Friday, 14 March 2014

Blackthorn bloom

Brilliant White blossoms crown
pauper hedges in albino down,
warm returns,
winter's strafe is done.
This bridal hedgerow conception
in anticipation of autumn's sun,
fruit cycle,
of round, deep blue sloes.
The bloom belies the black thorn's woes;
strife and straif
of the shillelagh storms
and Lepidoptera worms.
But now the Northern Cherry shines
and brightens Albion's climes.

Scrub Bashing

Scrub Bashing - a Pagan Morality Tale

Should a pagan feel guilty about chopping baby trees? I've seen some people's views that man shouldn't 'mess' with nature. It was something I was pondering as I hacked down the scrubland of Ash, brambles and Whitethorn and various other scrub plants on the South Downs. It was one of my employers charity days where we get the opportunity to spend a day out of the office working for a charity. This was for the National Trust on Newtimber Hill.

The question of why we were clearing the scrub, opening it up for pasture to allow the cattle and sheep to graze the land was soon answered. The real reason was the ants... yes ants! As you walk over this downland you find various tussocks across the landscape. These tussocks on chalk downland are often ant nests and they form a little micro-climate around them. This micro-climate allows a variety of rare downland flowers to thrive, including the Horshoe Vetch. However, of equal significance is the interesting symbiotic relationship between these ants and the Chalkhill Blue butterfly (Polyommatus coridon). The Chalkhill Blue lays it's eggs near it's food plant on the ant tussocks. The ants, so I'm told, then gather the eggs and take them deep into their nest to look after them. When the caterpillar hatches the ants feed the caterpillars and harvest secretions they give out, the caterpillar also produces secretions that the ants like when it pupates. The Chalkhill Blue is a key Ancient Chalk Grassland species and symbol of the Sussex Wildlife Trust. Ancient Chalk Grassland is also a very bio-diverse habitat.

The land that we bashed scrub on, it's hard work on a steep hill but we managed to clear all this:

Ancient Chalk Grasslands and their ant's are important. What happens when the land is not managed is that shrubs and trees invade shading out the flowers and ant's nests. The habitat is destroyed, an ancient habitat that's been the environment on this landscape for thousands of years. They were around since the Bronze Age and were most probably created during the Neolithic. This would place the age of the Grassland on Newtimber at a minimum of 4,500 years, probably older. The last Ice Age ended around 9,000 years ago which means that the Ancient Chalk Grassland has been the predominant environment in this landscape. An eco-system that humans have been an integral part of maintaining through their management of livestock, cattle and sheep. In this respect it is our eco-responsibility to maintain that environment and ensure its sustainability.

Which brings me to Vegetarianism and whether it is eco-responsible or not. To maintain Ancient Chalk Grassland it requires livestock, sheep and cattle. The type of sheep and cattle that thrive in this environment can be typified by the South Down sheep, these are raised for their wool and their meat. Their wool is not prolific enough or fine enough for the sheep to be considered solely for wool production. Their meat, however, is very good. In this respect to maintain the eco-system it is necessary to eat some meat, as it is a by-product of maintaining the eco-system. So as long as you know the provenance of the meat you buy, fortunately my local butcher specialises in meat from local farms, eating meat a few times a week is the eco-responsible thing to do. The argument that veggies often come out with is that there is enough land to feed everyone if they were vegetarians. Their argument has two main assumptions:

  • that all agricultural land is suitable for arable crops
  • that the land can be intesively farmed
Which are both flawed from an ecosophical point of view. Not all agricultural land is arable, a large proportion is only suitable for raising livestock which means eating meat. To intensively farm arable land you require high volumes of fertiliser which is not environmentally friendly. The argument is a typical 'one size fit's all' solution that does not fit into the way the world is. In reality each person needs to understand their locality and choose a combination of vegetables, meat, dairy and fish in their diet that has the least possible environmental impact. Of course this needs balancing with my Gewessi rule of ALBOWUF :-)
But I didn't mean for this scrub bashing to become veggie bashing! I have no problem with vegetarians, I have issues with vegetarians who take the moral high ground for the reasons above. If someone doesn't like or want to eat meat then that is fine with me. I'll stick to a bit of Minty Lamb Chop from a South Down sheep sourced, via my butcher, from a local Downland farm.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Hidden gems

The car drivers, in derogative cyclist's terminology known as 'cagers', driving north from Brighton on the A23 don't realise that within a stone's throw of their headlong rush there is a beautiful haven of Imbolc beauty. For only a couple of weeks a year does it wear this gown before returning to it's guise as an unremarkable copse of the ancient Anderida forest.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Hraesvelgr, Olvaldi and his sons

Olvaldi is the father of Thjazi, father of Skadi the Ice Giantess, Iði and Gangr who are all storm giants. Hraesvelgr is a giant, in the form of an eagle, who sits at the top of the world and causes the winds to blow when he beats his wings. In the cauldron of my Gewessi thoughts I see Hraesvelgr as controlling the jet streams. It is the jet stream that modern Logos has discovers controls the winds and thus the weather around the world. So why are these Jotun's in my thoughts?

