Tag Archives: nature

Enchanted Landscape

The forest is quiet. The soothing, earthy scent of decaying wood and leaves drifts up from the well-beaten path. We tread softly here, like strangers unsure of ourselves. These woods are familiar to us, practically in our backyard, and yet we feel almost like trespassers. The sunlight dapples through the trees, creating dizzying patterns on the forest floor. I hear a bird chirp in a nearby tree, and suddenly the air is filled with sounds: the cheerful rustle of leaves, the creaking of branches, the chirping of birds and the scurry of squirrels, and underneath it all, as I strain to hear, a deep and almost imperceptible hum.

As we venture further into the wood, the path becomes narrower, rocky and uneven. I grow less sure of my footing and look nervously about me. Just a few steps to either side of us the ground falls away steeply, dense trees on one side and a murky green pond on the other. It is like we are crossing a bridge to another world, and with any misstep we are in peril. I feel a reassuring hand take mine, and Doug guides me further along the trail. We crest a small hill, follow a bend in the path, and suddenly a great tree looms above us. It looks dead, and yet something powerful and unsettling emanates from it. I stare up in reverence and awe. We don’t get closer to the tree – we aren’t welcome. We touch our hands to our hearts, instinctively, to show our respect before moving on. Then we turn, and go down a steep hill into a softly lit grove.

In the middle of the grove stands a large gypsum rock, which I’ve come to call the Fairy Castle. It glitters oddly in the sparse light. Something flickers as I approach it, so quickly I almost don’t take notice. Suddenly I know I am somewhere important, somewhere special. I am in a sacred place and I can feel there is a presence of something greater than myself at the edge of my perception. We begin to unpack our offerings…

Our local landscape is as enchanted as any haunted wood in a fairy tale. Our land is full not only of its own history, but also of its own spirit and sacredness. As pagans, especially those seeking the wisdom of our ancestors, we often dream of sacred sites far away, of ancient myths and gods of other lands. Few of us work directly with the land on a day-to-day basis, and when we do it rarely extends beyond our own backyard gardens. I believe this has rendered many of us – myself included – at times unable or unwilling to engage the spirits and gods in our own landscape. There are many local natural places I find personally and spiritually significant. As the good weather returns, and as the world grows green again, I am excited to visit and re-visit them with my family. Perhaps I can do so again with fellow pagans – other people who may appreciate the spirits of the place, and understand the importance of offerings.

What are some local places you consider special or sacred? Have you ever encountered or experienced the presence of gods or spirits in your natural landscape?

page-breakNatasha DNatasha is a busy new mom, nurse and down-to-earth Pagan living in Dieppe, NB with her family. She also blogs at Planting Seeds.

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A Tragic Tale and a Noble Sacrifice

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So many times we read of distant heroes and beautiful places that are brimming with history and tragedy and fascinating events. It is easily forgotten that the land we live on is also full of stories.

Middle Island is located on the southern bank of the Miramichi River just outside of Chatham, NB. It stretches roughly 350 meters long and 100 meters wide. On the South Eastern side there are sandy beaches and calm shallow water. The opposite side faces out into the middle of the Miramichi River. The shoreline is rocky, with much deeper water and docks.

Perhaps just as interesting as the island itself is the fact that a mile or so inland, there is a lake that is roughly the same size and shape as Middle Island. This has lead to local stories about the two being related. Some people credit leprechauns magic with the creation of Middle Island, and thereby the large hole which was left to fill with water and become the Lake.

Middle Island has a fascinating and tragic history. From roughly 1827 to 1850 the island was used sometimes as a quarantine station. Often ships full of immigrants would arrive in the New World containing passengers who were ill or who had died during the voyage. Diseases such as cholera, typhus, small pox and dysentery were common. One infected passenger could carry a disease aboard that would spread throughout the ship affecting passengers and crew alike. Weeks spent in cramped and unsanitary conditions made illness almost unavoidable once it was present.

