image by Frieda Hughes, daughter of Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath
Our English mistress at the convent school in the little North Devon town where I had my secondary schooling introduced us to Hughes in the fourth form, the year before O levels when I was fourteen. That was back in 1962. He wrote The Thought Fox in 1956, Hawk in the Rain was published in 1957, and Pike in 1959. All of these were poems she introduced us to. Our English mistress wasn’t a nun but a civilian. She used to wear long tweed skirts and wool stockings. She would sit on the corner of the teacher’s desk and cross her legs, waving her sensible brown leather shoes. She was a character and I’ve never forgotten her nor ceased to be thankful to her for introducing me to Hughes – and TS Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Thom Gunn and many others of the new poets of that time. But especially Ted Hughes.
But Hughes was super-special for me. He wrote like my people talked and thought, and nearly made me break my closed-mouth-seal on not telling anyone of our strange ways. He shook me up. How was it possible a man so wonderful and famous in literary circles knew so much about animals and birds and our ways? Hughes was a countryman, brought up in the country, like me with my Uncle Jack. He knew the ways of animals because he, too, had learned to be still and watch them and so learn to run with them, swim with them, fly with them.
Some modern “shamans” and shamanic practitioners and writers about shamans say that we Celts are not shamans. The say we do not have the spirit flight. It’s always the same with folks who write about us but do not follow our ways, they get it wrong! No we don’t do it by using drugs and plant substances, or not very much, we do use some but not all that often. We do use drums and stone-pounding, and rattles and flutes. But most of all we chant and sing poetry. It’s about the voice. And poetry is about the voice. Really good poetry you can read and hear the voice but it’s even better if you hear it beautifully read … and Hughes is one of the few poets who can read his own work really well.
His voice transports you. This is spirit-flight. You are there, with him, with the beast or bird or fish he speaks … for, yes, he speaks the animal, shifts, allowing it to use him, use his voice. And this is what the shaman does, this is part of spirit flight.
Hughes was one of our modern shamans. He came at a time when it was just beginning to be possible for us to come out of our 2000 year hiding. He came right after WWII which was a phenomenal game-changer for the whole world, for the Earth, beginning the possibility for humans to find again their connection with Her, with the Earth, and begin to live it. Hughes was one of those who helped, an opener, someone who showed us the doorway we can go through to become real humans … if we choose.
Here are a couple of videos of Hughes reading his own work … magic … spirit flight …