Lyminge and the human heart

By Jani Roberts and Motherwort.


There is a seed bed for magic in this country, a place where young people remember what their grandparents taught them, where the Craft grows as it always has, deep among the trees, in the heather, in the moonlight. This is not seedbed of the town, of the urban coven or grove, where sacred traditions are treasured amid suburbia. It is the seedbed of the protest camp, of those who leave the cities and their houses because they feel they are called to protect the wild.

Newspapers write of Swampy, of the eco-warriors, of the deep tricky tunnels and the scary tree houses with admiration - but they do not describe the magic that is afoot. To find this one has to go and join the protesters, live with them, humbly listening, sharing, laughing, without television or even radio - or so I found. It has been a delight being with them, one of them. They have become my family.

I have been open about being in the Craft - and made more than welcome at every camp, at Kyros, at Bastards, at Gone to Pot, at Fortress and the other camps. It seems they want the Crones. I am at home here. I came here as a child. This is my land, my ancient people.

As we share, chant around the fires, talk and do magic, I feel that this is how traditionally the Craft has always grown. I feel that I am meeting the new cunning men, wise women, who are forging their magic in poverty and sharing, learning their herbs and toadstools, coming one with the spirits of our island.

Our firepits with their tarpaulin or wooden shelters are in many places around this land - but the forest that has been giving me shelter is that of Lyminge, south of Canterbury. It's curse is that it is the nearest forest to the channel tunnel and thus is coveted by men who want to fence it and charge tourists for "the English Countryside Experience."

It is a forest that has supported our ancestors. It has rare remains of Celtic, Roman and early medieval woodland settlements covering a period of over 4000 years. They left behind pottery, tools, sunken ways and charcoal pits - and their dead. When I found some Neolithic tools and located burial mounds already listed as ancient monuments, some protesters said softly "We knew it. We could sense them. We know they are here."

The forest includes many different kinds of woodland, shady beech with bluebells, patches of lDouglas firs now hosting many a high tree house. Some areas have been coppiced for centuries . There are sweet chestnut groves, lily of the valley, heathland and areas of baby pines - the latter the ill thought gift of the Forestry Commission after the hurricane. Wide bridle ways and footpaths lace the woods, flowers, dense ferns and badgers are plentiful.. Nightjars, nationally an endangered species, are heard at every camp.

One night I saw a nightjar hurtle itself over a bronze age burial mound. If the Rank Organisation has its way this mound will be turfed over and surrounded by a car park for 3,400 cars. One day I found a slow worm glistening like a metal tool sunbathing on another burial mound - one of a group of ancient sites that would be landscaped and surrounded by 950 holiday chalets if Rank has its way.

We are determined that they will not. This ancient woodland lies on top of the North Downs in an area officially of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is used, according to Rank itself, by 140,000 visitors a year just as it is, as a forest of peace, of beauty and of magic. Why should they be given this, one of the last remaining ancient woodlands? This part of our inheritance? We wonder how Rank managed to get planning permission last year to destroy this forest.

We have recently received valued support from the Sacred Lands Trust after we brought to their attention the sacred places within these woods and took their staff to visit Roman, iron age, bronze age and early medieval residential sites that have never been excavated or disturbed by the plough - that is until Rank put in one trench that broke several pieces of ancient pottery.

The Forestry Commission intends to sell this land to the Rank Organisation. It is sad that they are doing this in our name, selling land they hold in trust for the public. Our presence has so far prevented this sale. Bailiffs were sworn in to evict us. Eviction orders were served back in May. But we are still here months later. We intend to stay until we believe the forest is safe.

The Sacred Lands people were assured the Forestry Commission that it now has no intention of evicting us "in the foreseeable future.' But we are wary. Rank has just renewed its option to buy. Rank could have walked away as the Forestry Commission had not delivered them the forest free of protesters. It did not. We are supplied every day by the villagers who fought for 4 years to protect this forest. Many see us as their warriors - although we see ourselves as nature's champions. We also weave magic.

I was first invited here by Motherwort, a member of a local coven. She tells her story:

II well remember my first night in the forest. Since I lived locally and knew several of the protesters I decided to visit the forest in order to discover for myself whether Lyminge was "really worth saving". It was dark moon, we had no fire and as the twilight deepened to black, the nightjar began to sing; a stuttering mechanical cry that was to become a familiar nightime voice. "Listen" said Sarah, softly behind the call of the nightjar, the streaming fullthroated song of the nightingale could just be heard. The deep hooting of the owl in chestnut trees added the third note.

