Festive Greetings as 2015 closes: an Invocation for the turning year…

O Great Spirit,

as this Northern winter season slowly turns to meet the gradually emerging life of Spring and its lengthening, warming days, help us to live more peacefully with one another on this planet Earth, tiny amidst the vastness of the Cosmos. Despite our insatiable hunger for knowledge, our technological brilliance, who we are, where we are, and why we are here at all remains shrouded in deepest mystery.

Northern Lights at Stenness Stones, Orkney
Northern Lights at Stenness Stones, Orkney

Help us to be more humble in realising how much growing we must do as a human collective in order to emerge a little more from the primeval savagery of our tumultuous instincts which still appear to dominate the way we live, threatening now the very fabric of Earth herself.

Help us to be aware of the interconnectedness of all things in the Heavens above, and in the Earth below. Help us to realise that what we do to the Earth, ultimately we do to ourselves.

In the meantime, as Susan Cooper’s wonderful solstice poem has told us to do, let’s carol, fest, give thanks, dearly love our friends – and hope for peace.

Blessings, everybody! And many, many thanks to all my blog Followers, Commenters and visitors old and new for your support of my writing, for your wit, and for your wisdom.  

Standing Stones in Winter
Standing Stones in Winter

250 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Festive thanks to Followers, commenters, and friends old and new!

In the bleak Midwinter...
Midwinter…ethereal beauty…

Just having a quiet time of retreat from family chaos (very mild, very welcome!) and reflecting on how much I have enjoyed this particular year at Writing from the Twelfth House. Thanks to everyone for your support of my postings during 2014, and a special thanks to my family of regular commenters. I hope I’ve managed to be inspiring now and then, informative – and entertaining. The tougher the world becomes, the harder we all need to hold fast to the people and experiences that nourish and guide us. Blessings to all who drop by to read my blogs – and every good wish for this Festive Season and the year to follow. 


Photo: courtesy of Margo Cline, shared on Facebook.( Sorry, don’t know who the photographer is to give a well-deserved credit!)

100 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Festive Meditation: another Christmas, another tragedy…

Another Christmas, another tragedy in Glasgow, Scotland, UK. Last year at this time, ten people died and many were injured in the Clutha Vaults disaster when a police helicopter fell from the skies into a crowded city centre pub.Yesterday, six people died and eight are in hospital with serious injuries, after a bin lorry careered out of control in George Square, the very core of the city, ploughing into crowds of Christmas shoppers, leaving carnage in its wake. We do not yet know the cause, but the driver was seen slumped over his wheel…

George Square tributes
George Square tributes

And yet….through the jagged tempo of tragedy, we began once again to hear the strong heartbeat of Glasgow: that steady pulse of ordinary citizens caring for one another. People called the emergency services immediately. Passers by did not run away: they ran to see what could be done to help. Other folk sat on the street with the injured, held and comforted them, waited till the ambulances came which they did with amazing speed.

Today we are all in shock here. Everyone reacts to tragedy in different ways. The first thing I did yesterday afternoon was to call loved ones who might have been in the city centre. When they answered that they were safe, I wept. Today, our visiting daughter, her partner and their lovely little girl are off to shop – in the city centre. They could have been there yesterday, as so many other folk’s loved ones were: in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

This morning I listened to Kaye Adams on BBC Radio Scotland’s “Morning Call”, responding with sensitivity, compassion and honesty to the responses of  “ordinary people” to the tragedy which has touched all our lives. She admitted that she and her team had debated whether to make this awful event their focus or not.

They made the right decision: in the darkness of tragedy, the light-bringer is everything which brings people closer together as a human community to share, and to do what can be done to help and console. We heard that people were laying flowers. Lighting candles in local churches. Donating blood. Pledging to give money to the appeal fund which will be set up to help the victims. One woman said she would make a point of checking on her elderly neighbours today.

It was all intensely moving. But the overriding response of most people was: “It could have been me. Or mine…” In John Donne’s famous words:

“…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…”

Terrible events such as this, and all the other ones world-wide especially the “massacre of the innocents” in Peshawar, Pakistan, have added up to a truly dreadful week for our human community, given a sharper edge because of its being the Festive Season. In this morning’s radio programme, a strong theme running through what everyone said, many of them explicitly, was that of the sheer fragility of life. We are utterly at the mercy of random events, although preferring to live in a protective insulating bubble from this brutal fact until it is torn away by horror of one kind or another.

