I took the featured photo one evening, but the next day I was on the wide expanse of North Beach without my camera. This time the sun was peeping through at noon. My shadow was stretching long behind me, until I turned around to face it, and marked where the length of me (I’m tall; even taller when the light is low) pointed to the cleft in the hills that I know to be – from this perspective – due north.

Yet as my neighbour Nigel says, walking past with his long-legged whippet Skye: What is north? Doesn’t it change? and which ‘north’ is true north?

I agree. An Ordnance Survey map shows both the direction of true north (land-based, and the reference point for mapping) and magnetic north. The (varying) angle between them is known as the declination.

Over historical time, the position of magnetic north wanders. And over geological time the polarity of its magnetism undergoes switches. Flickings from positive to negative that likely happen fast, disorientating bird migration and certainly disrupting electronic communication. And leaving magnetic traces in the accruing rocks of the Atlantic’s oceanic floor, as it expands.

(In the UK we are pushed further from northern America, of which the area we now know as Scotland was a part, 2000 million years ago. Rocks in the northwest of Scotland strongly resemble those in the Appalachian Mountains and there are similarities in fossil assemblages.)

Woops, I digress (often – have you noticed?) and my magnetic pole has wandered again … It’s something to do with the dynamo at my molten core

Brain Dump

Due north, true north

Continue this sequence with rhyming words, not necessarily ending in -“ue”. So we can include “grew north” – like I did in 2016-2019 – and “flew north” – like Arctic Terns do to our beach to breed, every summer all the way from the Antarctic.

(I’m hoping to avoid ‘flu north‘ by having my immunisation last Saturday.)

You could even sketch the shape of your own lengthening shadow at noon, and fill it with “due” rhymes …

I am increasingly fascinated by the compass points relative to where I am in the landscape – the markers within “my view” (woops, another rhyme). Some of my earlier posts reflect this, here in December 2018, here late in 2019 and here in April 2020.

There are “circular similarities” to The Wheel of the Year, the Five-Buddha Mandala, and Six-Element Practice. (You might want to look at these later.)

Happy new (celtic) year

Last Tuesday I joined a free pop-up talk online with The Way of the Buzzard about preparing for the festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow’-Wain), at the old (Celtic) New Year, a time of letting go of old habits and patterns that no longer serve, and gestating the seeds of new possibilities, new intentions.

We’ll celebrate on 31 October-1 November, this year coinciding with a Blue Moon (the second Full Moon in one single calendar month).

I for one will be reflecting upon a year that has been momentous for me personally as well as globally and – who knows – cosmically. All I can say is that I’m due north, I grew north. I believe that I’ll never rue north.

And I am taking steps to make this my permanent home, north. For some value of “permanent”. Because as a follower of the Buddha I find the experience of noticing impermanence, and my gradual acceptance of it, is a more helpful model to live with.

Acer leaf hanging on by a thread, on a wall in Culduthel Road, Inverness

And in late autumn, early winter, as the leaves explode into colour then all too quickly fall, the cycle of nature also tends towards impermanence and loss (grief, even). Inviting the period of gestation, in which the hidden work of the soil is done, decomposition of leaves and reprocessing of nutrients , The sheltering of seeds and then the need for winter chill to break their dormancy, towards germination when the season is ready.

So here are some golden threads for reflection on this turning of The Wheel of the Year.

Golden Threadwork

Read through what you might have written in your ThoughtBook so far today, or what I have shared – above or below – and jot down [in a blue-sky box] any memory that has been triggered.

Run into the shadows with the chosen phrase and/or ideas, and under cover of Hallowe’en darkness, expand them into a piece of free-flow writing, as tangled as a spider’s web or as shadow-penetrating as a beacon flare.

Seven weeks more, it will be …

If north represented the Winter Solstice in late December, then Samhain would face northwest …

When the willow leaves have dropped, the branches shine golden, as if already …

In the classical myths, in November Persephone went ….

The turnips were carved into Jack o’Lantern skulls …

My five senses are heightened, and this time of year …

The sixth and seventh senses are deepened and …

Under the shelter of fallen leaves, hibernating insects are …

Blue Moon in lunar haze;/ New moon in fourteen days …

Watching the pattern cast by the shadows of …

Meteor showers in a darkening sky / Can …

And I shall finish with a Journalling of a Journeying into the Underworld – half asleep, half awake one morning recently.

To celebrate the work of Earthworm – in the soil, and in metaphor.

I dedicate it to my teachers at The Mystery School, Jason and Nicola Smalley, thanking them for supporting and encouraging those of us who aspire to live with the seasons and with the Earth wisdom of our ancestors, of the trees, and of our guiding animals.

A Eulogy to Earthworms

A dour morning in Sutherland, ash-grey and chilly. The mists were gathered over the line of low hills, skeining above the map of deepening streams. I ate my breakfast, took my medication. Then snuggled back into bed and journeyed, without a shaman, on an imagined drum. Throbbing rapid and urgent, along the soil-hugging roots of Oak Tree, and shape-shifting as Earthworm.

