Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The World Drum and a Mysterious Fungal Brew

Last weekend we spent a few days at Wildways, celebrating a 60th birthday, meeting some Norwegian shamanic drummers, taking part in a special ritual and bidding farewell to the World Drum.

If you read my husband's blog, you will know the we encountered some of our Druid friends and the World Drum by chance during a walk around Avebury, and again whilst on holiday in Wales.
This weekend we met the Norwegian man who had a vision which inspired the World Drum and its travels around the globe.

The community at Wildways mainly identify as Druids. I don't claim to know a great deal about the particulars of Druidry, but from what I've gathered through talking to people it involves a great reverence for nature and a philosophy of peace, tolerance and love to one's fellow beings. Druidry used to be practised in Britain many hundreds of years ago, and records detailing exactly what it meant to the ancients of Britain are scarce and possibly propaganda (i.e. those written by the Romans). This means that the people callings themselves Druids today must intuit and/or create some of their practices. They also, of course, do look to the past of Britain, the traces of which still often show themselves in the landscape through stone circles and barrows.

At Wildways, they have built their own stone circle...

As they have also built themselves a roundhouse out of mud and thatch...

It was within this roundhouse that we were lucky enough to be a part of a Norwegian chaga ceremony.

Chaga is a fungus that grows out of birch trees. It is non-hallucinogenic, but apparently contains a huge amount of anti-oxidants. Correctly prepared it is used for healing purposes, both of the body and of the spirit.

It is harvested and then simmered or, if for use in a ritual, boiled over a fire.

The ritual itself was led by four practitioners (I want to call them shaman, but two of them were clear when asked that they do not use that word about themselves) who stood about a central fire drumming.
We were told that the ceremony could be used to deal with sorrows, which is just what it did.

As soon as I sipped my chaga I started to cry and cry. I thought a lot about this year and the loss of my first loved baby. I cried for her and all the things in life she will never know. I cried for my husband and the loss of his first child. I cried for myself and my wounded heart. And I cried for all women, men, couples similarly wounded and heart-broken.

Whilst the ceremony was taking place, the practitioners drummed and sang. It sounded ancient and new all at once. The sun set, and the roundhouse grew dark. The fires leapt and smoked. I thought about the obscurity of the future, and how we cannot know what it holds.

(You can get an idea of what their music sounded like by visiting the website of one of their bands and getting a CD.)

The next day, I woke up feeling lighter and more hopeful.

The druids and friends from Norway bid farewell to the World Drum (which is going on to Belgium) in a closing ritual led by Philip Shallcrass (aka Greywolf, who is the most lovely, lovely man), this time held inside a beautiful yurt.
I don't drum, but it was fun hearing everyone together. I clapped along.

You can see Will here, in the red jumper. He makes beautiful drums all from scratch and by hand. You can also see Morten, another of the lovely and beautifully kind Norwegians we met, wearing a little black cap. 

The World Drum

I came away feeling amazed at the kindness of the people we met, and their willingness to help others for no reason or gain. Two of the drummer practitioners told us they offer healings for people, but never charge. I told a few people about Lyra and they listened with sympathy and compassion, rather than reacting as if I had said something terrible or taboo.

It was strange, telling that tale in with the other stories of who I am. It made me know - again - the sad truth and foreverness of it. But the weekend also reminded me of all the vastness of the world, all the friends waiting to be made and the adventures waiting to happen. And it reminded me that I am starting to have adventures again, now, this year.

There is still magic and wonder and goodness, and I can still be a part of it.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Griselda the Puppet

A dear friend recently pointed me in the direction of this blog, by Christiane Cegavske who is an animator, model maker and painter. Cegavske details some of her model making techniques in a really clear and helpful way. One of her blog posts solves a problem I have been mulling over for some time, namely, how to make a solid head without using masses of (expensive) fimo in the process. The answer: scrunched up aluminium.
Why didn't I think of that?

So - fimo over an aluminium core, built over a wire 'neck'.

I actually quite like the puppet as above - with no eyes - but I think on balance she'd have been pissed off to be cheated out of eyes.

So, I made some (the trickest bit, sculpture-wise. I'm still not happy with the result...) and set her, bat-like, to cook in the oven.

Here she is, after being set in the heat.

Next came the body.

In the past I have frequently given up at this point. For this reason, I have a few lone heads and creepy mask-like faces floating around the flat.

I used cloth to pad the puppet out

Wire frame hands and the start of a costume
And here she is all finished.

The puppet has pearls sewn into her dress. It was very fiddly work, stitching on a tiny scale (keeping in mind that I am AWFUL at all things sewing).
I love this kind of making! The more detailed and focused the better. My partner calls this 'cupcakery' after learning of my great (possibly slightly unexpected) love to decorating little cakes...I know. I should be ashamed of myself...

The puppet has detachable feather wings...
As is to be expected, this puppet appears to be in mourning clothes.
I tried to think of a name for her and one popped straight into my head: Griselda. Wikipedia tells me that this name means 'Dark Battle' or 'Stone' or 'Grey Maiden Warrior'.

How perfect is that?
My godmother recently described grief to me as like a dark battle. But it is even better that the puppet is a maiden warrior. I think passing through a period of intensive emotional hardship can make us feel like warriors. Grief can knock us to the ground. Sometimes our misery can whisper at us, telling us strange lies.
We have to be like warriors in order to stay true to who we want to become, after the grief has burnt through us.

Monday, 15 April 2013


I have been away in Wales, Snowdonia for a beautiful week of making and walking.

We stayed in a tiny cottage in the middle of fields, forests and mountains (traditionally called 'no where' which I think is both a bit unfair and inaccurate). Behind the cottage was a moss covered hillock, a little stream and a ruined old house. The trees and mosses had made a good start of reclaiming this ruin of slate and stone, knocking down walls with their branches and digging up the floor with their roots. It was all rather spooky, and reminded me of the Huldufolk of Iceland.

Inside, away from moss, roots, spookiness and all, I was busy making.

I am still very excited about art meets words. As I've written before, books have long been some of my favourite things, so to be able to make them feels both magical and exciting.

This is another one-off book, which like the Insect Book came together spontaneously out of the bag of papers and tools I had bought with me. As I have now become more familiar with some of the book making processes, I am planning a couple of books for limited, multiple print runs. Watch this space for an etsy shop. 

The text of this book revolves around the English tradition of the Mummers Play.
Each time I have seen it performed (in pubs, in rather rough costumes, played by local men), the Mummers play is almost identical. There is a scene where a doctor character enters to heal a knight, who has fallen during a battle.
Despite the knight often being declared dead at the point of him losing the battle, the doctor calls out;

"I have a little bottle here, that cures all aches and pains"

Each time I have heard it, this phrase has deeply appealed to me. There is impossibility and yet also such allure in the promise.

I used photographs in this book for the first time too, making it also a sort of self portrait.

Who wouldn't love to know what that little bottle contains, which is so strong in the old story that it can bring the dead back to life? Which can cure all our aches and our pains. I don't have that bottle, but for a week I did have the snow covered mountains, the open sky, the unbroken silence of the night. And, for a few golden moments, that was a cure too.