I have found a wilding place. There is no credit to my sleuthing skills in the fact that it is at the bottom of my own garden.
I moved to this place nearly two years ago. The garden is more than twice the size of the ground plan of the house, but it is split with two thirds being the “public” garden and one third being hidden behind trees and bushes. That latter third is where the shed lives and where a drive would have been. It’s an area that has been left fallow so the curly willow looks like my hair in the morning and brambles have begun to take over.
Recently I found that, even in winter, there is a spot in the wilding place where I can stand and not be seen by any of the neighbouring houses.
So I have reignited my outdoor QiGong practice … even now as we experience the so-called “Siberian blast”. Sure I start off cold but by the end I have charged up enough heat/energy to keep me warm for the rest of the day, irrespective of the temperature.
What surprised me after my first foray into QiGong in the wilding place was that the place revealed itself to me as I was leaving. By this I mean that my vision shifted and I saw everything there as extant beings, certainly not human or anthropomorphised – there are no fairies at the bottom of my garden – but the wild things looked back at me as I “saw” them.
In reconnecting with this wild place, I must remember other wildernesses that I saw with my “other eyes”. First and foremost I recall the strong impulse I had to climb the extinct volcano that is Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh … in a storm … at night. And my “Drang” was so intense that I didn’t take the circuitous path route up to the top but decided to climb straight up the rocks – as the crow flies … if the crow could climb! When I reached the top I sat down on the rocks and the stone felt hot beneath my hands. I “saw” spirits flying around in the storm like the painting by Luis Ricardo Falero. Only then did I question why the stone was hot. I lifted my hand in shock as I realised this was illogical and irrational … when I put my hand back down, the rock was cool and the storm was no longer spirit-filled but windy and cold. My rational mind had broken the connection to what my body and soul were experiencing as reality.
Sustaining that vision is difficult once the reasoning mind has kicked in and I have broken a few intense spirit connections through reason … except is it reason? Or is it not in fact fear? Fear that makes me question the unusual and otherly even as I experience it phenomenally. The rational mind is a fear-monger. It may or may not be my lizardy amygdala that triggers fight or flight in an attempt to keep me safe … yet, why then am I so calm (focused, yes; exhilarated, yes; bursting with vibrancy, yes) climbing volcanoes in storms and talking to manifesting spirits … until my rational mind tells me this is strange and therefore frightening? I am merely playing with ideas here but I might be tempted to say that in fact my lizard brain is quite happy with the other … the atavistic, the anachronic … because it is itself ancient and “outside of this time”. No, I would guess that in fact it is my modern day brain that challenges the wildness and seeks to analyse and categorise things to death; it is the scientist who in seeking to find the reason for the beauty of a deer kills it and guts it … for knowledge. Oh false knowledge!
I’m not expounding a return to all things prehistoric, but in terms of vision – true sight, an all-encompassing seeing – I do believe we have to learn to bypass the rational, dissecting mind. If not bypass, then harness and train so that we can see all of phenomenal existence and not just the catalogued shells that our analytical minds permit us to see.
There is more to be seen than our minds will allow.
I keep pet rats and have done for over 15 years. To my friends I am known as “the Rat Witch”. Rats are a wonderful pet; they answer to their names, give and love to receive affection, respond to commands and have enormous personalities that seem to far outweigh the size of their corporeal selves. The down side about pet rats is that they only live for 2 to 2.5 years (the latter if you are lucky). Wild rats barely survive for a year. Fancy rats (including Dumbo, Siamese, Rex and standard breeds) have been bred to survive much longer but consequently they die frequently of cancers and tumours due to their excessively unnatural life span.
In the past, I had a “friend” who got angry with me for keeping rats. She had issues with death and was furious that I exposed myself to the death of my beloved companions every 2 years or so. It’s true. It is a lot of grief. A lot of death-mongering – I have always had to decide when it’s their time to pass, when the suffering is too much. Just as it’s my responsibility to ensure they have a good life, it’s my responsibility to ensure they have a good death. Without exception I have held every rat in my arms until they have passed on. Because rats are so small, the fatal injection cannot be given into the heart as with cats and dogs; instead, it is injected into their stomachs and then we have to wait until the substance has worked its way around their system and they die. This can take anywhere between 10 and 50 minutes. The latter death was traumatic for me due to the way she fought in spirit to hold onto life. Trust me, it was her time to go, but a rat’s tenacity to life is indomitable.
