Great Feminine Highway.’ A suggestion that will be of obvious interest to contemporary Pagans, as it suggests that this great river is a physical link with the Goddess of the land.
Linking in fluid manner suggestions of the Genus Loci manifesting in hauntings and other paranormal events, Mr Earp further explored an international phenomenon called the ‘Hat Man.’ Seen in Nottinghamshire as a dark hooded figure near George’s Hill, off the Arnold to Calverton Road over Grimsmoor. The name Grim, the hood and the hat in this example, suggest the presence of the Saxon God, Woden.
The audience sat enthralled, whilst the brilliance of this scholarly mind, presented the mythological exegesis of local folklore. To speak for ninety minutes without notes, it is necessary to know one’s subject in-depth. True when fielding questions Mr Earp would occasionally lose his mark and have to take a step back, this is expected and quite common.
In examining more closely the two local legends of chosen focus, the Fair Maid of Clifton and the Wise Men of Gotham, Mr Earp was able to further postulate that Nottinghamshire has a particular venerative focus on spring.
In the story of the Fair maid, the main character whose name may be Margaret as a modernised form of a Spring Goddess, is courted by two men, one young and one old. The older man is given locally the name Farmer Germaine, his surname being Old English for old man. The younger man in some versions is called Bateman, which may mean boatman and may therefore suggest the liminal period of the spring equinox. Therefore we have in this local legend, a story of the Spring Goddess being courted by the Gods of Summer and Winter respectively.
The Wise Men of Gotham is a better known series of tales but it is suggested, totally misunderstood. The key here in the opinion of Mr Earp is the Cuckoo as a symbol of spring. Here he draws comparison with Callanish (the shining one is heralded by cuckoos), Cuckoo Pen in Cumbria and another in Cornwall, together with the numerous Cuckoo Mounds of Britain. Noting that on a hill above Gotham stands a Cuckoo Mound tumulus.
The significant elements of this story are King John riding in a chariot and being held up for three days on Gotham Moor, together with the tale of the people of Gotham attempting to pen in the Cuckoo. King John is the Sun in Splendour riding a solar chariot. The three days held up on the moor represent the three days of the Summer and Winter Solstices. The attempted capture of the Cuckoo is, it is suggested, a veneration of Spring and an attempt to extend the growing season.
Mr Earp took the audience on a journey linking hypotheses and exploring the primordial links if not the archetypal symbolism of these oft ignored local legends. To have done so without notes and without losing his thread, was truly impressive.
During a break in the proceedings, Frank politely consented to a photograph of the two of us together and we were joined by another local author, Karl Hernesson. Both of these two gentlemen are over six feet tall and I am only three inches over five feet. Although it is a lovely snapshot, which I include in this BLOG; I do rather look like the missing eighth dwarf.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Frank and I share a similar sartorial taste including jumpers, slacks and neckerchiefs. This has led me to suspect that we share the same tailor.
Picture of Frank Earp, the BLOG author and Karl Hernesson
Picture ©Donna Towsey 2014.
EMPYREAN is a Pagan and alternative spirituality interest group open to Pagans of all paths and non Pagans equally. The meeting is monthly and usually on the first Wednesday of every month in the Theosophical Hall, next to the Salutation Inn on Maid Marion Way in Nottingham.
The guest speakers come from varied backgrounds and represent a diverse area of expertise to discuss subjects that although not necessarily Pagan are of interest to Pagans and similar.
EMPYREAN on the Internet
EMPYREAN on Facebook
NOTTINGHAM HIDDEN HISTORY TEAM
THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY IN ENGLAND
Tuesday, 1 April 2014
THE CUNNING MAN’S JOURNEY BY VICTORIA MACLEOD
People say that we should ‘count our blessings’ more that we perhaps do. Reflecting upon the positive elements of our existence, those treasured moments of memory and experience.
What is a blessing? How can we define such and is a blessing different for each of us? If one is a parent then it is likely that you will regard your children as your blessings. Others may have other special parts of their lives that are regarded as a blessing.
ENGRAVED TUMBLERS BEARING THE BADGE OF THE HEARTH OF THE TURNING WHEEL
My blessings are my family and my friendships. I count amongst these friendships treasured individuals, supportive, loving and very often inspiring. This latter group of friends are often so inspiring, that at times I am left in awe of their talent, their skill, their learning and quite often; their total lack of faith in their own abilities.
LOGO OF THE DERBY WITAN BY ZHAKRISSTOL
On this last point I can at least enjoy some part of a mutual and equal experience of self doubt. I write but I do not actually think I am any good. I mess about with a camera but I know what is wrong with my pictures, even if others do not notice the flaws.
