The Rookery: Magic in a Formal Garden

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by James Nichol, reposted from his Blog Contemplative Inquiry

Streatham’s Rookery (1) is a formal garden within Streatham Common, one of south London’s many remarkable green spaces. I made a connection with it in 1992 when living close by.

About a year before I discovered OBOD Druidry, I was working with R. J. Stewart’s The Way of Merlin (2). This taught me, first of all, about sacred space. “Sacred space is space enlivened by consciousness. Let us be in no doubt that all space is sacred, all being. Yet if humans dedicate a zone, a location, something remarkable happens within that defined sphere of consciousness and energy. The space talks back”.

I was an urban seeker and used what the city gave me. From an early age I had been fed by imagery of secret and magical gardens. The Rookery, built in the then Spa village of Streatham (1) became my sacred space. Towards its centre, a wishing well testified to the power of healing waters. It was a good place to begin my journey. The space became more alive, and I, included within the gestalt, became more alive with it.

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After establishing a sacred space, I was asked to begin a relationship with a spring and a tree. Stewart said: “we need to relate to such locations. This is a physical relationship first and foremost … we are one with the land, and trees, springs and caves are power points that tap into the energies of the land, and then reach into other dimensions altogether”. I found my spring quite easily (above). But there were almost too many trees to choose from, and I recall hesitating about my choice, to the point even of changing trees on my second or third visit. On my recent re-visit – woven into a rare family weekend in London – I found it easy to find the spring again but harder to remember my tree. I settled on the mature birch below, a good choice for a new, Goddess related undertaking (2). But I cannot vouch for it as my choice in 1992.

Sacred space (“the land talks back”), and befriending a spring and a tree: for me, these were the most powerful lessons from R. J. Stewart’s work. They were a helpful preparation for my later Druid training. I was very pleased to revisit this space in July 2023 and share it with family members.

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(1) Streatham was in Surrey before becoming part of the County of London in 1889, and then Greater London in 1965. It began as a settlement around the old Roman road (Street Ham) from London to the south coast at Portslade, Brighton, the site a Roman port long lost to erosion. It appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Estreham. The village remained largely unchanged until the 18th century, when its natural springs, known as Streatham Wells, were first celebrated for their health-giving properties. The reputation of the spa, and improved turnpike roads, attracted wealthy city of London merchants to build their country residences in Streatham.

The Rookery began as a large private house with its own landscaped gardens. Much later, when the house and gardens were threatened with disposal and redevelopment, it was bought by public subscription and laid out as a formal open space, first opening to the general public in 1913. The Rookery is now one of the London Borough of Lambeth’s Green Flag Award-winning parks, directly managed by Streatham Common Cooperative (SCCoop), a local community-led enterprise.

(2) R. J. Stewart The Way of Merlin: The Prophet, The Goddess and the Land London: The Aquarian Press, 1991


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