Sunday, 5 November 2017

Novena for the Fallen Through ~ our second prayer for our wild kin



Here is the second of our November Novenas for the Fallen Through, which for this month are devoted to Saint Cuthbert and to a call for protection for our wild kinfolk. If you would like to read more about this month’s novena you can read our first prayer here.

Yesterday, we lifted a prayer for our badgers and for an end to the injustice and cruelty of the badger cull. Today, we turn to a much beloved wild being, the hedgehog, in whose decline badgers have been implicated. So often we seek to blame non-human others, rather than taking responsibility for what we have caused. It also felt that bonfire night, which this is, would be a perfect time to lift a prayer for hedgehogs, who are often injured when the fallen leaves and woodpiles that they sleep in, are set fire to tonight. If nothing else these prayers are a call to greater human mindfulness and I know that the hedgehog people would be grateful for that tonight of all nights.

First, something of St Cuthbert. This morning I was walking in the beautiful autumn sunshine thinking about this month’s novena and the multitude of beings of fur, feather, skin, scale, and leaf, whose survival is under threat for all manner of reasons on our little island and elsewhere. I was wondering how to draw our prayers together in an image that might resonate, how to include each in the prayer for the next, and the image of ‘St Cuthbert’s beads’ came to mind. St Cuthbert’s, or Cuddy’s, beads are 300-million year-old discs or columns of ‘stone’ with natural holes in their centre and found in abundance on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. These little discs, which are in reality the fossilised remains of crinoids, tiny marine animals sometimes referred to as ‘sea lilies’ and ‘sea stars’, were gathered in the medieval period from the Northumbrian beaches where they had been washed up and then strung together to create prayer beads. They became associated with St Cuthbert and it was said that he either collected them himself to use as a rosary, or that his spirit created them on stormy nights to be found on the beach the next morning. In other parts of England they are known as ‘fairy money’ or ‘star stones’.

(St Cuthbert's beads. Image: Treasurenet.com)

In Sir Walter Scott’s 1808 poem, ‘Marmion’, St Cuthbert is credited by fishermen as creating these beads at Lindisfarne. As a slight aside, they also refer to the ‘snakestones’ of Cuthbert’s contemporary, St Hilda of Whitby. These were fossilised ammonites, plentiful on the beaches close to her abbey, which were taken as evidence that she could turn snakes to stone! Scott writes;


“But fain Saint Hilda’s nuns would learn
If, on a rock by Lindisfarne,
Saint Cuthbert sits, and toils to frame
the sea-born beads that bear his name:
Such tales had Whitby’s fishers told
And said they might his shape behold,
And there his anvil sound:
A deadened clang – a huge dim form
Seen but and heard when gathering storm
And night were closing round,
But this, a take of idle fame,
The nuns of Lindisfarne disclaim.”


I have just learned, whilst researching Cuddy’s beads that the common name given to the sea animals whose fossilised bodies form the beads is ‘echinoderm’, coming from the Ancient Greek ‘Echinodermata’, which translates as ‘hedgehog skin’! Spirit truly is weaving through the song of this novena. What wild magic!

I thought that the image of Cuddy’s beads, made into a rosary, was perfect for our work and I will imagine new beads added to our string of prayers as we move through each of these nine days. Already badger’s bead is threaded there. And so, on to our beleaguered hedgehogs.

(Image: bestwallpaperhd)

The once common sight of hedgehogs in our gardens has become a thing of the past for many of us. I must admit to not having seen a hedgehog for many years, which is a source of much sadness to me. The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), who have been studying hedgehog numbers for over a decade, estimated in 2014 that there were fewer than a million hedgehogs left in the UK, citing a decline of over a third between 2003 and 2012, with an even more dramatic decline of 50% in rural areas. This is in stark contrast to the estimated 2 million hedgehogs who lived here in the mid-90s and the 36 million in the 1950s. Further studies are needed to pinpoint the reasons for this decline but some are habitat loss, poor hedgerow management (leading to a diet less rich in the food that hedgehogs need to survive the winter), and the fragmentation of their habitat due to new roads and housing. And of course new roads also bring death by car.
That this dramatic decline should be of deep concern for the hedgehogs’ sake is clear enough but we should be doubly concerned because hedgehogs are considered to be one of our ‘indicator species’, revealing to us the health, or otherwise, of our ecosystem. They are ‘generalists’, which means that they aren’t particularly fussy about the habitat they need. If they aren’t able to thrive despite their adaptability it says a lot about how poor our environment has become. Hugh Warwick, spokesman for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, says that the hedgehog is “the most important creature on the planet, because you can get nose to nose with it. With a hedgehog you can get really close, make a connection...risk falling in love. To quote Stephen Jay Gould: ‘we will not fight to save what we do not love.’”