So when I look at my amazing friends who are actors, artists, writers and craftspeople, I am awed because I am not an artist. I cannot touch them emotionally as a peer but stand transfixed and often mesmerised like a child, by their display of self-effacing skill.
THE RUT BY J. PALFREYMAN
I have pictures, prints given me by the artists, in which a few brush strokes or a line of pen and ink, create images of beauty and motion. I have books, signed by authors whose skill I can never hope to equal. I have clothes made by a friend, who is so talented with a needle that it is beyond expression, yet whose talent is undervalued. I have glasses engraved with the badge of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel, by a dear boy who is embarrassed when asked to undertake a commission, because he has no appreciation of his own talent.
COMMISSIONED TALISMAN BY TVEIR HRAFNAR
I have jewellery that is hand crafted by a talented lady in London and more by an equally talented silversmith in the USA, whose imagination and skill is beyond words. These people, these wonderful, talented friendships are my blessings and I have not mentioned them all.
HOOD LAMP MADE BY MR JOHNSON OF DERBYSHIRE
If these friendships are my blessings what are theirs? Is whatever inspires them their own blessing? That indefinable spark, that divine muse that burns inside an artist or artisan, is that their blessing? Perhaps it is but my blessing is the knowing of these people and the being able to share in some small way, their own inspiration because it does inspire me.
CEREMONIAL ROBES BY THE DRAGON ARTISAN
SIBEAL'S CAVE: THE OCCULT ARTWORK OF ISABELLE GABORIT
STEVE THE GREEN MAN POTTER
TVEIR HRAFNAR: MAGICKAL TALISMANS CRAFTED BY HAND IN STERLING SILVER http://tveirhrafnar.com/blog/
VICTORIA MACLEOD: CARDS, PRINTS AND SCULPTURES
ZhaKrisstol: Chaos in motion
Monday, 17 February 2014
As many reading this will know, I retired from all official roles within the East Midlands Pagan Federation on the 30th of September 2013. Looking back now at some twenty years of membership, with the last ten as an officer and representative, I can see lows and highs, successes and failures. I spent the first eight years of that last ten year period as Regional Coordinator for Derbyshire and the last two as the EMPF Deputy District Manager.
On a personal level I can look back with pride as the organiser of twenty seven of the thirty Elvaston Castle Pagan Picnic in the Park, as the lead on the planning committees behind the All Fools Gatherings of 2007 and 2008, together with the Derby Witan 0f 2011. I look back on the latter as my high point as although not as financially successful as the All Fools Gatherings, it was perhaps the most satisfying both intellectually and professionally, coming as it did after a period of illness.
Chattering Magpie by Jane Burton 2013
During the last ten years I have also seen a great deal of change, as we the Pagan community have adapted to change within our more secular community and I dare to suggest, the Pagan community nationally has forced some of these changes. I have represented the Pagan Federation as many other officers have, on television, on radio and in print. I have liaised with local government, religious leaders and Inter-faith charities. Twenty years ago when I first joined the Pagan Federation, the involvement of our officers in such activities was sporadic and always worthy of note. Today such activities are almost commonplace and often ignored by the Pagan Community, yet the work the Pagan Federation and other community organisations carry out, is becoming increasingly important.
I feel that the great turning point came in 1998 with the passing of the Human Rights Act, as this amazing piece of legislation gave many organisations and individuals the leverage to finally push for change. Today the representatives of many Pagan organisations continue to work behind the scenes, protecting our rights, pushing forward our own agenda and taking an increasingly important role in influencing our greater non-Pagan community.
Although I have now retired from my position of Deputy District Manager having as part of my role the responsibility for the coordination of policy within Interfaith and Hospitals, I sincerely hope that others will come forward, to take up the flag of the Pagan Federation and push on to even greater successes.
The immense strides that have been made within the religious and civil rights movement over the last twenty years; benefit not simply the Pagan and Occult community but also our mainstream society. Yet today, we see our rights threatened increasingly by a secular society and those in Government who neither value the rights of the individual or the environment.
To protect our rights and to further them, the Pagan community needs volunteers, people with dynamism and vision. Are you who are reading this, an individual with such qualities? If the answer is yes, get involved.
Chattering Magpie speaking at Pagan Pride 2013
Picture copyright Mike Mason © 2013
In August 2013 I performed one of my last official functions as East Midlands Pagan Federation Deputy District Manager, prior to my retirement from the organisation. I like to think I went out on something of a high note, delivering a talk entitled ‘In defence of Interfaith’ in which I addressed briefly, the reasoning why Interfaith is an important part of the Civil and Religious Rights movement within our Pagan community.
