Quaker Theology #9 -- Fall-Winter 2003
Friendly Healing in Frampton and the Forest, by Richard Lee -- continued
Most of what I encountered with my Olí Gran conflicted with my education; yet something was going on! I decided to put off accepting much of what I experienced; in order to figure it out at a later date. Some 30+ years have passed since first learning from my Gran. I have even more of a University education today; yet now accept what my Gran said and did. She was an honest and a wise woman. With all of our education, instruments and fancy stuff, we still donít know more than what the ĎOld Onesí did. We just know things differently; we do not necessarily know more. Most folks canít even Ken decently. Certainly the Guatemalans werenít all that impressed with the gewgaws of modern western culture. They were happy to visit and happy to leave to go back home.
I did notice though, even back during my period of doubt, that the old, large, deeply green Rosemary bush quivered noticeably every time Gran talked to a Faerie there. But I never saw anything, except the odd quivering. However, there was that overwhelming smell of Rosemary and all those things that Gran told me that the Faeries told her. We did our daily activities based on the weather report provided by the Faeries. They were never wrong. The Guatemalans do a lot based on the information from their Good Folk as well.
My Olí Gran learned a lot from the Faeries, she said. When folks ask me how my Olí Gran learned the ĎOld Ways.í I donít rightly know how to answer. She did learn a lot from her grandmother, Rose Edith, but then Rose Edith was a Hindu from far off India. She learned quite a bit from her mother and from her Welsh mother-in-law and from a host of relatives in the Forest. The Old Ways were as much a process as they were a set of learned pieces of information. Likewise, Quaker ways are often a process rather than a stated set of theological doctrines. The Guatemalans also have a way of listening, learning and doing.
Gran said that George Fox, the first Quaker, learned a lot from the Wise Ones of Old. He learned stuff from the folks at Pendle Hill. He also learned his herbal lore in Nailsworth, a short distance from Frampton. Gran learned herbal lore from her mother and she studied herbalism with a "man in Gloster." She also studied for awhile with a French Chef. Most of what Gran knew, the Faeries must have taught her. I know that the Foresters taught her a bunch, too. Our family have been healers in the Forest for a lot longer than The Old Thatch has been leaning into the earth. We pass on information to each other, but we learn new stuff as well. Quakers keep learning too. We Friends know a lot of stuff beyond our wisdom in being the first organized resistance to the great evil of slavery.
You see, I think that my Gran learned from all sorts of sources. She was even known to hang out with Gypsies! My mother says that back when they lived in Cinderford, she never knew who would be camped out on the sofa when she came home from school. A neighbor in Cinderford volunteers that if the police ever found anyone homeless, they took them to my Gran. Each of these folks were grateful for the love, food and care that was bestowed upon them. My Olí Gran naturally listened to what folks had to say. She expected people to be as truthful as she was; and I think that grateful people seldom lie to those who love, heal and help them. She learned a lot from the outcasts of society and from those who are marginalized. She also learned, through worshiping with Quakers, some of whom are also outcast and marginalized.
While Olí Gran had lived in Cinderford in the Forest of Dean during most of her adult life, during those years I wasnít yet born. When I went to Frampton in the late 1960's, she had been there for about twelve years and my grandfather had been dead for about three of those twelve. Gran seemed to have been there much, much longer though. This no doubt was because she had been born and raised in that village. Also, our family had been there for longer than anyone could remember. In good Quaker fashion, though, most of the family graves remain unmarked.
Frampton was a place where time was hard to reckon. It often felt like the whole village was cut out of time, just like The Old Thatch was. Indeed, time seemed to be irrelevant in some ways. Folks could reckon when Frampton Feast was for the coming year, but it was hard to know just how many years there had been a Frampton Feast. Now-a-days, Frampton is a bit more integrated into todayís world. Yet . . . when you walk down the lane between the line of ancient beech trees that lead to the church . . . it is quite possible to lose all track of time, place and condition. Guatemalans in their forest reported a similar quality. They also have the same tradition that healing is unique and therefore different for each individual. There is no standard pill or Chemistís dose for ailments in either Forest culture. The Guatemalans also really liked Healing Prayer when they worshipped with us. I remember their gentle and yet steadfast way of being in worship with Friends.
Those ancient beech trees in Frampton leading down the lane to the church are huge and have an immensely patient quality to them. The air is very fine and the lane is shady and quite. You can walk back into times that used to be, if you want to, while you are there. It is a good place to think deep thoughts and to figure out life. Elves hang out there all along that lane during full moon, but I donít think that they live there. My Olí Gran did say, though, that it was best to leave them a crust of bread or a spot of milk, now and then, if you went down there often. She also had firm advice on how to harvest Elder flower during a full moon. Elder is a very special plant in the Forest tradition.
