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Shaman Birds: long focus liminality

20th February, 2018 Members Community

Jimmy: ‘One day, when I’m no longer spending my days running a sweet-stall, I may write a book about us all. It’s all here.’ (slapping his forehead) ‘Written in flames a mile high. And it won’t be recollected in tranquillity either, picking daffodils with Auntie Wordsworth. It’ll be recollected in fire, and blood. My blood.’
John Osborne, Look Back in Anger.

John Osborne’s heron, dressed for all weathers. Image c. Judy Hall

John Osborne’s heron, dressed for all weathers. Image c. Judy Hall

Sometimes we all need a nudge in the right direction. My favourite oracles include crystals and astrology. But also birds. I have a flock of industrious sparrows in my garden, members of which come and peck on my window as I write. ‘Sparrow teaches us to use our creativity to get around in life – to think outside the box, and be creative in solving our problems. As a bird totem, the Sparrow speaks of higher thoughts and ideals. She beckons us to keep our burdens as light as we can in order to avoid a heavy heart’ (what’s-your-sign). says, ‘Although tiny, this creature can act as a massive source of empowerment for us. Do not underestimate yourself and your abilities. Instead, puff your own chest up full of energy and elegant pride, singing your own tune and marching to the beat of your own drum. It reminds us to respect ourselves and act with dignity, showing us that even something as small as a sparrow can triumph in this great big world.’ The tiny bird is an inspiration.

Image c. Judy Hall

Image c. Judy Hall

This is a blog about inspiration, omens and sliding around in time. The picture at the start is the sight that greets you when you enter The Hurst, former home of the playwright John Osborne and now one of the Arvon Foundation centres for writers. We’ll come back full circle to herons at the end of this blog. As I write, I’ve just returned from my third visit to The Hurst and have finally realised the significance of what, on the surface, seems like a comical figure to greet you. I wonder if John Osborne was familiar with this quote. I’d like to think so:


Creativity is the Blue Heron within us waiting to fly; through her imagination, all things become possible.

Nadia Janice Brown

When I sent my first book The Karmic Journey to the publisher too many years ago to count now, a writer friend said, ‘You’ve done the easy part. Now the hard work begins. You’ve got to edit.’ How true that was. And how challenging. Editing, trimming, making sure explanations are clear and that what I want to say remains after the copy editor has been at work fleshes out the bones of a book. Takes the initial seed of creativity and hones it. But it also saps your blood. It takes a great deal of energy to hold to the original idea and bring it safely to birth.

As I write that, a butterfly sweeps past my window blown on the wings of a gale. What is a butterfly doing out in the freezing conditions of late December? Apparently they can’t fly if their body temperature is too low. Is this one using the gale to get where it wants to go rather than being blown at random? Going with the flow perhaps? An interesting and timely thought. Is it an omen of metamorphosis for me? A reminder that things have to die to take on new form? Or to use whatever means are at hand to bring things to fruition. Butterflies have acted as omens previously, just before I went off to The Hurst one appeared in my study. From where it came I’ll never know. But it told me:

When the butterfly shows up in your life as a spirit animal or totem, it might indicate the need to look at a conflicting situation with more lightness and different perspective. This totem animal is symbolic of lightness of being and elevation from the heaviness of tensions.


So off I went to The Hurst with a lightness of heart that had been missing when I thought about the work that was to come. Editing a book is like performing open heart surgery on your baby.

Gil Scott-Heron

I found this while searching for heron quotes. It reminded me of someone I hadn’t heard in a long time. Poet or prophet? Listen to Gil Scott-Heron ‘The revolution will not be televised’, and ‘Winter in America’ and decide for yourself.

The inspiration

I’ve been dreaming a novel. Over a period of several years. It insisted on being written. But, being a dream, I had to get up and write it down as soon as I’d had the dream. It slid between different timeframes into different dimensions. Occupying the space between the worlds that is liminality. It came in pieces, images that had to be shaped into a novel. Connecting the dots as it were. But, as with all things time-slip, it was chaotic and needed a connective narrative.

As my character, Phillippa Grayson, says at one point:

She’s conflated so much, collapsed time and edited her story to fit what she thought I ought to hear, still is from the sound of it. I suppose we all do that one way or another, whether we realise it or not.

We most definitely do that when telling the story of our lives, even if it’s only to ourselves. By radically editing the story of our lives, however, we separate ourselves from who we are and what we’ve experienced. Often transforming it either into what we wish might have been, or by leaving out anything that we believe does not fit into what others require of us, making it into what was not. Or, simply by leaving out anything unusual that society as a whole has difficulty relating to – thus creating and colluding in ‘consensual reality.’ However, by doing this, we also separate ourselves from the rest of humanity, cutting ourselves off by not sharing those parts of ourselves to which others could relate and, perhaps, feel less alone themselves.