For many within our community Interfaith is unimportant, a side issue, it is dismissed perhaps as joke but this is an underestimation of the importance of our involvement. As I have explored in articles previously published in magazines such as The Pentacle, The Hedge Wytch and Deosil Dance, Interfaith has a political element. Interfaith Dialogue is not about breaking bread with the ‘enemy’ or allowing ‘Christian Trojan Horses’ to corrupt some fantastically ‘pure’ form of Paganism. Interfaith is part of a political agenda within the Pagan community in which we assert and demand our equality within a modern society. It is an absolute recognition that the Pagan Community be treated with the same respect and consideration as any other social group, religious, ethnic, sexual or otherwise. It is not part of a request for special treatment but it is a demand for the same treatment, the same status as other social groups. Importantly, there is also an element of standing together with other minority groups, unified in dialogue and demanding equality for all.
Pagan Pride is a manifestation of the Pagan Community, in its desire to gain recognition and equality. Importantly is it also a celebration of what it is and what it means to be Pagan. It is a social group asserting its identity, whatever the definition of Pagan is to the individual and its associated meaning, the community acts as a unified body in celebration. Pagan Pride is both a political demonstration and a community festival. As such it as much in common with other Pride marches and events such as Gay Pride, combining two complex requirements in one event.
Pagan Pride has at times faced criticism from within the community, ranging from the outlandish clothes worn to the use of chants and slogans. Yet these are all part of any similar event, whether a demonstration or a carnival to celebrate a particular culture, they are the ubiquitous elements that display the emotional energy of the participants. Perhaps as time progresses and mainstream society becomes more accepting of cultural differences; the celebratory and festive elements of events such as Pagan Pride will become increasingly dominant and those elements associated with demonstration will decrease.
Yet while we live in a world that still has prejudice and displays that prejudice, whether it is against Pagans and other religious groups, persons of a different Ethnic origin to the dominant culture, those who are Lesbian, Gay or Transgender, the elderly, the sick, the homeless or the disabled. Then the need for minority groups to demonstrate their community strength will exist. Pagan Pride is a manifestation of a much broader movement than simply being ‘something’ for Pagans; it is a celebration of diversity within our British society.
For details of Pagan Pride (Nottingham) 2014 see the website:
Detail of a window Lichfield Cathedral by Griffith 2012
There has recently been much discussion across the Internet regarding a televised debate that admittedly I did not see, between a scientist Bill Nye and a creationist Ken Ham. The reader should perhaps make note of the fact that until now, I had never heard of either. The basis for this debate was it seems the perceived conflict between science and religion, specifically the ongoing and futile debate of creationism versus evolution as a scientific theory.
I find myself bemused as to the point of such a debate. They generally highlight what the differences are between the two camps rather that what they have in common. However, I am of course in a very favourable position. I do not perceive or experience a personal conflict between science and my own religious beliefs, they exist both separately and complementary. I find watching a sunset a spiritually moving experience, in the full knowledge that the sun is a ball of fire many miles away.
I can only assume that the Christian representative here is of the literalist school of thought and as such he would naturally fail to see the esoteric value of the Bible, which in my opinion should be interpreted in a Gnostic context and not as actual history. The early books of the Bible are an attempt by a nomadic culture to make some sense of their world, providing a legal and moral framework for their existence. They were on the cusp of developing into a civilisation but were not yet civilised themselves, the wonders of the Solomonic civilisation lay in their future.
The literalist school of Biblical studies fails in their interpretation, because they fail to appreciate the cultural and historical context of the books they claim to understand. This unfortunately means that certain outmoded legal judgements that may have been of enormous value to a nomadic proto-culture, are inappropriately imposed upon a developed Western World.
Interestingly, during my time working within the interfaith environment as part of my charity work for the Pagan Federation, I met several Humanists. I did not meet Christians of the evangelical or literalist school. They do not approve of Interfaith Dialogue and decline to participate.
The premise of this debate is built upon the suggestion that there are people who believe that science and spirituality are in conflict, that they are incompatible. That some Evangelical Christians may actually believe that the Earth itself is flat, that it was created in seven days and that their Truth is the only Truth. They choose to reject science. There are others who may seek to accommodate their spirituality with science, possibly adapting and diluting their belief to gain scientific acceptance. Some elements within the New Age movement may be representative of this group.