I was born in London, and grew up without an awareness of nature so this was new to me. That first night in Lyminge I thought. "This is as precious as the National Gallery, as the Royal Opera House. What a gift, how many of our children will hear a nightingale sing? I will fight for you, Lyminge, I will protect you until the last nightjar has fled."

Summer Solstice:

I chose to spend solstice at Lyminge, rather than a peaceful stonecircle away from the strife and destruction of man, since Lyminge needed healing and to me, Lyminge is a sacred site. The place is thick with magic and it feels as if we are bonded to the trees as they are to us. A group of friends from our coven went down to the forest, we took with us two small trees to plant, a holly and an oak, for protection and strength.

Nothing went as planned, yet we had a wonderful magical solstice. We had intended to gather together the pagans living on site and perform a ritual for the protection of the forest. It rained hard and although a large circle of people turned up only a few of them were practising pagans. I asked them how they would feel about joining our circle to raise energy to protect the forest. Most were favourable, but one turned round and said very pointedly to me "we don't need your rituals, we live it every day, working to save the forest right here and now, if you want to help us come and live here too". Although I personally feel that magical and physical work are most powerful when combined, I understood his point, and we had no ceremony.

But we shared...we shared everything, we shared our cakes and wine, we shared our stories and songs (even the shy ones), we shared the sight of the round moon as she peeped through the clouds, and we waited together through the still night for the dawn to come.

We planted the baby trees at dawn with love and charms and prayers. "Grow strong little trees, live long, outlive us, shelter the birds and our children's children".

(End of Motherwort quote)

It was after this that I came down to live in the forest. No other members of my own coven could come. But this was no restraint. I just had to listen harder, to flow with the spirit of the place. Once when it was full moon and I wanted to celebrate, I walked over to Bastards Camp and sat by their fire. A woman came and sat with me. We talked. I found out she was in the Craft. Another woman turned up laughing., sat by me and said she wanted to meet me. She told me she was a solitary witch. We talked magic and the full moon called. The group grew in strength. The moon shone through the trees, calling. The energy came. " Want to do magic?" we asked each other. There was no hesitation.

Soon we were in a grassy clearing. Mists came down. Giant shadows stood around us. We cast our Circle and danced our magic to protect the forest in the light of a moon enswathed in the soft mists.

The spirit of the Goddess is everywhere here. At one camp a young woman told me how she was taught the Craft by her grandmother and how she treasures her crystals. At another camp a woman said she heard the earth singing to her as she dug out a deep badger like tunnel to protect the forest.

Our camp has the slogan "Possessions own you" on the fridge we use as a cupboard (no power lines here). Wiccan slogans decorate the shelter's roof. Some nights a senior Druid protester comes to visit We cook communally, share books, share lives. We treasure water as we have to carry it nearly half a mile every morning to get it to our camp. Our tunnel is deep, has different chambers, concrete lock-ons to which we will secure ourselves if the bailiffs come. The clay stains the tunnellers bronze.

Nearly every camp has tree-houses and at least one tunnel. The Fortress is surrounded with palistrades that lean outwards and are hung with tapestries painted with large scary spirit faces. The Underground Elephant camp has an elegant lacework of net sleeping platforms and tree houses. Scary Pine treehouse is nearly impenetrable even to the protesters.

With no television to possess us, at night we tell stories, sing and pathwork.. On one pathworking the slow worm I met took me around the forest in a very slow weaving and then down a hole into the burial mound next to which I found it - to show me myself buried within. It did not surprise me. I grew up on the hills that surround these woods. I am at home here.

Soon after I arrived, Motherwort came to live with us. She can 'tell what is was like .

Lyminge means:

Heart to heart with the soul of nature.

Standing up for what you believe in.

Learning to live a natural life.

Facing your fears.

Dealing with aggression.

Personal empowerment.

Community and responsibility.

Talking stick with family.

Magic and mystery.

"I do not pretend to talk for the pagans living at Lyminge, but for me protesting is definitely part of my spiritual growth. It reconnects me to my mother, the earth and helps me to sort out what is really important in my life.

Living in nature alters your values, because you can no longer ignore her power and beauty, or our dependence on nature for life. Once you are away from the mind and soul-numbing influence of television and the shopping mall you find a greater value in the sunset, the fireside and the expressive faces of your friends. You realise that you need less, (all you need is yourself!) and that you already have been given more than you can imagine.

