A DEER HUNT

First published in issue 29 of Indie Shaman magazine.

There were six of them.
Each wore a Deer skull with the antlers attached, from holes in the skull a Deer skin was tied to hang like a cloak over their backs; it was only partly cleaned and the men walked bent forward so both their scent and shape were disguised. Five of the group carried bows or spears.
One, who walked slightly behind the others, carried only a handful of fresh shoots and grasses.
They moved slowly and quietly through the trees, following the animal tracks. As one, they suddenly stopped.
Behind a thin curtain of saplings, a sun lit glade opened in the forest and dappled shapes slowly moved around it or stood with heads lowered as they fed on the lush undergrowth.
The two leading hunters carefully raised their bows, drew back and by some instinctive understanding born of long practice, let fly together. The air sighed as it parted round the arrows as if sad that it could not stop death in mid flight; they struck cleanly and two Deer fell while the others leapt away crying out in panic to their kin; and the quiet thunder of their fleeing hoof fall swiftly faded away between the trees.
The hunters walked into the glade and the two who had fired gently and carefully removed their arrows; as soon as this was done, the five who carried weapons dropped face down on the grass and lay utterly still, as if they too were dead.
The last member of the group, who had waited in the tree line until all this was done, now stepped lightly forward and knelt. He took a pinch of powder from a pouch at his waist and placed it on his tongue, then removed his Deer skull and untied the skin cloak from it; turning the skull he held it before him for a few moments, whispering words as if speaking to it, he then placed it back on his head so it became a mask and he was looking at the world through the bones of a Stag; looking through a Spirit face.
And so he saw into the Spirit world.
And so he saw the spirits of the two Deer who had been killed.
They were nervous and fearful, unsure what to do in this place of plenty that had now become so strange; one was sniffing at its own body as it lay on the ground, the other was looking towards where the herd had disappeared into the forest; their forms were made of the worlds breath, the same breath that could be seen lying in the hollow places of the earth on a cold morning as the day began to rise.
They both looked round in confusion and panic at a movement on the edge of the glade and saw a Stag that seemed of spirit like them; the Shaman was walking in the other world.
In this world, the Shaman bent to the ground picked up the grass and shoots he had carried and placed them in his mouth; in the other world, the Stag quietly and calmly began to graze. He raised his head with the food showing in his mouth and turned towards them with lowered eyes, he meant them no harm; cautiously the Deer moved towards him, beginning to trust, beginning to forget their other selves that lay on the ground.
One of the Deer stepped gently up to him and took a few strands of grass from his mouth, on his other side the second Deer did the same, it was enough; the offering had been accepted. With a shake of his head the Stag was running and the others ran with him.
In this world the Shaman, standing with eyes closed, was as taut and still as stone except his breathing was deep and quick but in the otherworld where he ran, the trees blurred, the grass and wild flowers became a passing rainbow of colours that they seemed to travel over as well as through. At one point they stopped at a stream of an ever darkening blue and where, in the depths, what seemed like tiny white stones glittered and shone in the ripples that spread from their drinking. Then they ran on and the path they traveled seemed to tremble as it passed beneath their hooves.
Then, in the distance, there was a Pine tree; a tree whose trunk stretched from earth to sky without touching either; a tree whose branches swirled and shook and shaped on winds that were never felt by any living thing; and on the land that was around it, a herd of Deer were grazing.
There was a Stone standing by the path they ran on, a Stone covered in shallow grooves and scratches; the Stag stopped beside it and the others stopped too, unsure once more. With slow and gentle movements the Stag nudged them onwards keeping his body calm and his eyes lowered, telling them there was nothing here for them to fear; so they stepped forward across the shining land that reflected the green light and life of the trees branches and were welcomed back into their Herd.
The Stag stood still a while, then twisting his neck he struck the Stone with his antlers; once; twice. The sound drummed down through the Stone into whatever earth it was that it stood upon; he lifted his head to gaze into the branches above him for a moment and then closed his eyes.
In this world the Shamans eyes opened and he dropped to the ground, muscles shaking as they suddenly relaxed and sweat running across his body. The others came to their feet and went to him; one gently removed the mask revealing eyes that did not quite see the world they looked on; another lifted his head and gave him water while a third placed a mash of berries and dried meat in his mouth. The Shaman chewed the food and then took the drinking horn and swallowed down the rest of the water, when he lowered his hands, his eyes were once more focused on the here and now.
The rest of the group busied themselves collecting their gear and tying the carcasses to carrying poles, leaving the Shaman to recover in his own way; he picked up the Deer skull gazing into its eyes, for a moment his journey returned and he whispered words to it once more, then he blinked and reached for his Deer skin; he smiled as he did so, even after all his seasons it could still surprise him how far he could travel while barely moving an arms length. He looked up and saw the others respectfully waiting; so he rose to his feet and draped the skin over one shoulder, cradling the skull in the crook of an arm; the others had also removed their disguises since there was no need for them now.
Seeing he was ready, they turned and disappeared back into the forest.
Alone for a moment, the Shaman paused and looked back across the glade; deep in among the trees, vague and cautious shapes were moving; the Deer would return to this favoured feeding place before long. He smiled again and sent a silent blessing; all was as it should be.

