Its summer, and its unbearably hot. Crop failures are being reported in the news and in some countries it is so hot that people are dying. People are saying that Mother nature is fighting back against the damage we have done to her.
I’m working night-shifts and I’ve taken to walking my dog last thing in the evening when she can enjoy her walk without the threat of heat exhaustion.
So, a little about my dog… She came to us here in the UK from Romania where she has previously lived wild. She has been responsible for making her own decisions, and living under her own will. She loves us, and we love her, dearly. We are family.
Our relationship is not the same as with other dogs we known and lived with in the past, and she has taught me much about the relationship that we humans have with our domesticated animal companions.
She is neither ‘obedient’ nor ‘compliant’ but that does not mean she isn’t well behaved, or difficult. We live and act together in co-operation, and though this sometimes causes us difficulty in new situations, she does bring an absolute and pure joy to our lives. My husband says every day that “she is an absolute pleasure to be around” and this is not to take anything away from our previous canine companions, this is just different.
She does not look upon us as gods. We are not her whole world that she cannot imagine being without. She was not born into servitude. She does not have any cultural background of being born into slavery. But still, she is many miles away from being wild.
So, there we were, the other evening, walking through the country park late in the evening, past a long stretch of Meadowsweet. and I decided to pick a small amount to take home and make tea with.
(Here is an article by herbalist Rosalee de la Forêt about meadowsweet, please read it if you intend making tea, and noting the heath cautions, which are mainly around Aspirin, so if you need to avoid aspirin, please don’t consume Meadowsweet. And also make sure that you can correctly identify the plant in the first place!)
I made my tea using equal parts of leaf and flower and left it to brew in a teapot whilst I rushed about getting ready for work. And something magical happened.
No other plant is associated more with Blodeuedd (not Blodeuwedd) from the fourth branch of the Mabinogi. Even the scent alone brings her to my mind, and there I was full of the scent of her and preparing a brew, and whilst I was physically rushing around getting ready for work, my awareness separated away from me and I became sitting on the edge of woodland, relaxing and calm, amongst a patch of meadowsweet, preparing and drinking the herbal tea with much more intention. And connection. And she was there, in the flowers, in the woods, in the trees, she was there, as nature itself and she bid me drink.
“Be quick”, I said, ” I have to go to work…” and then she spoke… not with words, but seemingly both in a matter of seconds in this reality as I gulped down the tea, and simultaneously a day in another reality, I was filled with a huge bundle of information and expression and emotion, which I am trying to unravel.
Her part of the story tells of the rise of mankind and its domination over the land and of nature itself. Conquering the wildness of nature.
Blodeuedd is a personification of nature itself. Wild nature, not simply ‘natural things’. She is taken from the land and put into a form and a marriage that has to then exist within a human framework. Within a society and human culture that places limits and boundaries on how she is to be. She is no longer wild and making her own decisions. In this human form she now has edges. She has boundaries both physical and behavioural. She has expectations of how and how not to behave. She is given a space within a human culture that she has to fit in with. Nature is neither male nor female but now Blodeuedd has become a woman and made to fit into a mould that doesnt fit. In a canny move, she is just made human, she is specifically made as a wife. She now has a husband – because she has been wedded to him, he cannot be seen as raping her, her obligation is to serve and look after him. In the UK marital rape only became criminalised in 1991.
This is the story of agriculture.
The domestication and modification of plants. The creation of ‘weeds’, of deforestation, of fields, fences and hedges. It is a time of marking out land that we own, and we can exercise total control over what and who has the right to live there, at our whim. This is the marriage between the land and mankind. And it is on mankind’s terms. Nature is moulded into something that is pleasing to man’s eye.
We have got used to referring to the destruction of nature for industrial purposes as ‘raping the earth’. Yet agriculture is called husbandry. We are still in the mindset that a ‘husband’ cannot commit rape within his marriage.
Nature finds its way to fight back.
Blodeuedd finds love in Gronw. Gronw is a hunter. Gronw seems to pay no heed to boundaries. No fences, no barriers, no borders. He is hunting a stag, and he goes where the stag goes. Similarly, when they meet he takes no heed of the social boundary between himself and a married woman/another man’s property. They are not chained by rules or convention, they express themselves as themselves.