So for me, death is a large part of my relationship to rats. Death is in the room with me right now. Tomorrow I will be taking my oldest girl to be put down. Her spirit is still lively and she is bright as a kitten, but her body is ridden with tumours and she can barely walk due to a massive tumour that has deformed both her back legs. She is the oldest surviving rat I have ever had. She is my “eternal girl”. I will miss her very much when she passes.
I am preparing myself to be a Death Doula tomorrow evening. I have felt this decision weighing on me since before Christmas. Sometimes I have wanted to look away from Death’s face, to ignore this part of our life. I wish I could be callous and leave her to die on her own, have the responsibility taken away from me. But part of my role as Death Doula is that *I* take on the pain of death. It is not for me to leave her till her tumours rupture and she dies in agony, or till she can no longer eat and drink and she starves slowly to death. As a Rat Witch, my role is to give them joy in life, and to smoothe the transition to Death as best I can by lethal injection and having them fall asleep in my arms as my heart breaks.
I once had a boyfriend who refused to accompany me to the final appointment with the vet, because he found it “too hard”. To this day I am astounded and annoyed because the implication was that it was easy for me. It’s not. It is the hardest thing ever and I admit that at times I have thrown myself into a bottle of alcohol or a pile of pills afterwards because the pain is so excruciating. But when I welcome a rat into my life, I welcome their death too – I take all parts of them into my hands. However difficult it is, I have no choice … or maybe I do, I choose to hold them as Death takes their soul. I choose to cradle their bodies as their muscles spasm releasing their spirit and their final death rattle is squeaked from their lungs … their final word.
It’s a big responsibility to choose the time of another creature’s death. I am not talking about animal sacrifice, which I abhor and reject unreservedly. I am talking about compassion which is truly a Merciless Path; to live with compassion means to take on the pain. In some circles they speak of taking on the Passion of Christ, being killed on the cross with him. I know some of you will be rolling your eyes at such a comparison with the death of a “mere rat”. Vermin, right? To you maybe. But to me they are massive souls in tiny bodies. They are companions, and they have literally saved my life on several occasions.
As much as I enjoy the life of my rats, I must also honour their death and be Death Doula helping them to die into Death as much as we are born into life. Tomorrow I will hold my old girl in my arms and stroke her, calling her all my affectionate names and singing to her until she passes.
To my Beautiful Girl with a smoky nose and eyes like pomegranate seeds: I shall miss you. Let me take on the pain of your death, so that you may no longer suffer. So mote it be.
I was going to write a small series of articles teaching you (that is, anyone who cares to know) about how to connect with nature spirits. But I felt very uncomfortable with the “teacher” role and there were too many caveats because each person is different and your clairvoyant strengths may not be mine. I’m good at taking an individual by the hand and introducing them to nature and low magick, but I’m pants at attempting to be one of the many pagan gurus online. My blog, right from the start, was about me and my big mouth, just mouthing off about stuff that was important to me, what I did and do, etc. So, instead of trying to convey a universal truth (a what?!), I’m just going to grab a coffee, sit down and share with ye a little about what I’ve experienced. If you want to know more or have questions, please post them in the comments below.
I’ve had experiences with spirits since I was a child (ghosts, astral travelling, spirit guides, etc.). In my teen years I began to delve into Dianic witchcraft and nature witchcraft. As I meditated more, using visualisation of various symbols from ankh to the all-seeing eye, more things began to open up to me. That is one thing that I would encourage anyone to do: develop a daily meditation practice. I find that my ability to sense spirits grows in proportion to the degree of inner quiet I can sustain. If my mind is chattering about mundane rubbish, I remain distracted very often from the things right under my nose. I remember that as a young child I would sing to chase spirits away that scared me; I would focus so hard on the words and the tune of the song and sing it with every fibre of my being (“She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain” was my favourite). This distraction process created a kind of barrier between me and these parasitic spirits which closed down my “openness” and protected me.