What, then, do we do? Life has to go on. We need to mourn along with the bereaved. We need to help them in whatever way we can. But we also need to hold fast to whatever love and joy we can find in life, each moment, each day. The previous post features a beautiful solstice celebration by poet Susan Cooper. Here are the closing lines:

“…They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year…”.

What more can we do, in this especially blood-soaked Festive Season? Despite everything, let us enjoy our holiday, be kind to one another, look forward to the coming  year with its component of joys –and sorrows.

AND – many thanks indeed to all my readers and commenters. It has been an especially good year for me at “Writing from the Twelfth House”, and all of you have made it so.

In the bleak Midwinter...
In the bleak Midwinter…

700 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page








Winter Nights – a Christmas meditation

The beautiful solstice poem by Susan Cooper which I shared in my last post, and which proved a very popular read,  has got me reflecting on winter, this Christmas Eve. It is wet and windy in Glasgow tonight, neither very cold nor very seasonal. But the daffs and snowdrops’ green shoots are peeping though. They know that spring isn’t far away!

But in the meantime, we need winter. We need the dark. Within the year’s natural cycle, the diurnal alternation of light and dark brings restful silence at night and the restorative power of sleep, without which all creatures including us would burn out and die before their time.

We are in danger of forgetting this – at our peril – as an increasingly technology-driven culture sweeps the world, creating the illusion that we can live sustainably and healthily in defiance of the ancient rhythms set by the great cycles of nature.

On the Scottish island where I grew up, however, nature was omnipresent. One snowy winter’s dusk, I failed to return home from primary school. A snowstorm was blowing up with a fierce gale. Worried, my mother sent out a search party who found me in a state of some distress, almost white with snow, pinned against a fence. A slight child, I had been blown and held there by the wind.

Where I grew up, we didn’t need to read books to understand the fierce destructive power of nature as well as its unearthly beauty. Followers of this blog will know from its new header, how much I love the Northern Lights which I used to see each winter, magic dancers in the night sky  above the island of my birth.

Standing Stones in Winter
Standing Stones in Winter

From those childhood experiences on, I have walked the well trodden path underlying all faiths which seeks ways of affirming connection with that vast Power which runs nature, the Universe and everything, reconciling dark and light, going way beyond time.

Whilst reflecting on the profoundly mysterious and paradoxical relationship between light and dark, with which we humans have always wrestled in one form or another, the phrase ‘dazzling darkness’ came to mind. It persisted for days, until eventually I located the source.

It occurs in a fascinating article, which I had first read in 2002, titled “A RELUCTANT MYSTIC: God-Consciousness not Guru Worship” by John Wren-Lewis. ( from Self & Society Vol 29 Number 6 Feb-March 2002 (pp 22-24)

The author describes how, at the age of nearly sixty, retired and with a distinguished career as a scientist behind him,  he had spiritual consciousness “thrust upon me….without working for it, desiring it, or even believing in it.”

It was 1983. Wren-Lewis was in Thailand, in a hospital bed, hovering between life and death, having eaten a poisoned sweet given to him by a would-be thief. What happened next, a ‘near death experience’(NDE), he describes as follows:

“I simply entered – or rather, was – a timeless, spaceless void which in some indescribable way was total aliveness – an almost palpable blackness that was yet somehow radiant. Trying to find words for it afterwards, I recalled the mysterious line of Henry Vaughan’s poem The Night:  ‘There is in God, some say, a deep and dazzling darkness’….”

His return to life, as the medical staff gradually won their battle to save him, was not in any way accompanied by the typical NDE’s classic sense of regret or loss at having to go back to the world of the everyday. It was, in fact, “nothing like a return….more like an act of creation whereby the timeless, spaceless Dark budded out into manifestation”. Furthermore, the experience was “indescribably wonderful.”

In Wren-Lewis’ own words “I now know exactly why the Book of Genesis says that God looked upon all that He had made – not just beautiful sunsets, but dreary hospital rooms and traumatised sixty-year old bodies – and saw that it was very good.”

