Sunday, 17 December 2017

Novena for the Fallen Through ~ our first prayer for Peace on Earth

Mari Lwyd image by Flying Viper on DeviantArt

‘I refuse to engage prayer as a weapon
I wish it to be like a river
between two shores
for I seek neither punishment nor grace
but rather new skin
that can bear this world.’

(‘99 Psalms’ by SAID)

A novena is an ancient rhythm of prayer repeated over nine hours or nine days consecutively. It is believed that the first novenas, which means 'nine' in Latin, trace their origins to pre-Christian Greek and Roman customs performed by families mourning the death of a loved one, followed by a feast ~ because death must always be woven back into life. Since then they have become more general prayers and devotions to the Divine, often dedicated to a particular saint or to the Virgin Mary.

This is an invitation to join, each full moon, in nine days of simple any-faith prayer in solidarity with those who have 'fallen through' and who cry out for justice. In this way we will seek to weave an act of sacred activism, holding all who are in pain, who may feel lost and ignored, and those who are working for truth and liberty, in threads of wild prayer, fierce hope, and deep community.

Many reading this will have noticed that this novena is not taking place at full moon, but rather as the moon turns to new. It has been a deep birthing woven through with frustrations and, what has felt like, failure. Often I feel that I am too breakable to take on this work and this month’s prayer in particular seems an almost inconceivably immense one in these times. In October we lifted prayers for justice for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. In November we wove prayers of love and protection for our threatened wildkin. December's theme will be 'Peace On Earth'. What could be bigger and bolder than that, and yet I feel neither big nor bold.

I have thought a lot about this over the weeks since full moon. I have thought about the concept of the ‘wounded healer’ and the need for those of us who don’t always feel strong to step up as and when we can. Many of us are ‘weather vanes’ pointing to what is wild and true after all; that is one of the reasons why we break. And I thought of our ex-Prime Minister, David Cameron’s concept of the ‘Big Society’; one in which volunteers take the place of public services. In some ways this might seem a fine idea but, of course, it represents the loss of all that we as a nation have put in place to protect the most vulnerable in our society; the NHS, the welfare state etc. When I first heard about the 'Big Society', which has continued under the name of Austerity in subsequent governments, my biggest fear was that the only people who would be able to afford to volunteer would be the wealthy, creating an even deeper sense of division than exists already with the well off 'administering' to the poor; Dickens would recognise this way of being. It is one step away from justification of the workhouse. It is so easy for those who have money, power, and confidence to fill the cracks in our world, cracks that really need to get wider until they are gaping wounds that can’t be ignored. There is so much that festers under the skin of our society. And it feels the same with prayer.

The other day I watched the memorial for Grenfell with my friend. It mattered that it was held in St Paul’s, in the heart of religion as institution and institution as religion, that the fallen through were acknowledged there, but there was no breaking open, no cracks showing, the names of the dead were not read and the prayers were somehow cold when they could have fanned the flames of healing and justice. They were made by a church that refuses to be broken, clinging tenuously to its links with secular power; a secular power that didn’t care enough to keep people alive. There was beauty and there was power of a sort but I felt no Spirit in it, not until Nadia Jafari, who escaped the fire but lost her father, Ali, read a Rumi prayer in a small voice filled with unimaginable heartbreak.

Until those of us who are breakable, who feel that we don’t have the strength, the status, the wealth, or the right to speak truth to power, find the courage to lift our own wild prayers, no matter how fragile they seem or we feel, there will be no fire. And, in spite of and because of all that has happened, we really do need to reclaim the fire. Where the broken are, there is the Spirit and Spirit is justice burst into flame.

Each cycle of novenas is traditionally devoted to a saint. December’s will be dedicated to Mary and Mari Lwyd, who I dare to refer to as 'Saint Mari Lwyd'. To me at least, she is one of our own wild-edge saints, or 'folk saints', the drumming hoofbeat of the Divine Feminine that still echoes in our wild lands, just as Mary, the mother of Jesus, the ‘God Bearer’, is the Divine Feminine hiding in plain sight within patriarchal institutionalised religion. There was a time when we didn't allow the institution of the church or anyone else to tell us what, and who, was holy.