As previously stated, I belong to neither group nor body of thought. I do not see science and nature, science and spirituality as being in conflict. I see them in parallel and perhaps even at times, complimentary. I am aware that the Earth is round and that we orbit the Sun, that the Sun is one of many stars within a galaxy that is in turn, part of an infinite and expanding universe. I am even aware of the theory, that there may be more than one universe. None of this changes my being a Polytheist. None of this changes my spirituality, in that I derive wisdom, insight and inspiration from the Sacred Land, from works such as the Edda or from other but related Mythological Streams.
Both participants in this debate most likely left in the genuine belief that they had ‘won’ their argument. So whilst the rest of us quietly forget this nine day wonder and move on with more important things, the supporters of each delegate will I presume, hotly debate the result for a very long time.
I recognise Christianity as a valid comparative spirituality and while I am aware that that many within the Craft incorporate elements of esoteric Christianity, taking what may possibly be called a 'Gnostic' approach. My own approach within a Pagan religious sphere is perhaps edging towards an idiosyncratic construction, reflecting certain English cultural themes. That is not to say I ignore or am unaware of the Christian influence upon English society over the past two thousand years and therefore upon my path. Rather that I am perhaps more aware of what lies beneath the veneer and as a result the actual Christian influence upon my own path is and remains negligible.
This in no way devalues Christianity and I find the fashion in some Pagan circles to denigrate true Christian teaching, as much a puzzle as the perceived conflict between Science and religion. Perhaps when criticising Christianity they refer not to the teaching but the interpretations of a few who may indeed fail our society.
It is said that Pilate asked of Christ, ‘What is Truth? Is your Truth the same as mine?’ This search for Truth whatever Truth is, it is in a sense the history of civilisation. Are there therefore, factual and scientific truths that differ from poetic Truth? Perhaps I am in a truly fortunate position, whereby I recognise elements of this ‘Truth’ in science and religions, this being no mere New Age platitude of ‘it’s all one’ because as a Polytheist I neither seek nor desire religious syncretism. Rather it is an awareness of a thread of common humanity throughout and that Truth can manifest in many different ways, that there can be different Truths.
The literal interpretation of any sacred text, whether it is the Torah, the Gospels, the Koran or the many and varied Pagan Mythologies, is an error. So much is lost and so much is ignored by those that fail in a more esoteric interpretation. The door to wisdom is allegory, the key is metaphor and sadly the pearls of true gnosis; are overlooked by those that do not have eyes to see.
Detail of a window Southwell Minster by Griffith 2011
Thursday, 16 January 2014
Stanton Moor Derbyshire February 2010
DOWN with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the mistletoe;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box (for show).
The holly hitherto did sway;
Let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter day,
Or Easter's eve appear.
Then youthful box which now hath grace
Your houses to renew;
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.
When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside ;
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin
To honour Whitsuntide.
Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.
Herrick, Robert. Works of Robert Herrick. vol II.
Alfred Pollard, ed. London, Lawrence & Bullen, 1891. 104-105.
Stanton Moor Derbyshire February 2010
Sunday, 5 January 2014
Chattering Magpie atop the Cork Stone, Stanton Moor Derbyshire.
Picture by Simon Large 2012
In the first half of 2013 I heard the sad news that a gentleman and he was a gentleman; whom I had only met twice but after corresponding via Email I had the pleasure to call a friend, had passed. His death was sudden, unexpected and I felt deeply that sense of loss associated with the tragic realisation, that I would now never get to know him better.
My original intention was to produce an informal obituary for November 2013, as it was a year almost to the day since I last met Simon. Furthermore, it is natural that with the coming of the Hallowtide, for our thoughts to focus on those that have departed. In my own mind were memories not only of friends such as Simon but also family. For this latter reason I found myself unable to write, as the anniversaries of the deaths of both my brothers lay only a few weeks either side of the Hallowtide. Since both my brothers passed under tragic and unexpected circumstance, I have until now been unable to face emotionally, the prospect of writing about this dear man, Simon Large.
My first contact with Simon, a retired archaeologist and his artist wife Isabelle Gaborit, came via a mutual friend in the Clan of Tubal Cain. From this networking and exchange of emails including Facebook private messages, developed a communication that eventually would lead to Isabelle writing an exceptionally glowing review of a book I had edited on behalf of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel, for the Irish magazine Brigid’s Fire.
An important factor in our networking was the global electronic communication wonder of Facebook. Now many who know me, will know that I near despise Facebook or at least many aspects of the social phenomenon. Yet I recognise that Facebook has opened up a new area of networking and that via the social networking site that we all love to hate, I have made genuine and warm friendships.