Moreover, this heightened awareness did not leave him. A permanent shift, without any effort at all, into what he calls “God-consciousness” caused him to do further reading and research beyond accounts of NDEs into the “once-despised world of mystical literature and spiritual movements”.

But he rejects the notion held by experts in many religious traditions that the path to God-consciousness, or Enlightenment, or Nirvana requires years or even lifetimes of intensive spiritual effort. After all, he’d been handed “the pearl of great price on a plate” without ever seeking it, and found God-consciousness to be quintessentially ordinary and obvious – a feature emphasised by many mystics.

I was so intrigued by Wren-Lewis’ startling account  that I re-read the great Victorian psychologist William James’ classic book “The Varieties of Religious Experience” for the first time in nearly thirty years. This confirmed what I had already known but forgotten: a great many people who have profound religious or mystical experiences have them in nature.

I felt grateful then for my powerful and threatening experience that winter’s night in early childhood. The awesome power of nature, had circumstances been a little different, could have taken my life from me then before it had even begun. And for those brilliant encounters with the Northern Lights, so long ago but still clearly remembered. They affirmed my need for ‘God consciousness’ – long before I could ever articulate it coherently for myself.

We need awe: it points our vision towards the sacred. So, readers, embrace the darkness if you can, this winter’s Christmas Eve – you never can tell what wonders may reveal themselves ….

River Kelvin Dec 2010

River Kelvin Dec 2010



950 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Winter Solstice: an evocative poem

Tonight we will  flick drops of malt whisky onto our fully lit and decorated tree on the night of the Winter Solstice. Midwinter magic has returned!We do this every year – and every year I remind family members present for the ritual that this tree has a very ancient pedigree. Looking for a poem which captures both the feeling and the history, I found this one to share with you, wherever you are this night:

Ancient Akkadians honouring their Tree of Life
Ancient Akkadians honouring their Tree of Life

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!


200 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Susan Cooper 2013

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page



Festive Inspiration from ‘the happy wanderer’

It’s been tough, coming up with Festive cheer to end this year, with civil war raging in all its ghastliness in Syria, other conflicts world-wide, this autumn’s hideous Jimmy Saville paedophile sex abuse revelations accompanied by other kinds of institutional corruption in the UK – and the appalling ‘massacre of the innocents’ in the USA just last week.

However, at the eleventh hour, just before Xmas, I have succeeded – thanks to one Graham Hughes, a native of Liverpool, UK.

Graham arrived back in the UK on the Winter Solstice 2012, having begun a most unusual adventure on January 1st 2009. His take on doing ‘something nobody had done before’ was this: to become the first world citizen to travel to all 201 of the world’s sovereign states without flying. And he did it, the Odyssey Expedition, unsupported by a back-up crew, doing his own filming – on a budget of less than $100 (£62) per week. The charity Water Aid is to benefit from the sponsorship he has raised.

A98drSVCEAAIE8W(from Twitter, 23.12.2012, via Marcus Chown ‏@marcuschown “It’s a beautiful world: Milky Way over Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia” (Credit: Florian Breuer) 

I read about Graham’s amazing journey yesterday in the MY WEEK section of the UK’s Sunday Times. How did he manage it? “It helped that I’m a good blagger” he is quoted as saying in his relating of the tale to Francesca Angelini.

How about this, his best blag? He managed to get a free ride on a cruise ship travelling from New Zealand to Australia – complete with a huge room with champagne every day, “even although my shoes were in pieces and my clothes were threadbare.”

By the end of 2009 Graham had ticked off Central America, North America and Europe, and had been to 133 of his list of countries. Having broken off to go home to Liverpool, UK  at the end of 2010 to spend time with his terminally ill sister before she died, “I thought about packing it in, but my sister wanted me to keep going”. So he returned to his journey, carrying on where he had left off.

Of his many adventures and setbacks including a brief  spell of mistaken imprisonment on the Cape Verde Islands, his best story comes from an overnight bus journey in Iran.

He describes sitting near a little old lady who was chatting to someone on her mobile phone. Suddenly, she prodded him in the ribs and handed him the phone. The person on the other end introduced himself as Said Hussein, grandson of the old lady. She had called Said to express her worries for Graham, being concerned that when the bus got to its destination in the morning, he might have nowhere to go for breakfast. She wanted to know if she could take him home to cook breakfast for him.

