Wednesday Wander – Belarusian Memorial Chapel

You might think this little wooden church is somewhere in Russia, or Eastern Europe, but in fact it is in London, England. It’s the first wooden church built in the city since the Great Fire of 1666, and also the first memorial in Western Europe dedicated to the Chernobyl Disaster. This is the Church of St Cyril of Turau and All The Patron Saints of the Belarusian People, also known as the Belarusian Memorial Chapel.

My husband is of Belarusian heritage via his mother, and has visited Belarus (where he still has family). He’s always been interested in this side of his heritage and, when we moved here, he was pleased to find a Belarusian society in London. We attended Christmas festivities there one year, which included a traditional puppet show, obviously an anticipated and much-loved part of their Christmas season. And, when the new church was built, we attended the consecration, which took place on December 17, 2016.

We are neither of us particularly religious – spiritual is probably a better term, as we ascribe to no particular faith. Still, we respect the faith of others, and felt it an honour to be there on consecration day. Many important figures from the Belarusian church travelled to attend the event, which was conducted mainly in their native tongue.

The church is built entirely of wood and glass – even the pegs holding it together are timber. It was featured in the 2017 London Festival of Architecture, and received the RIBA London Regional Award of the London Institute of British Architects. The design is based upon traditional rural wooden churches in Belarus, and has a beauty and simplicity which is timeless. As we listened to the voices chanting, smelt the incense, the red and gold and white robes against the pale wood, it felt like a window into history, into an older time.

Later we stood outside in the clear cold air as the clergy walked in procession, blessing the building. Once the service concluded we departed, heading for lunch in a comfortable pub, blankets wrapped around our cold feet as we drank beer and ate pizza. It felt strange, stepping back into the ‘real’ world. A trip in more ways than one.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


You can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

#writephoto – Under The Moon

red-moon-011Every week, Sue Vincent sets a #writephoto challenge, using one of her lovely evocative photographs as a prompt. To participate, you have until Wednesday each week to write your post, with a new prompt posted on Thursday. This week, Sue shared an image of the full moon – this is my response:

‘All night long make tropic love, the next day sit in hot sun and cool off.’

She smiled, leaning back in her sun lounger, sipping rum and coca-cola, just like the song crackling from the old radio. Putting her drink down she stretched, feeling a slight twinge across her hipbones, as though they were slightly bruised. She frowned, a flash of dream from the night before sliding through her mind.

A dream of slipping out of the house into a silvery night, the moon a pale lantern leading her up through the trees behind her house, to where the land was smooth and green, raised like a breast towards the sky. Ridges carved into the earth formed a pathway strewn with starlight, and she danced along it, the silk and cotton of her nightgown soft against her bare legs, her hair long down her back as she twirled, arms lifted to the skies.

When she reached the top she saw others there, faces she recognised from the village, their arms raised as though to catch the silver light, eyes wild with the dance. And others still that she didn’t know, with pointed fox faces and strange gleaming eyes, their lithe bodies twisting as they moved among the dancers. Under the midsummer moon they had danced, woven silver and shadows, coming together to lie on soft grass under whirling stars until she had felt herself lifted, golden, becoming part of something larger and wilder…

And then she had woken, alone in her bed, the moon a soft orb glimpsed through her open window, fading in the light of dawn. She had stared a while, before sleep claimed her once more, not waking until sun streamed bright through the glass, warming her from head to toe.

It was a strange dream, she mused, taking another sip of her drink. She ran a hand through her hair and something caught in her fingers. A blade of grass, green as summer leaves, smooth as silk, wild as a dance.

As a dream.

Circles Beyond Time – Joy

img_3714This is the final instalment in my account of my weekend away with The Silent Eye. Please click here for parts one, two, three, four, five and six. And thanks for reading!

