I remain indebted to the wisdom and research of Marija Gimibutas, Francis Rose, Joseph Campbell, Daniel Moerman, Maude Grieves and Bertha Grove. Remembered also are Nancy Arrowsmith and George Moorse for their splendid work, as well as Barbara G. Walker. Thank you, one and all, for the devotion required to bring the world and myself greater understanding of antiquity, spirituality and life.
Some of the practices described in The Compendium for Spirit Handling and Ancestral Airs are extremely dangerous and potentially deadly. In no way has it been suggested or implied that they be considered or attempted. This work has been offered as nothing more than a fragment of the otherwise incomplete historic record that remains to us. Neither the publisher nor the author is in anyway responsible for extrapolation that leads to reckless or hazardous application of this information.
About This Book
The Compendium for Spirit Handling is a reference work for practitioners that explores ritual properties of more than 400 species of herbs, trees, ferns, fungi, moss, lichen and seaweed indigenous to the British Isles. It includes references to face paint, tattooing charcoal and accessories, drums and other musical instruments, medicine bags, baskets and mats woven for ritual purposes, staffs and wands, tanning and brooms.
The Compendium also includes references to sacred first foods, famine foods and some dyes. It does not cover the additional hundreds of varieties of food that were available, fibers for clothing, utilitarian or medicinal applications, or woods and materials used to build homes. The Compendium also explores the management of gardens that contain specific collections of harmonically interconnected plants and lots of other choice tidbits.
The Compendium for Spirit Handling is the companion work to Ancestral Airs that also includes concise information regarding the fields explored for its creation.
About Ancestral Airs
I count myself among the lucky ones having spent years visiting among indigenous Americans. I made many friends, regarded them as family and was privileged to information that often led to my inclusion in rituals. I hold the details of their medicine in confidence as promised.
But one thing persisted, a deep and sometimes sad longing to know my own tribe, as I suspect many European Americans do. It didn’t take me long to realize that they weren’t Celts. I finally found that there existed a tribal people indigenous to the British Isles and I devoted thirty years of my life seeking them out.
I spent perhaps fifteen of those thirty years composing Ancestral Airs. It contains mythical stories about the legendary hunter-gatherers of Britain. Everything from food and shelter to transcendental journeys are included. Ancestral Airs is a rich collection of Creation stories, abundance, fertility and tantric practices. Readers will find many features of Earth science from geology and glaciers to habitats complete with the plants and animals that can be found in them. My work includes stories about migration, ecological hardship and Ancestors all in one breath.
Ancestral Airs is permeated with the holy trinity of birth, death and rebirth, and is saturated with the ancient European understanding that all things feminine are absolutely sacred. In antiquity it was believed that the universe was created from the elemental matter that composed the pristine state of nothingness by the prevailing feminine link to Creation. The stars impregnated the Earth, our Mother, and out of this conception was born all of life. Before women gave birth to human males they themselves were believed created from flowers. Concepts such as these naturally led to the assertions that the sacred feminine was the instrument of Creation. Archeology went a long way to validate this. Only a small percentage of ritual artifacts from the Stone Age eras can be identified as having a strictly male orientation. The vast majority is decidedly female.
But this is not to suggest a diminishment of the power of maleness. In the natural world women inherently understood that pregnancy and lactation tied up their potential. On the other hand the genetic material of males was unavailable only for as long as it took for him to ejaculate. Consequently, men were understood as the keepers of diversity. Women had to be highly selective of mates to insure that being taken off the market, so to speak, resulted in the best possible offspring. Men on the other hand often planted their seed in as many gardens as found him acceptable and as frequently as was physically possible. Lineage was subsequently traced through women’s lines, as fathers could be transient, peripheral or even unknown. Societies were matristic. Monogamy and marriage held little relevance to a people who believed children belonged to their mothers’ clans. Role models for male children were not fathers but brothers, nephews and uncles who had a vested interest by blood in the mother and therefore the survival and happiness of male progeny.
Older men at times gravitated to younger women simply because youth afforded the best opportunity to deliver his genetic material successfully to a new generation. Some older women had appetites for younger men finding that their strong, athletic ability to perform sexually was highly desirable. The utter lack of male dominance afforded complex forms of love that extended to the needs of individuals, families and communities without judgement, leading ultimately to art, spirituality and enlightenment.
Fertility rituals pertained to the Earth and Her bounty. After all it was unlikely that women had much trouble getting pregnant. The real challenge presented itself once a child was successfully carried full term and was born. The abundance of the land was the critical key to survival.
An androgynous Immortal was featured as the first being in other Creation stories. This divine individual was believed to have bred with a snake and gave birth to twins, the first human male and female. Ancestral Airs is laced beautifully with this theme as well.