The Dream of a Boat.

Snatched from the waves wild ways, her planks cracked by the kicks of white horses, the small boat lies forgotten;
But when the moon sails the seas of night then down in her deep sea, salt stained wood she dreams …………..

Of Ravens circling.
Of men chanting; as they haul the long ship out into the surf.
First her sails lift to the wind; then come the fire arrows; arcing across the sky to strike home on the craft and its honoured cargo.
Pine resin catches and flame begins to spread across the deck.
Warriors, lining the shore, hammer shield with sword; the priest raises his arms.
“Odin birds! Do not let his deeds and daring fly from the thoughts of men! Guide his spirit to the home of heroes, hall of the slain; that he may drink his fill of war and wine for all time. May the doors be wide in welcome; may he find bench room at Freya’s feasting! Grant his grave ship safe journey to its sea home; may Aegir’s girls carry his corpse, with gentle hands, over the water’s wyrding”.

Haiku.

Sculpted by the night
And moonlight; clouds drift above
Like ancient ice flows.

Face of granite, cracked
At the waking of the world,
When volcanoes yawned.

Velvet burrower,
Blind hunter in the darkness,
Creating mountains.

Fox track in damp earth;
A plethora of feathers,
Where he broke his fast.

Glowing amber bright,
Raindrops on a dying leaf;
Like ancient sunsets.

Awaiting sunrise,
Mist, gathers in the hollows,
Day begins to breathe.

The sun is rising.
The pipes of Pan are sounding
From a thousand throats.

The shower has passed
And water drips from the leaves,
As clear as bird song.

As it’s my birthday

I thought I’d post this …. it’s called ‘Present’

Jill hated Jack.
He’d arrived on her birthday, almost a month ago.
She’d been given this present; square, heavy, wrapped in silver paper and gold ribbon. Inside was a brightly coloured wooden box with a clown’s face on the front and a catch under the lid and when she undid the catch,
Out came Jack.
Her mum and dad laughed because he made her jump – “Well he’s a jumping Jack darling!” her mum had said when she told them to stop.
And Jack had been there, swaying on his spring, with his bright orange hair, his wide open arms that looked like they were trying to grab her, his big toothy grin to bite her and his big blue staring eyes looking at her.
And Jill had hated him.
And her dad had called her a “Silly girl” because she wouldn’t put Jack back in his box and then they’d started arguing about whose fault it was for buying her something that she didn’t like and because she hated when that happened, she pretended it was only because she’d been scared and she loved him really and she’d taken the box up to her room and put it in the back of her toy cupboard and gone back down for the cake and that was her birthday.
And at first it was O.K. because Jack was in the cupboard.
And then her mum had asked where that “ Lovely Jack” was and so she has to put the box out on a shelf and that was kind of O.K. because at least the clown on the box looked like a real clown and nice and didn’t have flame coloured hair or grabby arms or bitey teeth or starey eyes.
And then she’d come home from school one day
And Jack was out.
Her mum must’ve done it when she was cleaning and Jill couldn’t put him back, just couldn’t and so he sat on the shelf with his flaming hair and his grabbing arms and his biting teeth and his looking eyes and dared her to come and get him.
And so she started sleeping under her duvet, right under so he couldn’t see her and at first it was O.K. because it was dark and snuggly and she could pretend she was a bear hibernating in her cave so nothing could get her.
Ad then she woke up one night and heard someone whispering.
And she couldn’t hear the words and thought it might be her mum or dad and so she peeked out and still couldn’t hear the words and the room was empty and then she saw Jack swaying in time to the whispering and his hair was glowing in the street light and his arms were swinging and his teeth were gleaming and his eyes were glinting and it looked like he was climbing out of his box and her mum had said even if it was a nightmare, she was a bit grown up to wet the bed.
And that was two weeks ago.
And the whispering slowly got more often and slowly got more louder and whenever she woke up she saw Jack swaying and she could feel, really feel him burning and grabbing and biting and looking.
And then she started to make out what the whispering was saying and it was saying
“Jack and Jill went up the hill
Jack and Jill went up the hill
Jack and Jill went up the hill”
And Jill really hated Jack.
Really;
Really.

Maidens Bower.

Within a tangled trove of leaf and flower,
Along the path that leads to faerie tale,
There lays a maiden, dreaming in her bower,
Within a tangled trove of leaf and flower;
And she will wake at sunset’s amber hour,
To dance the night on moonbeams soft and pale,
Within a tangled trove of leaf and flower,
Along the path that leads to faerie tale.

A Dream of Autumn (part two)

The world is full of dank and umbered tones,
The yellow shreds of autumns last decay,
All nature’s beauty, rotted to the bone,
The world is full of dank and umbered tones;

While spring lies shivering beneath some stone,
In grief of ice and fear of darkest day;
The world is full of dank and umbered tones,
The yellow shreds of autumns last decay.

Across the squalled and wind swept woods the sun is fleeting.

