Vision Quest

Circle of stones

Even in the bright midday sun the gully was dark, almost forbidding.  Crowned by stunted oak trees, the rock walls were damp and full of moss and lichen. The floor was littered with dry leaves, cowpats, fresh hoof marks and splintered fragments of flinty rock. It was the last place on earth I would have chosen for a vision quest, but when spirit directs you, you don’t have much say in the matter.  I eased the rucksack off my shoulders, set up my tarp, unrolled my sleeping bag and wedged my precious container of water between some rocks.  Just what had I let myself in for?  “Welcome to the vision questing place from hell!” my instructor, David Wendl-Berry, laughed as he peered down into the gloomy gully.  “There are four things that can happen to you now.  You can go mad, you can disappear, you can die or you can return” For four days and four nights I was going to fast alone on that mountain.  There was no going back.

Part of my own journey in reaching this point in my life was a heartfelt desire to enter into a deeper relationship with the natural world.  The tension of working long hours for a very difficult boss was beginning to show – loss of appetite, poor sleeping patterns and an increasingly stressful relationship with my family.  The breakdown was gradual and I badly needed some medicine.  The Doctor listened attentively and suggested a course of anti-depressants. And of course, he added, I could sign you off work for as long as you needed.  It was very tempting, but I felt that the medicine I needed lay elsewhere.  Reluctantly I closed the surgery door and slowly walked back home. I needed time to still my racing heart and take my brokenness out onto the land.

It is not easy stepping out of your life.  There are bills to pay, relationships to maintain, rubbish bags to put out, phone calls to make and the washing up to do. As you begin the process of separation, the minute details of life crowd around you ever more urgently, demanding your attention.  It takes a big burst of energy to escape the gravity of domesticity and guilty words like ‘selfish’ and ‘indulgent’ continually try to short-circuit your conscience.  Finally, after some tearful hugs, the castle door of your home closes behind you and you are left alone to make the long journey north.

The first challenge on arrival was to prepare for the quest with a night walk.  ‘Take the lane to the end and then walk across open moorland for about quarter of a mile until you come to an upright standing stone.  Touch the stone and then return. Do not take any torches or headlamps, this is to be done completely in the dark.’ And dark it was – black as the skin of a coracle.  Not a splinter of moonlight. No stars or street lights, just the wind roaring through high hawthorn hedges.  Barely able to see my feet on the road beneath me, I stepped out into the night.  Fear ebbed and flowed. The road gave way to moorland. I stumbled, cursing the dark, and started to panic. Was I heading in the right direction? Very gradually my eyes began to adjust. The faintest outlines began to appear, like images on an underexposed print sloshing about in a tray of developer. But the distances were impossible to judge.  It could have been a thousand miles, not a quarter. The stone appeared and I hugged it in sheer relief.

The challenge the following day was to find your own questing place.  I had extremely clear ideas about this.  I needed a small plateau where I could look out onto the hills and observe the sunrises and sunsets.  Somewhere to lay my sleeping bag, where I could lie under a night sky crowded with stars whilst enjoying deep and meaningful dreams.  On my way to try and find this mythical plateau I passed through a dark and deep gully. Ha! I thought to myself, pity the person who chooses this place and I clambered out of it as fast as I could.  I never found the plateau.  For me, all tracks led back to the gully.  Try as I might, I was magnetically fixed and geo-tagged to this point in the landscape. The gully had my social security number, date of birth and star sign and it wasn’t going to let me go. I walked back to the centre and shared my deeply disappointing story. When I heard about the beautiful woodland clearing and open countryside questing places that the others had found, I realised that I’d definitely drawn the short straw.

I returned.   As the days wore on, I gradually began to feel at home in the silent gully.  It protected me from the cold north wind that swept down the mountain.   The trees became a canopy and protected me from the rain.  The birds and wild animals began to accept me.  Perhaps my choice of questing place wasn’t so mad after all. To begin my healing journey I began to assemble a circle of small stones. One stone represented each year of my life. It took three days to complete the six foot circle. I held each stone tightly, releasing a flood of memories from my childhood in a confusion of prayers, laughter and tears.

I began to observe the little treasures of life.  Time slowed.  My own breathing slowed. From here I could watch the slow arc of the sun time-lapse across the sky, enjoy a pygmy shrew nosing its busy path through the piles of fallen leaves, hold my breath as a buzzard landed a few yards away in the branches above me or pour out my gratitude to a tiny wren singing its heart out.  Tics and insects crawled over me.  I became grubby, unshaven and bleary eyed.  The margins between me and the land began to blur, merge and leak into one another.

I found myself returning again and again to an ancient oak tree, its mossy bark providing the perfect backrest for my contemplation.  The oak tree quietly enfolded me and, as the twin demons of hunger and tiredness gnawed away at me, offered me sustenance.  The voice was very quiet, barely on the threshold of my hearing.

