After walking the labyrinth on New Year’s Day my magic group was inspired to continue the ritual the next day. Oh, and the day after that and the day after that… actually for another eight days. We went to every direction in our Circle of Eight, one after the other, in order. At the end of that we couldn’t quite bear to end, so we committed to another round of visits, this time weekly so we could fit it in to our busy lives. One of the most amazing things was the amount of time we spent sitting around outside having breakfast or dinner picnics or late-afternoon homemade strawberry cocktails. It was Blue-Mountains-in-the-summer weather. It rained on many of these excursions, usually a light passing rain or heavy cloud arising or descending. It didn’t stop our picnic, trance or conversation.
Some of our Circle came on every excursion, the whole nine days in a row. Others came to several, or one but either way we spent a lot more time together than we usually do and that was wonderful. It felt like a spell for 2017 – if we begin this year with nine days of ritual (ten really, as we had done a ritual together on New Year’s Eve) – what a potent and deepening way to enter into the year. Surely our whole year will be filled with ritual? – and with each other? – and at the moment, we can’t think of anything better.
On New Year’s Day we walked our local labyrinth. It was raining. We took our clothes off in the carpark, to keep them dry and walked, wrapped in a sarong, a towel across the small footbridge and along the avenue of apples, in full leaf by now and with discarded baby green apples, half eaten by the birds crunching under our feet over the bark mulch covering the path. The rain was light, gentle, not warm exactly but not fiercely cold either, it’s high summer here though most of the time you wouldn’t know it. When we arrive the labyrinth looks washed clean, its coloured mosaic tiles gleaming and small puddles across the surface of it.
We stood in the labyrinth to cast our circle. It’s an intimate space, about six metres across with the paths made of brick and the curves between the paths mosaic. The mosaic is in rainbow bands of colour, the outermost circuit red, then orange, yellow, greens blues and purples with the centre piece mainly white, an ‘om’ symbol picked out in a small glittering pattern of colour. Set into the grass in the community gardens it’s where we do our public rituals and – on this occasion – where we were for our monthly meeting. We walked the labyrinth in, passing and passing each other as our circuits lapped and turned and threaded through the journeys of others; separate but companionable. It was cooling down; the day had been warm and the bricks and tiles retained that warmth, fed it back to us when we arrived in the centre and sat down, welcoming, sheltering us.
I stood balanced on a jagged spit of rock with the sea below me on both sides, water churning and swirling. I guessed it would be covered at high tide. I felt remote, at the tip of the world. The grit of ash was in my hands and releasing to the wind, the sea, the rock. Small pieces of bone fled through my fingers, back to our beginnings in the ocean and death. The waves sucked and smashed in and out, like the breath of the universe or life and death itself; in, out, in, out relentless and endless. When I looked down, my jeans were whitened in places, with ash. My hands were covered in it. I put the back of one hand to my mouth and licked. Salt and ash. Grit.
I just spent an evening at Watkins Books in London talking about my latest book Circle of Eight: Creating Magic for Your Place on Earth. As a way of trying to explain how a geographical Circle of Eight might look if you lived in a city I experimented with, placing the bookshop itself as the centre of a Circle of Eight, radiating outwards from there.
I stepped into the labyrinth. It was midnight on new year’s eve. I walked its paths in the darkness, in the mist of low cloud, mist hovering in the air all around me. I could only see the paths of the labyrinth by default; they were completely dark, whereas the lines between the paths, picked out in a mosaic of coloured tiles, held and reflected what little light there was. So I trod the curves and turns of darkness, held between faintly shining edges. In daylight these mosaic pieces are a rainbow of colours, starting with red on the outermost one and following the rainbow’s strata as they get closer and closer to the centre, but at night none of that was discernable, only the gleam off their surface. Treading paths of darkness, inbetween the light, felt deeply significant to me as I walked out of the year in which my mother had died and into a completely altered and unknown future. I would be in darkness, though held and guided by the light.
We sat in a small circle on a slab of rock, looking down into the dramatic valley and across to the sunset. There was a cold wind but the view and the place were worth it. Usually we begin by checking in, listening as one by one we speak, telling of what’s happening in our lives or strong for us at the moment. After it was suggested we start the check in we fell silent, waiting for someone to speak.
We fell silent but the world around us wasn’t silent. I heard birds chittering and calling out as they gathered in bushes, getting ready for the night. We heard insects, buzzing and humming. The winds in the valley swept up the sides of the cliff and we heard them as a whole soundscape. The longer we stayed quiet, the more and more we heard. It stretched out. Still no-one spoke and still we heard more and more. There were a dozen or more different birds calling and singing, choruses of them; themes that continued with commentaries that circled round and returned, notes that were sustained and sounds that interrupted, before fading back to be part of the whole.