I’ve tried in my novels to encompass experiences that pass most people by, but which those who are ‘outside the norm’ in terms of sensory and extended perception may identify with. Another source of inspiration for me has been the stories I’ve heard over almost fifty years as a counsellor in one form or another. Stories that are so often repeated but begin with ‘you’ll probably think I’m crazy but… ‘ No. I didn’t think the teller crazy because most of the experiences had happened to me, or I’d spoken to enough people who’d had those ‘weird’ experiences to believe them possible – and indeed necessary. Inspiration can come from the most surprising of sources – and take us back to the source.

Back when I first met Christine Hartley, my mentor and a high priestess of the western mystery tradition, she told me how her father, a neurologist to Queen Victoria, had tried to have her ‘put away’ when she was eighteen because of her psychic visions. Visions that I shared. We both always had a foot in another world. A friend of mine told me in the seventies that he was hospitalised and given electroconvulsive therapy for what I was paid for – in other words, he also saw people’s past lives and their future. But he was deemed ‘severely mentally ill’ because of the voices in his head. It’s a fine line.

How do we distinguish between ‘what is real for me’ and ‘what is real for others’? I move around in time constantly. I always have and I guess I always will. So my novels are written not as a fantasy but to show that it is possible. Similarly, I’ve met so many people ‘haunted’ by those not necessarily from their own timeframe, living or dead, that I have to believe it is possible. All of which has gone into my novels. Indeed, much of the novel, the ancient-book-within-a-book was dictated by exactly such a figure.

It’s a way of sharing experiences. But not everyone can handle it. When I said at The Hurst that my working strapline for the novel had become ‘Gothic horror meets fifty shades of grey and slides into ancient Egypt’ there was a mixed reaction. One woman said delightedly, ‘I’d read anything with that strapline.’ Someone else said, ‘Gothic porn whatever next.’ Well, it was mainly a gathering of literary fiction writers and that is a whole different ballgame to the time-slip genre. Especially time-slip with a graphic sexual content. And an ancient Pharaoh who haunts the present time. It challenged quite a few mind-sets.

The perspiration

On the first rewrite, my novel was changed from the past tense to the present. Then from the ‘omnipotent view’ that overlooks everything to being inside the main character’s head. After another editor or two saw it, it was rewritten again. One publisher tried to change Gothic horror into chick lit. That would never have worked. It and I were dying on our feet. It was time for a resurrection, to get back to what I originally saw and to see how relevant all that I’d dreamt was to the story. Why something that occurred a few thousand years ago could so powerfully affect the present time. So off I went to The Hurst for some much needed clarity. I needed to breathe new life into it. Cut and delete was the order of the day. Remove the over-writing. Ah, that felt better. Released from the past into what is.

And open-heart surgery

I know that you can be too close to your writing. Especially a work of ‘fiction’. It was why I had booked in for the ‘editing your novel’ course. The manuscript was due to be delivered within two weeks. It has been several years in the shaping. It reminded me of the inter-life planning meeting, sometimes the soulplan needs reworking if we’ve moved too far away from it or if circumstances have changed. Especially if you –  and your mentors – haven’t looked forward far enough. At other times, it needs clarifying. But then, sometimes you just need to get back on the path. I was ready for direction and ‘tightening’. The first question tutors Alison and Juliette asked was ‘what is the core question of your novel.’ My answer was ‘Does time exist?’

Robin: the long focus lens

The first shaman bird I encountered was a robin. I didn’t need to call. He volunteered himself. Fiercely territorial, he flew into the house as I stepped out of the front door into the snow. The robin clearly revelled in the game of chase that ensued. A chaotic opening and closing of doors and windows. He was always there, or not quite there, just before us, or behind us. A game he often played according to the staff. So like elusive inspiration. You almost grasp it, and then it’s gone. Only to pop up in some other place. I had my camera with me. He sat on my car mirror, posing – until the moment the camera was ready. He perched on the head of a stone dog, just too far away to get him properly into focus through the snow. Such a tease. He certainly brought some lightness and laughter to the proceedings.

The robin brings a fresh new perspective to situations that are otherwise foggy and unclear. Try calling on robin energy for clarity when your judgement is clouded or when you need light shed on an issue. (


Clarity? Hmm, somewhat elusive at first. Dispassionate distance was required – and a long focus lens.

When the red red robin comes bob bob bobbin’ along
There’ll be no more sobbin’ when he starts throbbin’ his old sweet song
Wake up, wake up you sleepy head, get up get up get out of bed,
Cheer up cheer up the sun is red, live, love laugh and be happy.

