I am a writer, poet, and hedgepriestess, believing in sacred activism through connection, creativity, small beauties, wild hope, & the quiet magic of a nice cup of tea. Possible hedgerow heretic.
Just outside my door there is a large, unruly community of nettles. Sometimes they sting the postman, and sometimes me. Sometimes neighbours mutter about ‘untidy’ gardens, but I bask in their good company every day, grieve when they die back as the year turns to dark, rejoice on their return in the spring, and consider them friends. This year alone, I have been woken from winter hibernation by the heat of their young leaves as a tonic in tea, pesto, and soup, watched sunlight through vibrant summer-green leaves; spent happy moments gathering and drying nettle seeds to bless my autumn cooking (they are lovely added to homemade oatcakes). I have felt my aching joints relax from daily nettle stings, long recommended as a relief from arthritis, and delighted in the nursery of baby snails who seek shelter amongst their stalks, and in the tiny wrens who briefly settle there. Nettles are one of the Anglo-Saxons’ nine sacred herbs. For the Celts they suggested that fairies lived close by. Once valued for the making of thread, yarn, and cloth, their juice curdled the milk needed to make cheese; their wild medicine increases natural immunity and protects from infection. They are full of much needed iron and vitamin C. The relationship between humankind and nettles is long. It reminds us that sacred space can grow itself just outside our door.
On the Blessing of Nettles © Jacqueline Durban
I find Her in the psalm of sun on skin,
in turning my face towards the light in early spring,
in the honeybees who worship at the altar of our cherry tree,
in crow’s dark wing against the vivid blue of sky and sea.
It’s then I know that prayer is in my bones,
in my cells dividing, quickening, allowing space
for the never-ending wilding song of grace that breaks through winter’s frozen state
and sets my bloodsongs free to sound and shine.
I know that sister starling prays Her better still than I
with whirr and click that cleaves the day to life,
her feathers gone to stars, and yet I try
to find the words for how it feels
to see the first petals against snow
and what that means to light,
to fall in love with what wind means to wings,
and peace to night.
And this black ink I use to write is whispering cormorants
I wonder just how deeply I can dive...
Becoming Prayer © Jacqueline Durban 2017
Settled in a new place, at last with my own kitchen windowsill covered in pot herbs (rosemary, basil, mint, thyme), and a little garden of bramble, cherry, rowan and nettle, I have begun to explore cooking, the beating heart of home, and to reclaim sacred connection with food and the deeper meanings of true nourishment. This year, for the first time, I made soul cakes for Samhain. These delicious cakes, many recipes dating back to the Middle Ages, were once given out on Samhain night, or All Hallows Eve. Often gifted to the poor in return for prayers being made for the dead, they represented ‘alms-giving as exchange’, something which is rooted in our winter traditions, so many of which allowed sharing with the vulnerable in ways that afford dignity. Our land has community and justice knitted into its very bones, if we only listen to the earth under our feet. And so these little soul cakes, longing to fill our homes with the smell of spices and the wild prayer of stirring, offer so much more than it might seem: reconnection to our bellies, to the seasonal rhythms of our ancestors, to our beloved dead again being held in a warm swaddle of communal prayer. There is a reason why we are encouraged by the speed of life not to cook. There is so much to be gained by taking time to stir the pot.
On Soul Cakes & Reclaiming the Sacred Heart of the Kitchen © Jacqueline Durban
I have been learning a new land, leaving the concrete and crush of the city and making a new home on a high sandstone hill by the sea. It has been a polite courtship, a gentle unfurling into relationship, a slow falling in love. I believe that to truly know the land, we have to give the land time to know us. And the land has no need to rush. I struggled, felt disconnected, lost, until one day I walked and met a wilding apple tree:
...who hid in green until her apples shone and shone for me and called me there, called me onwards to the sea, a wilding me
walked on, in drifts of hemp agrimony
and wild carrot flowers unfurled in ordinary beauty.
And I walk on, autumn-lipped with elderberry,
dusty-bloomed with sloe, and willow herb
who draws her bow to set her seed-kin free.
And then the sea, spun silver by the summer grey,
washes the memory of green away with seagull-feathered spray
that salt-sings and wings the day to wild.
I have only just begun to know this land of salt and green: the sandstone hill, the silver spring below, the memory of badgers, bone-blessings from the crows. I can think of no greater love, no greater intimacy, than this melting into the land that we walk on every day. I am grateful to the wilding tree. She shines on.
Wilding Me © Jacqueline Durban