In 1847 at the height of the Irish potato famine, immigrants were pouring in from Ireland, in search of food for hungry bellies and a way, ANY way to provide for their families. Cargo ships often sailed with a hold full of people rather than goods during this time. One such ship was the Looshtauk, which carried 462 passengers. Of these, it is estimated that 117 and possibly as many as 146 died at sea. Conditions were so bad that the captain was forced to head for the nearest port, which was Miramichi.

Port authorities in Miramichi did not know what to do with the Looshtauk. It was decided that Middle Island would be put to use once again as a quarantine station. Some temporary wooden buildings were erected, and three days after their arrival, the passengers and crew were finally allowed to land on the island.

Within a week two other ships also arrived and were directed there. Between the three ships over a hundred more people died on the island.

It is difficult in this day and age to imagine the conditions that these immigrants faced in 1847. Middle island had a couple of wooden buildings, and as people arrived and grew ill, makeshift shelters and canvas open air tents were set up to accommodate the sick. These very rough shelters were not comfortable, and they were definitely not sanitary. They would offer slight protection from the elements but no shelter at all from the mosquitoes and temperatures.

Supplies were dropped off on the mainland opposite the island and those who were healthy were able to row across and pick them up. A doctor was badly needed, to treat the suffering and dying immigrants. Some sources state that port medical officers had refused to travel to the island.

A young doctor named John Vondy volunteered to help. He was 28 years old. He agreed, knowing that once there, he must remain until the illness had passed. He was aware that this could take weeks or months.

When Vondy arrived at the island he found himself faced with over 300 patients. It is said that he worked tirelessly to relieve the suffering he found there, until finally falling ill himself. In the ultimate sacrifice, John Vondy died on Middle Island.

Today, the island is a recognized historical park. A stone cairn marks the place as an Irish burial ground, and a fifteen foot Celtic cross monument bears the words “bron bron mo bron.” (Sorrow sorrow my sorrow.) There is a walking path that circles the island and an interpretive center where visitors can learn more about the history of the place.

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kpKatie P is writer, reader, drummer and certifiable nature nut. She lives rural New Brunswick, where she spends far too much time frolicking in the bulrushes. She also blogs at Wyldwomyn.ca

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Hopes and Impressions

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I don’t know what it is (maybe the fact that I’ve been too busy to think about writing recently), but I had an incredibly hard time getting a piece finished for this week! After scrapping several drafts, and finding myself unhappy with everything I was writing, Doug kindly encouraged me to restart and write about something simple. He said, “Why don’t you write about OBOD?”

The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) is a Neo-Druid order founded in the UK about 50 years ago by Ross Nichols (and revived in the 1980’s by the current chief Philip Carr-Gomm). The OBOD offers a correspondence course divided into three grades: Bard, Ovate and Druid. Each of these encourages students to fulfill their creative potential, commune with the powers of nature, and seek out spiritual wisdom.

As a modern nature spirituality, Druidry has always been attractive to me. Lack of time, money or both had prevented me from taking the course until recently. I haven’t yet progressed beyond the first few lessons, but I already feel more at peace and spiritually grounded. One complaint some people make about the course is that it isn’t focused on an academic understanding of Druidry or Celtic paganism, and some think its ritual and symbolism is too close to Wicca. I admit that I was concerned about this as well – but I find OBOD’s approach is refreshing and appropriate. Rather than being overly concerned with historical authenticity, OBOD balances inspiration from the past with relevance for the present and innovation for the future. Having been so put off by rigid reconstructionism in Heathenry of late, this is a very welcome change for me.

My hope for the Bardic course is that it will help me discover myself, be more creative and connected with the world around me, and deepen my connection with my ancestral past and with Nature.  My goal for myself and my family is to bring Druidry’s focus on peace, healing, creativity, wisdom, and connection with the great web of life into our daily lives.

