Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Category: Musings of the Hearth (Page 1 of 3)


Sweet peasAt the end of July I found a lump. As the advert says, just a very little thing. This coming Monday, I am having a cancerous tumour removed from my breast. The prognosis is excellent and full recovery expected.

Yet there are always those unpretentious yet niggling and unsettling little words, ‘what if?’

Throughout my life I have had numerous challenges provided by my health; some have been long and protracted, some agonisingly painful, but I have never had anything which was potentially life threatening before. For many years now I have learned to accept the fluctuating state of my health as opportunities in disguise, wise guides, to be given gratitude and blessed.

My current situation hasn’t affected me any differently. After a very difficult, draining and traumatising time this past year in connection with close family members, that little ‘c’ word has given me focus and permission to leave the past behind and fully enter into and relish every moment, to stop procrastinating in any way and do it now… whatever it is.

In the past few weeks there has been so much love and laughter in our home. Every moment, every breath has become a sacred joy and my gratitude and exuberance to engage with everything around me has brought intense wonder, fulfilment and enlightenment. I find myself continually cresting a wave of energy which is perfectly formed from unconditional love, and I am completely blown away by it.

However, I now find that there is even more to my current situation than I first thought. Our physical bodies and our higher selves will go to the most extraordinary lengths to bring into our circle of experience just the right situation, activity or understanding. In this case, it has been discovered that my blood pressure is far too high; so high that they may refuse to give me the operation in three days time and the procedure may have to be postponed until my B.P. is more healthy.

Now, I have to confess that I have known that my blood pressure was not as it should be for some time; that I wasn’t successfully controlling it any more as I have for the past eighteen years, but I have had other concerns to deal with and have kept ignoring it. Now, my body has taken a firm and unrelenting grip of the situation. I either address the problems with my blood pressure or I eventually die of cancer. No wiggle room. No argument.

Even more staggering is the thought that everyone is so terribly fazed by cancer, but here I have been walking around with a condition – quite easily treatable – which could severely incapacitate or even kill me in the next hour. Where is the sense in that? Therefore, I have even more reason to give deep gratitude to my little ‘blip’ – my cancer has possibly saved my life.

It is all too easy to rant and rage against what life is apparently throwing at us. Right now, I feel even luckier than I did a couple of weeks ago. Life is good and it works in mysterious but amazingly wonderful ways which so often are not at all obvious. I humbly submit to whatever life has in store for me next.

I completely agree with the closing of words in the book ‘Journey Into Spirit’, written by Kris Hughes, who is head of the Anglesey Druidic Order:

‘LIVE! Take this life and be it, run with it through pain and joy, and bring every ounce of colour and brightness you can to the song of the universe. This is your story; make it a good one.’


Census For The Future

I have just completed our household census for 2021 and added my signature. All the time I have been working on it, I have kept wondering if one day, one of my distant descendants in a 100 years time might be eagerly reading the same digitised document and wondering about the names of the people and the details which appear here.

What possible picture will they paint from these sparse and often quite stilted entries? In my turn, I have often sat looking at the even more meagre information provided on census forms from the past as I worked on tracing my own ancestors. Tricky things are words – they can be interpreted in so  many different ways. They can convey so much or say nothing at all… or give a totally erroneous impression.

And what will people think of us in a hundred years from now? The world which struggled with the global pandemic? The society which pulled together, suffered so much, squabbled, objected, sacrificed, struggled, grieved, loved and won through – or lost… What kind of a world shall we rebuild now, on the back of all this challenging upheaval? It really shouldn’t just come about by accident; it is something we should all think about carefully, plan and put into action. We all have a responsibility. We need to make it something which future generations can look back on and be proud of.

At this time of the Vernal (spring) Equinox, we seek harmony and balance… we celebrate the spring season and the coming of the lighter, warmer half of the year. We make plans for the summer. What else – of a more lasting and fundamental importance – can we decide upon and bring into being?

Sign your census forms with great mindful presence – it is not simply providing information for our authorities now – it is a snapshot of our time… today… which will speak to the future. we are composing living history… now.

Just A Normal Day

Catkins New Year's DayJust a normal day. What is a ‘normal day’? Especially in this time of the pandemic when even our most mundane days have suddenly been rendered topsy-turvy and inside-out until we wonder if anything will ever be ‘normal’ again.