“ Draw on me for your sustenance”. I sat up startled.  Did an Oak Tree really speak to me?  Wasn’t I just becoming delirious?  I sank back again too tired to move, and as I did so I was aware of a strong energy radiating into my back.  I stood up completely restored and renewed and look around.  Something utterly profound had happened in those few seconds.  I had received a deep healing – not from a pair of hands, or some tablets,  but from a tree.  A beautiful tree had stood in that glade for a hundred years or more.  In that moment I realised that everything I needed to truly heal me, lay in the natural world.

The Oak tree gave me the energy to endure the final challenge.  On the fourth night, we were told to step into our life circle at sunset and to stand through the night until sunrise.  ‘This is the night you will face your deepest fears.  Whatever happens, don’t leave your purpose circle until sunrise’ David had reminded us.  I had two irrational fears.  One was of the darkness, which I was starting to work with. The other was a childhood one of wild horses – a fear that I had never shared with anyone. As if on cue, a stallion trotted up to the ridge above the gully, just after I had stepped into my circle for the night. I knew exactly what he was after.  Just beyond the gully was the lushest softest grass imaginable.  And the only way that he could get to it was through the gully. The gully was narrow – there was certainly no room for me and the stallion and I wasn’t about to move.  I started to sweat.  There was nothing in the Vision Quest instruction manual about handling wild horses.  The stallion began to paw the ground.  His ears twitched back and forward. His mate appeared by his side.  There was some whinnying of the kind you hear on spaghetti western soundtracks.  They were obviously having a conversation. Things were not looking too good in the self-preservation department. I explained to them very tactfully that this was my night out on the land and I would be very grateful if they could find somewhere else to eat.

After a while I heard a quiet munching as they decided to eat the grass around them.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief and offered up a deep prayer of thanks. The darkness was complete.  These hours were the hardest, loneliest and slowest of all.  I lent very heavily on my staff. The water in my container had become brackish and I hadn’t drunk as much as I should have done. I was feeling dehydrated and light-headed, but I survived until dawn.  When it finally arrived, after numerous false starts, I gradually packed my rucksack and slowly walked back through the woods and fields to the farmhouse. There had been no big moment of enlightenment, no blazing sunrise to welcome me, just a quiet realisation in the soft grey morning light that my soul’s medicine chest lay in the land around me.

Kevin Redpath


Evaluating the weekend!

Woodbrooke Labyrinth by Joseph McGarraghy

Thank you so much for completing the evaluation forms, which really helps the Woodbrooke team to assess the course.

They also provide very useful feedback for Alison and me to design further courses.

What did you originally hope for in attending this event?

I hoped to learn about Pagan ways and celebrations and how they connected with the Quaker Way

Help with how to integrate my own pagan leanings with Quaker Orthodoxy

Confirmation that it is ‘alright’ to be a Pagan Quaker

Some understanding of the Quaker Way and about the Pagan Way too as I have been drawn to both but believed them to be mutually exclusive

Exploring where Pagan and Quaker ways touch and overlap and a clearer idea if where I stand on this

What, for you, was good about the event?

The generous acceptance of my ignorance and finding out that Pagan Quakers exist and maybe I can work towards being one

The sensuality, joy and juiciness of the activities. Connecting and re-connecting with like-minded people. Ideas on how I might find ways to embody my own spirituality and express my experience of the divine in ways which are personally meaningful

It dispelled some fears and it was good to be with like-minded people including the tutors

The fire! The walk! Licking dewdrops from the branches

The Woodbrooke ethos

What was not so good for you?

Could have used a little more discussion/analysis on how meetings deal with Pagan/Quaker spirituality

I would have liked to have learnt more about pagan ways

A lot of time thinking

How would you rate the event as a learning experience for you


Average 12.5%

Good  37.5%

Very Good 50%

Thinking of your experience of Woodbrooke as a whole, how would you rate it?



Good 12.5%

Very Good 87.5%

Wheel of the Year

During the weekend we touched upon the wheel of the year and the eight festivals.  If you would like to learn more about the traditions, crafts, celebrations and recipes you will find useful information and creative ideas on the Sacred Lore page at The Goddess and the Green Man.

In my presentation I touched upon the impact that a vision quest had on my life.  Pippa Bondy runs Vision Quests in North Wales and you can find more about her medicine work at: Ancient Healing Ways

I also referred to Chalice Well in Glastonbury and their public work with the cycle of the year and you will find some beautiful pictures on their gallery.

Our recommended reading list

One of the resources we forgot to share at Woodbrooke was a recommended book-list.   These are the books recommended by Debs at The Goddess and the Green Man.  Debs personally selected all of the books I brought along at the weekend and her knowledge is incredible. Why don’t you add your favourites too?        I can heartily recommend ‘Sacred Celebrations’ by Glennie Kindred too, which I have used as source material on the three workshops we have run and constantly return to it for inspiration.  I’ve added the ISBN for each book, in case your bookshop doesn’t have them in stock.