After our dawn excursion I returned to the hotel for breakfast, then packed and checked out, as Arbor Low was the last stop on our weekend adventure before I had to head to the train station. I was picked up by two of the companions and we set off, sun shining as we wove through the countryside. The Peak District was glowing with late summer, green fields lush with grass and replete with cattle, the rising slopes rustbrown with bracken and heather. Before Arbor Low, we were to have a quick stop at Monsal, where ice cream could be had while taking in a glorious view of the valley and viaduct below.

img_3712Ice cream, however, was not forthcoming – the proprietor teasing us by bringing out the wagon but not opening it, despite the sunshine and crowds. So we stood for a little while taking in the view, while Sue told us the sad story of an ancient settlement on the hilltop nearby – archaeology has found that the only inhabitants were female, except for boys under the age of four, and it seemed to have been a place of some importance, fortified by a large stone wall. However, invaders came, as they often did in those times…

…the painted people…

…and the settlement was destroyed. Appallingly, the great stone wall was apparently pushed onto the gathered women and small children, condemning them to a painful death. Over forty skeletons of women, children and babies were discovered under the stones, grouped together in one final terrifying moment. It was a sobering story, and so it was in a reflective frame of mind that we continued on to our destination.

img_3718Arbor Low is a large Neolithic stone circle within an embankment, and is often described as the Avebury of the North. But I’ve been to Avebury, and Arbor Low, while of a similar grandeur, feels quite different. Set high in a field along a slight slope, Arbor Low is part of a working farm – we had to walk through the farmyard to get to the burial barrow and great circle beyond. Our entry fee was paid via an honesty system, into a padlocked metal box alongside the stony driveway. We paid our pounds, gold coins rattling into the box, then joined the small group of people heading through. As I walked along, I happened to look down and a piece of stone caught my eye. Broken into smaller fragments, it gleamed in the bright sunlight – I passed it before registering what it was, then realised and went back, picking up a sharp edged chunk, crystal gleaming in the sunlight.

‘That looks like local fluorspar,’ said Sue. ‘That’s for communication.’

As we exited the farmyard, I could see the earthworks rising to the left of us, like a crown upon the hill. Straight ahead the curved shape of an ancient burial mound loomed and I hung back from the group, unsure for a moment.

She clutched the stone in her pocket, feeling the smooth sharp edges digging into her skin. A voice spoke.

‘Go with them,’ it said. ‘Then come to me.’

She listened, wondering if there would be any other instruction, but all she felt was the reverberation of those seven words, like a smile in her mind.

img_3715We reached the burial mound, climbing to the top where it was pointed out that, if we looked around, similar mounds crowned many of the hills we could see. Clearly, this had been a place of great importance. After looking around a bit longer we descended, leaving the barrow to enter the circle itself, via the old processional way. Once inside, we were invited to wander around, get a feel for the place, and see whether any of the stones ‘spoke’ to us. I found a stone I liked, sitting there for a while before deciding to walk the circle, starting along one half of the earthworks, then descending into the circle, moving among the stones. All at once I felt joy, as though this were a dance. I started to move in and out of the stones, feeling as though that was the way to do it, as though I were being guided.

img_3720Once I’d woven my way through half of the circle, I walked the other part of the earthworks, enjoying the view across the countryside, cloud shadows drifting across the land. Then I descended once more, dancing my way in and out of the stones, feeling laughter bubble in my chest as I did so, pure joy.

img_3721Upon joining Sue and Stu in the centre of the circle, we were invited to lie on ‘our’ stone, and see what happened. But someone else had claimed ‘mine’, so I went to another one across the circle, lying back along the ancient sloped surface. It seemed strange to be doing so, yet natural, at the same time. I stared into the sky and let my mind drift.

She could feel energy here, bright and clean as a new penny or a mountain stream, running around the circle counter-clockwise, like a silver rope.

Or a green serpent. She could see it now, its great head entering the base of the circle where the goddess lay, golden eyes aglow with the knowledge it had to impart, golden tongue flickering.

‘Stop trying to force it,’ a voice said. ‘Just look at the sky.’ And so she obeyed, gazing up into the deep blue beyond the clouds, letting herself drift as they did…

img_3724I may have dozed a little, I’m not sure. But then the faint sound of a bell brought me back to myself. It was quite comfortable, lying there, and at first I wasn’t really willing to move. But then the bell rang again, and I turned my head to see the others starting to move towards the large centre stones. I also realised I was getting hungry – unsure how long I’d been lying there.

At the centre of the circle ritual was observed once more, though more to honour the space than anything else – it needed no help awakening. We were invited to share anything we’d experienced while lying on the stones but I said nothing, still not quite trusting what I’d seen. Then, as we left, exiting through the lower part of the circle, Sue pointed out a stone that she said looked like a serpent’s head.

