Saturday, 4 November 2017

November's Full Moon Novena for the Fallen Through ~ our first prayer for our wild kin

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.

In October we lifted prayers for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. In November we will dedicate our prayers to our threatened wild, particularly rooted in the unjust murder of our badgers and the culling of Sheffield's street trees, but also weaving protection for our Hen Harriers, foxes, cormorants, starlings, bees, water voles, seals, and others who are under threat, both from human~centric decision making and from climate change. In this way we can stand in solidarity with our wild kin and truly acknowledge them as family.

In November's novena we will offer our prayers to 7th Century St Cuthbert, or Cuddy, a Northumbrian wild-edge saint in the Celtic tradition, who was once, reluctantly, Bishop of Lindisfarne, and was known of as the 'Wonder Worker of Britain' due to his reputation for healing, and as the 'Fire of the North'. He much preferred the life of a hermit on the isolated Farne Islands to monastic life and there are stories of him praying in the cold North Sea with otters warming his feet as the tide went out. Indeed, there are many, many tales of his relationship with animals and his love for nature. He is sometimes credited as being the first ever nature conservationist as, around 675CE, he introduced laws to protect the nesting sites of his beloved eider, or 'Cuddy'. ducks, and other seabirds in The Farne Islands. During these nine days of prayer we will further explore Cuddy's intimate relationship with the wild and ask him to, once more, give his aid in protecting our threatened non-human kin.

Each day for nine days I will write a prayer dedicated to St Cuddy and to our threatened wildlife. If you would like to join with me, which would be a beautiful blessing, then you need only set aside a few minutes each day and perhaps light a candle for hope, for justice, and for our wild family to be surrounded in a protective blanket of care, making your prayer using the words that I send or your own. If you prefer not to pray please do light a candle and/or keep our work in mind if you would like to.

We will mainly concentrate on the wildlife of the British Isles but I hope that others will join with us, either by making the same prayers or by adapting them to your own wild.

I believe that both prayer and the call for justice are sacred acts. Together we can change the world.

“A spirituality that is only private and self-absorbed, one devoid of an authentic political and social consciousness, does little to halt the suicidal juggernaut of history. On the other hand, an activism that is not purified by profound spiritual and psychological self-awareness and rooted in divine truth, wisdom, and compassion will only perpetuate the problem it is trying to solve, however righteous its intentions. When, however, the deepest and most grounded spiritual vision is married to a practical and pragmatic drive to transform all existing political, economic, and social institutions, a holy force – the power of wisdom and love in action – is born. This force I define as Sacred Activism.” (Andrew Harvey)

A Saint of Salt and Fire

It may seem strange that I, as someone so deeply devoted to the Sacred Feminine and with a growing interest in our early female saints, should choose to dedicate nine days of prayer to St Cuthbert. It certainly would have seemed strange to me not so long ago. It is true that his love of nature, and the actions that he took to protect the wild creatures he shared his life with, make him a more than appropriate focus for this novena, but there are many early British saints who showed a similar love of the wild. For example, St Melangell is known for protecting a hare who was fleeing hunters under her skirts. St Brigid was deeply woven in with the wolf, fox, swan, snake, and cow, and once gave a boar being hunted sanctuary in her abbey, where it remained for the rest of its life. St Kevin, when a blackbird flew into his hands opened in prayer and laid her eggs there, chose to remain entirely still until the baby birds had hatched and fledged. The tradition of relationship between saints and animals is a long one indeed and St Cuddy has more than his fair share. But it was a dream that made me choose him.

(White Cliffs of Dover, Land Under Wave, Jacqueline Durban, 9th August 2017)

In mid-August I was blessed by being asked to help a friend scatter his beloved wife’s ashes at sea, just off the White Cliffs of Dover. That is a story for another to tell but I will share something of my own experience. We set out in our small boat on a beautiful blue~sky day. As we moved towards the mouth of the harbour a cormorant flew overhead, which I loved as I have a great fondness for cormorants having spent much time in their company when I lived on a boat and again living close to The Thames in London. That was special enough but I was unprepared for the sight of at least fifty cormorants sunning their wings on the wall as we left the harbour mouth. I had never seen so many gathered together at one time! As the boat stopped so that we could complete our sacred work I felt that something was aware of our presence, a something made of salt and Spirit. The sea seemed so very deep and wildly turquoise blue that day. But, just as we ended our ceremony, a huge storm cloud appeared and the sea turned to angry steel-grey, the waves growing in size seemingly by the second. I had never experienced the mood of a place changing so quickly. I was humbled and a little afraid, although exhilarated too. And still the presence..

The next day a large dragonfly flew into our little house and spent sometime upstairs, before being carefully guided back outside. It felt like a blessing of fire, and that night I dreamed of Saint Cuthbert. In the dream I found a horse chestnut shell case. I opened it and, instead of finding a conker inside, a small wooden block fell out of it. One side of the block was carved with the image of an antlered man, another with a four-leaf clover, and another the words, ‘St Cuthbert’ and ‘protection’. Then, in another sliver of dream, I found a beautiful ceramic cross, glazed with stunning rippling blue glaze. Something that had once been on the top was broken to create a shape that reminded me of the Tree of Life or an ankh. I knew somehow that the two dreams were both related to St Cuthbert, who I had never (consciously) heard of. As soon as I was up I investigated and was delighted to find that he was a 7th Century Northumbrian saint in the Celtic Christian tradition, which I feel deeply drawn to, and when I read that otters warmed his feet after he had been praying in the cold sea I knew that I was in love. Later, I discovered that a cave system in The Mendip Hills, close to my beloved Glastonbury and where my great-grandmother, Rosa and my Somerset mining ancestors were born, is named for him. And yes, the sea! I felt that my work of priestessing at sea had somehow drawn Cuddy to me; my wild-edge saint of salt and fire.