I began to recognise and appreciate normal days some years ago. One sunny October day I had taken myself for a walk around the lake in our village. I sat on a bench in the sunshine for a while and mused about my day and the family – I had left all our felines curled up in their own sunny patches of garden at home… our dog was happily snooting in the bushes besides me… my husband and son both had gainful employment which they were reasonably happy with… I had a simple evening meal already prepared for us. As far as I knew, no one was sick… no one was upset about anything… there was nothing particularly worrying me… I was looking forward to a nice meal and evening of talk and laughter with my loved ones. Nothing out of the ordinary, you might say.

It was then that I realised just how utterly extraordinary this day was, for days such as these when all is balanced and pleasant and stress-free are actually few and far between. I came to understand how incredibly precious it was to be able to sit in the sun and feel at complete peace. More, how amazingly privileged I was to actually be able to recognise it… to realise my wonderful situation and be able to step back and really observe myself in my life and acknowledge how blessed I was that particular day.

I suspect that we all might experience more incredibly wonderful normal days  than we realise, if we just take a few moments to evaluate what is actually happening and how we are actually feeling within our own small sphere of existence. I enjoyed another such flash of understanding a few days ago. I had been baking all day and was just sitting down around mid-afternoon with a cup of tea, ready to literally put my feet up and enjoy a well-earned break. Suddenly, it dawned upon me what an breathtakingly lovely day it was and how deeply contented and happy I truly felt. My son was out in the garden tinkering with his chainsaw and chopping logs… my husband was pottering about by the garage replacing a hinge on one of the big old wooden doors… all the animals were curled up snoozing in the warmth from the Aga… the clock ticked sonorously… the table lamps cast a warm glow into the shadows… a savoury stew bubbled promisingly in the oven… birds chattered outside the window as they swooped in to eat from our bird feeders… the mountains looked gloriously majestic in their ice and cloud-topped state… earlier we had all been teasing and laughing with each other… how normal everything was – and how utterly precious.

Excitement is all very well, but a great deal of it stems from unexpected events which can also bring shock and trauma. Even the nicest kinds of excitement can be inverted into disappointment as the anticipated pleasure frequently doesn’t live up to our expectations – or leaves us feeling exhausted and burned out.

We live in strangely uncertain times – these Twenty-first Century days of  stultifying regulations and restrictions thrust upon us, curtailing and altering our lives, sometimes almost beyond recognition; when illness, loss and grief can pierce our daily existence at any time without warning, changing it forever.

Therefore, my most heartfelt wish for us all is that we all may enjoy many, many normal days.

Happy Imbolc/Gwyl Ffraid

PrimrosesGreetings – and very best wishes to you for a truly inspiring and positive celebration of the start of spring! No, not the meteorological beginning to the season, or the official date you will find on the calendar but the time each year which roughly corresponds with what is taking place in the natural world. Take a look outside your door or window – regardless of whether you have snow or frost at present… beneath it all, life is stirring!

Yesterday we went out into the fields and climbed to the top of Caerengan where we gloried in the bleak scene of bleached, lifeless fields and frozen, snowy mountains. As we stood surveying Winter in action, flurries of tiny snowflakes whirled around us. A little sad to leave the raw energy of the landscape, we retreated indoors to hearthside, honey cake baked in honour of the time of year and mugs of warm spiced and honeyed milk – as the Irish name for this festival implies, milk is traditional to mark the early lactating of the first sheep of the season to produce their lambs.

Here we also lit pure white candles… plaited our Brighid’s Crosses from lush green rushes which we had collected along the path home… sang songs… read prose and poetry aloud… followed a journey to Ffraid herself for guidance in this new and challenging year (see my Walking With The Goddess monthly online activities ) and sat around our big dining table to share a hot meal.

Imbolc mountainsThe old song title, ‘What a Difference a Day Makes’ was amply illustrated today. This afternoon the sun was bathing the mountains in golden light beneath a blue sky… birds were singing enthusiastically… and the tightly furled buds and catkins which I was so overjoyed to see at the beginning of January are now beginning to unfold. My snowdrops seem to have disappeared but the little wild primroses bring joy to my heart – that is if the birds will leave them alone; anyone know of a way to discourage our flying friends from tearing these little blooms to bits?

