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Bealtaine Blessings

Much love to you on this beautiful sacred day, the wedding day of the god and goddess, also known as May Day in the northern hemisphere. When I wrote my usual blessing for it on twitter this morning, I found myself unexpectedly typing Beltaine, which I've never done before. Now I'm typing Bealtaine for this post, which is the fully proper spelling. I watched a movie set in Ireland last night, that must be it!

Like my dear grandmother, I have always loved all things Irish. As a teenager people knew to give me Irish gifts, including a wonderful book from my brother about the old stone walls of Ireland. If I'd been smart back when I was choosing a name for blogging, I would have gone with something Irish or Gaelic, rather than randomly setting on the prosaic Sarah. Certainly now that I'm a writer I would wish for something more interesting! Living in a country to whose native culture I have no connection, and also having no connection with the cultural ties of my name, makes for a very lost feeling. Especially when we are advised by wise folk to develop a relationship with the spirituality of our location rather than cleaving to one far from where we are - or to seek connection within our culture's tradition (which is very unhelpful when you may simply not believe in what that tradition teaches.)

I understand the importance and beauty of being in relationship with the land which holds you. But I think if we deprive our spirit of its true mythic language, we end up very alone indeed. Of course, following a culture which is thousands of miles away from you is lonely too, especially when no one else around you does so. But it is better than denying your spirit its truth.

For decades, I have followed the old pagan Wheel of the Year. It resonates with how I was raised and what I chose to believe for myself and what I see in the world around me. I don't abide by the exact customs of it, for that's impossible here. Instead, I allow my spirit to have a natural relationship with the world turning. If you look in my right-hand sidebar you will see that I personally call this time of year Tender Moon. Bealtaine used to be a day of delight for me, and now it is a time of quiet meditation. It has evolved over the years and will continue to do so I'm sure.

Were I living in England or Ireland, no doubt I would abide more closely to the traditional ways of celebration. But here at the far edge of the world, without community, without a true name, with only the wind and the moon as companions, I find the mystic path - embracing being without, being alone, the inner path - is the most comforting to follow.

How to Save the World

So many people these days are expressing a sense of helplessness in the face of the political and social turmoil around them. I understand that; I feel it too. After all, I live in a peaceful country at the far edge of the world, and have little ability to affect change in other places - I can't vote or march, for instance. And yet the politics of those places impacts my life, community, and planet too. 

But we are not truly helpless. We never were. Do you think things like radical nationalism and the acceptance of cruelty to vulnerable people (eg asylum-seeking children) happen for no reason? The world would be at peace if people were simply kind to each other. If supporting your fellow man was the culture and the practice. If people looked towards each other instead of away. 

It's simple. If your neighbour has no food, take her bread. If your friend is suffering, give her the warmth of your attention. If a stranger sits weeping, ask them how you can help. If a coal-mining community faces struggles because of the urgent needs of a changing climate, meet together and think of solutions. Take a positive outlook. Look for ways to help. Be kind. 

I read a quote from John Steinbeck today that the only story of humankind is the struggle between good and evil. I disagree. As I wrote on Facebook, I think the only story we have is love. If you unravel almost everything, you'll find love at its heart. Perhaps a twisted love, a broken love, but still it's there. We also have evil of course - we are seeing it in action almost daily lately. Some of that evil believes it's acting from love. Some of it is because love has been stolen away, burned away, bashed into smithereens, or warped by a biochemical illness. In the absence or ruins of love is mostly where we find evil. But I believe that is a commentary too, in its sad dark way, on love.

If we go on talking about good and evil ... them and us ... we will never develop the wisdom to listen to our enemies & learn their griefs and discover that, for the most part, they are striving for or towards love. And we will never be able to heal true wrongs.

We have messed up our cultures horribly. But at any moment we can change that. As a character in my latest manuscript says, "the space between us and another is a whole world we can shape." Be love, be kindness, shape your intimate worlds with beauty and goodness, and soon enough we will have a culture of loving support. 

That is the only thing which will save the world.

art by wendy andrew, I'm drawn to it lately, to its peace & gentle richness

Baba Yaga In the Summer

They say now is the season of the witch, but of course the truth is that she dwells in every season - she is the seasons herself, the bittered leaves and the beautiful flowers, the mud and the golden crackle of sundried earth.

Here in the old spring of the southern world, I'm writing a book about Baba Yaga. I'm close enough now to its completion that I feel happy telling you, and Beltaine seems like a good time to share the news. It's a story of Baba Yaga and her sisters, with a few other interesting folk mixed in. A summer book, full of charms and black wings, and afterwards I will be writing a winter moon book as its companion. (I don't know yet what its publication pathway might be, we'll see.)

One of the ideas I am sitting in deeply as I write this story is how woman is a threshold. Not just the Baba Yagas of this world but the everyday women in their suburban houses or mountain cottages, with their storebought bread and money worries. Every woman possesses a doorway between mundane and myth, light and dark, hope and happening, the-world-without-you and the-world-into-which-you-are-birthed.

And every man is the trickster who charms her into allowing him to cross through.

This is of course the oldest story there is. Actually, I'm beginning to think all stories are about the thresholds in life, and how we find ways to cross them safely, and what happens when we fail. And so in every story - and at every moment of change in our own days - the witch stands watching, holding herself open so we can go through.

I wonder if we tell these stories because we are compelled to revisit the phenomena of conception and birth, or if we are the story telling itself.

Baba Yaga dwells in her cottage surrounded by death, with life like a hearthfire inside. Are we lured into her cottage, or are we coming out? Is that cottage a house or just a doorway, and the witch lives in all the great forested world along with us?

