I often start my telling of a rather ‘woo’ tale with a comment like “Everyone who knows me knows I’m not very woo” and then proceed to undermine that, with a tale of spirit work or a channelled poem or a story about the actual faeries that I actually believe in (for certain values of ‘faeries’). So I’m going to try not to do that.
Even if I just did.
I’m staying in a rather strange place.
About once a year, I lose the plot and can’t cope with the world and its neurodiversity-unfriendly setup anymore, fall off the high wire that I’m always precariously balanced on, and have to disappear. It used to happen far more often, and I was lucky enough to have access to proper medical respite care when it did. That’s harder to find now (I tried and failed this time), and the best I can usually do is staying in a cheap hotel. I know of a few that are quiet and convenient enough, while also being far enough away from home to make sense. There’s never enough money to be a hermit for long enough, but it’s something. As a result of a confluence of events and illness, then, I am currently holed up in a hotel in north London. It’s not all that quiet (there’s a wedding being set up for in the garden). But I’ve turned off my phone notifications, am not checking email, and am allowing myself a couple of days where I will contact no one and do no work unless it’s really necessary. (The email and phone non-contact will be carrying on over the weekend, even though I have to go home. Enforced solitude. Sometimes necessary.)
The Elder Mother speaks…
There’s a lovely garden here (even if it’s noisy – I’m an urban druid, after all: I’m working towards being able to do spiritual stuff with a plane taking off twenty metres away). It’s a bit over-cultivated for me, but there are corners. Wild spaces where life breaks in, resists, refuses the tight shapes that human hands would chain it into.
In one of those corners I met an Elder.
I had just ordered tea at the bar. While waiting for it, I went wandering. There she was, emerging from the weeds, down in the places no one would think to cultivate. I sat and meditated near her for a while.
The Elder Mother is a fascinating story in folklore – she turns up in a lot of places. Sometimes as a mother spirit that offerings must be made to; sometimes as a fairy tree; sometimes as a witches’ tree; sometimes as a tool to punish witches, and sometimes as a way to punish women in general. Patriarchy has shaped the edges of her tales — but like the cultivated bushes, she breaks free. In a weedy patch between the clamped-shut windows of back rooms and a forgotten garden wall, in a liminal space where no one would notice us, we talked of resistance against pernicious ideas and ideologies, and how to be true to yourself. I told her about my growing desire to serve, but my unwillingness to shape myself into forms that do not fit me well. My sometimes-petulant resistance against one Pagan ‘course’ and group after another, from OBOD to ADF and through all the rest of the over-structured forms. My soul pulling me towards the edges, away from the mainstream, towards unfettered growth and freedom to be myself.
Be true to yourself, she said, and what you hope for will follow, though it may come in unexpected forms. Anything you do, do it with integrity. Speak out for freedom – the reward is in the resistance itself. That which you need, you will find. Those who need you will find you.
Returning to my table in the garden cafe, I took out my bag of divination stuff (currently very messy, full of stones and cards and Ogham sticks). Give me a bit of guidance, Elder Mother, I said. I pulled Ruis – the fid of the warrior in her battle-beserker rage, armed with all her fighting passions, sometimes associated with… the elder tree.
Ironically, the universe has just challenged me to prove that statement about being an urban druid who can handle any amount of noise and chaos, and the wedding party has arrived in the hotel garden. It’s a Jewish wedding – they’re putting up a chuppah:
Gives me a smile of recognition – we had one at our wedding. Even though, being us, we forgot to actually stand in it for the ceremony. I do things… differently. And now I’m going to get out of the way of the happy community, and go and make elder trees with watercolours.