Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Maeve's Winter Solstice

Below is a brief excerpt from Red-Robed Priestess. Maeve is back on Mona inside Bryn Celli Ddu with the druids. Copyright 2010 by Elizabeth Cunningham. All rights Reserved.

It was pitch dark inside. I moved carefully to avoid stepping on anyone, and found a place to sit nestled between warm bodies on all sides. If the chamber had been lit, I might have felt claustrophobic. Jesus’s tomb had been palatial compared to this. But as it was, all of us pressed together, it seemed like children playing a game in the dark. I am not the only one who felt that, for among that august body, with no one much under forty, there were quite a few giggles and even now and then a guffaw as we all got settled.

Then the archdruid’s voice rang out, calling the quarters and proclaiming at last:

“Here now is the center of world.”

Instead of his planted staff, the center was a stone standing in the middle of the chamber, a stone I sensed rather than saw. I felt us all quieting, deepening, taking on the qualities of the stone. The only sound was our breath, almost inaudible as we caught each other’s rhythm, so that soon we were breathing as if we were one body.

“We know the danger that is almost certainly coming to our shores,” the archdruid said at length. “There is no need to debate it. The question before us is how shall we face it? Let us listen for answers in the silence. In the holy darkness, let our inward sight be clear. When words come, let them be words of wisdom and power.”

The silence spread over us again: fallen leaves over the earth, snow over leaves, stars over stone. Time got lost in the darkness; the confines of space that held us close together dissolved. We were sitting inside the vast womb of night, waiting for words to be born.

(A debate follows, which Maeve resolves. I won’t include it here as I don’t want to give away the plot. Below is the conclusion of the scene at sunrise on Solstice.)

Eventually the sobs subsided and the silence settled again. We moved even closer to each other, arms wrapped around whoever sat in front of us, head resting against the breast of the one behind. The pounding in my head eased. It would be over soon. I had no doubt of my task. I knew exactly where I would stand. I think I dozed off then. We all did, till the sun, reborn, shot its first ray down the passage grave and we rubbed our eyes and rose, stiffly, again.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Requiem for a Holy Tree

Arboricide. There really is such a word. It means “the wanton destruction of trees.” On December 8th, 2010 arboricide was committed against the legendary Thorn Tree of Glastonbury, the a tree that is said to have sprung from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea some two thousand years ago. The tree, whose ancestry has been traced to the Middle East, blooms during the seasons of Christmas and Easter. Each year on December 8th a sprig is cut from one of the tree’s descendants in St John’s churchyard and sent to the queen for her Christmas table. Whoever attacked the tree was likely familiar with the custom and chose the day accordingly. The Thorn Tree that stands—or stood—on Wearyall Hill was felled once before by Cromwell’s troops during England’s Civil war. The townspeople replanted the tree from cuttings, as they no doubt will again.

For the first arboricides, the tree was a symbol of Papist superstition—and perhaps also the wealth and privilege of the established religion. Whenever I hear the word Papist, I know the other “p” word, pagan, is just under the surface. The Cromwellians also made war on Maypoles, Beltane fires, observances of saints’ days, all the old customs that had been baptized and renamed by the Roman Catholic Church. Until the current arboricide is arrested, we can only speculate on the motive.

Some accounts call the arboricide an anti-Christian act which I think is unfortunate and inflammatory. The great thing about a holy tree is that no creed is required for veneration. Whether or not the tree sprang from Joseph’s staff and whether or not the staff was made from the wood of Jesus’s cross, the Glastonbury Thorn Tree is sacred because it is beloved, because it is a place of pilgrimage where people bring their troubles as well as their homage. It is sacred because it connects faith and myth, past and present, nature and miracle. It is sacred because it is a tree, with its roots in the earth and its branches in the sky, because it mediates those two worlds and draws sustenance from both, because, like all trees, it shows us how to do the same.

The veneration of trees pre-dates Christianity and no doubt all organized world religions. The tree is a source of life, offering shelter, food, habitat, fuel, soil preservation and enrichment—not to mention breathable air. In places where trees are scarce or land has been cleared, the tree is a gathering place, a landmark. In a world where we are losing forest at an alarmingly rapid rate, we would all do well to venerate trees, believers and atheists alike. No matter the motivation or beliefs of the arboricide, let’s not forget that it is a living tree that was attacked and living forests that continue to be at risk. May this loss awaken us to our deep-rooted, sacred connection with trees.

PS: For those of you waiting for news of Maeve, the revisions of Red-Robed Priestess are complete! I hope to announce the publication date soon.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

virus warning re the amnesty site

My husband just went to the Amnesty link I provided in my last blog post and found a warning from google that some pages of the Amnesty site have been infected with a worm. I have not encountered this warning myself, but want to make sure I let people know there may be a problem.

Because I signed up to write for rights, I received an email from Amnest and am going to a particular page with case histories and addresses. I have not encountered a warning, but it is wise to be wary. Sad to think a cause can be undermined in this way.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Coming to Light

Chanukah begins at sundown on December 1, the beginning of what I call the Feasts of Light, the observances and celebrations that carry us through the darkest time of the year.

I am sure I am not the only one to note the coincidence of the recent WikiLeaks happening this same week, leaks that “bring to light” what people in power had every intention of keeping dark. Whatever havoc the revelations may wreak, and however questionable a character Julian Assange may be, I doubtless join many in believing this exposure of secrets is a good thing. What is revealed has a chance, at least, to be healed.

I confess I have fallen out of the blogosphere recently, because I find it daunting to be topical, to make intelligent, inspiring or thoughtful commentary on events I can barely keep up with. I comfort myself that I am doing what I can to save the earth—a particular bit of earth called High Valley. But I admit that though I sign petitions and call representatives on this and that, it is easy to lose sight of the rest of the world.

Today I committed to participation in Amnesty International’s Write for Rights December 4-12 writeathon. Their site provides you with all the information you need for writing letters on your own or for organizing a letter writing event.

The Write for Rights campaign is way of bringing to light the suffering of individuals, groups, and communities, suffering that may be unknown to many or deliberately distorted or obscured by those in power. It strikes me as a fitting way to honor this season.

Joyous Feasts of Light to all!