Loving our Dirt and Starlit Selves

Today I was blessed with several very kind words about something I'd done. I spent most of the day smiling. And trying not to smile. Trying instead to be serious, restrained, dignified. And each time I felt myself trying to be all those things, I stopped and gave myself a little lecture.

It's okay to be delighted by positive feedback. It's okay to be proud of yourself. Humankind has gotten thoroughly entangled in an old, old culture of shame, and that's hard to unravel I know. But remember this: we come from dirt.

We have the star-freckled body of the universe.

We are love.

When we deprive ourselves of that love ... when we tell ourselves to repress giddy, sweet self-delight ... I wonder if perhaps we warp the universe a little. Bruise it a little. Send it slightly off-kilter from its great spiralling course of Love.

I don't say this to shame or chide anyone. After all, we do what we're taught is right. And self-repression has been taught for a very long time as a kind of goodness. But always love is right. How can it be right to not allow yourself excitement and joy when someone tells you how nice you look, how well you've made a bookshelf, how good you are at painting? How can it be right to shrink yourself and stay moderate in the face of love? Bring on self-admiration, I say! Bring on self-liking. It won't hurt anyone else. Surely the more love, the merrier.

Let go of the old and narrowing denial of self-love and dance within your spirit, dance from moon to smiling moon, be glad of yourself, light the world within.

When I look back on what thousands of years of shame has done to humankind ... when I see how our potential and consequence has been warped ... I wish so much that we knew better how to love ourselves. Imagine what the world would be like, if we had! For true love is never cruel, nor demolishing, nor desirous of war. It does not rank people, condemn people, or deny anyone love. It is only beauty.

I wonder how beautiful we can make our lives, our world, by making a wild illumination of love first within our own selves?

art by jo jayson

Tumbling Onto Wild Shores, as if fallen from a moon

I read this morning that Hedgespoken Press are releasing a new collection of books. Small, brown-winged books rising out of tangly old threshold places - seven of them, by seven wonderful artists. I am an impoverished artist myself, and am unlikely to ever be able to buy any of them, but there's this gift story gives to you, this boundless richness : just a speck of it and you can unwind a vast wealth of magic and tale, for the rest of your life if you choose.

martin shaw

So I read the little excerpts of these seven books and since then have been dreaming in a mad weave of oak, smoke, sea, hearthfire. Now I feel like half a dream myself. I feel like I have fallen from a far cold place into stories. That's what myth does for us - it tugs us out of our complacencies and simple understandings, so that we fall into it; into magic. That's what the wild god, with his long patchwork coat and his shoes layered like commonplace books and his horned smile, does for us. Makes us fall.

Because of course we're not really falling, we're flying.

And it's one of the reasons why I post stories here at Knitting the Wind inbetween writing a bigger tale - because the treasure of story is the inheritance of all. I like to leave tiny stories laying around when I can so that maybe someone will pick them up like a coin and get for themselves a feast of their own imagination. It's not the story itself that's important but the leaves and seeds in it: the rose-scented wind, the window in a dark castle, the bending road, the peddlar only briefly mentioned, the things that catch your eye in the middle of all that narrative and make you wonder. Make you fall into your own wild magic.

The writers of this book series by Hedgespoken Press are absolute masters. Half a paragraph from each of them can keep me aloft all day. I hope you will visit the site and see for yourself, and fall into their enchantment.

Here again is the link to Seven Doors in an Unyielding Stone. Let's encourage independent publishers and dreamweavers all we can.

The Medicine Language

They say we are made of stardust, but I disagree. I say we are made of magic. Ancient, feral, ordinary magic. We are the wind-shaped organs of the goddess, and our voices are her pulse.

On instagram this week the community has been invited to explore their media messaging - what & why they speak out. My message is that I believe we are mythic, we are divine, all of us - man, woman, owl, bear, tree, faery, star, firefly, continent - and that once we knew how to speak the same language. But we grew alphabets. We grew hedges on our lands and in our hearts. We allowed small people to have great power over us. And so we forgot the mothertongue.

I believe story, poetry, song, thunder, tidewash, are all ways in which the universe sings to us. We can capture the threads of it: we can hold up a bone needle to the wind and knit what we unravel from it, or translate with our feet the lullabies of ocean, river, mountain. I write because I am drawn to do this. It is my spiritual practice. It is what I have been given to do in this passage through the world. I do it for my gods, and for you.

My heart breaks when I think of how very far humankind has turned away from our understanding of how we are all divine, all connected. We have lost the very language that was meant to guide us through this earthly experience so we could be birthed from it fully wise and ready for the next part of our existence. That language, it's our medicine. It tells us all we need to live and love and thrive and heal. And we gave it up for the stony words of a few men. They made us fear them, then they told us how our fear would keep us safe. The awfulness of those men has been inherited on down through the centuries, and infected all our world. Now the trees, badgers, clouds, salmon, children, are pressed and broken by them.

But I also believe that there are always some who remember echoes of the mothertongue, and they share it as often and as far as they can. More and more these days people are speaking it. A great community of healers is arising. It's true, we can not recover our beautiful garden of a world without relanguaging or silencing the weapon-tongued men, but we must not ever lose the hope of the healers. They don't just help us experience this earth beautifully and wisely, but they remind us of who we really are. For the way they speak with words, hands, hearts, is our pulse.

Friend, the mothertongue is your heritage. It is in your bones and soul. Listen for it and speak it, whatever you can, for the sake of us all.