By the time I had finished reading this wonderfully touching story, I was almost in tears. But it was his conclusion that really uplifted and inspired me. I want to share it with everyone who reads this blog:

“You come across jerks in each country, but for every one there are 100 people who will do everything in their power to help you. Most people are good eggs really. This trip reaffirmed my faith in humanity.”

Festive greetings everyone! Thanks for your continuing support via visits, comments and emails – and may 2013 be a fulfilling year.

River Kelvin Dec 2010
River Kelvin Dec 2010

600 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Graham Hughes/Francesca Angelini 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

A Festive Kiss – with a twist!

I captured this arresting, quirky Festive image in my home city of Glasgow, Scotland, whilst strolling along by the River 
Kelvin through the tunnel under Queen Margaret Drive bridge. Snapped with my  mobile phone camera which takes great pictures, it  affirmed the famous (at times infamous!) glaswegian sense of humour. Think Billy Connolly….Who else but a Weegie would have taken the time and trouble to suspend a large clump of mistletoe just above the heads of potential passing kissers?

Festive Kiss with a Twist!
Festive Kiss with a Twist!

photo: Anne Whitaker  14.12.2011

It cheered me up immensely in the midst of a difficult week. I offer it out in the hope that in the midst of this highly-charged time, when both the joys and the griefs of life come into sharp focus, it will give someone out there the laugh they need just at this moment.

Happy Christmas to all my readers!

River Kelvin Dec 2010
River Kelvin Dec 2010

200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2011
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

The year 2011 begins……with Dylan Thomas and ancient Akkadians !

I am gazing through our wide bay window towards the shadowy hills, as city lights illuminate a cold, rainy early January night.  A very bare bay window. Where have all the jewels of multi-coloured reflection gone? Back to the ‘Otherworld’, the Romantic in me thinks. Waiting, waiting for another year……

Today we took our Christmas Tree down. This day is always ‘throat-slitting day’ in the calendar of our New Year. We rarely wait for Epiphany to carry out this doleful task. After New Year’s day is over, the richly decorated, multi-coloured glowing beauty of our tree ceases to bring us comfort and magic in the heart of winter, and stands before us reproachfully (as we imagine), waiting to be dismantled, recycled. We cannot bear to prolong this post-festive inevitability. And now it’s done.

Here I stand, in the bare, empty, dusted, wiped, hoovered space left behind. What comfort is to be found in this bleak moment? My husband has the right idea.He is off to the pub with my brother – the third tree-dismemberer.

I stand, and stand, remembering the magic, remembering how we flicked some malt whisky on the fully lit and decorated tree on the night of the Winter Solstice. We do this every year too – and every year I remind my  family members present for this ritual that  this tree has a very ancient pedigree. Consider the following quote, from :     http://www.religioustolerance.org/xmas_tree.htm

“……The Prophet Jeremiah condemned as Pagan the ancient Middle Eastern practice of cutting down trees, bringing them into the home and decorating them. Of course, these were not really Christmas trees, because Jesus was not born until centuries later, and the use of Christmas trees was not introduced for many centuries after his birth. Apparently, in Jeremiah’s time the “heathen” would cut down trees, carve or decorate them in the form of a god or goddess, and overlay it with precious metals……”

Ancient Akkadians honouring their "Tree of Life"
Ancient Akkadians honouring their “Tree of Life”



The need to bring comfort and cheer and significance to that cold dark time in the Northern Hemisphere, when the Sun’s warmth seems a distant longed-for memory, is a very ancient one. This thought comforts me, as it does every year. I like to feel part of the ancient river of humanity as I stand here in my 21st century bare bay window.

Dylan Thomas’ famous line from the poem “And death shall have no dominion” comes to mind:

‘Though lovers be lost, love shall not……’

This tree may have been sacrificed by us, but its spirit lives on in that bare window space, inhabiting another world, waiting to be given form yet again when the seasons turn and we feel yet again a powerful need to affirm that the life force is still with us – just gathering its strength in the dormancy of winter.


500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2011

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


Festive Greetings from Scotland’s winter wonderland!

Yes, I know that all the snow has been highly disruptive economically, socially,  and personally – especially to those of us struggling to join loved ones over the festive season.

