Category Archives: Places

The Continuing Mystery of the Shell Grotto

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By Gernot Keller http://www.gernot-keller.com / Wikimedia Commons

Britain is full of strange archaeological sites steeped in unsolved mysteries – Stonehenge is perhaps our most famous. But one of my favourite curiosities, and one of the most mysterious of all, is located right on my doorstep in Kent: the Shell Grotto of Margate. Click here to read more!

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Celebrating Japanese New Year in the UK

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Kagami-mochi (Japanese New Year decoration) at Japan Centre, London

Shogatsu, or New Year’s Day, is probably the most important day in the Shinto calendar. But celebrating it in the Japanese way in the UK can be rather challenging, partly because there are no Shinto shrines to visit and food and goods associated with Shogatsu are hard to come by, and partly because the British was of celebrating the New Year can be difficult to mix with the Japanese customs. In Japan, New Year’s Day is a time for getting up early and celebrating with the family by eating a large meal and visiting the local shrine. [Read more...]

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“Celts: Art and Identity” at the British Museum

Gundestrup

By derivative work: Fuzzypeg★ Detail_of_antlered_figure_on_the_Gundestrup_Cauldron.jpg: Bloodofox [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, my husband treated me to a trip to the Celts: Art & Identity exhibit at the British Museum in London. Although pricey, it is a fantastic exhibition, showcasing an incredible variety of stunning Celtic objects; enormous gold and silver torcs, horned helmets, shields, stone Celtic crosses, figures of Gods and Goddesses, and examples of beautiful Celtic illuminated manuscripts.

For me, the highlight of the exhibit was the magnificent Gundestrupe Cauldron, an enormous silver bowl dating from between 200 BC and 300 AD. It is a spectacular sight, ornately decorated both inside and out with pictures thought to depict ancient Celtic legends. Among Pagans, it is perhaps most famous for its enigmatic depiction of a figure with antlers, gripping a torc in one hand and a snake in the other, surrounded by wild animals. We do not know who this man is for sure, but among Pagans he is commonly identified with the Horned God, sometimes called Cernunnos or Herne the Hunter.

Seeing the famous Cernunnos figure in real life, after seeing the image so many times in photos or reproduced as statues or items of jewellery, left a deep impression on me. I have to say that after seeing this image, it does seem likely to me that it depicts a God. His strange, meditative pose, his interaction with the snake, and his animal companions, certainly seem to suggest a powerful spirit of the forest and nature.

But what impressed me most of all was not what this figure may have originally symbolised, but what he represents now. To modern-day Pagans, the Cernunnos figure is an icon – and I mean this very much in the religious sense of the word. He has become a symbol of the Great God and the spirit of nature, and represents a link to the ways of our ancestors. So for me, as a Pagan, going to see the Gundestrup Cauldron was very much a pilgrimage, evoking the same emotions that Christians, and members of any other religion, must feel when they visit a significant place of worship or see a famous relic or icon.

The Celts exhibition runs until January 31st, and I very much recommend going to see the Cauldron and all the other incredible artefacts while you have the chance!

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Quick visit to the British Museum

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Egyptian king flanked by deities imbuing him with powers.

Yesterday my husband and I were in London, showing around a couple of my husband’s friends from Australia. As part of the day we dropped into the British Museum for about an hour, most of which is free to attend. I’ve been to the British Museum a couple of times ago, but I thought this time I’d share a few pictures of the Classical section, which is where we spent most of the time.

I love dolphins, so I was delighted to spot this little dolphin featured on an Assyrian relief!

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Venus. I love her pose here.

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Dionysus, looking particularly feminine (aside from his naughty bits!)

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A procession of Dionysus’ followers, the Maenads.

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These Eros statuettes look like they’d be right at home on a modern Christmas tree!

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Eros riding a dolphin.

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A really interesting relief of Athena blessing her followers. Look how tall she is compared to the men!

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Pan.

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Bronze mirror depicting Nike. You can easily see how images of Nike later inspired images of Judeo-Christian angels.

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A depiction of two of my favourite Greco-Roman deities, Hypnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Gentle Death).

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I really liked this tiny little figure of dancers – I’ve seen so many modern New Age candle holders and sculptures that look similar!