Hunter-gatherers had an encyclopedic knowledge of the environment in which they lived. They held a holistic understanding of their world and didn’t compartmentalize their thinking as we do now. Where we have organized this knowledge into fields of science, hunter-gatherers enjoyed a comprehensive understanding of the interconnectedness of all the components of life. In order to facilitate an understanding of my work I have included brief descriptions of some of the various fields of study I was required to take up. I had to engage the way of thinking that I was taught before I could abandon my own compartmentalizing of knowledge for good and embrace the interdependence of all things, the Infinite Present.
Ancestral Airs takes place at the apex of the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age. It was an enviably spiritual world. The order of Nature was sacred and man, as only one of infinite and equal elements lived in harmony within it. He answered to its dictates and believed natural law was sacrosanct. Mesolithic people held that the manipulation of nature was bad medicine. The human condition was believed a manifestation of spirit and therefore Spirit Handling was the ritual exploration for solutions.
The division of the four sacred elements appeared to me as a universal concept assigned gender roles. Earth and Water were female. Therefore, women’s medicine embraced plants and things derived from them such as baskets and tanning. Gathering and gardening were regarded as exclusively women’s medicine. Everything pertaining to women’s cycles, the selection of sires, pregnancy, birth, children, lactation and so forth were highly guarded women’s secrets. Female Spirit Handlers wielded the vehicle of steam not smoke. Males, the ambassadors of Fire and Air managed coals, fires and smudge. Their instruments of expression were things like hunting and drums, exceedingly serious components to Spirit Handling. Lodges and groves were female. Sweat rocks and support poles in lodges were male. Items I found to be of a unisexual nature were things like medicine bags, prayer bundles, face paint, tattooing, strewing, staffs and wands.
Inordinate change triggered the eventual decline of Mesolithic people when confronted with a Neolithic or New Stone Age migration into the British Isles. With them came the introduction of new species of plants and animals, cultivation, the domestication of animals, pottery, weaving on looms, spinning, the mining of flint, clear cutting forests, in other words, technology.
Moving from one location to another at one time required as many as 20,000 years. Now we accomplish this easily in days, even hours. In antiquity migration was often cyclical following herds or moving into habitats when abundant then returning home. Other seasonal motion could be back and forth from mountains to the lower, more hospitable areas for winter or vice versa. But there were many migrations governed by natural phenomenon such as droughts or glaciers compelling tribes to move completely and finally to new locations.
At least four Ice Ages consumed the best part of the British Isles leaving only the southernmost regions passable. When all of the water in the channels was locked up in ice Ireland and its outer islands became the western promontory of continental Europe. Herds and the hunters that followed them moved easily from the mainland to the ocean. Intermittent thaws filled the channels with water, making them impractical or impossible to cross. Eventually a group of people settled, perhaps even found themselves stranded. Their isolation led to communities and finally unique cultural distinctions.
What we call geology was not an armchair feature in hunter-gatherer life. Soil was born out of volcanic or oceanic events. Tectonic plates created mountains, gorges, seismic eruptions and rogue waves. Wind and water sculpted ravines and breathtaking formations, moving both seed and soil. Trickles cut paths that led to rushing rivers carving out extraordinary canyons. Those that lived harmoniously in the natural world had an inherent understanding of the continual, cyclical forces of Creation and destruction. Ritual intent demonstrated love and respect for those forces. There was no attempt to change or control them only sacrificial appeasement and honor shown to the awesomeness. If the ocean grew fierce, for example, it was better to simply move away for awhile allowing it the freedom and privacy to have its own rituals or fulfill its own mystical purposes.
I certainly couldn’t leave out the fields of anthropology or ethnobotany. These are the studies of people and the plants they handle. Quantum physics was a must, the field of mathematics that allows for the possibility of time travel and overlapping universes. I drew from legends, mythology and accounts of “little people” now wholly understood by me as the spirits who inhabit our many-layered, mysterious Mother.
So in conclusion my simple need to know my tribe led to decades of study in a highly diverse number of fields. I hope the time required was needed in order to be thorough and not because I might be a slow learner. Regardless, I am satisfied and can say without reservation that I know my people intimately. As I grew in my understanding I realized that it was a time in our history when the stewardship of the Earth was the foundation for religion. Then we were spiritual warriors and called our planet Mother. Ancestral Airs created a forum in which to portray a people who could teach us how to again live within the delicate harmonic perfection of our home. Within that wonder we are required to do no harm, to put back more than we take, and to leave without a trace lest the beauty of the mystery be spoiled for the next ones. The shamanic, indigenous hunter-gatherers of the British Isles could have, in the end, been anyone’s people calling out from antiquity from anywhere in the world.