As I worked at little rituals in my room, I also developed a practice of moon-gazing. Late at night I would slip out of the house and walk a couple of miles down an unlit road into the countryside. I clambered over styles, heading off into the fields until I was at the closest, darkest spot, right in the middle of a wheat field. I would crouch there amongst the wheat and gaze at the moon as it crested the hill. On top of the hill was a Bronze Age fort (now a clearing surrounded by Beech trees).
For months I would escape around the full and new moons to sit in the fields and listen. The only things I could really see were the black of black shadows against a black land, and above, the blinding brilliance of the moon. So my other senses took over. I heard small animals bustling around, the sound of cows chomping grass in the neighbouring field, owls screeching and the wind through the trees and grasses. I smelt the earth, a conglomeration of death and decay that smelled pungent and dark. I pressed my fingers into the dirt and stared up.
Then, after a few months, the call came. This call was to be repeated throughout my life at different times, from different landscapes, in all kinds of weather. The land called me. As I sat at home, tired and totally averse to going out, the land called me and all I could think about was being out there! It’s difficult to explain the compulsion that accompanies the call. It’s like the craving that someone gets for a cigarette when they are giving up; it’s the obsession over cake when you’ve given up all carbs; it’s an all-encompassing, physical and mental NEED for a drug, and if you don’t get it, your nerves will implode, your arteries will explode, your mind will shatter.
So I left the house, and ran down the road, off into the darkness and to the field; it was the hill that was calling me, so on I strode, up hill, through fields and orchards, over styles, past streams. It’s about 4 or 5 miles from my family house to the top of the hill. Bear in mind as well, that when the call comes, I could stride through the worst part of town and never be scared. The call overtakes any sense of fear or anxiety. So I walked through the night with absolutely no qualms about being hurt by man or beast.
At the top of the hill (which is shaped like a sleeping lion), on its rump, was the fort clearing surrounded by trees. I had been up to the hill a few times before in the daytime. I went to a jagged tree that was about three times my height but slashed black down the middle – dead, struck by lightning. I shinned my way into the cradle of the tree where it had broken apart and sat there cross-legged looking over the clearing. And that’s when I saw the spirits: black shapes, drifting back and forth, not walking but floating and sometimes flying through the air. When I see them, I see them through my forehead; when I hear them, I hear them with the back of my head. That’s the only way I can explain it. They were aware of me. I was permitted to be there. It is vital to have permission to be in such places at such times. I will tell you further stories about what can happen if you don’t.
These were human spirits (perhaps belonging originally to the Bronze Age fort), but the spirit that had called me was that of the hill. I had focused on it, spoken to it and cultivated a relationship with it in my mind, out of respect, during my moon gazing jaunts. I had opened my palms to it and greeted it – spirit to spirit – and asked permission to dwell there. Sometimes I got a great sense of “No!”; this would be accompanied by a growing feeling of unease and danger. When that happened I would turn around and head home, even if I had only just arrived. Through this method of communication, I had built a relationship of respect and trust with the land and hill spirits.
So, I guess the key aspects that led to my time amongst the Bronze Age fort spirits were meditation (being able to quieten my inner chatter), acknowledging the land spirits (whether you directly feel them or not to start with), trusting your gut (if you feel unnerved, go; if you feel safe and relaxed, stay), being part of the place you wish to communicate with (I knelt on the ground, put my hands in the earth, filled my nostrils with earthy night-air, I absorbed everything around me through my senses). And I did all of this on a regular basis, expecting nothing in return except the joy of being WITH the spirits, sharing that liminal space with them. It never occurred to me at the time to involve those spirits in spellwork. For me it was the only time I felt “normal” and that was enough for me.
Next time: The spirit of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland, plus a dead mill-working girl, and why I’m generally not fond of the human dead.