Last week, Mike wrote about prayer, and I wish to leave you with another:

The Druid’s Prayer

Grant, O Holy Ones, Thy Protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences
the love of Earth our mother and all goodness.

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Natasha DNatasha is a busy new mom, nurse and down-to-earth Pagan living in Dieppe, NB with her family. She also blogs at Planting Seeds.

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The Season of Faith

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” ~ Hal Borland

This has been a long winter. Though the snow did not really arrive until mid December, I have found the cold months colder than I have in many years. Snow still covers everything as far as the eye can see, and I am restless from too much time spent inside. A good friend of mine from Arkansas has been teasing me with photographs of spring gardens. Where he lives, the leaves are still falling from some trees while others are just beginning to bud, and what little snow they got this year, lasted only a few weeks. While we are shoveling, he is raking. While we are purchasing seed for our gardens, he is watching bulbs sprout beautiful flowers. It seems unfair.

This is a magical and meaningful time of year in many faith communities. There are calendars, such as the Baha’i and Iranian which begin on the spring equinox each year. Jewish Passover and the Christian holy day Easter, are also celebrated at this time. In Japan they celebrate a national holiday, Vernal Equinox Day. This day and season have been recognized by many cultures for thousands of years, with feasts, stories, local traditions and spiritual celebrations.

The vernal equinox takes place in March of each year, opposite the autumnal equinox which occurs in September. It is the date when day and night are believed to be equal in length, midway between Yule and the summer solstice. In fact, whether day and night are of equal length really depends on where you are. If you are in the far North, the vernal equinox is the beginning of approximately six months of light, but in the far South it is the beginning of an equal time of darkness. For us, here in New Brunswick, this is the time when the days, which have been lengthening since Yule, reach the midway point and begin to grow longer than the night. At this time the sun is directly over the equator. The Earth is not tilting toward or away from the sun.

This year in the Northern hemisphere, the vernal equinox fell on the 20th of March. Ironically, the sun rose on this day to reveal more than a foot of fresh fallen snow, in spite of nearly two weeks of warm temperatures. It appears, for all intents and purposes as though Mother Nature has decided to extend the deep freeze a little longer.

March can be a terrible month for snowstorms at a time when we are all craving spring and fresh air and green blooming things. After two weeks of feeling hot sun on our skin, smelling the thawing earth and hearing melting water, this seems especially harsh.

Pagans celebrate the vernal equinox with the sabbat of Ostara, dedicated to the turning of the wheel and the welcoming of spring. The themes at this time are those of fertility, rebirth, spring and resurrection. There are stories and myths from many cultures that involve the resurrection of prominent figures such as Jesus Christ, the Roman god Mithras and the Egyptian god Osiris. These individuals rise from the dead, at a time when the season is changing and plants and flowers are also rising. Soon the world will awaken, and the snow will melt. Our rivers will rise and spring flowers will begin to poke their heads upward from the frozen ground in search of sunlight.

This year, my family celebrated the equinox with a snow day. There was much shoveling to be done, supper to prepare, and no sign of the sun through heavy grey clouds. We are all gardeners and outdoor lovers. We are spring fanatics in this house, and we could not have felt further from spring. Since our families are a mix of Pagan and Christian backgrounds, we tend to double up on holidays. We celebrate our own days and also celebrate other holidays with family members. This means a lot of chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs.

Eggs are a common part of celebrations at this time, from egg rolling contests to Easter egg hunts. There is an old urban legend which states that at the exact moment of the equinox, an egg can be balanced on its end and will remain upright. This is mostly fiction however, as the right egg can be balanced, ANY day of the year. It has nothing to do with gravitational effects in relation to the equinox.

Some people dye eggs in beautiful colors, or tell tales of the Easter bunny, who in some versions of the tale lays eggs. The nocturnal hare was considered by some cultures to be connected with the moon, as its gestational cycle consists of 28 days, the same as a lunar cycle. In the wild these hares create nests. Sometimes when they abandon the nest Plovers move in and use it to lay eggs. The myth about the Easter bunny laying eggs may actually come from some confusion that arose when eggs were found in what was clearly a rabbit’s nest.

