In England’s green and pleasant land…

or ‘An experience of the sacred and what I did when I got there’

By Volksieg AOR

Due to recent, and not so recent, personal problems, I had found myself succumbing to stress to the point where I had started to question everything that was good in my life. Every day seemed to bring more troubles (real and imagined), more feelings of stagnation and hopelessness. No matter how hard I tried to maintain the façade of ‘good ol’ Volksieg’; always laughing; always chipper; always something wry or irreverent to say to relieve any tensions…. the cracks were beginning to show in the mask. It is all too easy to succumb to the pressures of modern existence and lose sight of the things that make life worth living. What could be wrong? After a long period of feeling that I was sinking into a creative mire, I had recently had my thoughts published in a book and had received encouraging feedback from many people, eager to read more; My musical endeavours had been going rather well recently; fatherhood, and all the challenges which that can bring, has been nothing but a joy to experience in spite of any challenges and worries peculiar to our own situation we may have been faced with; reminding myself that there would always be a parent with far more to worry about than I and taking strength from how stoically and bravely they faced their own personal situations…

And yet…

And yet there seemed to be a dark cloud hovering over my head at all times and, over recent months, that cloud had been thickening and darkening. Always a storm on the horizon. Always something at the back of my mind telling me “This is not enough. You are not enough”. Doubt seemed to stalk my every move like a vicious black wolf, hiding in my shadow, just out of sight and waiting for its moment to strike and bring me down once and for all. An all pervasive sense of doom that, not only affected my mood but also how I was starting to interact with others – especially those closest to me. It is a grim irony that it is usually those we care for and depend upon the most who tend to get it in the neck. I am sure we have all had those moments where we throw our hands up in the air and shout “When will this all end?”

It was whilst in one of those terrible sinking moments that I discovered, with the help of my good comrade Harry S, a rather magical place of healing and I would like to take this opportunity to share this experience with you all.

I shall not give away the exact location of this sacred grove (For that is what it can only be described as) but I shall say that it is hidden away, far from prying eyes, at the top of a field on a hill overlooking Eynsford in the South East of England. Of course the exact geographical location is not important as I discovered, that night, that this place is not just a geographical location but is also to be found within the hearts of our folk if only we would take a moment to see it. A place of peace, of magic, of joy and stillness. A place of healing.

Sat patiently in my living room, trying to drown out the noise of the local council workers as they re-layered the road with the musical noodlings of a particular American rock band made famous for their ludicrous costumery and iconic make-up, I patiently awaited Harry’s arrival. Eventually, there came a knock at my door and we sat for a while whilst I played him my latest creative endeavours and we enjoyed a cup of tea and a chat. No sooner had we drained the final dregs of our mugs, it was time to head off so, crash helmet strapped to head and kevlar combat trousers donned, I climbed aboard the motorbike and waved my town, and all the pressures, worries and, dare I say it, responsibilities goodbye for the night.

After a long and, at times fairly hair-raising, bike journey on the motorway, we finally made it to his place and sat for another cup of tea whilst we planned the evening’s excursion. Harry was filled with an infectious sense of zeal as he described this wonderful place he planned on showing me, describing the many good times he had experienced there with friends. I could not wait to see this place for myself and make my own mind up as to whether it was as special as Harry seemed to suggest it was so, when the time came, I was eager to hop on the back of his bike, regardless of how agonizing it actually was to sit there, clinging to the bars behind me, quite convinced that, any minute, I was sure to flip off the back and end up resembling something close to a pizza… perhaps a pizza covered in strawberry jam? Strawberry jam with, mayhaps, a scattering of shattered egg shell sprinkled willy-nilly on top? I chuckled to myself and decided that contemplating my own violent death was probably not the best approach to this journey and decided to clear my mind of all such morbid thoughts, no matter how darkly amusing they may be, and try to relax and enjoy the journey.
As we stopped at the local supermarket to pick up some provisions for the night ahead, we had decided that our best bet would be to purchase some sausages to cook over the open fire.

“Behold the gallery of corpses!” Harry announced, gesturing towards the neatly stacked packets of sausages in their display cabinet. An elderly lady looked at us both incredulously as we chuckled. “And that’s just the customers!” I added.
Making our way to the counter, we paid for our goods and loaded them into the already quite heavy rucksack which I then donned as I slowly staggered, not unlike John Wayne (Albeit John Wayne if he was afflicted by some terrible wasting disease.) towards the car park.

Before we set off towards our destination, Harry told me to try and soak up the astounding views as we travelled along the country lanes and told me how, during the spring, in one of the fields one could see flowers blooming in the shape of white crosses in honour of those, both RAF and Luftwaffe, who had lost their lives during the Battle of Britain. A sobering thought. So much sacrificed for, it seems, so very little. It is when one takes the time to contemplate such things that one starts to see things from an entirely different perspective. Life is, and always has been, about struggle and, sometimes, that struggle may be something one has not asked for, perhaps even something one does not deserve, and yet the best thing one can do is to try to face it bravely and say “Life! Do your worst! I shall endure!” Just the thought of those young lives obliterated… gone forever… for what? All in the name of petty power and political games! It certainly wiped any, ever so seductive, feelings of victimhood from my mind entirely. It is oh so easy to lose that sense of perspective when the pressures of life seem to smother you and, although there is no shame in admitting that one feels defeated on occasion, it is good for the soul to consider just how small one’s own problems actually are when compared to those of others less fortunate or, perhaps, caught up in the, sometimes unimaginably cruel, web of Wyrd.

