Going Wild

Glencoe 2012

The joy of living wild, even if only for a few days, is my passion. It brings me close to the Earth and teaches me more and more how much she is my friend, my mother, teacher, mentor, and my companion.

Living in cities, towns, villages, even being able to see another house, changes our relationship with the Earth and the natural world. People feel safe, there’s always someone to turn to if things go wrong, you’re not alone. Many people don’t really relate or commit to the natural world and, in consequence, don’t really see it. If they find themselves “out there” with nothing human in sight they often begin to panic, to search desperately for a signal on the phone, for a house, a barn, even the sight of a cow or sheep makes a difference. The cry of a buzzard or a fox, the sight of antlers on the horizon, the grunt of a hedgehog or badger in the dusk may put their hair on end and set their imagination freaking out.

Add to that the many television programmes that speak of us “battling” with nature and you have a culture that feels permanently in a “them & us” situation with the natural world. It just isn’t like that. The scariest thing out there in the woods is you!

Going out to stay in the woods … not at a camp-site with showers and toilets and play facilities and so on and so forth … brings you close to the world, the Earth. It’s not hard to do and with a little effort you can find a group of friends who have permission to camp in the woods or on the hills. There are internet forums where you can meet them and make friends, and they will be only too pleased to welcome you, teach you and help you enjoy nature. You don’t need to go on an expensive bushcraft course, you can learn slowly and gently with your friends.

Children are very welcome at these gatherings too, they learn a lot and have enormous fun, gain masses of confidence along with their skills and are not bored … nor boring! They don’t even want to be stuck at home with boxes of pizza and their tablet and phone.

And yes, funnily enough, all this being with nature, learning to live wild, camping and hammocking in the woods, building shelters, learning to fish and to cook your fish, make a fire, chop wood, which wood is best to burn, which to carve a spoon from, how to use nettles to make cordage … the list goes on forever, but yes, all of this is part of the life of the shaman in our British tradition. For the shaman, all of nature, all of life, is our elder brethren, all of them, cats, dogs, trees, worms, butterflies, fish, foxes, mice, rats, squirrels, stoat, deer, eagles, falcons, robins, crows, all of them are older by far than us. Current estimates say our lovely Earth has been going for about 4 billion years (yes, billion!). Humans have been around for something over 1 million years.

Let’s get a proper look at that … one million is one-thousandth of one billion, or one-tenth of one percent. So that means humans have been around for a quarter of a tenth of one per cent of the time the Earth has been going !!!

Oooof! That does give some perspective, doesn’t it? You get a much better idea of why shamans know that everything else on Earth is our elder brethren … we are barely at the amoeba stage with respect to everything else!

It’s a huge perspective jump but going out and living as wild as you can manage for a couple of days really does help you get a grip on the idea. Learning about nature, how other species live and work, how they all work together, the one providing the needs of another, how we humans can learn to fit into that huge and incredibly ancient plan, really does help. And learning how to put your tent up without damaging things, how to make a fire, how to make shelter, all those things, enable you to broaden your view and learn to be friends with nature rather than fearful of everything that doesn’t come with the central heating :-).

I love it and it is always teaching me new things, making my connection to everything else deeper and broader and more intimate. I love to be out alone too, with no-one else near, seeing nothing human for days on end is a joy for me and I will tend to hide if I see or hear humans coming. That comes with practise, learning how to do things and gaining confidence in your own abilities. It also grows as you grow you friendship with Nature, coming to know her as a friend who will help you if you ask.

Glencoe 2012

The joys of living wild, if only for a few days, are so great and give you so much. It doesn’t matter whether you want to follow the shaman path, that’s not important. What matters is that it brings more joy into your life by enlarging your circle of friends to include the non-human world.

If you fancy giving it a go you could do worse than joining the forum BCUK and making some friends who will be delighted to introduce you to wild living.


Earthrise …



Sometimes, when I go to sleep at night I find myself floating in space. In front of me hangs a great blue-white jewel, like a huge agate, set on a black velvet back ground and occasionally with a sprinkling of diamonds around it.

In 1948, the year I was born, Fred Hoyle wrote, “Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available … a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”

And then, on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1968, twenty years later Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, entered lunar orbit. That evening astronauts Borman, Lovell and Anders held a live broadcast showing pictures of the Earth and moon. Lovell said, ‘The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.’ Super scientists and astronauts call this idea Overview.

I was there with my Dad, glued to the TV, on that evening of 24 Dec 1968, watching the pictures and hearing the voices from the moon. It was awe-inspiring. To see our homeworld from this perspective, from outside, was truly ecstasy.