Relinquishing Our Universes

Have you ever noticed how love untethers us? When we love something or someone, we become willing to release all our old requirements for the sake of what we love. 

We get up early in the morning. Stop saying certain words. Relinquish opinions. Change our diets. Leave home. Let go of habits we've always been convinced we need.

As we release these things, we ourselves feel the beautiful release of not needing anything after all but love. By letting go of our tiny universes, our supposed essentials, the things we always thought we were, we gain the whole world. 

It's almost as if the spirit of Love isn't a set of written rules but a wild and boundless thing, like a trickster's smile, a goddess in story, a wind. And so when we love we become wild, boundless, too, escaping the coinage of the mortal world, realising our wings. 

It's almost as if Love lays down sunsets and sweethearts and all the other desirable things just to get into our souls - using love, a gust of itself, a wink of its eye, to reach out and move us. Uplift us. Make us free to be divine.

It's almost as if Love loves us. 

Leaning In

When a moment becomes difficult ... when your colleague, friend, neighbour, partner, self, is angry or upset ... your instincts probably tell you to step back, raising your own defences, protecting the peace.
But sometimes, if you can instead, lean in.

Lean in with your elbows on your knees and your heart open. Listen to what frail, frightened words are lost within the roaring voice. Listen. Listen. 

Let the moment be. 

Lean in to compassion. Lean in to patience. Soften your silence. Put words to what you hear. As long as you are safe, physically and emotionally, give the calm and coherence that your partner, friend, colleague, needs for themselves. All that complaining, crying, grumbling, is a shield for an aching truth behind. You will never know that truth unless you are able to wait out the noise and prove you can be trusted to hold the pain it protects. (And maybe you're not ready for it, and maybe you don't feel safe, and that's okay too. But if you can, lean in.)

Perhaps it feels like you don't have time for this nonsense. But if you turn away from distress, it will only grow heavier, more inflexible, more fanged. After a while, it will form a mask which will feel like a true face, clinging to the person so they don't see clearly and they don't speak rightly, and the real truth behind will become distorted, or blanched into a whisper, or lost. 

Allowing a moment can save years. 

So lean in to gentleness, whenever you can. Lean in to love.

Art by Wendy Andrew

Acorns in her Lap

You never know when the small good that you do, maybe even without thinking about it, so small you barely register it, will touch upon a great unseen hope in another heart, and make magic. Thank you to whoever shared The Girl Who Knew Bird Language across facebook; it's been viewed an enchanting number of times. (Of course, I can't say if people liked it or not, actually read it or not, as I have no way of knowing without them leaving a comment or tagging me in the shared facebook post. I can only lay out the words and let them serve how they may.) 

I try when I can to spread word of writing I love. It is the power and the blessing of the reader. Something I find a little more difficult is to give praise directly to writers. It has always been daunting for me because I grew up thinking writers were superstars - so much more amazing than musicians for sure! The number of times I have swooned because a famous writer has left a comment on my blogposts or retweeted something I wrote!

The internet has cured me of this, mostly. Alright, somewhat. A little. Being a writer myself has also helped. I used to have a file of kind words from readers which I would dip into whenever I needed a boost. Unfortunately, I lost it when my previous computer broke. Each of those words was an acorn that grew stories like trees. There is a writer, whose name I sadly can't recall, who says she keeps reader feedback as printouts on the walls above her writing desk, and in this way her readers are part of the space (physical and emotional) in which she writes. I too keep you in my heart as I work on my stories.  

Here is some wonderful writing I would like to share with you:

I am thinking that next year I will try seeing how these writer wings of mine might uphold me. I have a novel in the works (although I'm undecided yet which publication route I will attempt) and am considering a collection of healing fairytales, perhaps illustrated if I can convince anyone to join me in that. I am wondering if Patreon would be a good place for me. I am thinking of how I can share more poetry and also offer narrative-style tarot readings. I have a lot of ideas and a very old dream but it's scary so I'm still just sitting and thinking. 

art by Christian Schloe

The Girl Who Knew Bird Language

In a certain kingdom, in a certain land, in a little village, there lived a girl who could speak with the birds. No one knew this about her, because she could speak only with the birds, not with the baker or the woodcutter's wife, not with the farmer or the seamstress, who gave her bread but nothing else. For the girl had been orphaned at a young age, before she had learned fully how to be human. The villagers let her scrub their floors, pluck their weeds, in exchange for survival. But it was the birds of the hedges under which she slept who cared for her soul.

From the birds, she learned about the great kingdoms of trees, towering heavenward, richly populated by a thousand species. From the birds, she learned about the paths through the winds. She learned a map of wing and sunlight, a treasure of seeds. And also, in theory, of family and duty and the pride of nesting - things the birds could teach her but only people could give her and would not. 

Every morning she sang the world open with the birds. Every evening she called out what a blessing life was. Her voice rose with a hundred bell-like voices, then her voice fell in silence to the growing shadows and the comfort of brown wings tucked around her. She slept knowing she was not alone.

And yet she felt alone, for she was a girl, not a bird.

This girl, she grew into a beautiful woman. Her hair was as red as the hawthorn berry, her eyes like earth after rain. She had the freshness of one who washed in dew and drank from rivers. She did not walk but she almost danced, like anyone would when raised by birds. She did not speak but she sang, and her inhuman voice was glorious. 

And so the villagers grew more and more to despise her, for small hearts can not abide wild love. But they had floors to scrub, muck to be cleaned, and so they kept her on and (when necessary) fed her. But the story of her strangeness and her lovely singing voice travelled through the kingdom, and such stories are wont to do. And it came at last to the ears of the king.