‘Did you say serpent’s head, Sue?’ I asked. She stopped, turning to me.

‘Yes. Did you get a serpent?’ I nodded, sharing what I had ‘seen.’ She smiled.

img_3722‘We think the people here were the people of the serpent,’ she said, and I shook my head. That was a pretty big sign I needed to trust my instincts. After all I had seen and experienced over the weekend, the land speaking to me in ways unexpected, this final synchronicity seemed a fitting end to an extraordinary time away.

Well, it wasn’t quite the end. Lunch beckoned, and a last chance to spend time in conversation with good company. Wasps drove us indoors but bright sun shone in through the open doorway, illuminating our table. After lunch, once farewells had been made, two of the companions were kind enough to take me to the train station, saving me part of the journey. I boarded my train, feeling strangely out of time, the city landscape jarring after days spent among green hills and ancient stones. As I settled back into my comfortable seat and watched the countryside flash past, tiredness overtook me. I finally reached home as the sun set, bookending the day that had begun at dawn on a distant peak.

With thanks to The Silent Eye and all the companions for a wonderful weekend away.

img_3700

Circles Beyond Time – Dawn

img_3662This is the continued account of my weekend away with The Silent Eye. Click here for parts one, two, three, four and five.

5:11am.

Ugh. I hadn’t slept well, and my alarm jolted me out of a dream. Yet, once I’d woken fully, I was excited. This morning we were heading up into the hills to chase the sunrise. I wouldn’t have missed it, no matter how tired I was. I showered and dressed quickly, managing to gulp a few mouthfuls of tea before heading down to the deserted hotel lobby. There was a small moment of panic when I thought I was locked in, but I emerged eventually onto the still-dark street, a pale glow of light in the sky heralding the coming dawn.

We were to meet the rest of the group in the Fox House car park – my companion and I were the first ones there, so I wandered off to take some photos of the view, trees silhouetted against the pastel-hued sky. The air was cool and still, and I was glad of my extra sweatshirt and wool hat against the pre-dawn chill.

img_3671Then we were off, taking the winding road higher and higher until we reached a small parking area. Leaving the cars we climbed higher still, up stone stairs to where an ancient hillfort crowned the peak, views in every direction. The stones were large, in some cases huge, carved and shaped and most definitely placed there. But by whom, exactly, is lost in time.

img_3674We gathered as a group to watch the sun make its appearance over the far ridge, golden light moving across the valley floor, pushing mist ahead of it. The group chose to greet the sun in their own way – I stood to one side, for some reason feeling the need to be alone.

…it seemed that her path lay through solitude. Companions there would be, but in the end, she had to choose her own way, be true to her own self. So she faced the dawn apart, but not alone, sending a greeting from a place deep within…

img_3684Once the sun was above the ridge we were free to explore, wandering along sandy pathways studded with tiny pieces of white crystal. I walked among the stones, listening to the morning sing and watching mist rise like dragon’s breath from distant Carl Wark, where the weekend’s journey had begun.

…as she walked the peak to the sunrise, all at once it was as though she stood on a pathway of stars, the heavens above reflected below, and she a dancing figure poised in between. The feel of something older, something beyond…

img_3699As the light grew brighter, I amused myself by taking shots of my shadow against the golden-lit rocks. We weren’t the only ones up there, a few photographers taking advantage of the clear morning and glorious views.

 

img_3681I took several photos of the small depressions carved into many of the rocks, their reflections like a path of stepping stones towards the sun. One particularly large rock formation had taken my attention and I turned to Sue.

img_3693‘Those stones…’ I began.

‘Oh yes,’ she said, smiling.

…a piled stone figure, lion messenger of the people who were once here. It reminded her of ancient doorways an ocean away, of stone figures left on mountainous shores, marks of the peoples who lived there. It was both welcome and warning, that here she stood on ancient land…

img_3694We continued to wander the hilltop a while longer, but it was getting cold and breakfast was beckoning. The decision was made to descend, arrangements made to meet up later for our final trip to the stone circle at Arbor Low. The golden sunrise promised a fine day ahead…

img_3702

Circles Beyond Time – Awakening

img_3649This is the continued account of my weekend away with The Silent Eye. Please click here for parts one, two, three and four.