To get away from home, hang above the Earth as the astronauts did , is not something most of us can do although it would be wonderful if we could. They were so fortunate. It would show us the overview of “spaceship Earth”. Unfortunately, most of us have our noses stuck up against life so close we can’t see anything clearly, it’s all magnified out of perspective and all coloured with all our personal stuff. But the shaman can go there in journeying and this is what my Dad taught me to do. It’s not the same as going physically in a space ship, in some ways it’s even more intense because you have nothing surrounding you, no container, you are hanging out there, just you, with no protection, you are truly in space. It really does change the way you look at things.

The Earth is just so beautiful and watching beauty has such a terrific effect. Seeing your home, the place where you live, hanging like a great blue jewel set on black velvet is incredible. It really does let loose a whole new way of thinking. And it brings home what one of the astronauts (and Joni Mitchell in her song “Woodstock”) says, “we are stardust” so you absolutely know it to be true … and that makes you feel utterly connected to everything else that lives.

Sometimes, when I go to sleep at night …

Opening lines …

Interesting article … but I have to say none of the other examples comes near the quality of Renault. Another one that does is du Maurier’s “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley … “. A third example is the opening to le Guin’s “Left Hand of Darkness” which goes, “I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.”   It’s also interesting that all three of these stories are written in the 1st person. I’m not necessarily a big fan of 1st person writing but in all these cases it works a treat.

It’s certainly true that the opening of a book can make you instantly want to buy it. It’s also true that it’s hard to come up with just that sentence which works.

Have a read of the article and see what you think about the suggestions and examples …




Year of the Griffin Diana Wynne Jones

Elen Sentier:

Thank you, Carol :-), a good reminder to go and read them again

Originally posted on book reviews forevermore:

Year of the Griffin
Re-Read August 2014 (last read August 2011)
Recommended for fans of schools of magic, griffins
★    ★    ★    ★    ★   


Every now and then I have the urge for a comforting re-read, a diverting read that will be unlike real life enough to hold back the flood for a couple of hours. Year of the Griffin is one of those books for me, a lovely, reliable story about a group of young adults (both human and otherwise) at a school for wizards. Predating Harry Potter by three years, Diana Wynne Jones made her own foray into the traditional field of English magical schools and succeeds in marvelous, whimsical fashion.

Elda, the youngest griffin daughter of the famous wizard Derk, has enrolled at the nearly broke Wizards’ University without her father’s knowledge. It isn’t long before she meets a like-minded and curious group of friends: Ruskin, a…

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Hunting the Black Toad

I thought I’d repost this here. I enjoyed writing it and it’s come to light again. Enjoy :-)


Volcano Road Trip

Only 1,800 words this morning, so far, but masses of research. Le PuyThank the gods for Google maps, street view and Earth! I know all the roads and places this book goes to very well but I’ve not travelled them for 25 years, things change (even in France) over a quarter of a century. My heroine and hero have just stopped here and will soon be climbing the puig to the place of the stone of visions, where the deer left her tracks in the snow … It’s an amazing place and probably nearly as old as the land itself. The puig is the plug capping the mouth of a volcano, not a very ancient one as current guesses suggest it last blew its top about 7,500 years ago. But it’s incredibly special and well worth climbing the 268 steps to the top. it’s a “treasure hunt” but I’ve still not got a title for this one although we are best part of a quarter of the way in.

They are shortly to have a lovely dinner with an artist friend of fish soup followed by Puy lentils …


…  that should set them up for the climb to the top of the mountain :-)


Cosmic Egg Books – Moon Song

000 - moonsongAlthough you may well know me better for non-fiction through Moon Books I’ve been a cyfarwydd, a storyteller, all my life. Cosmic Egg Books, another imprint with John Hunt Publishing, have just given me a contract for my novel Moon Song. It feels very good indeed.

Moon Song is a story about love and sex across the dimensions. So many of the things in my book Elen of the Ways are a part of it but instead of writing about it in a teacher-ish sort of way in Moon Song I tell it as a story.

When I began writing it I was drawn into the old story of Tristan and Isoldé. It’s a Cornish story for me; my dad had strong links with Cornwall and knew the places where King Mark had his castles and strongholds. He took me to visit them when I was a child and told me the stories himself. He was a good cyfarwydd and I hope I’ve learned from him.

For me the story as we mostly know it is far too simplistic, black-n-white, good-n-bad. Isoldé is portrayed as unfaithful, admittedly due to a love potion, but is still cursed and punished for it. King Mark is portrayed as a hard and severe man. I just could never see them this way. As I began to sit-with the story, and ask it how it wanted to be told, the characters shapeshifted through my fingers on the keyboard. Mark became a young man to whom Tristan was mentor and the inspiration. Tristan himself became an older man and one who knew the Faer folk as his own family. Isoldé is nearer to her better-known story-self but no way is she a princess and she is the one who learns most as she walks her way through the story she finds herself in. Indeed she learns to walk between the worlds on the moonpath to the Isle of the Dead … and to return, by the skin of her teeth and with the help of Tristan’s cat!