This was a young king, it was. A king not yet married, for he had only ever met women who wanted him for his money, not himself. He liked the sound of this faraway village story. He began to dream of a dew-bright girl who could not talk. He would teach her words. Oh, such words - they would fall from her mouth like gold. They would warm his mouth when he kissed her, and enrich his lonely royal soul. 

At last the king saddled a horse, and bade the court to saddle their horses too, and with grand ceremony they rode to the village to see the girl. 

She was scrubbing a floor when they came. She did not look up. The birds had taught her nothing of kings and their courtiers, nor of jewels, power, wealth. Their words were simpler, more profound: sunlight, seeds, egg, shelter, roots, storm. The girl did not realise the king in his polished boots and velvet cape was anything better than the grocer whose floor she was scrubbing.

But she was as beautiful as the story said, even in her sodden skirt, barefoot, and with her knees bruised from kneeling so often. And the king's heart ached. Oh, the things would teach her, and how he would improve her! He would dress her in cloaks of bright feathers, give her boots of sturdy leather. He would make her his beautiful queen. Kneeling on the wet floor (for he understood very well how to act within a story) he took her blistered hands in his own powerful, black-gloved ones, and begged that she marry him.

And the girl who had been raised by birds looked at this handsome king with his calm blue eyes and charming smile, his gloves made from cow skin, his bejewelled audience. She saw that he was seeing in her eyes the reflection of himself. And removing her hands from his grasp, she spoke the first and last human word she ever would.

She said: no.

The king was aghast. The courtiers giggled. The grocer kicked the girl from his store and all the way out of the village. After the king had galloped back to his magnificent castle, furious and determined to put an extra tax on all grocers just because (see now why no woman had wanted him for himself?) - after this came the hard, dark part: a crowd from the village stormed out with torches and violent words, and burned down the girl's hedges. 

The birds flew away. The insects scattered. The tiny mice and rabbits fled into deeper forest. And the girl ran weeping along the road into lonely silence.

Some time later, maybe days, maybe weeks, however long it takes to heal a voice, the bird-woman sat in a ditch by the road and sang quietly to herself for the first time since the fire. Just a little feather-song about leaf, berry, acorn, stream. Nothing glorious, worth the attention of a king. But a sparrow heard her. It landed softly on her knee and listened to her. Soon an owl came too, drawn by the music of berries. Then a fox came, not to hunt but to dream in the cool gentleness of her water song. And a starling came. And a crow. And a tinker came, a young man who travelled the old back roads mending pots, making friends, tracking the moon. He sat with the fox, the birds, the girl, listening. And then he sang to her his own song of horse, copper, road dust, falcon. He made her see a wide and lovely world of forests, fields, hearthfires, laughter. 

When there was silence again, he held out his hand. And she went with him. For she was not a bird after all, she was a woman.

The crow and the starling went with them, perched on the roof of the tinker's wagon. 

They travelled on down the road, sometimes singing, sometimes silent, sometimes listening to the stories of the birds and the meadows they went past. And forever after that they lived happily, with all that wealth, in wild sun-golden harmony. 

Drinking the Moon

This week I read The Girl Who Drank the Moon on the advice of someone who told me it was lyrical, charming, amusing. The first few pages left me unsure, but I persevered, and was rewarded with one of the most beautiful story experiences I've ever had. I felt by the end that I'd been given a draught of moonlight and it had filled me with gentle and extraordinary magic.

This is the kind of book I wish we had more of in the world. Stacks of them. Boxes full. Libraries worth. It is built on a dark and heartbreaking premise, but is rich with love, soft love and determined love, sacrificial love and the kind of love that refuses to sacrifice. It is a book that changed my life.

How beautiful it was to read the experiences of mothers and grandmothers woven through a young woman's story. How beautiful to read of community surrounding the individual heroes, for better and worse. We need such stories desperately. As I type this now, I begin to wonder how much thought storytellers should give to their part in furthering the cult of the individual that is ruining so many lives these days. We've heard for so very long about the brave hero or heroine alone in the world, facing perils without much support  ... But is that a story we want for our real lives? Isn't it more beautiful and wonderful to tell about all the people who would willingly, joyfully, help a heroine gain success? I watched the royal wedding this weekend and, although the romance of the couple was at the heart of the event, it would have been a poor thing indeed were it not for the family and friends surrounding them, each of whom had something to offer the story - the wise old grandmother, the half-mad mother, the sweet little children, the loving cousins and quirky friends.  That is the story we are, most of us, truly drawn to. The story of all the love in life. 

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is rich with love and friendship. It also has Fyrian, the best dragon ever written. If you come across a copy, I recommend you read it, and be filled with its moonlit enchantment.

art by Christian Schloe.

ps, I implemented this template because I liked the way it looks on the front page. But its difficult to manage, so we'll see what happens next.

The Dance of Souls

I've heard there is a wind going through forest, but I can only dream it from where I am. And I don't mean only my little cottage on the plain, between three waters. I mean too my heart.

Life can be difficult, fraught with challenge and pain. But we are made for that, aren't we? We were given what we needed for this journey. But we weren't given all of it within ourselves - some bits were given to our mother, our lover, our teachers, our gardens, for us to draw upon. For this isn't a hero's journey, this life. It is a dance of souls. A weaving.

