Lyminge and the human heart
By Jani Roberts and
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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 .
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.
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
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
(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
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.....
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,
BUT THE TREES ARE TALLER!
the website for the fight for Lyminge Forest
to the Introduction to the Craft of the Wise.
Click to return to the Library
To Contact Jani Farrell-