She falls in love with Mark, and he with her, rather than with Tristan but Tristan does fall in love with Isoldé and thereby gets himself, and the other two, into a whole load of trouble. Isoldé has to rescue him … and Mark must help her.

Three people who all love each other and who all make mistakes which hurt each other too. Add in that they all love, believe in and want to work with the Faer folk and you have a very complex and complicated jumble. It’s scary, spooky, wild and weird, with love and sex across the dimensions.


Cosmic Egg Books

Where I work …

Elen WritingThis is where I work :-)  I write from about 6.30am to midday-ish, then again from about 8-11pm … in bed.

My bedroom is large, usually full of light, very quiet and comfortable, and it has a view of the hills to Hay Bluff. In the morning I get up and make a pot of tea, usually Earl Grey but sometimes Darjeeling, then go back to bed to work. The evening session is accompanied by another pot of tea, this time Lapsang. I do not work without tea!

The cats come to help and enjoy being curled up with me. Sometimes this can be frustrating as they both want a tummy-rub at the same time. I can just about handle typing one-handed (doing one cat at a time) although this does nothing for my spelling and can even be injurious to grammar! The work gets done though and I do love having the cats by me, they’re really important.

I love this space, it’s all mine and full of my things – loads of books, my Kindle, phone and the laptop. the walls are covered with pictures I love, Bristol Blue bottles and candlesticks and an old Aztec jug a friend gave me. Flowers from the garden are always on the window ledge and the window is usually open so I can hear the birds and the wind. I always have my staff and at least one drum with me too as well as skulls collected mostly on walks on Exmoor and a vase of feathers including a golden eagle, buzzards, a peregrine, raven and other corvids.

All my “stuff” is important and helps fire the writing-juices but most of all it’s the space itself that works for me, the space and the cats. I feel as cosy and at home here as a snail in its shell, it fits me like a glove. There are rarely any human sounds to disturb me, just birds and wind and sometimes small beasties like the hedgehogs snuffling and grunting at night and the badgers. In January the vixen serenades me with her weird call to the dog-foxes while most of the year round tawny and barn owls will sing at night, and sometimes early morning, from the poplars by the window. I love it.

Trees of the Goddess

I was born into a family of awenyddion, spirit keepers in the Brythonic language, and began learning the trees of the goddess as sort of nursery rhymes from uncles and aunts, and the village elders as well as dad and mum. Dartmoor, where I was born, might be thought not to have a lot of trees. When you’re up on the tops it’s the wide, wide view that grabs the soul and the slight curvature of the horizon you can see on a clear day. Yes, we really do live on a round ball of a planet, third rock from the sun. But there are trees there, lots and lots of trees, forests full in fact and plenty for a curious and adventurous child to play with. You could find all the sacred trees of Britain somewhere on the Moor and, from when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, my woodsman uncle would take me out to meet them. We would bring pieces home for me to look at and add to my collection. Dad, along with uncle, began to teach me to carve as well as how to burn patterns into the wood with a bent nail from the fire or even an old soldering iron, and so my love affair with trees began.

I quote Jung at the beginning of the book: … Trees in particular were mysterious, and seemed to me direct embodiments of the incomprehensible meaning of life. For that reason, the woods were the place that I felt closest to its deepest meaning and to its awe-inspiring workings.

That’s me, was always me and still is, although obviously I didn’t meet Jung’s writings for many a year after those first experiences in Dartmoor forest.

Oak Man

deer & spirits in the trees at Moch Ros near where I live

Forests are deer-places too. Deer like most ruminants enjoy forests and their diet is partly made up of tree leaves (as should the diet of our cows be too). In winter trees and woods give shelter as well as breaking the cold winds, they provide green food too although this can be very sparse in the snow. In summer deer will come up onto the tops to escape the flies and get different food but still use the forest for shade and shelter and a place to hide from the hot sun. Deer are the animals that have adopted me, they are my totem and my clan. Following the deer trods is what I do and work with trees is part of this.

Our sacred trees, the trees of Britain, each carry an energy that is peculiar to them and that they will help us to learn, to know … to ken as we say in Britain. There are twenty British trees that work very comfortably with the goddess and link us humans to her. They are …

Birch, Scots Pine, Rowan, Ash, Furze (gorse in Devon-speak), Alder, Willow, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Heather, Oak, Holly, Hazel, Apple, Poplar, Bramble, Ivy, Yew, Guelder Rose and Elder.