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I really want to go to the Celtic exhibition that the British Museum are holding at the moment (we didn’t go this time because it’s quite expensive, and for first-timers to the BM it’s best to stick to the free exhibits). It would be something of a pilgrimage for me to see the Gundestrup Cauldron currently on display there, which depicts a horned figure now identified with Pagans as one of our most beloved deities – Cernnunos. Next time!

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Samhain 2015

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My Samhain offerings at the local cemetery

I tend to view all the Pagan Sabbats as a “season,” with the official date of the Sabbat acting as the epicentre of the season with ripples into the days before and after. That’s one reason why I decided to hold my solo Samhain ritual on the Full Moon prior to Samhain, and why I didn’t actually hold any sort of ritual on October 31st itself.

WP_20151031_14_14_24_ProHowever, I did make some Samhain Soul Cakes yesterday, using my favourite recipe with added matcha (Japanese green tea powder). Matcha is interesting to work with – when used as an ingredient combined with other things, it only really looks green in the presence of moisture, so the dough didn’t look green until I added milk, upon which it turned a very vivid shade of green. Unfortunately, when the moisture evaporated on baking the cookies, they reverted back to mostly brown with only a slight greenish tint. I can see that if I bake with matcha again and want to retain that green colour, I’m going to have to use a lot more. But this in itself is tricky because matcha is a bit like saffron – it’s expensive and can have a strong flavour, so you don’t want to use too much, ideally. It went really well with the cinnamon and nutmeg I also added to the mixture (hint: don’t be afraid to use quite a lot of cinnamon!)

I used a wonderful set of “Day of the Dead” skull cookie cutters. These were a gift from my sister-in-law, and it was great to have such a perfect opportunity to use them.

My husband and I took the cookies to my parent’s house, where we were taking part what’s close to a “religious observance” for my Kiwi husband and Welsh mum – the Rugby World Cup final! (To my husband’s delight, the All Blacks were victorious). But keeping with the Halloween theme, my Dad had bought the biggest pumpkin I’d ever seen, carved it and hollowed it out, and used the innards to make delicious pumpkin soup and toasted pumpkin seeds. So even though I didn’t hold a particular ritual on Samhain Eve, it was still meaningful for me to spend it with my family and enjoying some very Halloweeny food!

Traditionally Samhain continues into November 1st, and so today my husband and I went walking in the local cemetery, where I placed my offerings originally given at my altar on the previous Full Moon for the deities of death, departed friends and ancestors. It was an absolutely perfect day to do so – overnight a mist had descended over the town, and the cemetery looked beautiful and very otherworldly.

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I found a moss-covered tree stump that acted as a perfect natural altar, and placed my offerings of a miniature pumpkin, garlic, soul cake and dog treats there, as well as sprinkling some incense. I also offered a fallen branch of rowan. My offering was not only to my own ancestors and loved ones, but to all those whose spirits rest in the cemetery. I hope they liked my gift.

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On our way back, I noticed something I had never noticed before, even though I have been in this cemetery many times –  a grave with a pentagram on it!

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The pentagram is a sacred symbol in Christianity as well, so it’s not particularly shocking to see one on a 19th century gravestone, but nevertheless it seems to be quite uncommon. I wonder why Sarah’s relatives had chosen this symbol for her grave as opposed to a more traditional funerary symbol? Were there Freemasons in her family? Or did they simply like the design? In any case, I am really surprised I’d never spotted this before and I was so glad to see this reminder of the connection between Christianity and Paganism in our cemetery. Perhaps the spirits within the mist, still dwelling in this world while the veil to the Otherworld is so thin, had given me the extra clarity to see it today!

I wish everyone a very Blessed Samhain!

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Medway Inter Faith Pilgrimage 2015

Pilgrimage

I’ve recently been involved in Medway Inter-Faith Action (MIFA), a local group that promotes dialogue and understanding between people of different faiths. On Sunday they held a “Pilgrimage” throughout Medway, visiting different places of worship and and holding multifaith prayers on the streets.