Green Man – Pitkin Guides £4.99  1841650455

Britain is rich in medieval buildings, from great cathedrals to parish churches, and Green Men can be found lurking in many of them. The best places to look for them are on the roof bosses, the capitals at the top of columns, bench-ends and the hinged wooden seats known as Misericords.The Green Man in Norwich Cathedral is in the style called ‘the foliate head’ in which the shape of the face changes imperceptibly into leaves.

Little Book of the Green Man – Mike Harding £6.99 1854105639

Mike Harding presents a selection of the most fascinating manifestations of green men, gargoyles, miseri cords and stained glass in this series. He explains the back ground and meaning behind each subject in text and illustrations. His photography is quite stunning.

Landscape of Memory – Living Folklore in England – Jerry Bird £12.99 0955290872

Valuable reading for all those interested in English Folklore. A wealth of illustrations & photographs.

Wheel of the Year – Myth and Magic through the Seasons (Beginners Guide) – Teresa Mooney and Jane Brideson 0340683864

This is a modern pagan’s guide to living in harmony with nature and the seasons. It covers the turning points of the year, including the solstices, equinoxes and major pagan festivals, with explanations of their significance in everyday life.

The Kitchen Cauldron – MS Saille £9.95

This book is a little glimpse into charms and cooking and how magical intent in the kitchen can conjure up some spellbinding results! The major celebrations of the wheel of the year are also shown with ideas for both Altar decoration and suggestions for cakes and wine. Each book is a hand bound numbered edition

Hedgewitch – Rae Beth £6.99 0709048513

Written in the form of letters from an experienced witch to her two apprentices, solitary witchcraft is offered as a fulfilling lifestyle in its own right. This book provides spells for all the key festivals of the witch’s calendar. Her lyrical letters, accompanied by pen-and-ink sketches, bring the reader to an understanding of the solitary witch’s lifestyle and beliefs. A bestseller.

Sacred Celebrations: A Sourcebook – Glennie Kindred £10.95 0906362482

This is a handbook for those who wish to find ways to celebrate and connect to the earth’s cycles. The author explains the underlying energy of the solstices and equinoxes, and details the eight Celtic festivals, working with moon cycles, herb and tree energy, and inner journeys. Highly recommended.

Earth Wisdom – A Heartwarming Mixture of the Spiritual, the Practical, and the Proactive Glennie Kindred – £14.99 1401904696

Earth Wisdom is a heartwarming mixture of the spiritual, the practical, and the proactive. It provides clear insights into new ways of looking at the world to bring about positive change, integration, and renewal. Glennie is one of the UK’s leading authorities on the earth traditions and this book will appeal to anyone who would like to deepen their connection with the earth. Written in an accessible and inspirational style.

The Earth’s Cycle of Celebration – Glennie Kindred – £5.99 095322273X

If you want a guide to tell you when to celebrate the Wheel of the Year and the Cycle of the Seasons, with plenty of suggestions on how to do it, this booklet contains everything you need. Beautifully handwritten and illustrated (brown line drawings on parchment coloured paper) this has obviously been inspired by a love of the Earth, and not by thoughts of profit. Glennie Kindred has produced a book to treasure.

Alison’s favourites:

Singing the Soul Back Home – Shamanism in Daily Life  Caitlin Matthews £12.99  1859061036

Since first publication in 1995, Caitlin Matthews’s primer on practical, everyday spirituality as practised through shamanism, has become a sought-after classic. For those trapped in a material society, shamanic wisdom offers new purpose and vitality in life, and a re-connection to the natural world. Caitlin Matthews shows how you can harness your creative imagination and innate healing powers as you explore your inner space, and journey between the everyday world and the spiritual realm of the shaman.

The Once and Future Goddess – A Symbol of our Times Elinor Gadon £12.99 0062503545

Having demanded that spirituality be reexamined in terms of women’s own spiritual needs, the women’s movement has brought a resurgence of prepatriarchal spirituality centering on the goddess–whatever her name. Along with this resurgence comes the need to reexamine artistic and anthropological assumptions. Using art and artifacts, Gadon traces the history of goddess worship from Paleolithic times to the present day. (From The Library Journal)

This I discover experientially

Dear Friends,

We hope that you all had a safe journey back home from Woodbrooke.  Thank you so much for all the creativity, joy, energy and enthusiasm you brought to our weekend workshop. We felt that the easiest way of sharing information from the course and allowing a network of kindred spirits to develop was to create a post-course blog.  And here it is! We will be populating this with pictures from the course, recipes, useful resources and a booklist so do contribute your own thoughts, experiences, poems, stories, artwork and photographs as well.

In friendship

Kevin Redpath and Alison Leonard