When my mother, as a child, used to visit her grandparents in Frampton in the 1920's and 30's she used to go down that lane too. It hasnít changed much, the ancient gate is still there with the same little roofed-over entry. My Mum doesnít much care for Elves or Faeries or anything to do with the ĎOld Onesí. She doesnít believe in that stuff, even though she never got a college degree. My Gran raised eleven children beyond the ones she gave birth to, trying to pass on "the gifts". None of these thirteen were the one that was meant to receive the gifts in our tradition. When I showed up in the 1960's, it was clear that I was the one. Our family tradition has a tendency for the gifts to switch from the female to the male every seven or eight generations. I am a seventh generation, so it swapped to me. I am expected to pass on the gifts to a female in our family before I pass on.
My Great-Grandparentís house is still there, at the top end of the village away from the Beech lane. It is owned by other people now. It sits directly across from the large, imposing manor house. This was, until recently, the home of the Clifford family. The Clifford who owns the manor is a Quaker now. We sat next to her in a Meeting for Worship in Oxfordshire. Strange how two Quakers from the U.S. end up in rural Oxfordshire, next to a Clifford from Frampton, who has turned the grand manor house into a free nursing home, for old folks from the village. Strange and marvelous Kenning on that event!
The Cliffords are about as old as Frampton. Some folks say that, like Frampton, they were around before William the Conqueror arrived. Others say that they came over with the Normans. What is surprising though is that they have managed to stay around all these years.
Maybe William left the Cliffords alone because Frampton is on the Severn River and close to Wales. Maybe, somehow the Cliffords managed to keep the Welsh at bay. Perhaps it was because the Clifford women were known to be great beauties. One of the Cliffords, Rosamond, was a rare beauty and Henry IIís mistress. In the movie, "The Lion in Winter," Eleanor of Aquitaine, as portrayed by Katherine Hepburn, has choice words to say about Rosamond, Henry and sheep. I donít really know how they did it, but the Cliffords survived and there was always a male heir.
My family had been in service to the Cliffords off and on over the centuries. My Auntie Maggie was for many years cook to the old colonel at the manor. She made me the most delicious duck dinner that I have ever had when I visited in the mid 1970's. She talked a lot about the days gone by when she was cook at the manor. Maggie was a Millard by marriage. My Olí Gran was a Millard, too, at least until she married my grandfather who was Welsh. There is more than one way to keep the Welsh at bay in the Forest, you can always marry one! Auntie Maggie wasnít a healer, but she was an excellent and loving cook.
My Olí Gran loved the Welsh. She loved the Irish, too. She also loved the royal family. She loved the Jehovah Witnesses and the Methodists and the Hindus and the Buddhists, too! She never met a religion that she didnít like. Gran never met a religious person that she didnít like! Come to think of it, she never said anything bad about any individual. She did say, though, that the Nazis, as a group, had been Ďbadí, but she also thought that we all bore some of the responsibility for all that. She thought that the healing from the Second World War had only really just begun.
She said that she learned about God and about healing from our tradition, all of the religions; and she learned a bit from the Faeries, too. When I said, from my freshly educated point of view, that the different religions seemed to contradict each other all the time; my Olí Gran simply said that they didnít really. She felt that mortal folks just didnít quite fully understand yet what God was saying. She was convinced that one day we would all understand God, but meanwhile we would just have to keep on trying. Most importantly she believed that we should give each other a hug whenever we disagreed. Hugs were healing. The Guatemalans gave me a hug, each one separately, not as a whole group. They are smallish folk and speak a language tied to the Mayans, (Ichu, I think), so we had ample time for hugs as stuff was translated from English, Spanish, or their own language and back again.
My Olí Gran especially liked Quakers and was seen as a Quaker Healer. My Olí Gran was the first one to help me to understand the healing message, "There is that of God in everyone." We were standing next to that large deeply green Rosemary plant and I suddenly knew that she was right and that the spark of God was indeed inside of each and everyone of us. I could feel the truth in it all. She also said that Quakers worshipped in a circle because the Old Ones taught us to do that when we were just starting up. When George Fox was just starting his ministry, he worshipped with folks who were silently sitting in a circle waiting upon the Holy Spirit. Many of the folks, especially the women, were Kenning in that circle as they strove together to listen to what God had to say.