I think what turns difficult into unbearable is when we are disconnected from our sources of strength, gentleness, love, wonder. When we are left with just the bits given to us for our part in the weaving. We become unsustained. And yet the cult of the individual is pulling us away from each other, from the community and intimacy we inherently need not only for our economic requirements and our physical wants but our soul's essential purpose.

Everywhere I look these days, human communities are breaking down. Lonely, isolated people are sinking into depression and even dying because of it. But I also see people becoming unwell, ungentled, lost, despairing, for no apparent reason - until you notice how many trees have been felled in their neighbourhood, how few birds now sing outside their window. How the air is so burdened with pollution that wild story can not be heard. And the water - the water that keeps us flowing inside ourselves - is spiked with chemicals like the contraceptive pill, which can not be filtered out. I know the pill has been a source of freedom for many women, and I'm not speaking against that. I'm in favour of contraception. I'm merely pointing out that we drink water tainted with our desire to prevent life. We are surrounded, inside and out, with the idea that nothing matters more than our own self.

I believe people need other people. But I also believe they need trees, badgers, spiders, rain. This life is not just about human destiny. We're here with a vast array of other species. This is a dance of all souls. I have seen lately in myself how becoming increasingly disconnected from nature - seeing some of my tree friends disappear, missing my bird friends from the old city - has impacted my mood and my way of being. I feel the call to turn more outside of myself, and find again the things I need within others. Oceans, violets, owls, raindrops.

Did you know about A Basket of Seeds and Stars? It is the archive of newsletters I used to send out. I haven't written any for a very long time. I keep meaning to, but there are too few trees now in my sky. Maybe one day I will turn those essays into a book about writing. Maybe.

The Wing-Hearted Queen

It is told, on the underside of leaves and in the shadow of the winds, that once there was a queen who had been a swan. She had lived on old waters and kissed only the tremulous reflection of the moon, before love, sudden and enchanting, made her into a woman. A beautiful, ethereal woman who broke the heart of a king.

It happened like this: a prince went fishing. He had become weary of court life, of jewels and people always bowing, fawning. So he took his horse, his fishing pole, a lunch, and went into the woods for some quiet.

The prince did not really want to catch fish. He was a kind-hearted young man and ate no meat. His true purpose in fishing was to have an excuse for sitting alone in the leafy, shadowy quiet and dreaming. He had the usual dreams for princes: cutting wood out the back of a little cottage, watching fresh-baked bread come out of the oven, drinking beer on the front doorstep while sunset coloured the land like roses, going to bed with a gentle-hearted earth-scented wife who was also his friend.

While he was sitting and dreaming, the swan watched him. He had seen her, smiled at her, but his eyes had gone on looking for rougher things. The poetry in bark, and rocks, and toads. He'd already had enough elegant beauty for a lifetime. The swan, though, fell in love. And her love was transformative, as it always is. In a moment, in a wish, in a flash of determination, she became human.

Never before had there been a more exquisite woman. She could not speak, for she did not know the language, but her round white arms and long pale hair and her eyes filled with deep secrets spoke for her most eloquently. The prince, surprised out of his simple dreams, discovered that there was still room in his heart after all for a little more beauty. But he did not stare; rather, supposing she was some forester's daughter in trouble, he came at once to her rescue. He wrapped her in his cloak, put her on his horse, and took her back to the castle. So that he might help her, you know. Find her parents, that kind of thing. Learn her name. See her safely home.

The swan-woman was quite overcome. She had never ridden a horse, touched a man, been inside a building. She almost immediately missed the water, missed the winds and the quiet. She could not give the prince answers, having no words and, for that matter, no parents or home as he supposed. But it was too late now. She did not know how to become again a swan.

She learned, as women always do, to make the best of things. For at least she had the prince, and her love for him proved real. He came quickly to love her too of course. He loved her round white arms and the fledgling words that shivered from her mouth and took wing to his heart. Soon enough, they were married, and when the prince's father died, the prince became king. And the swan who changed herself to a woman for the sake of love became his enthralling queen.

She never did tell him what she had been. Even when she had the words, she did not know how to begin that conversation.

The prince was a good king, as kind as he'd ever been, but he was not entirely happy. He wished it was homebrewed beer he was drinking instead of the finest wines. He wished he had friends instead of courtiers. And the queen was an adoring wife and thoughtful aid, but she was not altogether happy either. She longed for the glide of water on wing, and the uncertain smile of the moon beneath the lake surface. She wished for song instead of hard-edged human language clattering against her teeth.

One day, after several happy years woven through with secret melancholy, the swan took her king by the hand and they walked to the waters. And at last she told him her story, her love, her sorrow. He kissed her and wished her free. In that moment arms became pinions and feet became webbed. In the next moment she was a bird again beneath his hand. She drifted away singing over the gentle water, and the young king walked home.

It's told in the same story that his heart was forever thereafter broken. He gave away his wines, his velvets and rings, and finally he passed his crown to his younger sister. She became a robust, sensible queen, and the realm flourished. And he went away into silence.

There is another story sometimes told by the foresters and their subtle wives. Down by the waters, a man built a house. Just a simple stone house, with a woodpile out the back and a chimney that smelled of smoke and bread. He lived a regular, hard, fulfilling life, and made friends amongst the forest folk who loved the taste of his beer and the charming kindness of his smile. No one ever met his wife, she was shy they said, but sometimes they glimpsed her in the night, white and graceful, like a wave in the moonlight as she walked into the little house. This man and this woman had a little daughter who sang as purely as the stars, and a little son who saved every hurt animal and every lost bird. They were ordinary people in love with each other and life. And they lived happily, truly happily, until their end.