"Mid-August, Eviction is imminent:"

The local sheriff has been sworn in and the police are all on overtime, they're really coming. All the protesters are working through the night in preparation for the eviction. Within 3 days I learn how to make a lock-on, fortify a tunnel and get a bail address. As I work I sing and pray. I call on my hero's, the tribal peoples who lost their homeland and on the strength of the rocks beneath me, I feel her (the earth) and I feel us (my forest family), I know that we are strong.

The trees feel scared, yet they are with us, they know somehow that we are on their side, and in small ways they help us. We can always find the path even in the dark, the woods open up for you."

Jani - In the dark of the moon we had to let our feet find the path without use of eyes. One day I stopped on the path thinking I could see the lights of cigarettes nearby. It was not cigarettes. I stood entranced while fairy lights danced to soft drumming music.

Motherwort continues: " Good magic! There is also the Lyminge "materialisation" effect. If you need something, it suddenly just turns up. Down the bunker the ground is wet, damn, we'll all get rheumatism. "What we really really need is something to sit on, something waterproof". "Like what?" asks Ash, "something like a fertiliser bag would do the trick" I say. "Like this one!!" says Ash and pulls a wedged fertiliser bag out from behind the beams, "Yes, just like that!" Tommy Cooper eat your heart out! This happens twenty times a day at least!!

The witches on site are working overtime, we have to stop them coming in. We join hands round the firepit and circle the energy. We have never worked together before, but we are closer than many covens. Facing your fears together means that you show each other who you really are very quickly, there's no time for bullshit.

Jani is telling us about the dragon energy that she has woven through the wood , singing and dancing, invoking the primal power of the earth goddess, wakening her. We are humming, the night is with us, the trees surround us, the energy is high because we are so close to the wind and fire and stars. No need to imagine a magical space! This is one.

We begin to hum, whispering "Come dragon, come dragon, come, come come, we your daughters, we your sons", a deep drumming refrain, a tune springs up from nowhere and we are singing. The pulsing energy of Lyminge is thick with dragon energy, now the low pines are filled with circling mist. As we reach a crescendo we are shaking with the red energy of the earth, the dragon is here and we will turn them back, we are too strong for them. John cries out "Look there is a dragon in the clouds!" we whoop and yell. The clouds, lit by the moon, form a dragon's head with a serpentine tail. We hold each other, looking at the sky, someone starts high-kicking, we are doing the can-can! laughing and singing. It's two in the morning, ordinary folk are in bed! but we are here, in love with Lyminge, dancing in the moonlight. The earth is strong! We are strong! We will win."

(Jani) That was a marvellous night - and its magic went further afield. I used the chant when I left the woods for a week in August to attend a witchcraft conference. Before the opening ritual I asked if I might ask for energy to help protect Lyminge. There were about 120 witches there. I expected to just say a few words from the side but was asked to stand in the centre of this great circle. I was at first nervous for I did not know the others. I began the same chant. It took time to catch but then like a forest fire the chant whirled up into great strength. After the sending, we knelt and grounded ourselves. Only then did I open my eyes to find myself surrounded by panting drained people. Energy had been sent. This too was part of the protecting of Lyminge.

The future: Motherwort continues:-

They did not come in August. I believe that we really did turn them back. Not just me, but all the forest people and the many others who prayed and cast spells of protection for the place. It was a magical time in Lyminge, so many pagans working for one aim set the forest alive with power, those who lived there could feel the thoughts and energy flowing in.

Autumn is here, the rosebay willow has died back but the heather still blooms, the colder nights are coming and we prepare for winter. The business on site is building benders (circular tents made from tensioned birch poles covered with tarpaulin) and burners (metal, wood-burning stoves that give out heat).

We are now in dead-lock, Rank may still go ahead. It has turned into a waiting game. We will remain here for as long as it takes.

Meanwhile away from the forest, the lobbying continues. Interesting information has been uncovered. We now know that Lyminge is an ancient woodland although Rank said it could find no evidence older than the 17th century. Villagers unearthed a Latin document of 1285 in the archives of Canterbury Cathedral that says the tenants must produce 148 cartloads of wood from this forest when the lord of the manor demands. More archaeological exploration is urgently needed. The struggle continues.....

Night thoughts:

One night as I sat by the fire, the spirit of the land spoke to me. There were three of us, focusing on the communication between the land and the forestry commission. We figured that if we could get them to talk to each other, it must be good. I will leave you with what she said....


Big men, little land.

Big men, little land.

The men are tall,


To the website for the fight for Lyminge Forest

To Return to the Introduction to the Craft of the Wise.

Click to return to the Library Entrance.

To Contact Jani Farrell- Roberts