(Before I begin this part of the story, I realise I’ve not said much about the companions. I suppose that’s because these posts are about my own personal journey, but it would be remiss not to mention them. Sue and Stu were there of course, leading the weekend, but there were five others on the journey, all of whom could not have been nicer. They welcomed me, looked after me, and made sure I had transport to the various sites (as I was the only one who had not arrived by car). They were lovely people, all of them, and I look forward to seeing them again one day.)

After lunch in Baslow my spirits lifted, and I was ready to explore the Bronze Age burial ground at Barbrook, our next destination. I’d finished writing my poem the night before and the notebook was in my backpack. I wondered where I’d be asked to read it. After leaving the village we went back into the hills, ending up not far from where we had spent the morning. A gate led us into the moors, a riverbed to the left of us, the sloping hills beyond home to ancient hut circles and the settlement marks of those who had buried their dead here.

Barbrook was a calm and beautiful place, small stone cairns dotting the landscape. We entered anti-clockwise, stepping off the modern access track to follow a route Sue and Stu had discovered previously. We discussed the idea of anti-clockwise, or widdershins, and it did feel like the most natural way to enter the landscape. Some of the cairns had been disturbed, their inner cists now open to the air, while others were as they had been made, grasses and heather softening the stones. Eventually, we arrived at the first of two stone circles we were to explore. This one was unusual in that it was built up, a low stone wall encircling the stones, with an entrance at one side. We took a seat around the circle, and were invited to share readings and poems (though not mine, not yet).

img_3655Wasps were a particular nuisance all weekend. Tangling in my hair, interrupting lunch. Honestly, they are the only reason I would contemplate the existence of flying spiders. And, as I sat on the ancient stone wall, trying to listen to an emotional poem being recited by one of the group, I felt a tickle and looked down to see one on my hand. I shook my hand, trying to dislodge it without disturbing the beautiful words of the reader, and the bloody thing stung me, leaving a red mark on the back of my hand. No pain though, oddly – guess I got rid of it in time.

img_3657After the readings (and a move across the circle, away from the persistent wasps), we worked briefly with pendulums, all of us remarking how certain of the stones caused them to move while others did not. Then we resumed the path, continuing in a circular fashion to loop around and back on a lower route past a calm and lovely lake just perfect for women brandishing swords, fairy toadstools dotting the nearby slope. Then we arrived at the second circle. Once again we were invited to take a seat, though this time the stones stood alone, no encircling wall around them.

img_3659This circle felt different than the other one. Reeds choked the centre, almost overwhelming the low stones. It just felt like it was there, rather than anything more profound, like a group of garden ornaments. The circle was asleep, Sue explained, and we were going to try and awaken it. Now was the time for my poem. I was to read the first verse, then we would wait, then I would read the second verse when prompted. As I was about to begin, a man and his dog wandered into the circle. We paused, then paused again as he decided to join us, taking a seat upon the one remaining stone. That made us a company of nine.

…as the ritual words were spoken, and the group began to focus, the energy in the circle started to transform. Slowly at first, but gaining in speed and power, circling around the stones in an anti-clockwise direction. There was a buzz, and a warmth like sunshine. Sleepers awake! Tell us your dreams…

After, as we waited at the base of the slope for our turn to greet the seer, our new companion stayed to talk, his beautiful white dog deigning to have her silky ears stroked as he told us he was local bred and born, and walked this ancient landscape every day. We nodded in agreement when he mentioned the burial cairns and the other stone circle. ‘But there’s another one,’ he added. ‘Up on the ridge somewhere. I’ve never been able to find it though…’

His lovely dog started growling, low in her throat. Further along the path we could see another dog, a golden retriever, white-blonde against the bracken. It seemed oddly disturbed, pacing back and forth but refusing to come any nearer. Its owner, laughing and shaking her head in frustration, waved her arms and called to it, but it just wouldn’t come. Then, as the last supplicant left the circle, the ritual complete, the dog changed, bounding along the path to rejoin its owner, who shrugged, laughing again as she headed further along the ridge.