A Hymn to Her

I have been hearing Her voice all my life, singing in the timbre of dirt-cozened insects and sun-stretched trees; murmuring beneath the words my mother spoke, and my nana, and sometimes even me. I was raised from birth in the pagan spirituality, but when I was about seven she came to me personally, and I have adored her ever since.

Although perhaps it was She who spent hours in my company when I was five and six, halfway up a tree, in the form of a little brown slater. And then again in a caterpillar's wistful body. And as a shadow beneath the river's weedy surface ...

Shiloh Sophia McCloud

Over the years, I have witnessed how her spirit and voice have grown stronger throughout the worldwide community. A new religion, drawing from the wisdoms and traditions of many ancient ones, has blossomed with astonishing speed. There has also been a great longing to learn from the traditions of people such as Native Americans, but sadly those groups cling to their heritage and are reluctant to share, or to teach us openly, understandably due to the hurt others have done them over the years. I am grateful that, in New Zealand, the Maori are bravely generous.

For a long while I wondered why Her voice was becoming so strong and so popular. I thought perhaps it was a consequence of feminism. But now I wonder if infact it is the other way around - that feminism was a consequence of Her voice rising. I wonder if She felt the factories burning her breast, and if She choked on the smog, and so roused women to cry out for Her - but first, for themselves. And at the same I wonder if she inspired in the hearts of men a great courage and nobility to fight against the old imperialism, and the new facism, that would bring endless harm to the earth - perhaps too so men would thereafter use that courage and nobility to uplift and listen to women, and do good by the land and the oceans, and bless Her.

Brenda Ferrimani

But the Men in Suits are defying the growing movement of Love, literally destroying this planet so they can have a bit more money in their already bulging pockets. They are causing wars, eradicating whole cities, ecosystems, species. They are ruining communities and leaving people to shrink away alone in silence so that the latest phone will be a great success for a few months. I think it must be a madness, this incomprehensible greed - for how can you enjoy money when the world burns?

And so Her voice is growing even louder. And more people are singing it out. This week I felt the anguish of women's experiences in America until new reports of climate change began coming out, and then I thought, why are we fighting about anything right now other than the destruction of our planet? But the thought only lasted a minute. Because immediately I saw that the rights and voices of women are profoundly entwined with the care of this planet, the honouring of Her. Just as the hearts of men are entwined with it too. Women will not be uplifted to dignity, safety and equality until men heal themselves of their toxic shame and dishonour. She offers men that healing. It comes simply, through Love.

She is here for all of us, as She always has been. But now she is calling out in a way the trees and waters and little brown slaters can not do for themselves. She is singing through our hearts. I know billions of us hear her. The question is, will we act? Or will we become no more than bones in the dirt, ghosts in the hearts of forests, a shock wave slowly receding as the earth recovers from us?

Kindness In Dark Times

For many people, this has been a hard week. One way I've managed, when I've spent too much time reading the news, is to reach inside tha pain and draw out the kindness and gentleness I wish others had. As someone said on twitter, it's hard to believe there really is fair in the world these days. To which I replied, yes it does seem that way, but if you can't see the fair at least you know you can be it.

Edmund Blair Leighton

Kindness doesn't look the same for everyone, every time. The best archetypes for kindness that I can think of are the old, sharp-fingered witches who strip light and shadow from life, certainty from men and women, until the true heart is revealed. And so I believe kindness to be an active force. We tend to imagine it as soft, tender, comforting. But when a monster comes roaring our way, we don't wish someone to hand it flowers, smiling, and sing it a lullaby. We wish for a hero with a sword. (Although perhaps he merely disables the monster and, when it is no longer in a position to hurt anyone, then can come the flowers, the gentle song, because I suspect at the heart of most monsters is pain of their own.)

It is not kindness to remain softly quiet while others are being hurt. It is not kindness even to the monsters to allow them comfort and civil conversation while they rampage. If monsters are not stopped, they will never find healing of their own. But we can raise our voices and soften them too. We can be kind in all the different ways. It's easy. So easy. All we need is the desire to do it.

* * *

A lot of people are talking these days about the resurgence of the feminine voice. I hear it too and my heart warms because I know She is here to restore our balance, to bring us back to the old ways, out of this gaping toxic wound of consumerism, patriarchy, and top-down rule. So many women are now finding themselves with the courage and fire to speak Her song. But we must embrace men in this too. Yesterday I read an analogy for men about what it's like to be sexually assaulted - some man wrote it hoping to inspire empathy in men for women's experiences. I was furious. Not only did he come nowhere close to the real experience of sexual assault for women, but he ignored the fact that men don't need an analogy. Men can get sexually assaulted too. And men are victims of patriarchy too. They need an archetype of strength and kindness to guide them at this time. The knights of the round table. Jesus. The Green Man of the wildwood. There are many. Men haven't always been taught that the ideal is tough and untouchable. The patriarchy has oppressed them as it has women, only in different ways.

* * *

So be kind like a woman - all fire-worded and endlessly strong, holding on through the storms, marching in pink, speaking her pain although she's been told always that it's shame to talk, walking at dark despite the danger, loving despite the fear.

And be kind like a man - so steady and quiet with a child in his arms, so thoughtful, knowing his power and using it to help, risking the fall to climb on chairs to brush away the spider, feeling shy and frightened but doing the right thing anyway.

Be kind - overturn tables.

Be kind - hold sorrows so gently.

Just be kind. You say there are so few good people in the world? Why aren't you counting yourself?