They each teach us different things, different aspects of the goddess. Through stories this is what I learned from when I was a small child with the elder folk where I grew up.

Growing up happened in several places around Devon and Somerset. We moved from the southern to the northern edge of Dartmoor when I was about four, from a farm out in the wilds to the town of Okehampton. It was very odd for me at first but way back then Okehampton wasn’t a large town, there were plenty of wild places around its edges including a very good park and the grounds of the ruined Norman castle. People even had the space to keep hens and ponies and ducks in the back gardens of some of the houses along our street. When dad was home at the weekends we’d be off out. He taught me archery in the woods and tracking; we walked miles on the Moor and one of our favourite places was above Meldon Pool – no, not the new reservoir, that wasn’t even built then! You can still find Meldon Pool if you look on the map, it’s a magical green lake, a gateway to otherworld; we met lots of spirits up there.

And dad, of course, had no trouble talking spirit with me, he’d grown up with it and his folk before him. I never got the “you’re making that up” stuff that many kids do. This has its good points but also its bad! I had to learn to zip my mouth shut at school or I got one helluva teasing and some nastiness from the other kids who had long ago lost all contact with the spirit world. You do learn, and fast, that some things you can talk about with some people … learning who is who is really useful.


one of my favourite camping spots on Exmoor – I share it with the wild ponies

When I was about eight we moved to North Devon, a little village not far from the western edge of Exmoor and Exmoor became my favourite place to be. Dad gave me a pony so I was independent, could travel on my own and go places. The pony, Jewel, was an Exmoor with a lovely mealy muzzle and she could go one helluva lick too, dad once drove the car alongside her trotting at 30mph! She was an angel, we got on so well. I learned how to carry stuff attached comfortably to her saddle, like a sleeping bag and a tarp, some food, and we were allowed to stay out overnight. This was just about always in the woods. Like the deer, Jewel and I found it easiest to pitch camp in the woodland. In those days nobody much worried as long as you left no trace and the laws on wild-camping might not even have been in existence then.

Have you ever sat under a tree for the whole night? This was something I would often do. I had enough stamina then to not need an awful lot of sleep and, in any case, if we got tired during the following day Jewel and I would stop for a doze somewhere quiet. She did her doze hip-shot, head hanging and off pony-napping (a version of catnapping!) in otherworld while I curled up to do the same in the heather. But to sit under a tree, all the night, oh that’s something else. If you’re quiet and still, don’t have a fire, then animals and night-birds will come very close. You’re not threatening to them, not moving quickly or making a noise. I’ve had woodmice, hedgehogs, voles, owls, foxes, badgers and the deer come right up and even stand on my boot or trouser leg or sometimes even on my hand. Trees are whole worlds to the creatures living in them and each species has different beasties who like to live with it.

Yes, learning about nature really does helps you learn about spirit. Humans are mostly very cut off from nature; they often find it frightening which is a hoot in Britain as a red deer is probably the biggest thing you’ll meet. Really, truly, honestly, foxes and badgers do not eat, or even bite, humans! The scariest thing you’re likely to meet in the woods is another human being. Back in the days of my childhood even that was pretty unlikely, after all there were only half (or maybe even less) as many of us on the whole planet then as there are now. Sitting under a tree, sitting with a tree, is wonderful and so well worth doing, you learn so much just by sitting and listening and watching.


an island in an Exmoor river wher I spend the night

The old ones who named the places around us up there on the edge of Exmoor knew what they were doing. One of the names that crops up is Nymet or Nympton; they’re Devonshire words for nemeton meaning a sacred space. Trees, individual trees, small groups of trees, groves and whole forests are all sacred places. The beasties know this still, even though so many of us have forgotten, so sitting in the sacred space of a tree and having the creatures come up to you, sharing wordless vision and feeling, teaches all of us so much. I still do it now. I’m lucky enough to have places, private permissions belonging to friends, where I can camp out for several days, sit in the woods, walk in them, be with them. I cannot recommend this enough; it’s a breathing space, a time when you can relax and allow nature into your life … and through nature spirit. Like I said, the animals and plants haven’t forgotten, to them it’s natural and normal that all life is en-spirited, animated, has soul. They will show us the way back to knowing our own true nature and the nature of the spirits with whom we share this planet. Go sit with a tree …


Trees of the Goddess from Moon Books, Shaman Pathways
Also at Amazon.uk, Amazon.com, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble 



Animals Rule OK

A friend just sent me this link to her article … hopefully it’ll make you think. One day, possibly, we humans may live in the real world instead of the make-belive one that we call reality where things only happen according our selfish lights. Thank you Krystina … but the way most people think makes me livid !!!

Here’s her article … Animals Rule OK