Open Air Prayers with ISKCON

The day started with visits to Rochester Cathedral, the Quaker’s Meeting House and St Peter’s Church in Rochester, but as I live just outside Medway and had had a pretty exhausting day yesterday working at this year’s Japan Matsuri, I decided to join the pilgrimage slightly later, outside the ISKCON (Hare Krishna) charity shop Closet Krishna on Rochester High Street. We started by singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” together, followed by one of my friends from Medway Pagans singing a song from Disney’s Brother Bear, and finally the Hare Krishnas invited us to join in chanting and dancing. I really enjoyed it! I’ve always loved singing and dancing as a form of religious worship, so I was in my element.

Unitarian Church

We then went to the Unitarian Church in Chatham. I’d passed that church so many times as a child and never knew it was Unitarian – I’d always assumed it was Christian. Although we didn’t observe a Unitarian service, we did have the opportunity to read a little about Unitarianism and have some tea and snacks!

Open Air Prayers in Chatham High Street

We proceeded on to Chatham High Street, and held some different multi-faith prayers there. I was really pleased that the Chair of MIFA asked me to read a prayer, and he happened to have a Shinto one, which was as follows:

“Although the people living across the ocean surrounding us, I believe, are all our brothers and sisters, why are there constant troubles in this world? Why do winds and waves rise in the ocean surrounding us? I only earnestly wish that the wind will soon puff away all the clouds which are hanging over the tops of the mountains.”

It reminds me of some of the correspondence that politicians in Japan used to send to Britain during our early days of trade and diplomatic relations with each other.

Gillingham Mosque

We then took a fairly long, uphill walk to Gillingham Mosque. The walk took us through a nice park that I’d never been before in Chatham and I really enjoyed the little trek!

Gillingham Mosque has been through some difficult times of late. It’s a small building that struggles to fill the needs of Medway’s Muslim community due to its limited capacity, and so they’d recently had an application approved to build a new, larger Mosque. This has sparked opposition from far-right, anti-Muslim groups, who have been subjecting the Mosque and its users to abuse and have even committed acts of vandalism against the current Mosque. It’s really sad to consider the abuse that a place of family and community has faced due to ignorance and fear.

But all these troubles were put aside for our visit, and we were welcomed with open arms. We were invited to watch the prayers taking place, which I’d never seen before. The atmosphere in the prayer room is very quiet and austere – there’s little ornamentation in the room itself, and the only sound is the Imam directing the prayers as the devotees prostrate themselves.

Following the prayers, we had a chance to mingle and eat samosas that the Mosque had kindly prepared for us, and one of the Muslim members of MIFA and an Imam gave a talk on Islam, explaining some of the basics of the Muslim faith.

Hindu Sabha Mandir

A very short distance from Gillingham Mosque is the Hindu Sabha Mandir temple, the last place of worship we entered on our pilgrimage. We’d arrived on a good day, as it was both the 21st birthday of one of the members, and also the Ganesha Chaturthi festival in honour of Lord Ganesha. As such, there was a real party atmosphere – the temple was lit with flashing lights, and at the far end was a large shrine to various Hindu deities, including two statues of Ganesha, with generous offerings of fruit before them. The large congregation was seated on the floor before the shrine, and as you might find at a Mosque, the men and women sat on different sides of the room – but what was very interesting was that the women took up most of the room and were seated more centrally, with the men sitting at the sidelines. The service involved songs and chants lead by the elder women (who all had beautiful voices), and there was even some dancing – myself and some of the other “pilgrims” were invited to get up and dance as well, which was fun! The bright lights and colours, singing and dancing, clapping and strong aroma of incense all lent themselves to a very hypnotic, almost ecstatic atmosphere. The noisy, exuberant, female-led service was quite a contrast to the sober silence of the male-led Mosque service.

We were then served a small Indian meal – food was a common theme at all the places we visited! It was touching that everywhere we went was so welcoming, and wanted to make us feel welcome by sharing their food – to “break bread” together, as a sign of friendship.

Open Air Prayers at Gillingham High Street with St Mark’s Church

The final part of the pilgrimage I attended were the prayers with members of St Mark’s Church on Gillingham High Street. This is an evangelical Anglican church, and the prayers we said were in the form of song, including one to the tune of “One Love One Heart.” It was a lovely way to end; there was a celebration planned at the Sunlight Centre but I decided to end it there.

