THE DRAGON MAKERS' TALE
It was a crazy idea, birthed in a conversation between Maya and me. Let’s build a dragon, no, two dragons. And instead of them being at each other’s throats – like in the old story of the battling red and white dragons – let’s show them pulling together, inspiring harmony and reconciliation. Tradition and change, feminine and masculine, fire and ice, collaborating like the two strands of the double helix molecule… Making love! It could be a potent symbol of what is needed in the world right now. Like I said. Crazy idea.
But we knew dragon-making artists. Georgia and Basia. They’d been to Cae Mabon. They liked the idea and said they felt honoured to be asked. A piece of sloping land, scrawny with brambles, suggested itself. Just below the steps from the car park Peter, our sculptor, had erected a wooden dragon there years before. One day he took it off to festival and it never reappeared. But a seed had been sown.
Uli, a professional landscape gardener living in Forest Row, had generously offered to help us at Cae Mabon for a month. It was April, spring working party time. We hired a digger and Uli cleared a path from the track, levelled the ground and made basic dragon forms from earth and stone. Chris, the dragon dreamer, was there to help. And Georgia, Basia and Nick came to commune with the space and make offerings. This is part of their artistic practice when making sacred work, helping them to dream into the design and energetics of the vision.
In the following weeks we wrestled with the shapes, moving earth and stone, trying to get the mounds closer to what we imagined. This time it was all done by mattock and spade, muscle and sweat. Then Basia and Georgia, with the help of Paul, a sculptor living near Basia, produced a maquette, a model of what the dragons might look like. We were impressed. Really, could they look that good?
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The word had gone out to an extraordinary band of artistic and creative people from a colourful mix of traditions. Many were keen to come, inspired by the idea of building dragons. They knew they would not just be sculptures. They would be powerful beings with a sacred presence. It was a holy mission. In the week leading up to the full moon in June we gathered the materials – sand, straw, wire mesh, lime, tools…
One stumbling block was finding the clay needed to make cob. My previous supplier couldn’t help. Peter thought he’d seen piles of clay by the roadworks on the A55 near Aber. I drove my rugged, 33 year-old landie banger into ‘works access only’ and was directed to a chap in the site office. ‘I need to speak to the enviro guy,’ he said. ‘He’s not back till Monday. I’ll call you.’ He didn’t. Next afternoon our group of eager workers were arriving. Time was tight. I couldn’t get hold of him so I called the company’s head office. To my surprise they gave me the chap’s mobile number. He answered. ‘Meet me at 4.15pm’, he said. He turned up in a site truck and, over the sound of engines, shouted directions on how to find John in the yard. After a winding road I found John on his dragon-sized digger. He was expecting me. ‘You want clay?’ he said. ‘Yes.’ ‘Where’s it for?’ ‘Fachwen, near Llanberis.’ ‘Ah, I’m from over the hill in Deiniolen. Ok. We’ll have to dig into the farmer’s field.’ Within moments one giant scoop of rich, heavy, moist, red clay was tipped into the trailer.
The clay was from the mouth of the Abergwyngregyn valley where an ancient prehistoric trackway comes through the mountains to the Menai Strait. On the map this route is marked as a Roman Road, but it was used for millennia before the legions came tramping through. There are burial chambers, a stone circle and standing stones marking a way dating back to the Bronze Age and Neolithic. Once it was the northern route through the mountains to Ynys Mon, Anglesey, the long-ago heartland and stronghold of the Druids. Aspirants from all over Europe came to study with them. They’d go through the Pass of the Two Stones and down to Aber on the Menai Strait. Then they walked over the Lavan Sands at low tide, crossing the water to their island of dreams, their university of higher powers. For thousands of years before the bridges, this was the way across. So the clay that came back in the trailer had been trodden and traipsed by these pilgrims, peasants, poets and kings, century after century. The history of this land is imprinted on that earth. There are mythic traces in the soil.
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And so, on the day of the strawberry full moon in June, twenty-twenty-two, a remarkable group of twenty-five makers, artists, sculptors, musicians, healers, seers, ceremonialists, dowsers, wonder-makers and sheep-rescuers … gathered. Or rather descended, like a band of holy angels disguised as tough grafters. On the first morning we wove in and welcomed each other. The sense of excitement was palpable. Georgia was our ringleader. She guided and cajoled us, kept us to time, focussed us on the task, all with great warmth and humour. She was clearly a professional facilitator of creative projects in educational, community and film settings (see www.georgiawisbey.com ). After our opening group embrace the core crew went up to the site to work out a plan.
Lunch was prepared with panache and positivity by Lawrence with helpers from our group. His fine feasts, many ingredients sourced from friends with local organic farms, were to undergird the whole of the week and keep everyone well fed and happy, essential when working so physically and energetically.
After lunch there was an explosion of energy. Ground was furiously dug by teams of people, slabs of slate were dragged and placed as the dragon’s under-armour; wire mesh was rolled out, shaped and pegged into the earth. Soon this emerging being had a carapace of iron and stone, with flared nostrils, eyes, a great ear, spiralling shapes… And a shrine.