Mari Lwyd: Necrovivrea DeviantArt

Since full moon, Donald Trump has provocatively chosen to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, even though it is also claimed by the Palestinian people as their capital. Peace on Earth must always include the West Bank and all that is unfolding there and this December, in protest against colonial power, the Christmas lights have been switched off in Bethlehem. What more powerful image of the darkness that threatens our peace; not the luminous darkness in which earth beings hibernate and seeds germinate, but a darkness devoid of life? And so our novena will also be devoted to the Star of Bethlehem and the Light that she holds. Stories tell that, after she had guided the Wise Men to the birth of Jesus, she broke into thousands of pieces and fell to earth. She knows about being broken and still shining with hope. She must be very tired of not being seen.

Returning to Mari Lwyd and Mary, the devotion of this Novena is woven from the story told in the deeply moving song by Hugh Lupton, sung by Chris Wood in the film below, which gives a further insight into the tradition of the Mari Lwyd and into the divisions that have been willfully created between people of Spirit.


The Mari Lwyd is a midwinter wassailing custom, found mostly in South Wales, where groups would travel from house to house with a ‘hobby horse’ made from a horse’s skull mounted on a pole and carried by someone covered in a cloth. The ‘hooded animal’ tradition is found in many parts of Britain, and indeed there is a tradition similar to the Mari Lwyd here in my area of Kent called ‘hoodening’, or the ‘hooden horse’. These groups would demand entry to a house through song and the inhabitants would be expected to deny entry in the same way until the householders (hopefully) relented and the Mari Lwyd would be granted entry. Her carriers would then be rewarded with food and drink; so many of our Midwinter customs are rooted in sharing by those who have much with those who have little. The custom was given various names but ‘Mari Lwyd’ is the most ubiquitous. Folklorist Iorwerth C. Peate believed that the term translated as ‘Holy Mary’. However, there is little evidence for the use of ‘Mari’ for ‘Mary’ in Wales prior to the Protestant Reformation, and as ‘llwyd’ translates as ‘grey’, it is thought more likely that her name means ‘Grey Mare’. This would echo hooded horse traditions in Ireland and the Isle of Mann, which in those tongues is named ‘Láir Bhán’ and the ‘Laare Vane’, both translating as ‘white mare’.

The earliest recording of the Mari Lwyd tradition comes from J. Evans' ‘A Tour through Part of North Wales, in the year 1798, and at Other Times’. However, many have suggested a pre-Christian origin for our wild mare. The Uffington White Horse chalk figure in Wiltshire may be up to 3,000 years old and reveals the importance of the horse spirit to our ancestors. Whether this is linked to the Mari Lwyd is anyone’s guess. As with so many things in our mist-covered land, she is a mystery that we must feel the truth of for ourselves.

Storyteller, Hugh Lupton, tells us that the tradition of the Mari Lwyd is rooted in the tale that the Mari Lwyd was cast out of the Bethlehem stable on a cold winter’s night to make room for Mary to give birth to the Christ child and that ever since she has roamed the world as a wraith looking for somewhere to give birth to her foal. This is a sad tale indeed.

MARI LWYD

The Hodening Hoss, the Marbury Dun,
Old Bone-face the deathless am I,
Heavy with foal two thousand years,
Bridled with sorrow,
Saddled with fear,
I canter through pastures of tremble and quake,
I gallop the track between sleep and awake
Seeking the deep of welcome
And stint for my tears.
Let me in!

The Mare-headed Queen, the Mari-Lwyd,

I was mother of all the herds.
Ten thousand years my shining foals,
Bridled with starlight,
Saddled with gold,
Leapt the divide between living and dead,
Quickened the year with each toss of the head,
Galloped the deep of beauty
And never grew old.
Let me in!

But Mother of God, the Mary Mild,
The pregnant Maiden came,
Bursting with Jehovah seed
She entered my stable
And cried out her need.
With ropes I was dragged from the birthing straw,
Aching with foal I was heaved to the door,
Swapping warmth for bitter weather
And birth of a rival creed.
Let me in!