Our Ostara celebration is generally a simple observation. We have supper together and, well, this year, shovel snow. We save the chocolate and candy for Easter Sunday. On the equinox we are more concerned with frost charts, which varieties of beans to plant, and how to head off problems that arose in last year’s gardens. We are talking about things like drumming by the river and swimming in the lake.

It is hard to believe that such change is so close at hand, while the world is still blanketed in white, but this is the season of faith.

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kp

Katie P is writer, reader, drummer and certifiable nature nut. She lives rural New Brunswick, where she spends far too much time frolicking in the bulrushes. She also blogs at Wyldwomyn.ca

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Take a Dose of Nature and Call Me in the Morning

As a new mother and Pagan, I often find myself worrying about how my actions and inactions will affect my child’s future. Like many parents do, Doug and I often talk for hours about how we want to raise our son, and what we consider the most important lessons for him to learn from us. We are both firm believers in the concept of Wyrd (well, Wyrd as we understand it) – all things are interconnected, and our individual threads weave together to shape our fates and the fates of everyone and everything around us. With this knowledge in mind, I am keenly aware that I want to set a good example for our son and the best way to teach him strong, noble values and how to be a good human being is to embody those values and be a good person myself.

One thing that Doug and I are very concerned about is our family’s connection with nature. Doug, a long-time member of the Scouting movement, loves the outdoors and is nowhere happier than in the woods. I am a fierce lover of wildlife and I am endlessly fascinated by the biology and chemistry of living things. Nothing brings me such peace as I feel in the forest or on the beach, surrounded by trees or waves and hidden creatures. Nature is an important part of our spirituality – for us, it is the basis of our spiritual beliefs. And yet, despite considering ourselves nature-loving pagans, we are as guilty of crimes against nature as much of humanity. We drive a gas-guzzling minivan, we don’t recycle enough, we spend more time surrounded by technology than surrounded by nature, we aren’t active enough in environmental conservationist efforts, we don’t always buy local and support good farming practices….the list goes on. Every now and then we are reminded that we must become part of the solution, not the problem, and nothing has driven this point home to us more than becoming parents.

I’m not just a new mom and Pagan – I’m also a registered nurse. At work, I see suffering, sickness, despair and death on a daily basis. I also see extraordinary love, strength, kindness and compassion. The hospital where I work has a healing garden – a beautiful outdoor space accessible to patients and their families which serves as a place for them to “recharge” and, well, heal. I see it in patient’s faces when they come back from a trip to the healing garden – they have just a little more hope, a bit more strength, a happier glint in their eyes. It makes me wonder how much healthier we all would be if our doctors prescribed more nature in our lives. Take a dose of Nature and call me in the morning.

We’ve decided that, to start incorporating more nature in our lives and impart a love of it to our son, we are going to take one dose of Nature per day. Ideally, we would get outside every day and appreciate the land firsthand. We could take a hike, sit on our back porch and watch the clouds, feed the birds, plant a garden, visit the zoo, or clean up a park or roadside. At times when being outside might not be possible or desirable (I can hardly be expected to take my 3 1/2 month old outdoors in a blizzard), we will try to incorporate nature into our daily routine in other ways: watch a documentary, read about nature, buy local produce or meat, recycle, donate to nature conserving organizations, or talk/write about it. I will be documenting our progress in a special family journal, describing our daily doses of Nature as well as how this challenge is affecting our family. I welcome any of you who choose to join us in this challenge.

How do you incorporate nature into your lives as followers of earth-based spiritualities? How do you teach love and understanding of nature to your children? Share some ideas with us about ways to get our daily dose of Nature.

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Natasha D

Natasha is a busy new mom, nurse and down-to-earth Pagan living in Dieppe, NB with her family. She also blogs at Planting Seeds.

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