Tag Archives: river

Down to the river

The Severn River was a part of my landscape growing up. As I became conscious of my own Paganism, the role of the landscape, and especially the river in my sense of sacredness became ever more visible to me. It wasn’t until I left Gloucestershire and spent time living in the Midlands that I came to appreciate how important this landscape is to my sense of self. It is part of me, and to be too far away from the river is not to be properly myself.

When I’m struggling, going places I can see the Severn helps me. Yesterday I went to the river herself, and spent some time walking with my son and husband. It was a good day. I saw a heron, a kingfisher, a mouse and many tiny frogs. There were a lot of butterflies, dragonflies and other insects. I got scratched and stung, and sunburned and that kind of realness of physical pain is oddly comforting.

As is usually the way of it for me, there were no moments of divine intervention. There is a Goddess associated with the Severn – Sabrina – and she has never spoken to me. I have no sense of her, only the river itself. I don’t spend enough time in that particular landscape to have built a sense of relationship. I experienced no omens or messages from the natural world to help me with the things that are troubling me. But it was good seeing the frogs and the butterflies, and the tiny scuttling mouse along the edge of a road bridge, and the heron doing heron things, and the kingfisher in just the place a kingfisher might reasonably be expected to be.

There were no massive, life changing revelations. However, the walking was so demanding that most of the time I had no headspace to consciously think about any of the things troubling me. This helped. And some hours in, I started making headway. I became able to see what my own priorities are, what matters and what perhaps does not. What I can let go of, and what I feel moved to fight for. I got a sense of perspective that helps me move forward. This often happens to me on long walks and spending time on hilltops. For me, it’s about making the space for the unconscious processing. Other people might read it in terms of messages from the land, the spirits, the Gods… but it never feels that way to me. It just feels like my own head sorting things through.

Where the water flows

Yesterday we were in Stroud, as the tiger sat an exam, the 11+ that may determine which school he’s going to. (For readers beyond the UK, this is a relic of an older school system, you have to pass an exam to apply for a grammar school, these are generally better schools, which benefit from being selective.) I’ll write about selective schools properly sometime. It’s a big, uncomfortable issue for me, but this was what the boy wanted to do, and I respect his choices.

Stroud is where I intend to be living in less than a year’s time. It’s a small enough town that a person can get around it on foot, which is important to me. It has a lot of unique shops, a great weekly market, a thriving arts culture, lots of pagans, greens and other, lovely alternative people. As far as I know, it doesn’t have a steampunk scene… yet. It’s also easy to get out of, making it an ideal base for us as we set off into the wider world to do events. It feels like the right place to be.

However, stood in the street yesterday, looking at the beautiful hills around the town, the woodlands turning towards autumn, I felt an uncomfortable itch. It took me a little while to pin it down, and it goes like this… I don’t know where the water is. The canal runs through Stroud, sort of, although it’s being restored and isn’t currently navigable. Canals don’t flow, as such and are man-made constructions. I have discovered in myself a significant, personal need to know where the water flows.

In my current location, it’s easy, I can get to the river Severn from the canal, and there are a lot of streams heading that way too. I know this landscape, and it’s one in which water is easily found. Logically, as Stroud is surrounded by hills, the water will be at the bottom of the five valleys. But, where landscapes are developed, often the water ends up in culverts, underground and inaccessible.

I know that when I move, one of the first things I will need to do is figure out where the nearest source of freely running water is. I’m anticipating walking a lot – I love to walk – and with a barely familiar landscape to explore, I’m going to have a lot of fun. But, more than trees, more than hills, I need to know where the water is. Of course trees and hills are easy to spot, because of their size, but water is more secretive, more mysterious.

I don’t think, until I moved to the boat, that I was properly conscious of how important free moving water is to me. I need it. I need to be able to look at it, and walk beside it. I need the sound of it, and the healing effect of these things. Some of that is probably just my mammal self wanting to know where the most critical resources can be found, but this is not just a pragmatic how-to-survive-a-zombie-apocalypse thing. It is very much part of my Druidry.

For preference, what I want to find is somewhere water flows between trees. That kind of place always speaks to me, fills me with happiness. We shall see.

River stories

I’ve spent the last few days on rivers – The Severn and The Avon. I grew up near the Severn, longing to get into the water by any means, but unable to do so. She’s a magical river, home to the goddess Sabrina. There was a Roman temple to Nodens on her banks, no doubt other temples too and she has seen human activity since there were humans around. She’s also a fickle, moody, changeable river, which makes her dangerous, and every so often she takes a blood sacrifice. The Severn kills.

Simply being afloat and on the river was an intensely emotional and spiritual experience for me. You see the world differently at water level, familiar cities and landscapes came at me very differently. Travelling at the slow speed of a narrowboat, I also saw a lot of wildlife – kingfishers, egrets, herons, cormorants, an abundance of ducks and swans as well and lots of trees. It’s been a beautiful few days.

So, what have I learned? That I want longer ropes on the boat, for one. But on a spiritual level, it’s harder to pin down. I saw mist on the flood meadows where sheep and cattle have been grazed for thousands of years. I saw ducks sleeping afloat, ours the first boat in the early morning, catching the river as it is before the people come. People, boats, and noise change everything. Most of the time we don’t even get a glimpse of what life is like without us. But I had a little of that – a sense of the lives lived beyond human awareness, the secret lives of creatures and plants. I want to be a smaller, quieter presence, better able to blend in, to move amongst other living things without frightening them off. What I really want is to be on the river at dawn, in a canoe or coracle, paddling quietly, making few ripples, not breaking the air with sound. That would be true magic.

The more I think about this as an ideal, the more I feel it’s how I want to move through the world all of the time – as unobtrusively as I can, catching glimpses of those other worlds and existences. Going slowly enough to be able to see them, quietly enough to hear them, taking the time to look, and the care to notice. I think there is always more to see, deeper to go, and I wonder how much further I can take my own understandings in my day to day living.