I Stand with the Badger People

(Image: Network for Animals)

During the course of this novena I will share more stories of St Cuthbert’s relationship with the wild and, each day, we will explore the dangers facing our wild kin in the British Isles. To begin it feels important to devote our prayer to our badger relations, who are unjustly suffering so under our current Government. I wrote something about this in 2014, ‘I Stand with the Badger People’ which you can read here if you would like to. It is hard to believe that this murder of our badgers, condemned by the public and scientific experts alike, has continued for so long and has increased its scope with each year. It is monstrous that this should be so. This autumn alone up to 33,500 badgers will be killed, a huge increase on the 10,000 killed in 2016. Eleven new badger cull areas have been added to the ten already in place, despite many scientists (even some of the Government’s own) saying that there is little evidence that the cull of badgers has, or will, help to curb bovine tuberculosis (bTB), which led to 29,000 cattle being killed in 2016. Indeed, many experts have suggested that, by disrupting badger populations through culling, the disease may be spread further. An independent expert group, which has now been disbanded by the Government, reported that earlier culls were neither effective nor humane. Date published in September 2017 suggests that, even after three years of culling, instances of bTB are no lower in culled areas than in unculled ones. The primary route of infection remains cattle to cattle contact, often exacerbated by poor hygiene standards amongst farmers pushed to the point of desperation by greedy corporate supermarkets, and yet the killing of badgers goes on.

(Sam Cannon Art)

There are also concerns that the loss of badgers, who have been part of our ecosystems for the last 300,000 years (humans have been here for only 33,000 years to put that into perspective), could lead to an increase in other predators, such as foxes, stoats, and weasels, which may in turn have a negative effect on ground-nesting birds. Natural England, who are the Government’s adviser on the natural environment, were told in July by the Information Commissioner’s Office, that they must provide evidence of their analysis of this risk or be called before the High Court. A failure to have conducted a full impact assessment would be in breach of the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats. Brexit anyone? And, of course, they are a protected animal under our own Wildlife Act and so inconvenient to anyone who owns land with a badger sett on it if they want to get planning permission. It seems that our wild so often gets in the way...

But, all of this human business aside, I think of the badger people venturing into the night that they have learned to trust over hundreds of thousands of years from the setts that they and their clans may have inhabited for centuries. Their cubs are born in February and venture into the outside world in April and May, the culls begin in September, and so there will be young, inexperienced ones with them. They may not survive the night. The preferred method of killing badgers is ‘free shooting’. Because of their anatomy it is much harder to shoot a badger than a fox or a deer. This leads to many badgers being wounded and dying a slow and painful death. Thank goodness then for the brave people, the ‘Wounded Badger Patrols’, who since the very beginning of the culls, have been out at night attempting to distract the cull marksmen, at personal risk, and gathering up any wounded badgers that they find to take them to safety. It must be heartbreaking work indeed.

Novena for the Fallen Through

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

This prayer is for the badger people and all who stand with them.

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.

We ask for your protection for the badgers of this land,
who are suffering so at the hands of our Government
and others who have an agenda that we can’t understand.

We seek to weave a prayer of protection and bright and thriving life
for our companion of soil, sett, and ancient soul.
We honour badger as digger and unearther, old tunneler,
keeper of the songlines of burrow and root, wild forager,
quiet earth hunter, beloved of the Elder Mother,
lover of the soil, warrior spirit, wild gardener,
planter of primroses, carrier of the earth scars, watcher of time,
guardian of the land, mapper of memory,
snuffler the spirit paths, wisdom-keeper of home and hearth and clan,
story-holder of the ancient tales of land and tribe,
enduring memory of what has been, of what was,
fierce and peaceful deep earth ancestor.
We seek to weave a wild spell of word and prayer to surround
our badgers, tonight and every night.

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.

We lift a prayer of protection and health for the cattle of this land.
May they be treated with respect and understanding of their needs.
And we ask the same for our farmers, many who, like badger,
are from families who have lived on, and cared for, their land for centuries.

May all who farm come to understand their responsibility
for their little piece of earth and all beings who live on it.
May they come to see the badgers as friends and good companions,
and not as a threat to livelihood or home.

And may they stand in solidarity together against the corporate greed
that seeks to destroy them both,
knowing that distraction from the true foe weakens and divides us all.

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.

Just as you protected your beloved seabirds,
we ask prayers of protection for those who risk the night
to stand between the badger kin and any who would harm them.
We ask for them strength, courage, and health.
We offer tears for all that they have seen and endured,
knowing that it must break their hearts.
We offer deep gratitude for every badger they have held and comforted,
whether to begin the journey back to health
or to the gates of the Death Mother and beyond.
May the work of the Badger Patrols be short
and the end to the need for them come soon.

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.

You, who stood with the poor and the vulnerable in life,
we ask that you stand with them again in death,
offering our badgers a new home in wilder earth
on the other side of here.

And we ask that their living kin be protected by
the dark of the night and by the spirit
of nettle, thorn, rose, holly, bramble, and briar,
may they find safety where those who would harm them
see only a tangle of shadows and a window
into their own hearts.

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 this full moon shine a light on
all our wildlife under threat,
so that all who live and breathe on this land
value our wild and understand that we all hold responsibility
for its continued survival.

And may this unjust badger cull be ended without another dead.
Let there be an end to killing and injustice for the badger people.

For this we pray.

Aho mitake oyasin, amen, blessed be. Inshallah.

Further information and references:

Help end the badger cull by supporting:

And inspiration for the journey and to keep our spirits up:

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