Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Shadows: A Meditation for Samhain

A meditative short piece for Samhain...

I was walking on a path that cut though the meadowlands of the valley. Beside the valley was a stream, flowing over stones, crystal clear waters. I crossed a small wooden bridge across the stream. Drizzle drenched me; heavy clouds overshadowed the hills ahead.
I had been given directions, and looking at the map, I could hear the voice of the druid describing the journey that I was to undertake. He had spread out the parchment, crinkled and cracked, upon a flat stone within the cave. By the flickering torch, blazing in its bronze holder, I could make out the contours of the land, the stream, the hills, and my destination. It was a still night, the air fresh and clear, and it seemed so easy. But now it was a journey into shadows.
Down in the valley, the path seemed to twist and turn strangely, and my head was not so clear. I was feeling damp, drenched by the incessant rain falling softly on the land. The path divided into two, and I had to pause to recollect which route I was to take.
As I stood there, I noticed the ruins of a dwelling, but as I watched, they shimmered, and walls and a quadrangle appeared. On a tiled mosaic floor, I could make out the head of  Minerva-Sulis. Shadowy figures could be seen, and grew clearer yet. Their garb was at first unfamiliar to me, but as the shapes grew sharper, I could see the garments of a Roman family. They were embracing, and weeping, and I heard snatches of conversation, distantly. Then I heard the lady of the household say:
Farewell, and into exile now you go
We weep: such tears, like rainfall flow
This is a time of parting, of great sorrow
As you venture to dark night of tomorrow
Farewell, and into exile now you go
Cruel fate, to deal us such a blow
May household gods guide your ways
Alas! You are lost to us, for rest of days
Farewell, and into exile now you go
And in a thousand years, who will know?
Mourn your sentence, time to say farewell
And write of us, that someday one may tell
The mists came down over the dwelling, and the voices faded into silence, and I continued along the right hand path. Now it rose steeply, along the other side of the valley, and I was passing by many pine trees, the air damp and heavy with their scent. Huge yellow fungi grew by the trunks of the trees, and there was a carpet of pine needles on the forest floor. I looked up at one mighty pine, and the tapering form of the tree rose like a spire, and on its branches, I could see the seeds within the scaly cones, nature shielding them from injury.
I came across a clearing in the forest, and there, dancing in the grove, was a lady in makeshift green kirtle of leaves, with sleeves of light grey, cobweb, gossamer, fine, like wings. I remembered the druid telling me of the Oreades, the spirits of the pine trees, and how they would rejoice when the rain makes the trees to grow.
Now I recalled the overheard conversation of that Roman leaving for exile, surely a poet. There came to me the fragments of  his speech: "Richly robed in gorgeous finery, and richer still her beauty; such the beauty of the Naides and Dryades, as we used to hear, walking the woodland ways
And the lady turned to face me, and I saw her green eyes, as she intoned the story of her trees:
A forest rising upon the hills
Green amidst the winter chills
Towering high towards the sky
Branches draw the upward eye.
Here is Scots Pine, needle leaves
Make a canopy of natures eaves
Shelter amidst the winter snow
Pine cones as ornaments bestow.
Scots Pine wands show destiny
Reveal the true path that you see
Focus on purity, and the divine
Give insight into hidden sign.
Torches of pine once a light
For ancient Caledonian sight
Stone age temple, banquet hall
Fire from the wood shone tall.
In grove of pines, the borderland
Reach and touch with open hand
The branches part, a veil thin
Between your world, and fairy kin
The lady dances off, fleet of foot, into the forest, and I resume my path up towards the summit of the hill. The forest ends, and I am walking beside wild grasslands, wet with dew.
The mist still hangs heavy over the ground, and I can make out only shadowy shapes to the side of me. I hear the sound of digging, which suddenly ceases; then I hear the chink of coins being dropped into a hole in the ground. The shapes fade; shades of a people who came, fearful to this land, and buried their treasures, hoping one day to return. I know this is a time when the curtain between past and present grows thin, like a threadbare tapestry, and time breaks in, with glimpses of past stories half told. Here are no endings, only fragments, like broken shards of ancient pottery.
A wind is rising, and the mist clears. I look upwards at the starry night. There is Jupiter journeying between the horns of Taurus, not far from the bright star Aldebaran. The moon is past full, entering the dark half of the year. The Pleiades glitter, jewels of the night sky.
A voice cries out:
Cold the sky, the stars my destiny
A scattering of stardust on the land
Open your eyes, come now to see
So many galaxies like grains of sand
Now there are wooden poles in the ground, either side of the path, and on these hang lanterns made from hollowed-out gourds. Flames flicker through the carved sides, a yellow eyes and mouth grinning at all who came this way.
There is the Samhain fire ahead, surrounded by rings of dancing figures. I see people lighting brands from the fire, and running around the fields and hedges, boundaries drawn in light. Ahead is the bonfire, an island of light against the oncoming winter darkness, a beacon of hope shining in the night.
I take my place with those holding hands, and we circle the bonfire, calling for blessing and protection against the approaching winter storms.
And afterwards, we each take a handful of ashes from the fire, and all depart, sprinkling the ashes over the fields to protect them during the winter months, and give blessings to the soil. So mote it be!

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