“It always seems to me that the idea of the mundus imaginalis overlaps in many ways with the Celtic idea of the Otherworld – because it also is perceived to permeate/overlap with this one, and because creative and active imagination techniques are ways of interacting with it. “
Dr Sharon Blackie, author of If Women Rose Rooted, and founder of the Hedge School
Returning to myth and the land has been an important part of the work that I’ve been doing over the last couple of years, to shift myself out of the professional, psychological and spiritual ‘wasteland’ I’d gotten very stuck in. My experience of working with the land, with story and myth has brought me to a place of wellbeing, balance, and professional and creative liberation. I certainly agree with the idea that myth comes from the land.
I’ve learned to reconnect with the land. Through my own practice, and through land based workshops run by Rebecca Card, (Medicine Walks) and Charlotte Du Cann (Earth Dialogues), and playing my drum, Paskadi, (‘birthed’ with Lynn Gosney at Caer Corhain), I observe and listen how the land reveals its stories and myths. I can see how my personal experience and interpretation of the Otherworld overlaps with the idea of mundus imaginalis.
I've spent much time over the last year tending to my mother's garden while I slowly sort through her house. She loved her small urban garden, and looking after it was her spiritual practice. In her last years she wasn't able to maintain it in the same way. She had the lavender bush dug up, which had grown from a cutting from my grandmother's garden. She had the beautiful scented roses dug up because the sharp thorns made her Warfarin thin blood bleed too profusely. Still, there was much colour through the year, the camelia bush bloomed each spring and the birds were fed and watered. Here I am, learning how to tend a garden that is getting wilder, a temporary keeper. My favourite time is dawn and dusk. Here, the gateway opens wider. The magpie has built its nest in the high hedge. I remember the sycamore tree filling with an assembly of 15 magpies when I was lying in bed, clinging on to my unborn baby before I gave birth to him, and in doing so gave birth to death.
Magpies are my death bird. The robin comes, the blue tits, the coal tits, the albino squirrel, the fox, the wood pigeons, the jay, the butterflies. This wilding small urban garden is teaming with life. It's growing over a former army parade ground in Southsea, on the very same former barracks where my mother's father joined the Royal Berkshire Regiment at just fourteen in the First World War.
The dusk and dawn time is when the Otherworld veil is thinnest and I feel my mother so strongly step through. I remember as a child, raised almost as an only child after my much older siblings had left home, how much I lived in the realm of myth and tale. Spending hours telling my favourite tales to my teddy bear and dolls, who would all eagerly listen. How I had a whole range of invisible animal friends accompany on my childhood ramblings in the Devon fields and moors when we staying in Plymouth, down with my grandparents. I remembered too how I'd become a storyteller 25 years ago, in my work with adults with severe learning disabilities and communication impairments. Creating a story circle, and using instruments and props, I'd tell a tale from a book of world myths, and everyone would find their own way of joining in, bringing the story to life through sound and movement. The repetition helped and the stories began to take on their own creative development and life. They became a way to communicate with a group of people who faced such barriers to communication.
So I come back to the stories of the Otherworld, and they along with the land are rewilding my creativity and imagination, like the rewilding of my mother's garden.
In 2017, I went to a talk in the Brighton Festival with Steven Jenkins speaking about the Death of our Culture, and how that is bound up with our modern, divorced attitudes towards ageing, death and dying. This fits in with the death work I'm doing now. It's part of my calling, along with creating runes and rose rituals, to help break down our cultural barriers to grief and grieving, death and dying. We have to do death differently.
This article was written and first published in late Spring 2018, as part of my participation in the Celtic studies online course offered by Dr Sharon Blackie via the Hedge School. I previously had been a member of the first cohort on her Voices of the Well course in 2017/2018.