No matter what is happening in the world, the wheel of the year turns… the seasons change, sometimes so quickly that you can almost see it happening before your very eyes. We have reached the beginning of a new growing season – a time of regenerated life and birth, a period of intense stirrings and potential. We have dwelled in the shadow of Cerridwen’s Cauldron since the end of October and born witness to the return of the Sun at Midwinter, now it is time to truly step back out into the growing light. How might you like to celebrate the beginning of spring? How might you mark this singularly wonderful time of hope and new beginnings? Stay positive. Think big.

Rejoice in the fact that we can always rely on the natural world to inspire and heal us… and to be there, doing its thing, no matter what is happening in our human arena. It is constant. We are a part of it. Go out into it – regardless of the weather – and lose yourself, forget yourself…  to actually find yourself. Look around you for all the myriad signs of the warm light days and summer to come.

We are all to entering into a much brighter time – one filled with potential and hope.


A Happy New Year!

Cloud with silver lining

Every cloud has a silver lining!

Greetings to all my dear friends and readers! As I sit here typing and talking to you the sun is streaming through the window but the mountains are covered in glistening snow!

We all know what kind of year 2020 has been, so I am not going to state the obvious again. Much more important is what kind of a year are we going to have? I don’t just mean a proposed return to the ‘normal’ we had before the pandemic struck – globally we were already on a one way ticket to disaster in that respect. No, we need to view what is happening among the human inhabitants of this planet in a wider, global context. The Earth is a living organism in her own right and we are a part of it. A couple of weeks ago I read this quotation, although I have no idea who originally wrote/said it: ‘We can’t return to normal because the normal we had was precisely the problem.’

That’s it in a nutshell. We don’t want our previous ‘normal’ back again… we want – and all deserve – something infinitely better… for ALL life on Earth and the Earth herself, as well as her human inhabitants.

And it is up to you and me to bring this about. No waiting for ‘the government’ or ‘the authorities’ to ‘do something’. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to begin to co-create a bright new future… design and build a whole new way of thinking and living and integrating beneficially with the natural world and each other. We begin with ourselves… with how we view and react to ourselves… how we treat ourselves with consideration and honour. Then we move on to how we interact with those close around us… and ever onwards and outwards until we encompass the whole world with love, grace and gratitude.

Yes, the situation we now find ourselves in with Covid-19 is, quite frankly, terrifying and heart breaking – but  it is also true that it is always darkest before the dawn. This is our BIG chance… the amazing opportunity to take this whole crazy, horrifying situation and turn it around into humanity’s greatest triumph, (as has already been so wonderfully demonstrated by so many) and to build a new world.

So, just for starters, what will your New Year resolution be? I suggest that you make just one, so that you can really work at sticking to it. I may share my own when I have finished adequately defining and refining it, but I think that it has to involve learning to automatically send out unconditional love to each and every fearful, painful or annoying situation and every hurtful or offensive person.

Then what will you go on to dream into being for our glorious new world? our perfect society? And what part do you plan to take in making it all come about? It doesn’t matter what genetic background you hail from, or what spiritual beliefs and religions you follow – these are only marvellously diverse expressions of the wonder and richness of life as a whole. We are all brothers and sisters and I love each and every one of you with a passion and intensity normally only reserved for those of blood ties.

My first joyful action of these New Year proceedings is to send out my unequivocal and deeply heart-felt love and finest best wishes to you all for the coming year. This brings to mind the first two lines of something which is known as the ‘Druid’s Vow’:

‘We swear by peace and love to stand,
Heart to heart and hand to hand…’ 

…And even if it is still virtually – for the present – shoulder to shoulder too. We can do this! Good luck… have a real blast… make this the most amazing year ever…

A very hopeful, satisfying, triumphant and positive New Year for 2021 to you all… as ever and always, with my love.

Marking Time Till New Year

Me pouring teaHow do you spend your time between Christmas and New Year? Some of us have to return to work, but many of us are on holiday, (this year, enforced as well as voluntary).

I was listening to the radio this morning and was concerned to hear the presenter saying that he felt at a loss now Christmas Day has passed and as if he is holding his breath until the New Year celebrations.