I count amongst these my friendship with Simon and Isabelle and in the summer of 2012 as my girlfriend and I made plans for a trip over the water, it was natural for us to message our friends in Ireland. We sought advice on our arrangements and suggested that if possible, we should meet in the flesh, to finally put faces to Internet names.
So it was arranged that they would journey into Dublin to meet us soon after our arrival in Ireland. We arrived by ferry via Wales a little later than planned and made our way to the Dublin Youth Hostel, a little north of the city centre and up the hill from the well known, Black Church. Even though our arrival was later than expected, that evening Simon and Isabelle were collecting us from the hostel, their plan being to take us out for dinner.
They arrived to collect us on foot and bearing gifts. For me in particular and based on knowledge gleaned via Facebook and friends, a bottle of spiced mead, home made by Simon himself. I cradled that mead, it travelled up Eire, across Ulster and home across the sea to Derbyshire wrapped in towels deep in my suitcase. It was a very good brew and greatly appreciated as a gift.
We left the hostel that evening, the four of us and headed south down Parnell Square, Cavendish Row and O’Connell Street towards the city centre, with me taking snap shots and Simon pointing out places of particular interest for us to visit during our stay in Dublin. We passed the Garden of Remembrance and I made a mental note to return in a day or two and take better picture. We noted the General Post Office and Trinity Collage, places that we would later visit.
Finally we arrived at Cornucopia on Wicklow Street, a well known Dublin venue and a fine vegetarian restaurant. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation, this being the first time we had heard each other speak and it brought up a few surprises. Isabelle being of French origin spoke her English with a soft accent but Simon was a surprise. He who was not of Irish birth, had by having lived many years in Eire, developed a quite beautiful, almost musical Irish accent. So natural was his manner of speech that one could easily assume that he was a born Irishman.
The evening was friendly, relaxed interspaced with archaeological anecdotes provided by Simon and artistic discussion overseen by Isabelle. We walked back to their car for a lift back to the hostel, parting as firm friends with a sincere wish to meet again.
A few months later we received the news that Simon and Isabelle planned to visit the UK, first to enjoy a brief stay in London to visit the British Museum and Treadwell’s Bookshop, before journeying on to Glastonbury for the ‘Day of the Dead’ weekend in early November. Although meeting the couple in Glastonbury was impractical, I began making arrangements to journey to London to meet them once again. This proved unnecessary when it was revealed that the plans included a trip north to visit our mutual friends in Derbyshire
This would necessitate a temporary stop over in Derby and I remember checking out their suggested hotels on foot, prior to them leaving Ireland. At least one of which filled me with dread when I realised it was on the edge of an area of town of dubious reputation. Ultimately we settled on their first choice, a safe venue close to the city centre. This time is was our turn to meet Simon and Isabelle and take them for dinner, walking through Derby an admittedly less glamorous city than Dublin but still historically important, with me pointing out the Green Men on the Anglican Cathedral and the nearby Catholic church designed by Pugin before arriving at Ye Olde Dolphin Inne. This public house is said to be the oldest in the city and also the most haunted.
So once again we enjoyed a pleasant evening meal, this time with a log fire, oak beams and real ale, real English ale that Simon enjoyed contentedly. Coincidently the Derby Ghost Walk was passing through that evening, hosted by the television celebrity and local historian Richard Felix. Knowing Richard through my work with the Pagan Federation I popped outside to say hello and he graciously but briefly, popped into the snug to meet Simon and Isabelle. An added bonus was when I persuaded the staff to allow us to see the haunted upper restaurant room.
That was not where the trip ended as since our visitors from Ireland were staying with our friends, we were therefore able to enjoy a group trip into the Peaks, exploring both Stanton and the Big Moor. Here once again, Simon’s historical and archaeological interest was well catered for as we explored Neolithic remains on both moors. It was on Stanton Moor that Simon took the picture that illustrates this BLOG and it was on Stanton Moor, much to my embarrassment but to everyone else’s amusement; that I succeeded due to my inept map reading skills in getting us lost in the fog. I may never live that down.
So what are my lasting memories of this dear sweet man? The answer is a complex and wide ranging mixture that includes his soft voice, his air of calm, his humour, his intelligence and thirst to learn about areas of the Craft that were new to him. His friendliness and generosity set him apart, as a man whose friendship was worth discovery. He made being happy a virtue.
All of this began with an email and I recognise that without the Internet I would never have met Simon and Isabelle. I would never have had the pleasure of being able to call either a friend and in the case of Simon that was for a regrettably short period of time. Without the modern wonder of this medium that we call the World Wide Web, I would not now be writing this BLOG or be able to share with anyone who cares to read, what a kind of man and friend Simon was.