After bidding farewell to our new friend, we walked the last stretch of the moors to where the cars waited. Dinner was beckoning, then an early night ready for an early start tomorrow. It had been an… interesting day. Three places of the dead. Three very different experiences. And tomorrow we were heading to Arbor Low. But first we would greet the dawn…

img_3661

Stones lie sleeping

Where once they stood in majesty

Stones lie sleeping

Knowledge lost beyond safekeeping

Yet power here still ranges free

It beats within the heart of me

Stones lie sleeping

Where land meets sky

And all is not quite as it seems

Where land meets sky

Stones tell a tale of years gone by

Secrets revealed by sunlit gleams

Sleepers awake! Tell us your dreams

Where land meets sky

Circles Beyond Time – Sorrow

img_3591This is the continued story of my weekend away with The Silent Eye. Please click here for instalment one and two.

After the visit to Carl Wark and an excellent dinner, I returned to my hotel unable to do anything other than watch TV for a while before falling asleep, thoughts of finishing my short story gone in the face of my experiences on the hill. Besides, I thought, I can look at it tomorrow.

img_3588Despite all the travelling the previous day, I woke early, and was one of the first people down for breakfast in the old oak-beamed dining room. Once finished, I realised I had an hour or so to spare before being picked up, so decided to take a look around Hathersage. Sue had mentioned that I should visit the church, so I upon leaving the hotel I headed left, taking a cobbled path between stone cottages towards where Google Maps told me the church should be. I came to a long muddy road and turned left again, following a glimpse of spire above the trees. After being splashed by an enthusiastically muddy spaniel, I found a gravelled path leading past mossy stone walls. The sign on the tree helped, too. ;-D

img_3590The path led towards a walled enclosure, a grove of trees crowning the hill where the church hid. I wandered up, dodging cowpats and taking care to close the gates behind me, enjoying the views across the village, thinking what a lovely place it would be to live in.

img_3601When I reached the church, I wandered around the graveyard for a little while. It was peaceful, the gravestones grey with age and lichen, family names appearing again and again speaking of an uninterrupted line of existence linked to the village. I love to read old gravestones – the stories they tell of lives lived, of loved ones and families – and there were plenty of fine examples. I didn’t find the Eyre family, which was a shame, but I did find one rather famous fellow.

img_3608This is the grave (reputedly) of Little John, he of Robin Hood fame. As you can see, it’s a very long grave, in keeping with his fabled height, and the gravestone tells the story of how he once lived nearby. Well, why not? I thought, as I took the pathway back towards the gate, smiling at the ladies decorating the ancient stone doorway with flowers, no doubt in preparation for a wedding later that day. But I had somewhere else to be and time was ticking, so I walked back to the hotel, collected my pack, then joined the companions for another day of exploration.

img_3609This time we were heading to Gardoms Edge. I didn’t really know anything about it, but, as we walked through the fields towards to the gate, Sue filled us in. Gardoms Edge was once a Neolithic village – stone hut circles, walls and other evidence had all been excavated and mapped by archaeologists, then left in place for the lichen and heather to cover once more. This sounded fascinating, and I couldn’t wait to take a look.

img_3623We entered via a farm gate, then walked among trees and tumbled stones, hut circles and walls ancient remnants of the people who once made their homes here, thousands of years ago. This would have been a nice place to live, I thought, looking out to the view across hills and valleys, the high ridge protected by virtue of its location.

…until the painted people came…

But as the land started to rise, and we moved towards the edge of the cliff, anxiety began to curl in my stomach, my breath hard to catch. I swallowed, frowning, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. After the release of last night, I had thought to find something similar today. But this was different.

Sue turned to me. ‘You don’t like it here either, do you?’ I shook my head, realising I was almost treading on her heels in my haste to get through this place. The stones here were larger, some piled precariously on the cliff edge itself, other placed in groupings, some alone. Apparently, Sue explained, this was thought to be the place where the bones of the dead were placed, a sacred spot. The valley below was peaceful, green-clad.

…yet she could see people falling, spread-eagled like starfish against the dark green below, pushed from the cliff edge to break upon the desecrated bones of their ancestors, their deaths taken from them, their sacred space destroyed…

Later, when we spoke about the place, I likened it to how a concentration camp felt, invoked 9/11. At the time, when we reached the gate in the modern fence, waiting for the rest of the group to join us, all I could say was that it felt defiled.