True, all the frantic making, baking, decorating, buying and wrapping has suddenly ended, but surely, this is one of the greatest Christmas gifts we can receive? Time. Stillness. Space. Peace. The opportunity to catch our breath… to contemplate, catch up, rest, give ourselves some attention and do what we really want to do with our days. To sit back amidst the seasonal decorations and drink in the time of year… the atmosphere…

The other day, after serving my family home made mushroom soup and sausage rolls hot from the oven for lunch, I sat down in my favourite chair in the living room to read a new book (one of my husband’s Christmas presents which I have purloined!) and fell asleep. Some time later I awoke to find the room deserted… only the fairy lights on the Tree, over the mantlepiece and around the AGA gave a soft glow to the room which was now full of winter afternoon shadows as early dusk began to fall. Instead of jumping up to go and do something, I simply sat and slowly took it all in… the warmth, the peaceful stillness, the sonorous ticking of the clock, the deep jewel shades of old fashioned coloured lights, the melting blue shadows outside my window, the feeding birds and snow-capped mountains beyond… This is Midwinter,  this is Christmas, just as much as all the razamataz and palaver of Christmas morning.

The Solstice and the time of the ‘sun standing still’ might have passed now, but we can still take advantage and enjoy this nurturing quiet time to ‘stand still’ ourselves before the next wave of celebration to welcome in the New Year.

This is also the time that we, as a family, forget the clock and regulated meal times… eat chocolate for breakfast, read our books through the morning, play games and sing carols all afternoon and have supper at midnight – total freedom to let go, please ourselves when and as we want to, and follow our inner instincts. Other years we have gone for evening walks in the moonlight and lit garden stoves to party outside in the midnight darkness of a snowy landscape. (We might get around to that yet, depending on the weather forecast – a walk in the woods or a trip down to the beach will also definitely feature at some point in our festive holidays.)

So how do you make the most of the Second to the Sixth Day of Christmas – this special quite time between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve – this gift of time, space and opportunity? Each and every day of our lives is a blessing, to make the most of, use wisely and enjoy…

Wishing You A Blessed Solstice!

Winter Solstice 2020For many of us, this isn’t just the darkest time of the year in physical terms – it is a veritable dark night of the soul as many of us struggle to adjust to yet more government restrictions and Covid-driven changes of plan which threaten to turn our family and friends focused Midwinter celebrations into a cold and hollow sham.

Just remember what the Winter Solstice signifies – the rebirth of light and the Sun/Son… the return of life and hope and new beginnings. So grit your teeth, slap a smile across your face and hang on in there. This situation won’t last forever. Make the very best of what you have.

To help yourself, those surrounding you and the Earth herself at this extra special and significant time, I have a simple suggestion to make which might just help.

Read More

One Month To Go!

Mincemeat and Peels

It might not look like it but there is about 8 lbs of mincemeat in these three glass jars – and don’t the peels look glorious as they drain and begin to dry!

Well, this is it – a month today will be Christmas Day, so we can all begin this particular countdown from tomorrow onwards! My preparations are coming along slowly. Last week I bottled my mincemeat (which had been marinating in rum for a few weeks). It should be just lovely when I come to bake my mince pies!

I also finished off candying another batch of grapefruit peels. They are now all ready to chop up and add to my Christmas Cake mixture on Sunday. The last Sunday of November is traditionally known as ‘stir up Sunday’ and this weekend I shall be vigorously stirring, I can assure you! (Thick luscious peels like this also make excellent after-dinner treats if sliced and part dipped in melted dark chocolate and allowed to set again – the combination of tangy citrus and chocolate is a combination truly made in heaven! recipe can be found in ‘Merry Midwinter.))

This coming Sunday is also the first Sunday of Advent and I shall be making our Advent wreath… Oh yes, it is all beginning to happen now! Yaaaaay!!!

And I have a slightly different idea for an Advent activity which young and old can join in with – a sort of alternative to my Alternative Advent Calendar… but more about that next time!

Happy busyness!

Light In The Darkness

Daffs at Fron GochYesterday, I ventured out from my home and the almost hermit-like existence which has become habitual over the past eight months and went to visit my local garden centre. I haven’t been down there since last January and the first shock was to discover that there has been an extensive programme of extension and rebuilding and I hardly recognised the place! The second shock to my system was to be among so many people again – so many families with young children… ah, there is still life – and hope – out there!

As I sat in a new outdoor cafe area sipping a scaldingly hot latte, I reflected that here was truly a miracle. After all that has happened this year… the fear, worry, tension, loss, bereavement and grief… the political argy-bargy and wrangling… here are families – my local community, bless them – celebrating and enjoying the time of year and each other’s company. Their eager excitement and anticipation was almost palpable.