Because the Ents, Giants or Jotun's personify the natural forces that are outside of human control and Hraesvelgr and Olvaldi's sons apply specifically to winter in North Western Europe. If the Eagle beats his wings one way then the Jet Stream moves allowing Thjazi, or rather Thjazi's daughter to control the period from Yule to Eostre. As happened in 2013 when we were plunged into a very cold period of ice and snow.

Hraesvelgr beat his wings another way this winter and instead we have been at the mercy of Iði and Gangr who have wrought storm after storm over us causing floods and havoc. They started just at Yule, although the Christian / St.Jude storm was a precursor before Samhuin, and have continued through to Imbolc. It brings to mind the Anglo Saxon Riddle (answer storm):

Sometimes my lord corners me;
then He imprisons all that I am
under fertile fields - He frustrates me,
condemns me in my might to darkness,
casts me into a cave where my warden, earth,
sits on my back. I cannot break out
of that dungeon, but I shake halls
and houses; the gabled homes of men
tremble and totter; walls quake,
then overhang. Air floats above earth,
and the face of the ocean seems still
until I burst out from my cramped cell
at my Lord's bidding, He who in anger
buried me before, so shackled me that I
could not escape my Guardian, my Guide.

Sometimes I swoop to whip up waves, rouse
the water, drive the flint-grey rollers
to the shore. Spumming crests crash
against the cliff, dark precipice looming
over deep water; a second tide,
a sombre flood, follows the first;
together they fret against the sheer face,
the rocky coast. Then the ship is filled
with the yells of sailors; the cliffs quietly
abide the ocean's froth and fury,
lashing waves, racing rollers
that smash against stone. The ship must face
a savage battle, a bitter struggle,
if the sea so buffets it and its cargo
if souls that it is no longer under control
but, fighting for life, rides foaming
on the spines of breakers. There men see
the terror I must obey when I bluster
on my way. Who shall restrain it?

At times I rush through the dark clouds
that ride me, churn the sea into a frenzy,
then afterwards let the waters subside.
When one cloud collides with another,
edge against sharp edge, the din
of destruction, a mighty noise, echoes
above the dwellings of men; dark bodies,
hastening, breathe fire overhead,
flashing lightning; thunderous crashes
shake the sky, then growl darkly.

The clouds do combat, dark drops
fall, rustling rain from their wombs.
A fear-tide flows in the hearts of men,
a growing terror - strongholds succumb
to dread - when that ghastly troop goes
on the rampage, and shrithing evil spirits,
spurting flames, shoot sharp weapons.

A fool is unafraid of the death-spears,
but for all that he will die
if the true Lord lets fly the arrow,
a whistling weapon, straight through rain
from the whirlwind above. Few men
survive if they are struck by lightning.

I am the origin of all that strife,
when I rush through the concourse of clouds,
surge forward with great strength, and fly
over the face of the water. Troops on high
clash noisily; then afterwards,
under cover of night, I sink to earth,
and carry off some burden on my back,
renewed once more by my Lord's power.

I am a mighty servant: sometimes
I fight, sometimes wait under the earth;
at times I swoop and sink under water,
at times whip up waves from above;
sometimes I stir up trouble
amongst scudding clouds; swift and savage,
I travel widely. Tell me my name,
and Who it is rouses me from my rest,
or Who restrains me when I remain silent.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Monozukuri: Literally mono= 'thing' and zukuri (tsukuru) 'process of making';

A beautiful concept

I have recently had a lovely weekend course making a stool at the Windsor Workshop , done using the same traditional wheelwright techniques used to make Windsor Chairs. It has reminded me of the Japanese concept of Monozukuri, the process of making or creating things. The Windsor Workshop seems to be following monozukuri. The stools we produced were his improved stools in the nature of their design and build.