Nature finds its way to fight back. The crops fail in the long dry summer whilst the weeds flourish. We cut down the forest to create our fields. The forest sends its seeds into our world and we cut it back to stop it taking over, not giving a second thought that we are actually the ones who have taken over. The animals cross our fences, trample and eat our crops, and it is wild nature that pays the price by being banished from our world, or being destroyed, eradicated. The river bursts its banks and floods the town. Its course will be altered, it will be dredged, its banks built up with concrete. It will be controlled. We poison the land with weedkiller and pesticide so that we can grow our food.
This marriage between man and nature is not equal and was not created for mutual benefit. It was because man wanted something, so he plucked nature from its wild state and moulded it into something useful to him, taken without consent, or even asking.
And this was Blodeuedd’s fate, after fighting back through Gronw, she didn’t succeed in destroying Lleu completely, and in return was banished, into the night to be harassed if she ever set foot into the daylight world of man again.
I was given this image, taken from the Druidcraft Tarot deck
The rebirth of man.
This is what she told me… Man is reborn and enters the world to the sound of fanfare. To the song of mankind, not of nature. This new day is not heralded by birdsong, but by the sounding of horns made of metal taken from the earth.
Nature is still there. The holly and the ivy still grow, but they stay out of sight. Nature hides itself. The hare too is there wide eyed, alert and afraid. It hides behind the rock out of view from mankind. This sacred animal’s only defences are to hide and to run. Here it is hiding and frightened.
Mistletoe is there in the image too, but it is on the ground. The plant that grows between heaven and earth, that does not touch the ground, has fallen, it is on the floor.
On the floor. We now the concept of floor, which differentiates from the ground. From the earth, from soil. We rarely walk on the earth, our feet touch the floor, which we can sweep clean of dirt.
The boy, the new man walks forward out of the darkness, blinking in the bright light. And the world is wonderful to him.
Everything he sees is man made. Everything in his line of sight is stone, carved, built. Clean. Ordered. There is no earth, no nature, nothing out of place. Nature hides out of sight, out of mind.
“Man sprays no weeds
The scythe cuts, the corn bleeds
Leverets trapped in a harvest blade
‘Tis the time of man, the hare said”
The Harvest Ritual
Lammas. Lunagnasadh. Gwyl Aust.
Coming from a druid perspective, this is the time when we usually give thanks for natures abundance. Thanks for the harvest, the wheat and barley. We thank the deep and fruitful earth. We thank ‘the goddess’ for her gifts and for looking after us.
“Lleu! Shining One of the Skilful Hand and the rich harvest!”
“Let us be glad of the Mother’s gifts. She bears us as she bears the wheat in the field…”
“we acknowledge and celebrate the nurturing, abundant aspects of the land”
This is where Wild Nature butts in: “Lleu! Yes you are responsible for the rich harvest. It is you who is responsible for binding me and banishing me from MY land. This harvest is NOT the gift of nature. It is the gift of Man, to himself. Nature bears mankind as I bear the wheat in the field – I endure your presence as you poison, kill, cut, chop down, mine, excavate and banish me into smaller and smaller spaces each day so you can feed your greedy faces. You are a plague upon me. That is how I bear you.”
Which may come a bit of a surprise to some who follow a cycle following the agricultural wheel of the year. Maybe less of a surprise to those who consider paganism to be a nature path.
The symbols of this festival tend to be bread and red wine. In some traditions the red wine is symbolic of the blood of John Barleycorn as he is cut, and some should be offered to the Earth within the ritual.
There are way too many people on Earth now for us to ever go back to a hunter-gatherer way of life. That’s not what I am suggesting. There are lots of us, and we need to eat, we are tied into farming. What I am suggesting is that we re-think what we are doing in our Lammas rituals. Perhaps there should be an aspect of mourning the eradication of nature so that we can feed ourselves? Instead of thanking her for her gifts, say sorry for our transgressions? Perhaps the blood – symbolic or otherwise, could be seen as the blood of nature that we spill to maintain our place on the planet?
I don’t know how we can turn the clock back, how to heal the separation, but I think the least we can do is to acknowledge the destruction of nature, rather than seeing it all as a gift for us to take… stop lying to ourselves in our rituals. If we can acknowledge in our sacred spaces what we have done, what we have to do to nature in order to feed ourselves today and into the future, just perhaps that can have some beneficial effect in the world?