I'd been booked to play at a British Druid Order event at Wildways in Shropshire, which also happened to be Philip Shallcrass's 60th birthday. On the bill were Philip himself, the Northern Lights Shamanic Band (from Norway), acoustic guitar wizard Jake Thomas, and none other than the Chief Bard of Britain, Robin Williamson. Quite an honour, then, to be asked to play.
It was a fantastic night and everyone was on fine form. Robin Williamson had us laughing so much we were crying. For myself, I'd forgotten how much I love solo, bardic, gigs in yurts and other intimate performance spaces. I'd always rather play acoustic, without electrickery, so it was a triple delight to perform in such a lovely space, on such a bill, and in front of such a warm and welcoming audience (if you've got a yurt and want me to come and play, just give me shout - it's about time I did more solo stuff).
|Photo by Elaine Wildways|
But the weekend held so much more. It was another chance to unclench. We got to walk through spring woodlands that were filled with birdsong...
...I got to bond with some sheep in Wildways' very own, bespoke stone circle...
...and then there was the opportunity to take part in an extremely powerful chaga healing ceremony. It was led by none other than the founders of the World Drum project, White Cougar and Morten Wolf Storeide, and two other Norwegian shamans from beyond the north wind, Lena Paalviig Johnsen and Willjar Rubach: men and women of knowledge, all.
Oddly, I'd never heard about chaga before, but it's a parasitic fungus found on birch trees in Northern and Eastern Europe, where it's prized for its curative properties. There's a certain amount of scientific evidence which supports its traditional usage, but I was happy to enter into the shamanic worldview, that this is simply a benign and healing plant (how do we know? Cos it told us). It's harvested, dried, and then made into a kind of tea, a ritual process that takes several hours.
The ceremony took place at night in Wildways' reconstructed Iron Age Roundhouse. We were asked not to drink any alcohol beforehand and to remain silent throughout.
For obvious reasons I don't have any photos of the ceremony but I can tell you that it was powerful and profound. Philip and the four Norwegians led it using the traditional shamanic technique of drumming. Now I've endured many hours of 'shamanic drumming' in my time and all too often it feels like a kind of monotonous hectoring, about as otherworldly and transporting as having your teeth drilled. Not this time. The drums were rich and sonorous, brimming with the North, and, played with sensitivity and musicality, had a noticeably transporting effect.
In fact, the leaders had created such a powerful atmosphere that before I'd even drunk the chaga (which, in case you were wondering, isn't hallucinogenic) I was weeping and shaking, a welcome opportunity to grieve some more. When the World Drum came round, I was able to pound out some of my demons and to pray for those of my friends outside the circle also in need of healing.
Over the weekend we had some extraordinary conversations with each of the four, who told us not only how they'd come to their profession but also about some of the wonderfully odd things that had happened to them since. I cannot thank them enough for the blessings they bestowed upon us both.
For when we left, it was as if I'd been pulled out of a boggy mire, one through which I've been tramping for months. I felt unstuck. I don't know if it was the chaga, or the gig, the ritual, the gifts or the conversations, but the wooji worked, good and proper. The world is a happy place to be in once again.