The literal translation in the title does not convey the real connotation of monozukuri. The word has a more intense meaning; monozukuri is about having a state of mind, the spirit to produce not only excellent products but also to have the ability to constantly improve the production system and its processes.

Professor Takahiro Fujimoto (Manufacturing Management Research Center, University of Tokyo) has defined monozukuri as “the duplication of design data into a material.” or the "art, science and craft of making things." The Japanese Institute for Trade and Organisation (JETRO) describes monozukuri as: ‘having the spirit of producing excellent products and the ability to constantly improve a production system and -process.’

From the linguistic point of view it is interesting to note that the syllabic writing Japanese ( hiragana ) allows a duality of interpretation that extends the semantic sphere of the term. In fact, the first part of "mono" (もの) can find phonetic correspondence with the ideogram 者 (= person) and imply that the 造り zukuri (づくり) includes people and things. To distinguish with accuracy the two possible meanings, the word also came hitozukuri , transliterated from Japanese 人づくり. In this new entry, the first graphical symbol is in fact the character 人 = ひと · hito = person.

Albeit partially, this aspect of indefiniteness and versatility can be traced back to the matrix of Shinto religious culture in Japan. It provides for a fundamental gratitude to every creature and item in creation, which is given special attention. In this sense, it is right to understand that "monozukuri" denotes a philosophy and a "spirit of intent" not closely denoted by the edges, rather a commitment to a specific and limited physical correspondent relationship. It implies a tangential view of each object (material, equipment and systems, components and finished product) which reaches out to "take care" of what you have available . Hence being careful not to waste and also to pursue continuous improvement ( kaizen ) in all daily operations, management and organization. This vision has resulted in industrial management developing methodologies and techniques that aim at efficiency, increasing productivity and quality, reduce costs and, in general, focus on the elimination of waste ( muda ). These were born from the culture of monozukuri management. These systems are universally known of, e.g. the Toyota Production System and "lean thinking" or Lean Six Sigma.

The old British philosophical equivalents to Kaisen and Monozukuri would be around "Waste Not, Want Not" and "If you're going to do something, do it properly." In my professional life Process Improvement is what led me to these concepts and subsequently to their wider philosophical meanings. Now I've had the chance to apply them to a physical 'thing'.

Spiritual Progress

Is Spiritual Progress, or a seeming lack of, important?

Yes it's a tricky one, how to use my time? Do I sacrifice physical well being (cycling), our family environment (gardening), family time itself or money and lifestyle (work) for dedication to a spiritual path? Obviously, family comes first then work (to an extent - but being mindful of the work / life balance) which leaves personal time fairly short. This personal time has to be split into physical well being which for me is cycling, environmental well being which is the garden and spiritual well being (Gewessi) which is a mix of Druidic and Heathen work.

My spiritual work is broken down into:
small regular practice - meditation around 3 times per week usually in the bath after cycling, monitoring of the forums I look after on the OBOD forum website
more detailed ritual - the 8 fold year Blot's recorded on this Gewessi blog
wider themes - such as the Druid Ovate work which has to fit in around other things - practically this means that I only progress this work over the winter as in the summer gardening and cycling fill my personal time.

For me the Gewessi worldview is that spirituality should enhance your life and relationships (this is key for me) and also be integrated into your daily life. So each mountain bike ride into Nature is in itself part of my spiritual engagement or Gework with the land where I live, gardening is part of my Druidic practice and the herb work informs my Ovate studies.
Even things like waiting to pick the kids up (from school, clubs etc...) can be a 10 minute downtime to compose a little bit of Bardic poetry or meditate on the natural world around me.
So have I completed my Ovate work as quickly as I'd like? At 5 years plus now that's a no...,
Do I write to my OBOD tutor as often as I feel I should?.. no,
Are my rituals as elaborate and significant as I would
Does this really matter? Probably not; as long as Gewessi is enhancing my life & relationships (including that with the land), making me more balanced as a person and through this I am reducing my family's impact on the planet and current eco-systems. The Gods, Land-Alfs and Ancestors know that I remember, honour and respect them and I feel that this is sufficient, they do not demand more.

Gewessi is a path for living life not subsuming it into a religious fervour

Óg's Eye

A dream is soft skinned
nebulous, fragile.
An irregular egg, serpentile.
A soft sack with a precious cargo,
needing a mother's care;
the correct heat,
a regular beat,
attentive endeavour.
An incubatory treasure
ready to release into the world;
see your created thing.