Reflections on the Pilgrimage

  • First of all, I am so glad to have participated in this pilgrimage! It was a truly wonderful day and I learnt so much. Although I’ve always been interested in other religions, I’d never been to a Mosque or Hindu temple, simply because I wasn’t sure about whether it’s OK just to drop into these places, and because I didn’t know what kind of etiquette and protocol to follow. So thanks to this day, I do know now! For example, I didn’t know what to do regarding headscarves in a Mosque. Do non-Muslims need to wear one? If so, does the Mosque provide them for visitors? I didn’t bring one and it turns out that generally you should bring one to a mosque, particularly if you’re going to be present at the prayers (fortunately someone kindly lent me theirs so I could observe the prayers). Thanks to the pilgrimage, now I know the rules and the next time I visit I’ll be better prepared. It’s all a part of building intercultural competence – in other words, “fluency” in the practises and customs of the different groups within my local community.
  • I also really enjoyed the opportunity to meet other like-minded people – not simply other people who live a spiritual life, but those who are, like myself, curious about other religions. I cannot overstate how important this is. When we are curious about something, we are open to it, we want to ask questions, and we want to get to know it better – the first steps towards initiating friendship. I think everyone at today’s pilgrimage had the same mindset. I chose to wear my largest pentagram pendant for the pilgrimage – if there’s any time to proudly display one’s religious affiliation, it would be a multifaith celebration, I reasoned. And I was glad I did because it prompted lots of interesting conversations with curious people. Several people mistook it for the Star of David, which surprised me somewhat as I thought the pentagram was fairly well-known; an indicator that perhaps I’ve been living in a bit of a Pagan bubble! So this gave me the opportunity to explain the difference between the pentagram and the Star of David (also called the hexagram or Solomon’s Seal), and to mention that the hexagram is also a sacred symbol to many Pagans as well. One young man I met at the Hindu temple was really fascinated by Paganism. “I really want to go to a Pagan place of worship, because I really want to see a statue of Odin! He’s awesome!” he said. It both amused me and made me feel rather wistful; I wish Pagan “places of worship” (not that there are many such fixed places in the UK) did have the huge statues of deities, as you would see in a Hindu place of worship.
  • Another aspect of the pilgrimage that I really liked was that it made me realise that it’s not simply spiritual beliefs that we have in common – Medway itself was an important thing that united us. On our journey between stops on the pilgrimage, we had plenty of time to chat and get to know each other better. And I realised that we all had many stories to share with each other simply about life in Medway. We’d all grown up going to the same places and doing similar things, and we all had fond memories of Medway’s local landmarks and goings-on. So the pilgrimage really strengthened our sense of community – not only because it gave us the opportunity to visit the various places of worship in Medway, but also because we were able to realise that despite our differences in faith, we are all united as Medway citizens.
  • Seeing members of different religions in action gave me lots of food for thought about my own religion. I could see lots of things in common between the various different religions and my own practises. Hare Krishnas believe that chanting is a form of worship and self-realisation, a belief shared by many Pagans. Unitarians try to explore what common aspects unite all faiths, just as Pagans are often on a journey to find the “root belief” underpinning all religions. The austere Mosque, with its silent congregation bowing towards no visible item of worship, reminded me of the inner sanctum of Shinto shrines, which are also minimalist, quiet and devoid of much imagery. The Hindu temple reminded me most of all of Paganism, with its joyful celebration of the many gods, represented by beautiful statues and offerings of fruit, and the insistence that we eat after the celebrations, just like the “cakes and ale” at the end of a Pagan ritual. In fact, there was a lot about the Hindu temple that I wouldn’t mind seeing integrated in to Pagan ritual. I would welcome a lot more singing and dancing, as well as more shrines and offerings – like the Hindus, I think we should be bold and exuberant in our devotions. I realise that there are branches of Paganism, such as Feri, that do emphasise more ecstatic forms of worship, and I wonder how I could try an integrate this into our rituals at Medway Pagans.
  • I now really want to get Medway Pagans involved in next year’s Inter Faith Pilgrimage – I think we could easily hold a group ritual outdoors that could be inclusive of all faiths while giving a taste of Paganism at the same time. I’ll see if I can try to get our group included next year!