Living Amongst Faeries

I reside in an edge space. The whole of my country really is an edge space in many ways. It is unsettled mountains, undrowned meadows, shores traced by two seas - one silver and gentle, one wild like the heart of some weed-eyed water queen. It is a ghost continent, a lost limb of Australia, a vast stone range eroded by ocean and rain. It is the rubble of fires and the waiting for more.

Perhaps this is why I have often met faery through my life. Or perhaps it's just me.

Reading this morning about this magical project being undertaken in England made me think of my faery experiences. I've written before about them - too many to detail as extraordinary; infact, that's what Suburban Magic is all about.

Really, the only thing that keeps me from saying it's completely normal to live surrounded by faery is that few other people think so. At least, they don't where I live. I have to wonder at the stubborn prosaicness of pioneers and their inheritors, considering how close the otherworld lies to ours in this little land. Maori know. But perhaps the Europeans have been too long from their culture and old earthtales; perhaps the thread, like a heartstring, has been broken for them.

For some reason, it wasn't for me. On the other hand, the truth might be not that I've been open to faery, but that they opened themselves for me. Who knows why? It's perhaps expected that a child would encounter faery in an old house in forested hills. But I have seen them too on city streets, conversed with them. I have heard the faery bells ring out through my suburban garden at Beltane. It's not because I was dreamy from the start. I became that way because I was surrounded by dreams.

But why should someone experience faery on the far side of the world from Europe where they are best known? I believe this is because we only crudely perceive the true nature of space and time. Really, distance is not what we believe of it. The otherworld lays within ours, and I suspect faery are not limited by the ignorance about nature that we humans suffer from. (I suspect many animals are the same - certainly anyone who lives with a cat or a dog must agree with me about that.)

One thing that's always confused me is how people talk about their encounters with faeries but seldom about their vision of the otherworld itself, the trees and sunlight and birdsong there, the atmosphere, the awareness of what lies over hill and in shadow - the fullness of Faery, its land as well as its people. To me, this is ubiquitous. And yet I almost never hear tales of it.

And perhaps because my country is all edges and uncertainties, the otherworld seems closer. It's hard to keep a solid grip on space and time here. And all kinds of things echo through. But again, perhaps it's just me. If I leave my heart open for a little while, I feel an overwhelming sense of loss and loneliness that comes from knowing I stand on the wrong side of the liminal space.

I have used the faery spelling as to me it conveys a solemnity and sense of power which fairy, with its suggestion of delicate wings and frilly dresses, no longer does.

Be Like A Heroine in a Film

After watching The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society film yesterday, I found myself having the following thoughts. I knew the film would inspire me with its photography and settings even more than its plotline, which is why I watched it. I always go to books for story, but film offers me a diversity of other things as well.

I think sometimes I could contentedly be a writer in a boarding house room, with a bed and a chair and a desk ... like the heroine in a film ... and then I remember that I actually was. Aged nineteen or so, in the room of a big old house halfway up a hill. It wasn't as romantic as in a film. Being a writer in a cottage between the river and the sea is better, although I could do with more trees. And I have dreams of all the other cinematic ways, and in all the lovely places, I could be a writer, and who knows if I will see them happen one of these days.

But what I do know, from realising that I once had what I now think is charming: we make the story of our reality. 

My room didn't have patterned wallpaper and an iron-framed bed. The kitchen was so little I kept the fridge in the lounge, and I hadn't yet become addicted to tea (which meant of course I was not yet a proper writer). So not like a beautiful film. I did have a pretty antique wardrobe like in the photograph above, but it ticked at night and drove me crazy. But when I looked out my window I saw a tree billowing against my western sky, and when I walked out my door I was a stroll from a quaint little village, and when I got on a bus it was to an old university where I was reading the greats. I wish I'd seen the lovely story of it back then. I think life would have felt, and perhaps become, very different.

I see it now, though, and I'm reimagining all my life through this new insight. And I'm promising to always tell a beautiful story to myself from now on. Because I might not choose all my circumstances, but I can phrase them how I wish.

When It Hurts

Don't give up at the moment of pain. Hold on if you can for the correction. For the universe or its angels to tip things gently back in your direction.

Louis Rhead

This is one of those things I can say but not so easily do myself, perhaps because for some of us who are sensitive or overthink things, pain goes on for a long time before the tipping point. But I believe it in theory. I believe that creation and destruction are the same thing, and that pain and peace are part of the great dance we do, dancing like wind with grass, sun with water.

At the same time, I also think we need to be kind to ourselves. Sometimes we just can't deal with pain. Or we could if we wanted, but we need to get some sleep, or we need to help someone else, and so we shut it down - we give up or give over.

And that's all right. The universe is benevolent, tending always towards love. How do you know that your giving up isn't actually a kiss on your soul from the divine, offering rest, a moment's peace, a little freedom? Last night I gave up on a small pinching pain and withdrew yesterday's blogpost. I could have left it up, gotten over myself, been brave, waited until morning. But I wanted to sleep quietly. So I withdrew the post, turned off the light. And after a few minutes I had the first three sentences of today's post whispered to me.

They are a promise of love. An encouragement and a trust. But also a kindness, especially in that moment of relinquishment in the dark - because if you do give up, the universe will catch it, and swallow it down, and murmur it back to you as love against your heart.