And now I am nightmare, I am rattling womb,
The Uffington wraith I've become,
Forced into darkness you've made me a fiend,
Bridled with shadow,
Saddled with scream,
From window to window traversing the night,
My face in your glass in a shudder of light,
Seeking that deep of welcome
Befitting a Queen.
Let me in once again,
Let me in!

(Hugh Lupton)

I don't believe that Mary, who was herself a refugee, would have denied anyone, particularly a birthing mother, room and so there is much mending to be done, both between our 'holy women' and in seeking 'Peace on Earth' when we live under the shadow of war and the needless deaths of our children, the brutality of poverty, homelessness, and loneliness, the Boxing Day Hunt, the driven Grouse Moors, hare coursing, mindless consumerism, and all that is unfolding on the West Bank and the tiny town of Bethlehem; the focus for many over this Christmas period. It is ironic indeed that the one whom many would name the ‘Prince of Peace’, was born to a refugee family under Roman occupation in a place that is even now is similarly blighted. There is a reason why our archetypal stories rise in the places that they do and why religious leaders called the 'sinners' and tax collectors who Christ surrounded himself with 'the people of the land'. For some it seems that is an insult. Being outsiders and outcasts they were too aware of the drumming hoofbeat of the call for justice perhaps...

Mary's 'Magnificat', Ben Wildflower

And Mary too has struggled to be heard. Those on the margins have throughout history identified with her ‘Magnificat’, which is threaded through with the hope of liberation from oppression. So much so that, in the last century, its public recitation was banned in at least three countries due to it being considered ‘dangerously subversive’. No, it wasn’t Mary, nor Joseph who stayed by her side defying so many social conventions in deeply patriarchal times, who cast the Grey Mare from her stable. Both these stories are revolutionary, challenging to the status quo, lifting up what is ‘humble and poor’ and bringing down what is ‘rich and proud’, seeking justice. There are plenty of others though who have good reason to fear them enough to create division and mistrust between people of Spirit.

I wrote more on some of these themes in my piece on Epiphany; ‘On Following Starlight and Listening to a Deeper Song’, which you can read here if you would like to http://radicalhoneybee.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/on-following-starlight-and-listening-to.html

'Singing Round the Star on Twelfth Night', Cornelius Troost, J.Paul Getty Museum, Wiki Commons

And so we begin our journey with Mary and Mari Lwyd. Like them, I hope that we can seek to birth better things in the dreaming darkness, that, like the frost, our Novena will provide a tender breaking open of long neglected ground as we lift prayers for what is and what might be in preparation for the return of the light in the depths of winter dark. The day when our Novena was to begin was not only full moon but also Advent Sunday. Advent, which continues until Christmas Eve and which makes waiting the centre of spiritual practice, is the perfect time for clinging to the stubborn hope and possibility of peace to come, in spite of evidence to the contrary. No matter who we are, or what we believe or don’t believe, it is only human to long for the light to return in the depths of the dark, now even darker as the new moon waits to be born. The light is all the more precious for that. And like, Mary and Mari we are all searching for somewhere safe to give birth to what is gentle and good. 14th Century Dominican theologian, philosopher, and mystic Meister Eckhart, said “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.” For this we pray.

Novena for the Fallen Through

Peace on Earth

Blessed Mari, Hallowed Mary,
Holy Mothers of Peace,
Sisters of Reconciliation,
Singers of the Mending Song.
We stand in solidarity with you at the gates of Birth
seeking Light in the luminous beauty of Darkness,
in the depths of winter cold.

With you, we follow the silver thread of starlit Hope,
in the midst of anguish and despair.
We seek a Revolution of Love.
We expect Justice. We speak for Peace.
We will not be shut out. We will be heard.
Room will be made.

We ask for nothing less than Peace on Earth.
We cling to the stubborn hope of light in the darkness.
We allow our waiting to become a prayer.

We call for the end of war,
of arms trading, of the lifting of greed over life,
knowing that the children of the poor are sacrificed
to the machine of war,
that thousands upon thousands of mothers and fathers
weep tears that will never dry.

We pray for the day when the trading of arms
is seen as a crime against us all,
when our governments look to the people
not to the power,
when those whose hearts are cold
will be warmed instead by the Fires of Peace.