Cruel… but never without purpose.

Staggering off the back of Harry’s bike, rather awkwardly and, it has to be said, somewhat saddle sore, we walked towards a yellow field, dappled in early evening hues of orange sunlight as a cool, incredibly welcome, refreshing breeze gently caressed my brow. I was informed that many pilots, on both sides, had lost their lives in this very field and I started to think about the tragedy of it all. Brothers forced to fight each other until, finally, united in death more so than they could ever be in life. Being the eternal nerd that I am, and a fan of a particular WW2 flight simulator, I mentioned, somewhat crassly on reflection, that I had probably crashed my virtual bf-109 in this very field maybe a hundred times and that, now I was actually here in the flesh, how oddly surreal it actually felt. I would have expected to feel nothing but negativity here, knowing just how many had lost their lives on the very ground on which I walked and yet… there was nothing but an overwhelming sense of peace and stillness. I can honestly say that I had never experienced such a feeling in my life and I knew that it could only be described as holy.

Taking a short break at the top of the field, we sat and had a cigarette as we watched the sun, now the colour of copper, cast its rays, through broken clouds, bathing the landscape in a range of muted purple, green and orange hues. Staggered by the sheer beauty of it all, we sat and chatted about how the stranger may come or go but he will never understand this! This magnificence! Looking out over hills and cottages, forests and farmland I breathed deeply as if wanting to take as much of this vision into myself as I could. We decided that the stranger could, perhaps, keep the cities they held so enviously for this was England, not the smoking factories and claustrophobic rat holes and tower blocks where every man is a stranger to his kin and every story goes unheard, forgotten in the mire of insignificance, cheap thrills, anonymity and general sense of malaise and suffocation we know as urban life. We are as much a part of this land as this land is a part of us and no-one can ever take that away from us.

Finally getting up and onto our feet, we made our way towards the woods. It is Harry’s hypothesis that these particular woods were coppiced for ship and weapon production as, on the outer edge, the trees are far wider, which could, quite reasonably, be expected to be of use to shipwrights, and, protected by these larger trees, are much thinner growths which would lend themselves perfectly to the production of arms. We theorised as to whether they dated back to Saxon times as we sat and enjoyed a beer before Harry decided to set off and gather some firewood before the sky got much darker. As Harry marched ahead into the steadily darkening forest, I sat for a moment and closed my eyes. Apart from the sound of Harry snapping branches in the distance and the rustle of the wind in the trees, I was amazed at just how quiet the surrounding area had become. Getting up, I went to join Harry and, together, we gathered some kindling for the night.

Fire steadily licking at the edges of the kindling, illuminating us with its orange eminence and welcome warmth as we sat down and supped at our beer, I asked him if he was familiar with a certain feeling I think most of us get – perhaps you are lying in a hot bath and you lay back, totally relaxed, close your eyes and, if only for a moment, the sudden thought flashes in your mind: What if, when I open my eyes, there is someone standing over me? The sudden adrenaline rush and sense of fear takes control before you flick open your eyes and scold yourself for such a silly notion! Even more salient; that feeling of slight dread when left alone in the dark in a strange forest. Harry confirmed that he was familiar with such a sensation and we spoke for a short time on how the mind dredges up dark phantasms from the darkest reaches of the Id and how this could be interpreted as the lurking fear elicited by the Loki within. The reason I had brought this up was that, no matter how dark the sky now was and no matter how strange this wood was to me, not once had I felt this feeling. It was as if the wights were, not only entirely free of negative energies and experiences, unlike those to be experienced in many of our historic forests, but actually pleased to see us! I sensed their curiosity and thought, for a moment, that I could hear them chuckle as we laughed, joked and reminisced; speaking of the deeds of our comrades, humorous moments such as the saga of the three tiny tents, or the time a comrade of ours’ seemed incapable of keeping his supper from flying across the field in a magnificent torrent of steaming noodles one Folk Camp.

We spoke of many things that evening, including the nature of Odin, the important difference between recognising the importance of the role of Loki in our mythology and actually stooping so low as to honour him and his kind, but one particular subject stood out above the others; that many in the Odinic community are prone to much chest beating and yet fail to look within and without for answers to their problems. I think this is something that most of us have been guilty of over the years. I know I certainly have been. Harry made an incredibly good point: We are all so comfortable with making war but the real test, in many ways, is to learn how to make peace.

That night I dreamed of the yellow field beyond the woods where we slept and, in that dream, I saw white sticks bursting from the ground and reaching upwards towards the sky. What significance this may hold, I know not yet but I have some ideas.

Onwards and upwards.

One very valuable thing I have taken away from this small excursion is this: The ability to make peace.