‘Do you not feel well? Stu asked, looking concerned.

I shook my head. ‘I feel sick,’ I said, bile rising in my throat as I looked back to the cliff edge, our companions still walking among the stones, taking photos. I had taken no photos, just wanting to get through the place.

‘It took me the same way, when I first came here,’ he said.

…she took a moment to regroup, wondering at the morning she’d had, visiting two places of the dead, one still sanctified, the other not. The dead are revered among all cultures, ceremony and ritual used to send them on their way, the origins of such practices lost in time. And to destroy such a place of ritual is to commit the deepest sacrilege. The reverberations of such an act still resonated in the land, millennia later, affecting her to her core…

As we went through another gate, a fence separating the cliff edge off from the wooded area beyond, I felt the sickness and fear start to ease, my breath coming easier. I didn’t want to go back through there again, though. I followed Sue and Stu through the woods until we stopped at a large standing stone in a clearing. It was set at an angle, notches carved into the head. A bit like a sundial, really…

img_3626

Making Magic

IMG_1638

It’s been a funny sort of month. A mixed bag, if you will. Oh, nothing too full on awful – simply a combination of things that have left me feeling a bit down, less inspired than usual. But really, who am I to complain? With the state of the world as it is, I know that I, in my comfortable life, am very fortunate. Plus, I think a post with me burbling on about general feelings of malaise just wouldn’t be that interesting, to be honest.

So today I decided to make some magic. Now, before we go any further, I don’t consider myself any sort of expert practitioner. I have read and experienced some fairly esoteric things, and I certainly believe in Shakespeare’s assertion that ‘there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ I’m also open to the idea of changing one’s energy, of choosing to pursue a more positive path. I know that there are things in life for which it is just not possible or easy to say ‘oh well, I choose to be positive about this,’ but for general feelings of just being a bit down, a bit off, I believe that focus and a positive attitude can make a difference.

And so what is magic, after all? There are varied schools of thoughts on this, but most seem to agree that it comprises both intent and ritual. Intent, in that there is something you wish to achieve, and ritual, a series of steps which focus power and attract the right sort of energy to get things done. And when you think about it, intent is another word for choice, at least when it pertains to our own lives. And ritual is a route to focus, which is what we need to effect change.

Our whole family has been sick this month with a virus that refuses to go away, mutating and moving from head to throat to chest, a fever that comes and goes, chills and tiredness. A month of spluttering and coughing and broken sleep, the house closed against the cold weather. So this morning I woke up and said to my husband, ‘I think I might smudge the house today.’ He nodded in agreement. You see, we’ve had success with this ritual before. When we bought our first house in Australia, it was a busy time. We were both working and living in Melbourne, planning our wedding, then heading down the coast on weekends to renovate our new place, supposedly getting away from the bustle and stress of city living. Yet, every time I slept in our new house, I had the most awful blood-soaked nightmares, the kind from which you wake shaking, wondering what the hell is going on. Our new neighbours had told us some of the history of the house and its previous owners, and what was clear was that it was a place that had not been loved for quite some time. So I decided to give smudging a try. I had read about it but never tried it before – if you’re not familiar with the practice, it involves burning a tightly tied bunch of herbs (usually sage and/or lavender) then wafting the smoke through the rooms of the house, letting open windows take the smoke away and with it any ‘bad energy’ that might be bringing the place down. So I smudged our little beach house, lavender and sage wafting through and out into the blue yonder. Then I slept the most peaceful sleep I’d had there. We ended up living in that house for seven years, and people would always comment on what a nice feel it had. The nightmares never returned, either.

What’s really interesting about smudging is that, even though it’s an ancient practice dating back several thousand years, scientific research has recently discovered that the medicinal smoke generated by the burning herbs actually does cleanse the air of harmful bacteria and pathogens, with the effects lasting up to a month after the initial smudging process. Sounds about perfect for a house full of sick people, don’t you think? So this morning I dug out my smudge stick, picked some extra herbs and flowers then took advantage of the fresh breeze, opening doors and windows and letting the warm scent of burning sage fill the rooms. The house certainly does feel fresher, so it will be interesting to see how my family react when they get home later. And, interestingly, my mood has lifted with the cleansing, my writing kicking back into gear.

That seems pretty magical, don’t you think?