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New Local Goth / Alt Lifestyle Store – Impact

Impact

My local Goth/Pagan/Alternative community has been excited by the launch of a new Goth/Alt lifestyle and fashion shop, Impact, in one of our prime shopping centres.

Located on the top floor of the Pentagon shopping centre in Chatham, Impact opened its doors on Saturday – on the Full Moon, which is a very auspicious time to launch! It’s one of the first shops of its kind to launch in Medway for years, and its first day was met with much interests both from the local alternative community and the mainstream press and public alike.

It’s also run by two very passionate people who really live and breathe this lifestyle, and have a deep understanding of the needs of our community. Even in these very early days, they’ve done a great job of covering all bases of the alternative spectrum, with a diverse range of clothes, jewellery and trinkets from all facets of the alternative lifestyle spectrum.

I was really pleased to visit on the opening day, where I bought a lovely, silky soft Green Man scarf to go in the cellar of our new house (which is my unofficial “altar room”), and an awesome strappy, zippy top that looks like it’s come of straight off the streets of Harajuku for only £25.00. I also got a S.O.P.H.I.E wristband – the Sophie Lancaster Foundation is a cause that Impact strongly supports.

While Camden, traditionally London’s hub for all things punk and alternative, begins to fade into touristy monotony, it’s very good to see new shops, run by and for members of the alternative community, start up in Medway – I’ve long maintained that retail very much exists in a symbiotic relationship with subculture; one cannot exist without the other, something I explored in my contribution to the book Schillderndes Dunkel, a collection of essays on Goth culture, several years back. I deeply wish Impact a long and prosperous future, and look forward to supporting them by buying lots of goodies again soon!

You can view Impact’s website here, and their Facebook page here.

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Pagan(ish) Highlights of my Normandy-Brittany Trip

Green Man at Bayeux Cathedral

Green Man at Bayeux Cathedral

My family and I stayed in Normandy for a week for a holiday. Here’s some of the highlights that I thought may interest readers…

La Pichardiere Farmhouse

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My family (parents, husband, sister, sister-in-law and two nephews) spent the week renting La Pichardiere, a beautiful old farmhouse deep in the Normandy countryside. The farmhouse and the grounds were stunningly beautiful – the grounds were quite extensive with wooded areas, a pond and old tumbledown barns.

Butterfly at La Pichardiere

Butterfly at La Pichardiere

We spent several days of our holiday just relaxing in the beautiful surroundings. There was so much wildlife to see, too – there were butterflies, birds, grasshoppers, lizards, deer and all sorts of creatures (diving beetles, newts, frogs and raft spiders) in the pond. At night, lots of bats came flying low over the house, and you could also hear owls. In the neighbouring field was a herd of friendly cows.

We also took my oldest nephew (who’s three years old) on a couple of wildlife walks around the local area, to gather blackberries or find leaves. He really enjoyed exploring and seeing all the different animals in plants. When we got back, I made him a Green Man face with all the leaves, fruit and nuts we’d found:

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Bayeux

When in Normandy, you have to go to Bayeux and see the famous Bayeux Tapestry, commemorating the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of England. Which of course we did (I don’t have any photos because photography of the Tapestry is not permitted). It was actually my second time to see the Tapestry – the first time I saw it was on a school trip as a teenager. I liked it then, and I still liked it now. It’s incredible to see such a vivid relic from such a long time ago.

We also went to Bayeux Cathedral, a lovely Cathedral built shortly after the Battle of Hastings and the original home of the Tapestry. What I love about medieval churches and cathedrals is that the Pagan element is still very strong – just take a look at some of the designs in the architecture…

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This strange grotesque reminded me so much of the “Helping Hands” in the movie Labyrinth!

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Strange grotesques possibly based on the Greek Comedy/Tragedy masks?

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I really liked this couple! They are apparently a symbol of fidelity. They reminded me so much of Japanese “Jou and Uba” dosojin!

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The crypt had some beautiful examples of medieval works of art.

