Cat Treadwell — professional Druid and nature-mystic - gives us a perspective from the English countryside.
I've returned today from performing a Handfasting with my partner - not unusual at this time of year. But this was our first on a beach.
Yes, this is Britain. Yes, we've just had semi-monsoon conditions for the last few months. Summer was rumoured to have been cancelled. So much could have gone wrong.
It was beautiful. Golden sands, blue sky, bright sun, lush green grasses and flowers on the path leading from the couple's home to the beach itself... everyone commented that you couldn't have wished for a better day.
As we have done many times, my partner and I visited the location beforehand with the couple to 'rehearse' - when the damp was still in the air. Slipping through muddy marshland, sliding across wet sand, supporting myself with my staff (which, one of their children decided, made me a 'Proper Wizard' because of the Wizard's Star on it - my pentagram). The darker side of the land was hinted at that evening, in twilight and with chill wind.
But next day, we set up the altar (above) in blazing sunshine. The beach was remote enough that we could do pretty much what we liked - a few curious dog-walkers had questions, but everyone was interested, and the guests we had met beforehand were hugely excited. Every handfasting is 99% Muggle, after all. We may be their first experience of Pagan ceremony, but this means that we're also representing Paganism as a whole in our actions. Some called us Witch, others Druid; I was frequently asked if I was a 'High Priestess'. Every single question was sincere and genuinely curious - a fact that reminds me how lucky I am to live in such a free and open country!
My partner set off back to the house, to gather up the bride and tip off the groom to 'herd' the guests on their way. I remained, guarding the space, but also setting up in my own way. I was there for just under an hour, alone, waiting... and establishing my connection.
I walked about, greeting the local spirits and explaining what we wished to do. There was a clear sense of amusement, but also more curiosity - the rite was clearly going to be a 'show' for more than its human guests.
I sat on a small rise within the circle and reached out, to see what was around me. I spent most of my teenage years in a house by the sea, but that was on the South coast of England - a very pebbly beach, lots of tourists and suchlike. While I could see some folk setting up towels and paddling in the shallows a short distance away, this moment on the Eastern edge of the country was mine.
I became aware of the Land beneath me, the Sky above me, the Sea before me. Three world that I sat in, holding the space, anticipating the rite to come.
I reached out to feel the wind through my fingers, warmed by the Sun, but with the remembrance of last night's cold.
I watched it play across the sand, shifting the very earth beneath me. Where had that sand come from, what had it once been part of? The remnants of shells, barnacles, snail and crab, mixed in with ancient bone and wood. Shapes forming in the dunes and beneath my bare toes, moving into new forms as I watched.
Fluffy white clouds carelessly flying above, not even enough to cast a shadow (curious, after the deep, thick stormy visitors of the weeks before).
The gentle rush of the waves as they met the shore, the song of the sea, white horses dashing along, forward and back. Not reclaiming this land today, but they had covered it not long ago. I was sitting on a sea-bed - and I'm sure it will be so again.
I listened. I watched. I felt. Spirits of the land revelled in the warmth, allowing the green to flourish, rise and be verdant, lush. The Lord and Lady of the sea danced in the waves, their eternal waltz, one moment in time with each other, the next running away down the shoreline, laughing and chasing.
Far away, other lands - Scandinavia, home of the boats that had once travelled that sea for far less peaceful reasons.
The circle was a liminal place, within those three worlds but also between them, on the edges. The land was transitory, constantly moving; as was the air, the light, the water. The elements flowed around me, energy and matter. I watched... and felt blessed.
How often do we stop, truly cease to move, and pay attention to those elements that are at the heart of our spirituality? The earth, air, fire and water, that surround us and make up our fragile bodies? These aren't just represented on an altar - these are real, making us who we are, and creating that flowing world around us.
The earth isn't solid and reliable - it moves. Tectonic plates or sand, it's not put their exclusively for our use. Our bodies are the same, as we know: they sometimes act in unexpected ways.
The air fills our bodies but can knock us down with its strength, or poison us if its changes form even a little.
The fire warms us, but burns us; just a few degrees can make all the difference to our skin, or the removal of that same air as it is stolen away.
The water that fills us may wash us clean, but not necessarily nourish us - there's a world of difference between the sea-water and tap or bottled varieties. Each one holds its own spirit, however, as our ancestors knew. Tamesis, Sabrina, both rivers of this land. Each drop of water tells a story, in the same way as our blood tells the unique genetic tale of our line.
Each place is different. Each moment is new. When we stop and bear witness, acknowledge those elements, is that not the true magic that we feel, slipping through our fingers, our hair, past our eyes and ears, on our tongue?
We made ritual that day, creating something that was new and amazing to many. And I was kept smiling in the knowledge of what I'd seen and felt in that short hour - those simple things that are always there, but which it's so easy to take for granted as we whizz through life... even though they make it what it is.
Summer blessings, kind readers x
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