|The Hanging Woods, Ceredigion, Wales|
I have heard the Hidden People like the hum of swarming bees:
And when the moon has risen and the brown burn glisters grey
I have seen the Green Host marching in laughing disarray.
One of the few remaining habitats of the faery race in Britain and Ireland is a certain kind of woodland: off the beaten track and rarely frequented by humans. There was one very small area near the ford down my lane – a few years ago, I would half-sense, half-see them there at twilight: smallish, sturdy, warrior types who sometimes appeared with raised bows and arrows. They were highly suspicious and defensive – and well might they be, for a couple of years ago the man who owns the piece of land by the stream cleared the tangle of bush and briar, and coppiced some of the trees where they lived. I have not seen them since.
|Approaching the woods|
|Primroses and bluebells|
The hanging woods come to an abrupt end at a thick blackthorn hedge which appears to keep the leaning trees – and the unwary walker – from tumbling off the cliff into the sea below. I stood for the longest time gazing over their glistening sprays of white blossom, my jacket snagged by their merciless thorns, watching the prehistoric-looking cormorants fly back and forth to a large rock, some of them with beaks full of tidbits for their young. Two seals briefly showed their bobbing heads above the water before disappearing into its depths again. This end of the wood reminded me of the poem, "Green Rain" by Shropshire poet, Mary Webb:
Into the scented woods we'll go,
And see the blackthorn swim in snow. . .
There are the twisted hawthorn trees
Thick-set with buds, as clear and pale
As golden water or green hail--
As if a storm of rain had stood
Enchanted in the thorny wood,
And, hearing fairy voices call,
Hung poised, forgetting how to fall.
|Ancient woods beneath Carn Ingli, Pembrokeshire|
|A Dryad of Wistman's Wood, Dartmoor|
So what makes a faery wood? In such places, the web of life is still intact. The invisible silver threads that link tree and plant, bird and insect, wind and water, are all connected in an etheric structure that scientists like to call an "ecosystem." The inherent natural harmony of life is like a struck bell, whose sound ripples out in patterns of sacred number and geometry. Such a place holds a particular kind of resonance that appeals to certain tribes of the faery race, who are nourished and sustained on such energies just as humans are by food. For instance, the clairvoyant writer, Geoffey Hodson, in his book, "Fairies at Work and Play," describes watching a small brownie who looked exhausted, passing into a tree:
"While observing the form I lost touch with the consciousness, which retreated to the centre of the trunk of the tree, and appeared to spread itself out into the corporate cell life of the tree. Ten minutes later, the brownie reappeared, rejuvenated and dancing with life and joy." (page 49)
This is why the traditional Scottish people who were very attuned to the spirit world followed the practice of creating a "Gudeman’s Croft," a part of their land or garden which was left to grow wild, and where faeries could joyfully play, feed on the energies of sun, water, plants and soil, and regenerate themselves. Interestingly enough, this is now recommended as sound ecological practice in permaculture, the science of sustainable gardening, as it creates a fertile environment for birds, bees and insects. The hidden people appreciate it, too.
Leaving the enclosed world of the hanging woods for the immensity of sky, sea and air, we walked along the coast path, passing the occasional wind-sculpted hawthorn, which seemed to cling to the cliffs for dear life.
Then turning landwards for the road back home, we hiked over hills of coconut-scented gorse, passing a ruined oak where young lambs watched us with great curiosity.
I have a plan to return to this enchanted place one summer evening between the two lights, to sit with a quiet mind watching the dance of tree and wind, perhaps even catching a glimpse of the hidden people of the hanging woods.