My Olí Gran was well known as both a healer and an herbalist. As far as I could tell, being one, almost automatically made you the other. She was, also I think, a Ďwise womaní. Iím quite sure that she was considered to be a wise woman in some sense by the villagers, because they were afraid of her. I remember going to a small shop to buy some eggs and a loaf of Hovis. When I was asked where was I staying in the village, I responded that I was the grandson of Mrs. Morgan who lived on The Street. Suddenly, everyone went silent and a few folks put greater distance between themselves and me. It felt very strange.
As time went on, I also noticed folks coming and asking my Gran for advice about all sorts of ailments and then going away in a sort of fawning fashion. I didnít rightly know what to make of it all, but Gran seemed to have a spot in the village that was carved out for her from times long, long before Frampton, the Cliffords and William the Conqueror. She also knew about May Hill and she had a few things to say about the "Old Ones" and May Hill. I think that all that probably makes her a wise woman. Certainly, I listened to learn all that I could, even if I didnít fully accept what she said.
May Hill is closer to the environs of Cinderford than it is to Frampton. But, on a clear day, if you walked down the grove of those ancient beeches . . . when you got up close to the church, and looked to your right, you could catch a glimpse of it. May Hill dominates the region and can be seen in different areas throughout Gloucestershire. It still has its ring of trees. My Olí Gran says that the trees were never cut or burnt unlike other rings on other Holy Hills in England. She said that the folks who did the cutting and burning were too frightened to go to May Hill to do the deed. May Hill had a special power all its own and folks in the region recognized it. The Guatemalans liked high places as holy places as well. Their calendar was created on a high holy place.
My Olí Gran talked about the persecution of the healers and the wise women of long ago. She said that when George Fox climbed Pendle Hill and had a great vision that the vision was due to the fact that Pendle Hill was a Holy Hill. She also said that it was fear that mostly caused the trouble and the burnings of the Holy Trees, so it was odd that fear somehow managed to save May Hill. Of course, the month of May was the time when May Hill was at its peak. It was a time of rebirth and renewal and a time when everything was fresh and green. It was an excellent time for healing and Kenning.
Sometimes everything was fresh and blue, because the bluebells in May could turn the green to blue overnight. I saw the bluebells in the Forest of Dean, over by Speech House, and air itself was very, very blue. It was not just that the ground was blue, the air above it was blue. There was a misty blue that came in the special sunlight which was filtered through the trees. This pale, glowing, robinís egg blue mist floated and it could take you places if you let it. It also could take you out of time and into Godís Spiritual realm.
Frampton, too, had been well within the Forest environs when the Forest was much larger than today. But this was long ago. The Forest dialect still remained, but it was different from the ways the Foresters in Cinderford spoke. Stan, who was a distant relative by marriage, said that everyone outside of Frampton spoke sort of funny. He thought that the folks close by over in Stroud, spoke extremely "quare" or "queer" as we might say. Not too long ago, the way one spoke used to say a lot about a person in England. The old dialects seem to be gradually dying out with the spread of cars and TVís and stuff. In the sound of the old speech, Kenning and wisdom is quick to appear.
The Foresters have an oral tradition that has lots to say about Quakers, but then the Foresters say a lot because that is what an oral tradition is like. Actually, The Religious Society of Friends is really more of a blip on the Forest Oral radar than say, the Celts or the Romans, that is if you look at the quantity of information. Most of the Forest lore involves the Romans and their attempts to build a road through the Forest, which the Foresters say didnít happen. Instead, they say, "We kept the Romans out and we built the road to connect to Rome in order to make some money." Of course, the Foresters also claim to have kept the Welsh out of the Forest, and I know for a fact that my Olí Gran married one of those Welsh guys and then lived in the middle of the Forest of Dean. In fact, my grandparents also lived in Littledean, for a few years, before moving to Frampton.
I often travel in my mindís eye to Frampton, Jubilee House and the Forest of Dean. I yet walk with my Gran in her garden and hear again her voice telling what she knew I would one day need to know. I also enjoy reading George Foxís Book of Miracles, as reassembled by Henry Cadbury. I also have fond memories of the Guatemalans and their special Mayan Calendar as well. Mostly, I love being part of Meeting for Worship for Healing and helping folks to find Healing in Gathered Worship with Friends.
While journeys continue, paths cross, paths diverge, times change and opinions may differ, the Holy Spirit yet remains true in the Forest wherever the Forest may be. Healing is always close at hand, all we have to do is look, as we walk along our various paths in Godís good creation. It also helps if we can give, or receive, a hug now and then, on our walk in the Light, on whatever path God has set us upon.