Blessed Mari, Hallowed Mary,
Holy Mothers of Peace,
Sisters of Reconciliation,
Singers of the Mending Song.
We stand in solidarity with you at the gates of Birth
seeking Light in the luminous beauty of Darkness,
in the depths of winter cold.

With you, we follow the silver thread of starlit Hope,
in the midst of anguish and despair.
We seek a Revolution of Love.
We expect Justice. We speak for Peace.
We will not be shut out. We will be heard.
Room will be made.

We ask for nothing less than Peace on Earth.
We cling to the stubborn hope of light in the darkness.
We allow our waiting to become a prayer.

We call for the end of violence in all its forms,
whether against human or non-human animal,
knowing that the lust for money and power
tramples all peoples of the land without thought or care.

We pray for the end of the Boxing Day hunt,
of driven grouse shooting and managed grouse moors,
of hare coursing, the badger cull,
knowing that violence against one is violence against all,
that suppression of the wild is the bitter prayer of the lost.

Blessed Mari, Hallowed Mary,
Holy Mothers of Peace,
Sisters of Reconciliation,
Singers of the Mending Song.
We stand in solidarity with you at the gates of Birth
seeking Light in the luminous beauty of Darkness,
in the depths of winter cold.

With you, we follow the silver thread of starlit Hope,
in the midst of anguish and despair.
We seek a Revolution of Love.
We expect Justice. We speak for Peace.
We will not be shut out. We will be heard.
Room will be made.

We ask for nothing less than Peace on Earth.
We cling to the stubborn hope of light in the darkness.
We allow our waiting to become a prayer.

We call for and end of the violence of poverty and loneliness,
of over consumerism and built-in obsolescence,
of possessions over people,
knowing that unfettered Capitalism fears the light,
holds up structure over Spirit,
fear over hope,
apathy over engagement,
and war over peace.

We lift a prayer for mending and kindness,
for compassion and mercy,
for dignity and grace
in the face of profit and power.
We wassail the wasteland, weave in the wild,
call the Light back in.

Blessed Mari, Hallowed Mary,
Holy Mothers of Peace,
Sisters of Reconciliation,
Singers of the Mending Song.
We stand in solidarity with you at the gates of Birth
seeking Light in the luminous beauty of Darkness,
in the depths of winter cold.

With you, we follow the silver thread of starlit Hope,
in the midst of anguish and despair.
We seek a Revolution of Love.
We expect Justice. We speak for Peace.
We will not be shut out. We will be heard.
Room will be made.

We ask for nothing less than Peace on Earth.
We cling to the stubborn hope of light in the darkness.
We allow our waiting to become a prayer.

We call for peace for the people of Palestine and Israel,
asking for the wisdom of that ancient land to prevail,
we sit in the darkness with the dispossessed
offering solidarity as we wait for justice to catch fire.

We listen for the hoofbeat of the Mari Lwyd,
we listen for the revolutionary Magnificat of Mary,
we look to the Star fallen to earth, sing the Spirit in,
gather up the pieces of broken hope,
weave starshine in our hair,
stand with the saints with starlight at their brow,
knowing that we also shine.

Like all that is born, Sun and Son,
vulnerable and new in the midst of this deepest dark,
May we be undefended and undefeated,
bright with possibility and hope reborn.

Blessed Mari, Hallowed Mary,
Holy Mothers of Peace,
Sisters of Reconciliation,

Singers of the Mending Song.
We stand in solidarity with you at the gates of Birth
seeking Light in the luminous beauty of Darkness,
in the depths of winter cold.

With you, we follow the silver thread of starlit Hope,
in the midst of anguish and despair.
We seek a Revolution of Love.
We expect Justice. We speak for Peace.
We will not be shut out. We will be heard.
Room will be made.

We lift the first shard of a shattered star.
We allow the wild hope of Peace on Earth to shine.
The lights are going on.

For this we pray.

Aho mitake oyasin, amen, blessed be. Inshallah.


''The Pole Star' from The Greenwood Tarot (Artist: Chesca Potter)


References:

On Mari Lwyd ~






On Mary ~






Hugh Lupton, storyteller ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Lupton




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