(Image: Wide Open Pets)

Our long-suffering badgers have also been implicated in the dramatic decline of the hedgehog population in the countryside. In these rural areas intensification of farming practices and growing field sizes are destroying hedgehog habitat. The rise in badger numbers has also been suggested as a possible cause, as they are hedgehogs’ main natural predator. This is just one of the arguments that has been used to justify the badger cull, although I have not seen anyone suggesting that perhaps we should stop building large housing estates, which are also implicated in hedgehog decline! It is true that badgers will eat hedgehogs, but it is also the case that they compete for the same food supplies; mostly worms in their case. This is called an ‘asymmetric intraguild predatory relationship’, so intertwined are they one with the other. If their food becomes scarce, which is the case when land is intensively farmed, then badgers will begin to prey on hedgehogs. This is compounded by poor hedgerow management meaning that these habitats so important to hedgehogs, whose name comes from the Middle English words ‘heyg’ or ‘hegge’ (‘hedge’) because it frequents hedgerows, and ‘hogge’ (‘hog’) because of its pig-like nose, no longer provide the shelter from predators that they should. In addition, intensive farming of maize, which badgers love to eat, means that badgers enter the winter much healthier than their hedgehog kin and so are more likely to survive until the spring, unbalancing their populations. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that culling of badgers leads to an increase in the hedgehog population. Only a change in our own behaviour, including the ways in which we shop, can do that. It is intolerable, obscene, that we should blame innocent creatures for our own lack of care.

(Statue by Fenwick Lawson, Lindisfarne Priory)

Novena for the Fallen Through

Protection, justice, and shining health for our wild kin.

This prayer is for the hedgehog people.

Blessed Cuthbert,
Beloved Cuddy,
Saint of Salt and Fire,
Antlered ancestor,
Friend of otter, eider, cormorant, and crow,
Walker of the untamed edge of Land and Spirit,
Lover of wild places, wild creatures, and wild grace,
Threader of sea-stars into wild prayer.

We stand in solidarity with you at the roots of the Tree of Life.


Dearest Cuddy, we ask your protection for the hedgehogs
of this land and all lands,
whose survival is threatened by the decisions we make
and the ways that we choose to live.


We offer gratitude to our hedgerow dwellers,
our little hedgepigs, who gift to us a window into the wellbeing
of our land, if only we had the heart or mind to see,
to understand, all that they reveal to us.


Blessed, furzepigs, tip-toe urchins,
we come to you in sorrow for the ways in which
we have contributed to your suffering and your decline.
We have allowed our farming practices to destroy
your places of root and wild furrow.
We have turned your hedgerows into hedge-wraiths,
offering neither food nor protection,
casting you out of balance with the badger people,
hurting you both, blaming them for our own folly.
And all in pursuit of easy food for our population
grown huge beyond that which the earth can sustain,
and needing homes which further limit your prayer of life.
Help us to be more mindful of you,
although you are small and easily ignored,
when we choose how to live.


Blessed Cuthbert,
Beloved Cuddy,
Saint of Salt and Fire,
Antlered ancestor,
Friend of otter, eider, cormorant, and crow,
Walker of the untamed edge of Land and Spirit,
Lover of wild places, wild creatures, and wild grace,
Threader of sea-stars into wild prayer.

We stand in solidarity with you at the roots of the Tree of Life.