But as I sit here gazing out at the snowy wonderland below me, thinking of my readers who have loyally followed “Writing from the Twelfth House” all this year, wondering what to say  by way of greetings, I am totally aware of the silent beauty of this clear, frosty Christmas Eve….

Jupiter sits high in the night sky, winking through the fleeting clouds. We will shortly be going out to celebrate Midnight Mass. I feel very, very fortunate.

My greeting is this snowy picture of the wintry local landscape, taken this morning. It is a reminder of the duality of all our lives: an interweaving of dark and light, always.

River in winter -  from a city bridge
River in winter - from a city bridge

photo: Anne Whitaker 24.12.10

Thank you, kind readers, especially to the many of you following this site who were students and clients of mine in my former incarnations! I have so appreciated your supportive messages, emails and cards. Festive blessings to you, “old” and new friends, some known, most unknown. May the year ahead be rich and full. May you find consolation for what pains you, may you grow through the challenges the year will bring. May you find experiences which bring you fulfillment and joy.

And do remember to keep dropping by!



250 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2010
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


NOT the Xmas Round Robin….

At Christmas time 2004,  having read about a dozen round robins arriving with their respective cards, all eulogising each family’s travels and achievements in the year just ending, I became seriously fed up.

The “Not the Xmas round robin” concept was born in that moment.

Life is not all sunshine and achievement as depicted in the standard end of the year card insert, I thought to myself. So why not produce something a bit different – a piece of reflection conveying some shadow as well as light, something more honest, something offering a bit of inspiration from our common experiences of being human ?

Since then I have written a “not the Xmas round robin” piece of end-of-year reflection for inclusion in my Xmas cards every year. People like it. So this year I thought I’d share it with you – my increasing band of loyal readers here at “Writing from the Twelfth House”.


“not the Xmas round robin 2009”

……a quotation from “Simple Abundance” by Sarah Ban Breathnach for  8 December states……

“ Gloom we have always with us, a rank and sturdy weed, but joy requires tending.”
Barbara Holland

As you legions of devoted fans of Anne Whitaker’s Annual Thought for the Day will be well aware by now, Ian and I have had a pretty hefty allocation of family and health difficulties in recent years although our overriding feeling continues to be one of gratitude for my full recovery from what I now think of (with a characteristic tinge of melodrama, but not that much!) as my Descent and Return from the Underworld, 2001-08.

There have been many consequences flowing from this experience, and I am very slowly beginning to appreciate what riches one can bring back from the Underworld – provided that the experience of Descent and Return is understood as part of “the stormy journey of the soul” and accepted in that spirit. (not easy, by the way!!)


Ian and me, Dartmoor, August 2009
Ian and me, Dartmoor, August 2009

One of the gifts for both Ian and myself – and probably the most important development of 2009 – has been a growing understanding of how vulnerable we all are behind our carefully crafted defences, how ephemeral this life is, and how quickly and brutally all that we thought we had can be taken from us.

Thus we have been learning to live as fully as we can in each day, never being too busy to stop and appreciate the many small but pleasurable moments in life therein.

The still watchfulness of the herons on the nearby River Kelvin. The delightful smile on nine month old neighbour wee Lauchie’s face, as he leans over to rub noses, his latest favourite trick. A peaceful cup of coffee whilst listening to children rehearsing carols in Princes Square, Glasgow’s elegant city centre shopping precinct, magically decorated at this time of year, during a pause in Xmas shopping on a wet and dreary Glasgow day. Having a good laugh, either at our own or the world’s stupidities (have you done your risk assessment before digging out the Xmas tree lights yet?!)

So the quotation above means a lot to me. It is easy to moan and buckle under life’s many pains great and small. But cultivating joy (if you can – I appreciate that life is simply too hard for many people in this world to be able to manage to do so) and living in the moment as much as possible has recently been confirmed by research as being the route to happiness.

So – let me and Ian confirm this truth for you for free. It works!

In conclusion, lest you are beginning by now to think I am losing my sardonic edge in the declining years, I leave you all, especially the over-50s, with this observation recently made to me by a rather cynical but witty person I know:

“Anyone over fifty who is not in pain for one reason or another, is dead!”


650 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page