A Jumble of Tales

I am currently writing two manuscripts which are very different from each other not only in tone but style. So different infact that even I, the writer, think that they seem to come from two hands. I can of course write various books in different styles, but it's important to ME to have one clear voice, to be known for a certain way of writing. Like many women, I have had to struggle to define myself in most areas of my life, usually in the face of conflicting opinions and demands from other people. Writing is my soul's work, and as such it calls for me to have a clear identity within it. I want to write in such a way that when people encounter an excerpt from my works, they will say "that sounds like Sarah Elwell."

john bauer

Today I wrote here about the two manuscripts I mentioned above, and a third less developed one. I was partly expressing my inner turmoil, and partly hoping readers would say, "this one sounds like you," or "this one is best." Of course, few people comment on my blogposts even though many read them. That's okay. In the three hours it was up, I got two responses. One was along the lines of, "I love everything you write," which is always so exceedingly kind and much appreciated and also unhelpful. Another was from a fellow writer who said, "I can relate."

It's amazing how much difference it makes to have someone relate to you. This woman was able to put into words what my heart was trying to say, and I felt seen and valued. (She is, by the way, the lovely Raquel Vasquez Gilliland, a wonderful writer, poet, and mother.)

I felt seen and valued. Isn't this key to our best reading experiences? Yesterday, I wrote about books that changed my life. The novels that had the strongest influence on me were those which seemed to echo my own heart, even when I was deaf to that heart myself. The very existence of words and worlds which reflected my inner world gave value to me.

Sometimes that relatability comes from characters who remind me of myself. Sometimes it comes from a vision of life which I also have. And sometimes it's just a feeling - like the shadowed winds of Pern, the dream of flying, the longing to have someone smile at you or rescue you the way the hero does in a certain book. A reader recently told me that they loved Deep in the Far Away because it was real and romantic. I thought that was the best praise I'd ever received, and I vowed to keep it at the centre of my writing always after. Even the dreamiest, strangest book ... or the funniest, lightest book ... can have a real heart, something that allows its readers to feel seen.

I'm not necessarily any closer to deciding between my manuscripts. But I do know now why the decision is so difficult, and that is giving me important answers.

I've deleted most of the original post but will leave you with these excerpts from the three different pieces, just so you know what I've been talking about.

A. "Without stopping to change clothes or even put on a cardigan, I ran from the room and down the long swoop of stairs. My white nightgown billowed around me; my hair streamed down my back. It would have been quite cinematic except that, halfway down the stairs, I tripped over Anna's confounded cat and almost tumbled to my death."

B. "Alone and unknown beneath the floor, she ate her feast. Every mouthful was a moment, like light from a magician's opening hand or something drawn unexpectedly out of an acorn; every breath inbetween was peace. Afterwards, she drank cold chamomile tea from the jug she kept tucked at a corner of the bed, unbraided her hair, and lay back to dream. Mould specks made black stars on the cupboard ceiling. A spiderweb draped in one corner was her moon. Unravelled voices murmured through an air vent like the faraway poetry of forests. She remembered real moons, real trees. The world out there was a dangerous place."

C. "He looked wilder than the wild things of Sironet Forest, the black-fleeced things too shy to be named. He was beautiful, strange, dark-haired, calm-boned. On a thong around his neck were speckled feathers from a rare linel-bird, making a feral heaven against his breast. How he got them is anyone's guess. Picked them up from the roadside, traded them for a song, plucked them cruelly, caught them in a storm."

Books That Changed My Life

Someone on social media this morning was talking about how Station Eleven changed their life. I loved that book more than I can say, and it made me think deeply about my own writing, but it would be extravagant to claim it changed my life. That got me thinking however about what books, if any, actually did change not just me as a writer or a person, but actually changed my life.

Certainly there are non-fiction books which have done so, especially Waldorf-inspired books like Beyond the Rainbow Bridge and School As A Journey. The biography, Nicholas & Alexandra, which I read when I was seventeen, drew me into a fascination with history which has not only stayed with me for decades but which guided my university degree.

When it comes to fiction, I am slower to think of literally life-changing books. I was blessed to grow up with classic fairytales and myths so there was really no improving on that. But I can say that Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsinger transitioned me from fairytales to fantasy novels, and inspired my creative imagination ever since. While I never took my Pernesque juvenalia anywhere, I still have it deep in my heart to write a book about heroes and dreamers on a troubled world, and maybe one day I will.

At a very dark time in my adolescence, I was given The Riddlemaster of Hed series and discovered that someone else in the world saw things the same way I did. That was a quietly profound experience which confirmed me and gave me the courage to be more myself. A few years later, Anne of Green Gables did the same thing.

Emma by Jane Austen changed my life because it was the first classic novel I read for fun after leaving school and it showed me that I was wasting myself working in hospitality, and that I should have the courage and self-confidence to reach beyond mere survival and go to university.

Other books that have had a profound influence on me include To Say Nothing of the Dog, The Night Circus, Kafka's stories, On the Jellicoe Road, Women Who Run With Wolves, poems too numerous to name .... and I'm going to have to stop, because I'm starting to realise I could be here all day. Probably three quarters of the books I read touch me in some way, even romance novels (Julia Quinn and Mary Balogh have given me important gifts). I can't say that they changed my life, but then again who knows how things will turn out with time? Certainly they showed me different aspects of how I would change my life if I could.

I really need to say that some of the most significant books in my life have not been high literature. Oh, I've read most of Shakespeare. I've read great classics for fun. They've been insightful. But so have young adult adventures, and sweet little love stories, and comedies. The books that have touched me, altered me, are books about people, about their relationships with each other, themselves, and the world around them. Books about the human heart. They change me the same way friendships do, by adding to me, and enriching me, and giving me new perspectives on life.

Are there any books in particular that have changed your life?

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Thanks & Blessings.