Tag Archives: otherworld

A brief history of egrets

There were no egrets in Gloucestershire when I was a child. They are not part of the traditional or ancient fauna of the UK, although people do get them a bit muddled up with herons, storks and cranes. The egrets have simply extended their range, and have arrived of their own volition, claiming a niche along our waterways. They aren’t that numerous nor do they breed prolifically, so it’s not appeared to cause much trouble.

When I originally wrote Hunting the Egret, I had not actually seen an egret in person. I’d seen images online, and fallen entirely in love with them. My first egret encounter was on the Somerset coast, and made me cry. Moving back to Gloucestershire, I found the egrets had made it this far, as I had envisaged in the novel, so I came to the redraft able to add details from experience. Although it turned out I didn’t need to change much – I had them pretty much figured out.

White creatures tend to feature in myth and legend as guides to the otherworld. White stags and white hares are probably the most common, white horses, and white dogs also have definite faerie associations. There are lots of stories linking swans to magic as well. In nature, very few things are pristine white. There’s snow and milk, and naturally white creatures and birds. Before humans invented bleach and white paint, mostly we lived with earth shades. Brilliant whiteness didn’t feature much, your white robed Druid (imagining they did exist) would probably have been somewhat off-white, dependant on sun bleaching, and not able to access the kinds of chemicals we now soak our clothes in regularly. Whiteness was unusual, and therefore all the more startling.

Seeing an egret fly out of the mist in the strange light of early morning, is a magical experience. They have the brilliant, pristine whiteness that suggests they may be harbingers of the otherworld. The slow flap of their wings has a stately quality, and, like cranes and herons, they are very good at standing still; poised and majestic. Being water birds, they tend to live along the margins, in the places that are neither quite land, nor water, making them powerful personifications of liminal places. Seeing one perched in a tree is a tad surreal, but like herons, they do favour tree perches and nest on branches.

Being relative newcomers, there is no British mythology around egrets, and no stories to tap into. No Mrs Tiggywinkle or Fantastic Mr Fox equivalents. As a child I loved the tales that shamelessly personified animals and made them accessible to me – Wind in the Willows, Duncton Wood, Farthing Wood, Brambly Hedge, Beatrix Potter… No doubt in other countries there are stories about egrets, but I have none, and that adds to their mystery rather. They have come from another world (France, not Faerie as I understand it) and we have not characterised them with tales, as yet.

Alternative meditation

There are a number of standard meditation techniques popular with druids that I find impossible. They make no emotional sense to me. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the techniques, I’m sure they work well for some people, just not for me. I’ve been trying to find alternatives, and having got one, wanted to share on the off-chance that I am not alone in my difficulties.

There is the meditation in which we go down into the otherworld. We may go through a door in a tree and down a stair, and meet the guardian. I’ve encountered this one in a few places. It stumps me partly because it’s directional. I have ideas about Annwn that would work for going down, but the otherworld as underworld doesn’t sit right. I understand the otherworlds as being alongside this one, overlapping, interwoven in ways too complex for me to understand.

When I want to explore something otherworldly in meditation, I have tried hard and repeatedly to work with the ‘down’ model. I’m not an inherently visual person, and I’ve tried using imagery from all kinds of places to reinforce the work, and I still struggle. Being a frequent meditator and good at working with other thought forms, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe it’s just not the right idea for me.

I then started looking round for some alternative. I need a meditative journey that takes me from the world as I experience it, into somewhere else. I need that journey to be emotionally resonant for me, and the imagery to be simple enough that I can easily picture it. I spent some days deliberately mulling this over, and nothing came.

Then, walking beside the canal in the darkness, I watched the full moon rise, creating a path of light across the water. I knew I’d found my image. I remember a story from childhood – Masquerade – in which a hare had to run the path of the sun, created by the sun setting over the sea. I’m sure I’ve read moonpath stories as well.  It’s an idea I’ve also used in fiction writing. Path of the moon, path of the sun, stretching out over the water, over river or ocean, and taking us… I don’t know. Beyond the map, into the unknown.

I’ve started working with the idea of a moonpath in meditation, and currently just imagining walking or running it is enough for me. I realised once I started that I had created a scenario in which I would have to walk on water, which is laden with interesting connotations. So far the journey is simply over the water, following the light. I know that when I am truly ready, that path will take me somewhere. I’m not pushing, or presupposing what I will find, and I like that too. It makes me realise one of the problems I have with prescriptive visualisations and pathworkings is that they often tell you what to encounter. I’ve got to the stage where I don’t want to write a story about where I’m going, I want to journey and experience in a freeform way, in a way that might possibly be a real spiritual experience rather than the creative working of my conscious mind.

This is part of my re-enchantment quest, and my searching for magic in my life. I realised that I needed to open myself to otherworldliness, and looked around for suitable tools. I think in the moonpath and sunpath meditations, I’ve found something. I also like that I can go out and work with real phenomena – I don’t just have to sit and imagine, I can meditate with the moon or sun on the water sometimes, and I’m very drawn to grounding my meditations in reality where I can.

More notes from the journey when I have anything to report.