As a former Catholic himself, my Dad mentioned how strange it was to be in a Catholic cathedral (Cathedrals in the UK are typically Church of England, not Catholic). We agreed that actually, we prefer the Catholic style – it’s much more ornate and interesting (and for me, more Pagan).

La Ferté-Macé Church

La Ferté-Macé is a town near to where we were staying, and we popped in one day to visit the market. They also have an impressive medieval church with some very interesting features..

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The church facade is covered with intricate carvings and fascinating symbols. I wish I knew what they all meant!

One of those symbols was a mouse or rat (can you see it below?). I would have loved to have known the story behind putting a picture of a rat on the church.

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Inside the church was interesting too. There was an image of a devil, something that you don’t usually see in churches from a later period.

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Beauvain Village

One evening my husband and I decided to walk from the farmhouse to Beauvain, the nearest village. On the way, we dropped into the little local graveyard, which was so pretty and still, surrounded by fields…

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Beauvain itself is really mysterious. It feels really deserted – absolutely no shops were open, and we only caught sight of three human beings there the whole time we were there. What it does have, however, is a huge, abandoned mansion:

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The mansion is all tumbledown and has quite a lot of grounds. We were so tempted to jump the rather small wall and go and explore! (But we were worried about getting caught). Again, we have no idea about what this mansion is.

The only inhabitant we did regularly see was a large, white dog, which didn’t seem abandoned but also didn’t seem to have an owner with him. I speculated that perhaps the mansion is in fact owned by a vampire aristocrat, who takes the form of a white dog by day, which is why the village is abandoned!

True or not, there is something quite eerie about Beauvain. Even its church seemed to be haunted by a ghostly figure…

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(Or perhaps it was a statue of Mary seen from behind…)

Mont Saint-Michel

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Another blast from the past – Mont Saint-Michel, the incredible island Abbey with a history dating back to pre-medieval times. I remember how impressed I had been seeing it on that school trip years ago, and I still found it breathtaking today. If you’re ever in Normandy you MUST go – don’t let the hoards of tourists put you off, go first thing in the morning and you’ll avoid a lot of them (plus the buildings look best in the early morning light). It has a really magical, fairytale quality to it, even with the touristy line of shops at its entrance (which reminded me very much of the approach to major shrines and temples in Japan) – those shops and restaurants help to absorb the tourists and keep the Abbey from overcrowding, anyway.

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The Abbey was constructed primarily for the veneration of the angel St Michel, which I find to be rather Pagan in itself – non-Catholic Christians would probably balk at the idea of worshipping an angel in this fashion!

Barenton Forest

Last of all, we entered neighbouring Britanny to go to Barenton Forest. This place is significant because it is identified with Brocéliande, the legendary forest said to be the tomb of Merlin and to have a magical fountain.

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We did indeed find the fountain (it’s a lovely little trek through the forest to find it), but the serene and magical atmosphere was rather spoilt by a huge coachload of noisy tourists who got there before us. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to be in what is certainly a place of pilgrimage for Arthurian enthusiasts and Pagans (it was very special for my Dad, who has always loved the legends of King Arthur)

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Perhaps due to its magical nature, many visitors had made cairns of stones around the forest, some of which they had arranged into rings

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Bareton was uncannily like another place associated very much with King Arthur in England – Cornwall. Not only was the landscape similar to Cornwall, but the atmosphere was almost the same – sleepy yet happy, and full of little tourist shops catering to the pilgrims with an interest in magic/Pagan/New Age things

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I absolutely recommend Bareton to any Pagans who find themselves in Brittany – but visit the forest early in the day to find the fountain before it gets too crowded!

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First Anniversary at Dode

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The stone circle at Dode where we were handfasted (and where we renewed our vows this year). You can see both the church and the retreat in the background

It’s been a long time since I’ve been around, due to moving house (at last!) and my laptop getting sent away to be fixed. However, the laptop’s now with me again and we’ve settled into our new place (which I’ll probably write about later), so I thought it would be a good time to talk about our recent get-away to Dode, the “Lost Village” where my husband and I got married and handfasted, in order to celebrate our first anniversary together.

There’s a beautiful little rustic retreat beside the church at Dode, and although we did stay the night there for our wedding, we didn’t feel as if we had a proper stay there as we had to be up early the next day and leave (we also didn’t get to explore much of the surrounding area). So going to Dode for our anniversary seemed perfect for having a break away together.