With teacher Jason’s remembered voice insisting: “Make It Real”.

The Message of Earthworm is this: processing Earth’s outer layer. Feeding and excreting, enriching the soil that is at the Root and the Heart of the terrestrial food-chain. Processing healthily and with vigour; consuming and letting go of natural waste; moving forward by eating what is available and good.

This includes mixing and dispersing resources to make a rich growing substrate. Helping the trees, including the Great Oak, to recycle nutrients. Accommodating and serving the Republic of Interdependent Beings.

Earthworms are hermaphrodites, boy and girl each, and Earthworm’s message to me is tactile and intimate. To support and be supported by partnerships, giving and receiving safely and consensually. Taking the leadership role and also the role of Beloved. Enjoying contact and flexible exchange.

I see this waking-dream journey as a gentle invitation to cherish, nourish, flourish during these darker months. To enrich and be enriched by soil-based, soul-based activity both actual and metaphorical, and to feel the textures of Earth – leaf and moss, liverwort and lichen, skin, hair and bone – against my soft and supple body as I allow the skin of my naked feet to strengthen. To become more elastic and flexible, rejuvenated, as I walk on this Earth.

Shape-shifting to Tree; to Braided River; to Song Thrush; to Hare; to Brigid in all her aspects: maiden, mother, and elder … Encouraged by White Tara as she leads me, laughing, through the death shadows of winter and out into the renewal of spring.

Earthworms belong to the invertebrate grouping Annelida, so-called because annelids have ringed segments connected together. Their movement depends not on a bony skeleton but by the transfer of hydrostatic pressure between the fluid-filled muscular segments, leading to pulses of push-pull ripples.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was fascinated by them in his Kitchen Garden at Down House in Sussex. In 1881 he wrote ‘The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits’, in which he stressed their importance, saying: “It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures.”

He found that a square metre area of fertile top-soil could have over 700 earthworms beneath it. As the worms feed on organic matter in the soil (eating through their own weight of soil each day), they deposit worm casts as waste. The soil processed is of a fine texture, recycled and fertilised for tomorrow’s seeds to germinate in.

A week after I recalled and recorded my shamanic journey to Earthworm, I went out into my own tiny wort yard at Dhruvaloka, and lifted the lid of my compost bin to add kitchen parings and peelings from autumn soup vegetables. The heap was warming up nicely following the addition of my neighbour’s lawn mowings two days previously, but it was getting too hot for the brandling worms, who had migrated upwards to the lid to escape the ferment at the core. I had relieved their discomfort just in time, so I left the lid ajar for them to cool off, before they continued to work and worm on behalf of my garden.

© Kathy McVittie 20 October 2020

Oak hedgery in Culduthel Road, Inverness, shining as I walked from a dental appointment

A Celtic new year gift for shared learning

Perhaps you have enjoyed this article and want to make a one-off contribution to Wikipedia, which I often use as a (usually fairly reliable) “handbook” when I am online. I invite you to follow this link to leave a small donation to The Wikipedia Foundation on my behalf. (A letter from the Founder Jimmy Wales is below, in Further Resources.)

If you prefer, you could support The Guardian newspaper, a bastion of independent investigative journalism in the UK since 1821, and paid for by its readers.

If you leave a confirmatory comment about your gift, then I can thank you personally (without making your donation public, unless you want it blazoned across the meteoric sky).

And thank you, anonymous readers and/or donors. I appreciate all of you.

Appreciation practice

A little reminder to focus on what’s going well, for a few minutes:

Today I am grateful for:




Further resources

Extract from an email I had from the Wikipedia Foundation
At every turn, we have been pressured to compromise our values, and I’ll be honest: We’ve had enough. People always ask us, why not just run ads to make revenue? Or capture and sell reader data? Or make everyone pay to read? While these things seem like the norm online nowadays, we’d like to remind you that there is another way — a way that won’t jeopardise the neutrality of our content and threaten your personal data. We just … ask! Not often, but it works. So after two decades of saying no, I can still say we are proud to have left that money on the table.

We’re a non-profit. Only 2% of our readers give, but we manage to serve hundreds of millions of people per month. Imagine if everyone gave? We could transform the way knowledge is shared online.

Every year, I’m happily stunned by the response from our donors. However, we haven’t reached our fundraising goal, and we don’t have a lot of time left. We’re not salespeople. We’re librarians, archivists, and information junkies. We rely on our readers to become our donors, and it’s worked for 19 years.

This year, please consider making another donation to protect and sustain Wikipedia. If everyone who used Wikipedia this year donated, we wouldn’t need to fundraise for years to come, but only 2% of our readers give. We’re sustained by the support of our donors, who choose to do something exceptional.
Thank you,

Jimmy Wales
Wikipedia Founder