A difficult design decision had to be made. Was she to have a resting forearm with huge claws, or not? It was already there in the shape that Uli had made. Initially I was in favour keeping it but I was talked round and it was removed in another bout of flying shovels! In retrospect it was the right decision.
Meanwhile on the bank above a trusty crew of stampers and swingers were busy making cob. One and a bit buckets of the lovely Aber mythic clay; three buckets of builders’ sand, a few handfuls of straw… Mix it on a small tarp, gripped by two people facing each other, rocking it from side of side, rolling the ingredients into a heap. Then stop, add a little water and, barefooted, stomp the clay, sand and straw together until every grain of sand is coated in clay. Alternate between rocking and stomping. It’s a primordial alchemical practice this – squidging the materials together between your toes until it’s like cold, moist flesh. And it’s rhythmic, so a good time to sing. There were fine singers and a lot of group singing. By that evening we had a pile of cob balls, or avocados as they became known, ready under a tarp and waiting for the morn.
That night we had a beautiful invocation and evocation of the Bee and the Hive from Natalie Vickers, bee priestess, who had just happened upon our magical gathering. It was a beautiful, calming, connecting meditation where metaphors from the realm of the bee came to sing at the centre of our souls.
The next day the ‘avocados’ were pressed onto the wire and stone of the dragon’s exoskeleton, then squeezed and smoothed to become her cob skin. This process took a couple of days. It’s a big dragon. After a while a dragonfly emerged, and a flower, a triple spiral, a spider, a bee, a toad… The Mo Dragon, the mother dragon, was coming on beautifully, with extraordinary support from the cob mixing and rolling crews. We worked like the bees, a self-organising organism, with Georgia, Basia and others as the nucleus. In magical, synchronistic style it turned out that the best place for the shrine was at the foot of the tree where the Mo-Dragon’s right ear should be. So you whisper your prayers into her ear!
But the second dragon, the male dragon, wasn’t coming on at all. So early one morning Paul, the sculptor, unbeknownst to the rest of us, got up early and went up the hill. He set about moving soil, and building up a curved slate wall for the side of the dragon. He must have worked like a maniac the amount he did in just a few hours. As if he was possessed! After that the second dragon felt not only possible but essential! We ditched the idea of cobbing him and decided instead to make him of slate and moss. He was smaller but he was tough, and quirky. I’d wanted a sense of humour somewhere. He was, for a while, our comedy dragon.
In prospecting for stone and slate young Hayden, our thirteen year old trainee shaman, had found a sheep trapped on a high ledge in the old quarry. It couldn’t get up or down, probably had been there for days. He fed it with grass and water in a Tibetan singing bowl. I went up and looked at it. Last time this happened the farmer’s son had come, shimmied down to the ledge, lifted the sheep to his shoulders and climbed back out. No sweat. I called the farmer. No answer. Left two messages. Still no response. Hayden kept pressing me. ‘We’ve got to do something about that sheep’.
After a few days a group of local Druids came to bless our work and do a summer solstice ritual. They were led by Caryl, who, with her Sami heritage, did some gutsy yoiking along with drumming and chanting. Our old friend Gwyn was also there. He definitely carries the spirit of the ancient Druids. We all joined in. It was indeed a holy visitation!
One evening we had a sweat lodge. It was beautifully prepared by Geoff, his son Ananda, Claira and the younger men, including Hayden. When ready we crawled in on our hands and knees and sat in a circle on the earth. Ananda passed red hot stones into the central hole, the door was closed and all was dark. Geoff threw water onto the rocks creating steam and heat. Slowly it got hotter and the sweat started to roll. On the first round we sang. Then there was a break. The door was opened and more hot stones brought in. There was a breath of cool air. Then back to the steam, and sweat pouring down. The next round was prayers for people we knew, near and far, for the planet, for ourselves… The heat took us to the limit of our endurance. At last it was time to clamber out into the evening light and slip into the fresh, bubbling water of the river. What a cleansing, a purification… All skilfully held by Geoff and crew.
The following day, our last full day of work, we were operating on another level of alchemical harmony. No one in charge, everybody busy like bees doing their task. All the men came together to work on the He-Dragon. After being shown the job the young bucks organised themselves to bring barrows of slate from the nearby abandoned quarry. Sean, our resident Dragon-line dowser, discovered that the two main male and female dragon lines crossed at a precise point between the dragons. Their only other crossing place at Cae Mabon is the circle in front of the Roundhouse. Apt synchronicity. By now we were working with a kind of possessed fever. Rod (from Middlewood) and I were fiddling with slates around the head and face. I had to move a few of the pieces and then suddenly by chance one of them swivelled into the air. I stepped back to look. It was an ear, no doubt about it. We sacrificed a fine step stone to be the other ear. Then it became clear where the eyes had to be. Quick as a flash Freddie placed a couple of red apple as pupils and the Mab Dragon, by divine accident, was awake! Part mad dog, part wild boar, part fiery dragon…
The next morning was midsummer’s day. We went up to the dragon site and, in a flurry of work, finished cleaning and tidying the site and sanctifying the shrine, fireplace and newly-placed heel stone. At the stroke of midsummer (10.23am) we began our ceremony. The women lined down from the steps, the men lined up from the gate. To a drumbeat we processed into the space between the two dragons, men and women interweaving with each other, smiling faces lit by the sun. There followed songs, prayers, drumming and dance. Basia, who’d been with Nick to the Druid ceremony at Bryn Celli Ddu early that morning, crowned me with a garland of flowers, some fresh from hedges near the ancient burial chamber. It was indeed a crowning moment. There was a feeling of peace, fulfilment and wonder at the extraordinary thing we’d created. The words ‘awesome’ and ‘inspiring’ were floating in the air.