We arrived on Friday evening and had some quality time checking out the retreat where we stayed. It’s a beautiful little cottage designed by Doug, the man who was also responsible for the rebuilding of Dode church.

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These little cups were above the sink. One was filled with salt, which I suspect (given Doug’s Pagan leanings!) was intended as an offering / purification

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There was also a little bowl of dried lavender

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This walking stick was apparently made by Doug or his wife for ramblers to use…

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….There was even a sheet explaining how it was made and its significance!

The next day (a beautiful summer’s day), I spent the morning exploring the grounds of Dode I love so well. I actually felt quite overwhelmed to stand at the top of the mound and look down towards the fields – it’s such a beautiful place with so many amazing memories that I was almost moved to tears. I spent some time walking among the standing stones and even sat down and meditated for a while.

And in the afternoon, we were joined by my sister, brother-in-law and my nephews and we had a picnic outside the church! In the evening, we went out for dinner with my parents.

Returning in the evening, it was still so warm and lovely that I went out to the stones again. Again I sat down and meditated, chanting the “Hi-fu-mi” norito as both a means of getting into a meditative state and a way of expressing my gratitude and awe to the spirits of the place.

The next day was our anniversary itself. We spent the day walking the countryside around Dode. Here’s some of the things we saw…

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When the sun set, we performed a simple ceremony among the standing stones to renew our vows. It was incredibly atmospheric – owls were hooting and bats were flying overhead as we stood there! We gave thanks to the spirits of Dode and the seven deities whom we called upon at our handfasting for their blessings, and asked them to continue to bless us. We also pledged to keep upholding the seven vows made one year ago, and ended by feeding each other “cakes and ale” (this was actually bread and a letftover bottle of Cava from our wedding!)

It was an absolutely wonderful way to spend our anniversary, especially as the day we returned we also had to start our house moving! A fantastic “calm before the storm” – we’re already thinking about returning next year!

If you want to visit Dode (and I think you must certainly do so if you find yourself in Kent), their website is here.

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Summer Solstice / Father’s Day 2015

Sunset over Windmill Hill

Sunset over Windmill Hill

Merry Midsummer!

Today Father’s Day and the Summer Solstice fell on the same day, which seemed to me to be a very auspicious time for celebrating the Great God and the Divine Masculine of nature.

The beginning of the day started with an offering of mead, candles and prayers at my altar (which is much simplified as I’ve packed away many items in preparation of our move). I honoured the Great God and asked Inari Okami to bless my father and all the other men in my life.

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We then met the rest of my family at a local Italian restaurant to celebrate Father’s Day.

After lunch, we went up to Windmill Hill (the highest point in Gravesend) to fly kites. The men in my family have recently gotten into kite-flying, and my sister gave my Dad a kite (in the shape of a Red kite bird!) as a Father’s Day gift. It wasn’t that windy so it was hard to get the kites in the air, but we managed eventually. It struck me that kite-flying can be quite a Pagan thing to do – you have to focus a lot on what the wind is doing, and move according to the wind. In this way, flying a kite can bring you closer to the natural forces. Flying the kites was a lot of fun, until my Dad’s kite made a break for freedom and got stuck in a tree!

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My Dad’s kite

In the evening, my husband and I returned to Windmill Hill to hold a little ritual at sunset.

I made an offering of herbs to one of the sycamore trees, and made a little altar of candles and incense

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Our timing was perfect – as we faced West, we saw the Sun sink rapidly below the skyline. I raised an offering of plum wine to the Sun, and we both drank from the goblet as the sun set. At the end of the ritual when the sun had disappeared, I poured the plum wine over the candles both to extinguish them and to offer the wine to the Earth.

It was a really serene and joyous ritual, and I felt so glad to see the sun set on the longest day. What I loved best about it was its symbolic symmetry – at the Winter Solstice, my husband and I came to Windmill Hill to watch the sun rise, so it felt very significant to me to watch the sun set at the same place at Summer Solstice.

It was one of the most lovely days and meaningful rituals I’ve had in a long while.

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