Friday, 16 September 2011

Approaching mugwort

And today's tasty bit is not to be eaten lightly (if ever)! Mugwort is a wonderful plant, those feathery, silver-grey leaves hold a strength and a legacy that always captivates me. It's one of those plants, people stop seeing a ubiquitous "weed" of urban wastegrounds. Maybe that's part of its magic, to stand unseen in full view?

A Heathen in Place: working with Mugwort as an ally

Robert J. Wallis        

A journey: introducing Mugwort

I’m walking past an unkept verge on my way home from the train station, having commuted to the city, and a raggedy plant catches my eye. It is Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris, outwardly an unassuming plant but, as I now know, with hidden, extraordinary qualities. The encounter is a markedly special one, albeit in a very ordinary place, at the end of a very typical day - and I smile at the fact. I offer a discrete salute to Mugwort and whisper a respectful greeting in Old English:

Gemyne ðu mucgwyrt hwæt thu ameldodest
hwæt þu renadest æt regenmelde
una þu hattest yldost wyrta

Continuing on my way, I spot a young sparrowhawk circling above the woods near my home, something I’ve not seen before.  While I would not be so arrogant as to think this sighting was ‘meant for me’, for Wyrd’s pattern is not so fatefully reliable, I recognise the beauty of the moment and offer the bird a ‘waes thu hael’. Arriving at the cottage, I unload my pile of essays for marking and, with a very welcome tankard of cider in my hand, offer the first draught in a libation to the house wight[1]: I sign the hammer of Thunor over the brew, then spill some of the liquid over a large flint offering-stone near the front door, which produces a satisfactory fizz.

A proposal: a Heathen in place

I open my essay with this personal narrative for three reasons: first, to introduce you to Mugwort, a plant ally I am going to treat in detail; second, to make the point that my Heathenry begins at home and is something that permeates every aspect of my daily life; and third, because all of this is firmly rooted in my relationships with places – both local and further afield. For me, this is both ordinary and extraordinary, at the same time, what I might term a Wodenic paradox[2]. Of course I take my Heathenry with me wherever I go: to work in London, to the picnic spot in the woods that we cycled to last weekend, when on pilgrimage to sacred sites some distance away from home, such as Danebury Hillfort, Avebury stone circles, and further afield yet - last Summer, to the rock art site of Ekeberg and Viking burial mounds at Borre, near Oslo. But in my heart, my Heathenry begins at home and in place, for the place that I am in, this land, is at the centre of my ontology and epistemology, and shapes who I am. My Heathenry is inseparable from the place(s) in which my life unfolds, and in many of these places, I encounter Mugwort.

[1] A complex term, here used to mean something like a ‘non-human agent’.
[2] See Johson & Wallis 2005.

and, as ever, if you want to read the rest of this piece, contain yourself in patience, and watch for The Wanton Green (the book) as the leaves fall, or with the first frosts or maybe when the snow hits...who knows!  Wanton is  as Wanton does, but the moment draws closer!

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