Help us to understand the land that has been gifted to us,
the web of life that we are in intimate connection with
just outside our door,
to understand the importance of our gardens,
the need to live in right relationship with all beings of soil.

May we come to see the beauty and potential in seeming untidiness,
value the wild poetry of leaf and woodpile,
the silver trail of slug and snail,
knowing that they too are our neighbours and our relations.
Help us to be more mindful in our use of pesticides,
casting them aside forever as we truly weave ourselves
into the ecosystem that we too are part of,
listening to, rather than dominating, the earth,
finding natural ways to bring health to our ordinary Edens,
knowing that all creatures come to teach us balance,
how to care in wilder and better ways.

Blessed Cuthbert,
Beloved Cuddy,
Saint of Salt and Fire,
Antlered ancestor,
Friend of otter, eider, cormorant, and crow,
Walker of the untamed edge of Land and Spirit,
Lover of wild places, wild creatures, and wild grace,
Threader of sea-stars into wild prayer.

We stand in solidarity with you at the roots of the Tree of Life.

Help us to truly love our neighbours as ourselves,
knowing that the tall fences we build between us
cause harm to the hedgehog people,
blocking their right of way,
cutting them off from their wild paths,
from food and family, from mother and mate.
Help us to understand that in keeping one another out
we also keep out life.
In making the edges of our field too narrow, too rigid,
we make ourselves the same.
Let us rejoice in each broken fence
that lets wild life through,
and where there are no gaps, let us make them.

Blessed Cuthbert,
Beloved Cuddy,
Saint of Salt and Fire,
Antlered ancestor,
Friend of otter, eider, cormorant, and crow,
Walker of the untamed edge of Land and Spirit,
Lover of wild places, wild creatures, and wild grace,
Threader of sea-stars into wild prayer.

We stand in solidarity with you at the roots of the Tree of Life.

Our prayer is to be as deeply entwined
with our nearby wild as you were with yours,
to listen to the needs of the once-familiar beings
of hedge and garden, of woodpile and wild.
Our prayer is for the hedgehog people to thrive once more,
for our tiny Saint Tiggywinkles to be seen
amongst us as they once were.

We ask this in the name of badger and water vole,
hen harrier and natterjack toad,
red fox and red deer,
dotterel and dormouse,
red squirrel and seal.

Of starling and sparrow,
sand lizard and slow worm,
hedgehog and hare,
corn marigold and marsh cleaver.

Of great crested newt and small fleabane,
ringed plover and oystercatcher,
pasque flower and mountain ringlet butterfly,
wildcat and skylark.

Of marsh fritillary butterfly and shrill carder bee,
blue ground beetle and white-clawed crayfish,
freshwater pearl mussel, cormorant, and crow.

Blessed Cuthbert,
beloved Cuddy,
Saint of Salt and Fire,
Antlered ancestor,
Walker of the untamed edge of Land and Spirit,
lover of wild places, wild creatures, and wild prayer.

We stand in solidarity with you at the roots of the Tree of Life.

May the light of the bonfires burning tonight,
not harm but illumine the plight of the hedgehog people,
bringing them to mind as we go about our days,
helping us to stay alert and aware,
attentive and alive to the needs of our near neighbours
and our familiar kin.
It has been too easy for us to take for granted
what we thought would never change.
Help us not to protect our hearts by curling into ourselves,
instead facing the sorrow of the spaces where hedgehog was
but is no more, making a place for them to return,
knowing that they are our teachers and our guides,
knowing that they are family.

The first is for badger.
The second is for hedgehog.
May our string of prayer beads,
formed in the starry sea where all things are one,
gathered on the shore of meeting,
be filled with life, love, and wild justice
for all beings on this earth we share.

For this we pray.

Aho mitake oyasin, amen, blessed be. Inshallah.

(Image: St Cuthbert's beads from Lindisfarne Priory, English Heritage)
(Image: Gillian Day)


Further information and references:

On St Cuthbert's beads ~


On hedgehogs and their decline ~


On not blaming badgers ~


People who support hedgehogs ~

https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/ ~ contact them if you find a sick or injured hedgehog

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