The eye of the Oak glares out at the Holly as their time of rivalry spirals round once more.
The flame of autumn fades and flickers as natures hearth dies down to the colours of the earth and we are coming to the ember months of winter, when the spark of spring is but a dim glow in the roots of things.

The cob web skeletons of leaves, that once haunted the autumn trees like amber bright ancient sunsets, rise up on the chill and bitter winds to whirl their whispers of rememberance.

As the days pass, their tattered remnants that lie still upon the earth, come to resemble the map of some ethereal country, whose every stream and track is picked out in the first frosts carried by an easting breeze that forms an intricate trace of silver skin across the face of each.

A facade that may be sighed away beneath a warming breath; leaving a tear drop to trickle across these frail remains, as if in mourning for the fact that they have lost this last disguise of beauty and now must face the winter’s dark and die.

Never knowing that such bare bones as these are full of wonder.

Stark is the sight of the land as winters’ grip now begins to take a hold; the earth becomes iron hard as the joy of seasons passed away goes down to dust beneath the gasping grasp of cold.

The ground has a gaunt look, woven in a web of frost fret the colour of frozen moonbeams and the blades of grass glimmer; shimmering in a sheath of ice.

Dusk holds a certain smokiness and the fields, floating in the mist of early evening, swirl up the silent slope to where the crepuscular shadows of trees stand like silhouetted sentinels on the hill top; wet and weary in the north born wind.

While on the fields’ edge, ancient hedgerows wander hunched and white headed; fulfilling their duties as the countrysides trusted old retainers.

The western sunken sun, that seems shrouded in a dream of cloud, shines like a sliver of memory from below the hill.

Water wears an ice shield, a crystal scintillation of the memory of movement, lying caught in a creaking clamp of cold; forming an insubstantial and untrustworthy footbridge that spans the world of some drowned and otherworldly winter, leading towards a distant dream of spring.

It seems that all of life is but a shivering shadow of its former self.

Yet still the life and its beauties persist.

Birds gather to share the bounty of the table and to bring their colours and voices to lift the sullen season, while in the sheltering holly the Robin sings his song of hollow hills.

Fox tracks lightly dance across the frosty ground and chicken bones mark where he ate his breakfast take away.

The mist trails tinsellate the bare branches that shine in the low sun and the snowflakes whisper secrets as they begin to fall.

While in his guise of the winter king, the ever green man still shows his face within the woods and listens for the heart of mother earth; that barely beats;

But does.

A Dream of Autumn (part one)

There is this ageless, age old moment when the beat of summer’s heart changes to a softer but still insistent tempo and autumn’s heart begins to sound within the land.
The golden days that come at the seasons turning and bring the fruiting of the land, the fields of rippling gold, the wealth of bough and bush that marks the last outpouring of earth’s bounty and which precedes the gradual darkening of days when the ochre glow of life is blown out of the trees to gutter on the ground.

That time when geese go calling home across a greylag evening sky and there comes the silent scythe of a white wing that cuts across the corn, as the Owl haunts the summer lands of mouse and wren that now must fall to make the harvest home; while the man of straw who stood alone against the ravaging Crow kin, may take his rest upon a stack of hay and know his job’s well done.

So the days go by in the baking of the bread and the brewing of the beer and we are come once more to the slow waning of the year with both light and life drifting down to a glorious sunset. When nature wears her robes of autumn fire and covers the thin and fragile contours of her face with a gold and russet mask; and works a sympathetic magic full of light and glory by which the trees give thanks to the sun for the sweetness of the year that’s passed. Before long, the leaves will begin to haunt the autumn sky as they spiral slowly down to earth with whispers of regret, as if they might wish to unwind time; but which, in their dying, make a protecting cover for the waiting seed and nourishment for the springtime questing shoot.

Those early mornings when the worlds waking breath lies gently in the folds of the land, while the chill air gives the dawn a smoky look and the Crows hang like black kites in the mist that now begins to wrap the world in the edges of winters sleep; when bird and beast begin to take their refuge and respite from the coming snow and ice and the summer is laid to rest within a kist of amber rememberance.

For the suns strength is fading now and the soil is sown with early morning frost that seals the spring under the ground; this is the time when life must break if it refuses to bend, to sink a while beneath the fragile host of snowflakes; to wait until the sunwise spiral of the seasons turns again. While deep within the green heart of the woods there is a dream, a vision of trees waiting the call to wakefulness, waiting until that moment when the sun begins his long walk towards midsummer and calls to the sleeping seed in the deep dark goodness of the ground to spite the ice and bring its blessing to the waking world once more.

As the sunwise spiraling dance of days
Waxes and wanes with the year,
There falls a time when the lord of the fields
Must lay down his life again,
As his head goes down before the scythe
His spirit goes down to the Earth,
And the world is left to grieve a while
In darkness and in dearth.

May he find new strength in the Mothers womb
And peace in her embrace,
Until time turns and he stands once more
Beside his maiden love,
May her sun lit smile as they pace the dance
Make his old heart sing,
And his shining brow bring life and love
To the rise and blossom of Spring.