In the afternoon we finally headed to Dinas Emrys. We’d been intending to go earlier but there was always so much to do we didn’t have time. In the end it was right to go on the final day. At Merlin’s Pool we took a brief detour to what I call the ‘perfect pool’. The sun was shining. The water was not freezing. Nearly everyone took a dip in this glorious Snowdonian mountain stream. As Denis said later, it was a water blessing. By the time we got to the sacred hollow at the summit of this strongest hill we were ready to simply rest and let our souls be nourished by that numinous place. In the Temple of the Two Dragons we told them about their convergence and the healing of their ancient rift. And so the job was done.
That evening we were having our last supper in the Barn when suddenly Hayden burst in. ‘We freed the sheep! We freed the sheep!’ he exclaimed excitedly. Of course we wanted to hear the story. Nathan had abseiled down. Freddie had jumped on the sheep and somehow passed it up to Chris and Hayden. Well done lads! It was a fitting finale to our week of Dragon Dreaming.
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Two days later I was standing by the dragons when light rain began to fall. Cob is vulnerable to the elements. So I swiftly gathered tarpaulins, large and small, and covered the dragons, weighing them down with stone, logs, buckets... But I guess the tarps were old and not as waterproof as they’d once been. The next few days were wet and windy and I wasn’t able to go up to check. When I finally did I found two of the small tarps had blown off. I was saddened to see that much of the glorious detail in the original cob had been eroded. The wonderful dragonfly was a shadow of itself. It was with a heavy heart that I reported this back to the Dragon crew.
But undaunted two weeks later a smaller team of a dozen came up to do a restoration job. Peter and I had, by now, put a coat of lime and sand render on the cob to protect it from further erosion. In the following four days we lovingly recreated the nostrils, eyes, eyelids, ear, spirals, spider, toad… and dragonfly. Ananda added ants! Davina sprinkled fairy dust. We put on a second coat of lime, with extra bits on the built up details. Then we limewashed her with a yellow ochre tint. After three coats she had a golden sheen.
I’d had an idea about the eyes of the Mab-Dragon. The apples were good, but too small and wouldn’t last. I thought of mirrors, cut and fanning out. I had a mirror that’d been lying on my patio for years. Now was its moment. I’d bought a glass cutter, but when I set about scoring the glass it just wasn’t doing it. In desperation I called Adam, my glazier friend. ‘Hmm, they’re not great,’ he said. ‘What you need is what I’ve got here. Twenty-five quid.’ ‘Ok, I’m coming’. I skipped lunch and went to get the guaranteed effective glass-cutter. On my return I spent an hour or more cutting wedges of mirror, then hastened up to the site. I was going to glue them to the stone but Georgia convinced me that bedding them in lime would be better. So that’s what we did.
Finally there was the question of pupils. I remembered two special stones that had
been in my house for decades, part of my makeshift altar. One is a rounded piece of brown sandstone with a flat bottom from Hoy, the southernmost island of the Orkneys, almost within sight of John O’Groats. The other is glistening granite from Zennor quoit on the Penwith Peninsula near Land’s End, roughly round also with a flat bottom. Five generations ago on my mother’s side my ancestors came from Wick, near John O’Groats. Five generations ago on my father’s side they came from Penzance, near Land’s End. The two extremities of the British Isles. Sometimes I’d put my hands on these two stones and imagine I was connecting with my two ancestral roots. Now I knew. They would be the pupils in the mirrored eyes of the Mab-Dragon.
I made a strong mix of red ochre paint with PVA glue. I hesitated before painting these sacred stones, loving as I did their natural colour. But it was a transformative moment. It had to be done. And it was an impeccable colour. Two coats and into their places they went. Perfect. What I hadn’t expected was that the mirrored eyes would twinkle in the sunlight and reflect the green and blue of the trees and the sky. In one of Mab-Dragon’s eyes you could even see the eye of the Mo-Dragon reflected. Now, at last, they are seeing eye to eye! And imagine the thoughts passing between those two eyes, whose pupils come from the two ends of the British Isles. Mighty! When I later picked a tarot card for the Mab-Dragon I got the Sun. Seemed fitting.
Here are pics of the process and the merry band of Dragon Makers. What an experience it was!