Do you believe in Faeries? I spent an enchanting weekend with John and Caitlin Matthews and Brian and Wendy Froud exploring the Faerie Realms.
I saw ‘Within the Hollow Hills’ advertised on Brian Froud’s website at the beginning of 2006. I knew I had to go, but wasn’t sure why, other than being a fan of Froud’s artwork, especially The Faeries' Oracle and firm believer in Faerie. So when I arrived at the venue, Hawkwood College near Stroud, England, I didn’t really know what to expect.
The first session on Friday evening felt a little cliquey, with people clearly greeting old friends. I hadn’t been aware that John & Caitlin Matthews run this weekend annually and have done so for years, inviting guests to work with them. Many people had come year after year, which is testament to the quality of their courses and the pleasure of a stay at Hawkwood. Some were attending from the States, some from Europe, and others from across the UK, including a number like myself coming from Wales.
The first session opened with a short ceremony performed by John and Caitlin, Brian & Wendy, who together set up the altar to be used throughout the weekend. Caitlin was particularly striking on first meeting as she has an amazingly rich and sonorous voice. We were asked to call on those who had brought Faerie to human awareness. As well as the obvious authors- JRR Tolkien, JM Barrie and CS Lewis- there were lesser known authors & artists. My mind went blank, but afterwards other faery ambassadors surfaced, including one of my favourite writers for young people Alan Garner; if you haven’t read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen: A Tale of Alderley you absolutely must!
John Matthews revealed, somewhat sheepishly, that he’d been working with faery. It wasn’t the faery connection he was embarrassed about, rather that he’d channelled a book The Sidhe: Wisdom from the Celtic Otherworld (pronounced Shee). As he put it- “I’ve always said channelled books are a lot of nonsense & here I was channelling one.” Perhaps this is a lesson for us all to keep open minds alongside healthy scepticism! Amusingly the communication had begun in an airport departure lounge- not an obvious magical place but fitting; these are places that really are ‘between worlds’ with people using them as gateways from one place to another. John told us that these beings were angered by our human activities, that although they inhabit a different vibrational plane it is still part of the Earth and our abuse of the planet affects them too, threatening the survival of both our races.
John led us in meditation upon a symbol. I was greeted in my mind’s eye by the Sidhe, who are not little 'flower fairies' at all. These beings were tall and slender, taller than humans. I felt that many were there, but I had difficulty telling them apart & they seemed to be using telepathy to communicate. I was shown a large quartz point with white light pouring from the tip and was told to continue Earth healing. The message seemed to be that there was hope if we focussed our energy.
Later we split into groups. I went to a mask-making workshop with Wendy Froud, who sculpts faery dolls. I purchased The Art of Wendy Froud as a Christmas present to myself! Wendy is the creator of the original Yoda, playfully dubbed ‘Mother of Yoda’ though I can testify she is neither green nor balding! This session was my favourite. We followed an inspiring visualisation through the woodland year where we were handed gifts by the Folk we met at each season. Some people found that the faeries asked for more in return than they could safely promise & refused the gifts despite faery glamour; a lesson to be as streetwise in dealings with Faery as you would be with humans! We then had mask blanks and a table full of artificial foliage & flowers to decorate them with. I made an ivy Green Man mask with oak leaf & bracken frond adornments. This was such creative fun (I originally typed faun- a Froudian slip!) that I decided to do some more mask-making with my children over the holidays.
In another session we made a clay talisman for protection of the entrance door. We were using images shown to us in a meditation led by Caitlin. As well as the design I gained some valuable personal insight from this visualisation. This would have been an excellent exercise had we been allowed to keep our personal talismans, as it was Caitlin made us exchange them with others in the ritual! Rather strange from someone who is supposed to be well versed in psychic protection & it prevented mine from screening out a very unpleasant attack about a year later. I've since realised the problem and remade it. I tell the full story in my own book Light Behind the Angels.
In the evening we were treated to a presentation by Brian on his Faery Art, including a piece of rare footage showing Lady Cottingham in the act of pressing faeries. As Brian said, people say they don't believe, but they wince when they see a faery being pressed! This was followed by a Celidh ( kay lee)- a sharing of performances and party pieces. This culminated in an unforgettable re-enactment of Star Wars as you’ve never seen it…
Sunday was dedicated to the ritual. I was unsure about this- we’d been given our scripts and the parts we’d be playing on Saturday. I was still unsure as we had a quick ‘walkthrough’ on Sunday morning, although my old Drama teacher persona wanted to direct! The ritual itself was magical though. We were masked, using our creations from the day before, and everyone looked wonderful.
Caitlin Matthews writes the rituals each year specifically for the weekend and they are never used again. The songs were lovely and the ritual itself simple and powerful. As part of the ceremony we each took our talismans to be blessed, and at the point of blessing I felt Brian & Wendy Froud had transcended their everyday selves & become very powerful beings.
This was a lovely weekend. I gained insight, ate some truly scrumptious food & experienced tremendous moments of synchronicity. The most striking was speaking to a lady from the Continent who asked where I was from. She’d been to a storytelling festival in Wales. When I asked where I couldn’t understand her pronunciation, so she wrote it down for me. Imagine my surprise when it was at a tiny Arts Centre not twenty minutes away. Here was a lady who flown to the course telling me about something that happens almost on my own doorstep!
I went home with a beautiful mask to display, a talisman to protect my front door and some lovely signed books for Christmas. More important than the treasures I brought back was a sense of the closeness between the world of Faery and our own world that could be achieved if we made the effort to bridge the gap.