                                    Harry Woods, 1926

On one occasion, this adventuresome bird had apparently hitched a lift in Craven Arms, fifteen miles away. When discovered, the unsuspecting car driver had kindly driven him all the way back – to the dismay of the staff. But I hope the author in question got the message:

Figuratively, the robin spirit guide’s presence in the spring symbolizes the re-awakening our sleeping awareness. We must get back in tune with our intuitive and lively side, moving down our chosen paths with energy and fervor. Through singing, the robin spiritual totem speaks to us directly of the bright and positive road ahead of us in this new season or chapter of our lives. It tells us to forget the grayness, dullness, or negativity that that has been plaguing our lives lately and embrace the coming days of sunlight. We needn’t be afraid of these new beginnings – we must celebrate them.  (

Then, as I was leaving, he finally revealed himself, in sharp focus:


Herons: liminality, the space that is neither here nor there

A blue heron totem teaches you to embark on the journey of self-reflection; the power of knowing self. It teaches lessons of stillness, self-determination, and taking up responsibility.  


HeronsThen there was the gift of the herons. Easier, maybe, to perceive as shaman birds. Driving back from the snowy wastes of Shropshire into the improbable wateriness that surrounded the Gloucester bypass, heron ghosts glided silently alongside my car. They were so close. A passenger could have reached out and touched them. So beautiful. Glossy steel blue underwings, shot with purple, gleaming like the pen with which I’ve been writing all week. A slash of citrine- yellow beak, trailing dirty kundalini-quartz-yellow feet. Two. Side by side. A rare sight indeed. Two together outside of the mating season. The novel is about sex magic and relationships. In the middle of the morning. The heron is a twilight bird. So it was out of its time. The novel time-slips into ancient Egypt. Where the heron was closely associated with Thoth the god of writing and keeper of the Akashic Records. It was a sight I’d have missed if I’d taken the direct road home. I was on an enforced detour. The camera was stowed in my bag, so, no picture. But the sight is something I’ll remember forever. A gift for the soul.

In Egypt the Heron is honored as the creator of light.  A double headed Heron in Egypt is symbolic of prosperity. (

Egypt the HeronI usually prefer to leave magical omens like this to quietly reveal the fullness of their meaning with their own timing. Especially in the depths of winter. But I was on a deadline and I’d been left with a great deal of work to do. Not only a novel to edit but also a system of magic to interpret for the present day. So I consulted ‘what’s-your-sign’ as soon as I arrived home,

The most outstanding feature about the heron, to me, is its environmental presence. The heron is at home in three elements: Water, Earth and Air. This speaks to me of diversity. Those with the heron as a guide or totem can relate to this. These people are either very skilled in a myriad of different elements, or they are branching out in various skills, and the heron is offering confidence in the process.

Comfort in multiple elements is also symbolic of easy transitions. If you find yourself in liminal spaces, that is, if you find yourself ‘in-between’ phases, places or people in your life, the heron can give guidance on how to easily move through those ‘in-between’ moments of your life.

Meaning of the heron deals with being comfortable in spaces that are neither here, nor there. It prefers hunting at twilight, which is a symbolic and magical time of ‘in-between’. The heron will have one foot on land, and one foot in the water – this action has been recognized by ancient cultures as a sign of liminality of crossing into the a space that is neither here, nor there.

All this talk about being in the space ‘in-between’ illustrates a remarkable lesson. We are not our environment. We are not even our bodies… Heron’s are in the Now. They can help us be in the Now too, which is a vital practice in maintaining stability, calm and fluidity in living life.  (

So much was relevant to me and my current life situation, not just for the novel. It certainly helped me to step into the ‘eternal Now’ and stretch time to encompass all that I needed to do and, somehow, it worked. Both manuscripts were delivered on time.

Two herons

Look what happens when herons do get together. Don’t you just love how the necks make an almost heart?

Teasing out the meaning

When the herons flew in to accompany me, I was mulling over the structure of the novel. An ancient Egyptian sex manual had been ‘dictated’ to me by one of the characters. A character that had, it later turned out from my researches, been a real person rather than a figment of my imagination. Dead and apparently long gone, but he appeared in the night and dictated his book as I was forced from my bed to take down his words. It was a meeting out of time. The resulting tome was long, and turgid, couched in the language of his time, but he’d asked that the system of sex magic it contained be revived and sent back out into the world.

It didn’t feel right to leave it as an appendix in a novel. So I ‘interpreted’ it, put in a commentary and submitted it to the publisher as a non-fiction book alongside the novel. Where the heron came in was that it was an alchemical system for both the lone practitioner who is entering into relationship with the Highest Self, and for when twinflames get together and want to take their relationship into all that it can be. It gives you a foot in both worlds. The space that is here and the one that is not here. The process opens consciousness, accesses the multiverse and the liminal spaces around us, and creates a fully embodied mystical experience. And so much more. You’ll have to wait awhile to read it. Hopefully it, and the novel, will be out by next Christmas. It could change your experience of the world and transform your relationships, for ever. Communing with herons often does:

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

Dancing lightly between water, earth and sky

Dancing lightly between water, earth and sky

The Alchemy of Night, both in its fictional and non-fictional forms will be available later this year. Watch this space!

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