Tucked away indoors was the usual array of mind boggling glitz and glitter – the amazing sensory overload which constitutes the seasonal display of Christmas decorations.  Normally I revel in the sheer exuberance of it all, a counterbalance to my very personal, private and mystical experience of the Midwinter, but somehow it all seemed too much for me this time.

I took myself off outside and, while my husband went to browse the bookshop and organic market, I found myself wandering the aisles of winter plants. Here I regained my perspective of what our Christmas/Midwinter celebration is all about; a gaudy, frenetic event of light and light to illuminate this darkest time of the year – an island of colour and hive of activity in a sea of stillness and shadows. For the exhibition hall containing all the sensual overload of Christmas festoonary sits couched in a sea of winter flowering shrubs and plants… a miracle of life unostentatiously displayed in blooms, berries and foliage.

Beyond the confines of the garden centre itself, the leafless trees and sere fields lie sleeping, a counterpane of mist and cloud dulling  edges and softening stark realities. Here is my true Midwinter reality; that no matter what happens in the world – no matter what disasters and plagues and heartbreak – life carries on. Held within the palm of dead winter sits the beating heart of new life… new vegetation and abundance, new human life and potential – totally irrepressible, unstoppable… and utterly inspiring and heartening!

Here is to the continuation of life and to new beginnings… and blessings for all.

Greetings For Calan Gaeaf!

Ancestor Table

The Ancestor Table is set and awaits the names, photos and memorabilia of those to be remembered and honoured… a time of soft light and deep shadows.

So, here we are… at the end of Summer and the beginning of Winter. The seeds of all our endeavours for 2020 have been sown – and harvested – and what a curious year it has been.

Now it is time to draw all the threads of our year together. To take all that we have hoped for, striven for and achieved, all we have failed at or lost, and pull them within to be reviewed, reworked and reborn in resolutions for the coming new year. In the summer months of the year the light is all around us… it pervades, intrudes, even disturbs our sleep as it demands our attention and constant activity. But here we are at the very threshold of Winter – with barely eight hours of daylight each day, less in stormy times of heavy cloud and driving rain, and growing ever shorter as we journey on to Midwinter.

The focus of our lives shifts. The undeniable light which suffused us throughout the summer has dimmed. It is time to harvest that too, and take the light within… to shield and nurture it… to sit and be present with it… to bring it to the very edge of our own inner cauldron which represents the roiling, moiling inner source of all that makes us ‘us’ and illuminate what we discover there. For this is also the time of our own inner harvest. Then we may rest, recuperate, and await our rebirth with that of the Sun at Midwinter. Take time to breath and reflect… to decide where you go from here… what you wish to see and do in the new year… and, perhaps most importantly of all, how you wish to achieve it.

Be bold! Be daring! This time of pandemic is not one for holding back and being timid – it is a time of make or break, a time to play your hand and aim for the very highest goals.

As Darkness envelops us (in many more ways than one) and the northern half of the  Earth judders and sighs as she settles for her rest, all that has passed and gone before – along with all possibility of what may be to come – draws near us at this liminal time, the transition from this to… what? It is for us to choose. And at this time of decision, all the Ancestors, our ancestors, of blood, of place, of belief, draw close once more. Do they come to support us? To chastise us for our follies? To seek forgiveness and love? Welcome them. We need solidarity at this particular time. They have faced it all before. They can help to guide us through. Simply open your hearts and minds to them with love. You do not have to know who they are, just acknowledge that they have been… must have existed, or else you could not possibly be here now. Buried deep within your DNA are genetic memories of all that they have experienced, and they will help you remember now, so that you may learn by their own personal collective triumphs and failures what to repeat and where not to go.

I do not wish you a mere ‘good weekend of festivity’, or a jolly, enjoyable or exciting ‘Hallowe’en’ with silly masks and make-up and fancy dress and all the theatricals which humanity employs when it is really seeking to dodge important issues.

I wish you a mind-bogglingly transformative weekend, an experience of such depth and colour that it will take your breath away. But to begin, simply sit with yourself, light a candle, and be silent, with love in your heart.

May the true blessings of Calan Gaeaf / Samhain / Hallowe’en be yours!

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