Shinto and Shrine Druidry 2   Leave a comment

Spider webThe continuing interest among visitors here at A Druid Way in the posts on Shinto says hunger for the Wild, for spiritual connection to wilderness and its rejuvenating spirit, and potentially for Shrine Druidry, remains unabated.  No surprise — in our hunger we’ll turn almost anywhere.  What forms our response to such hunger may take is up to us and our spiritual descendants.  Spirit, the goddesses and gods, the kami, the Collective Unconscious, Those Who Watch, your preferred designation here _____, just might have something to say about it as well.

What we know right now is that we long for spirit, however we forget or deny it, papering it over with things, with addictions and with despair in this time of many large challenges — a hunger more alive and insistent than ever.  And this is a good thing, a vital and necessary one.  In an artificial world that seems increasingly to consist of hyped hollowness, we stalk and thirst for the real, for the healing energies the natural world provides all humans as a birthright, as participants in its “spiritual economy” of birth, growth, death and rebirth.

As physical beings we live in a world where breathing itself can be a spiritual practice, where our heartbeats sound out rhythms we are born into, yet often and strangely have tried to flee.  Even this, my sadness and loss, can be prayer, if I listen and let them reach and teach me, if I walk with them toward something larger, yet native to blood and bone, leaf and seed, sun and moon and stars. Druidry, of course, is simply one way among many to begin.

/|\ /|\ /|\

If you know Kipling‘s Just So stories, you’re familiar with “The Cat That Walked By Himself.”  The cat in question consistently asserts, “All places are alike to me.”  But for people that’s usually NOT true. Places differ in ease of access, interest, health, natural beauty, atmosphere — or, in convenient shorthand, spirit.  Shrines acknowledge this, even or especially if the shrine is simply a place identified as Place, without any sacred buildings like Shinto has — a place celebrated, honored, visited as a destination of pilgrimage, as a refuge from the profane, as a portal of inspiration.

Here’s a local (to me) example of a place in Vermont I’ll be visiting soon and reporting on, one that sounds like an excellent direction for a Shrine Druidry of the kind people are already starting to imagine and create. It’s called Spirit in Nature, and it’s a multi-faith series of meditation trails with meditation prompts.  Its mission statement gets to the heart of the matter:

Spirit in Nature is a place of interconnecting paths where people of diverse spiritual traditions may walk, worship, meet, meditate, and promote education and action toward better stewardship of this sacred Earth.

Spirit in Nature is a non-profit, 501 (c)3 tax-exempt organization, always seeking new members, local volunteers to build and maintain paths, financial contributions, and interest from groups who would like to start a path center in their own area.

/|\ /|\ /|\

So much lies within the possible scope of Shrine Druidry it’s hard to know where to start.  Many such sites (and more potential sites) already exist in various forms. Across Europe, and to a lesser degree in North America (public sites, that is: private Native American and Pagan sites exist in surprising numbers), are numerous sacred-historical sites (some of which I’ll examine in a coming post), often focusing around a well, cave, tree, waterfall, stone circle, garden, grove, etc. Already these are places of pilgrimage for many reasons: they serve as the loci of national and cultural heritage and historical research, as commemorative sites, spiritual landmarks, orientations in space and time, as treasures of ethnic identity — the list goes on.  Quite simply, we need such places.

Lower Falls, Letchworth St. Pk, NY. Image by Wikipedia/Suandsoe.

Lower Falls, Letchworth St. Pk, NY. Image by Wikipedia/Suandsoe.

The national park system of the U.S., touted as “America’s Best Idea” (also the title of filmmaker Ken Burns’ series), was established to preserve many such places, though without any explicit markers pointing to spiritual practice.  But then of course we already instinctively go to parks for healing and restoration, only under the guise of “vacations” and “recreation.” And many state parks in the U.S. extend the national park goal of preserving public access to comparatively unspoiled natural refuges. Growing up, I lived a twenty-minute bike ride from Letchworth State Park in western NY: 14,000 acres of forest surrounding deep (in places, over 500 feet) gorges descending to the Genesee River.  Its blessing follows me each time I remember it, or see an image of it, and in attitudes shaped there decades ago now. May we all know green cathedrals.

I’ll talk more about shrines on other scales, small and large, soon, and tackle more directly some of the similarities and differences between Shinto and Druidry.  I’ll also look at some of the roles practitioners of earth-centered spiritualities can — and already do — play in connection to the creation and support of shrines.

/|\ /|\ /|\ 

Images: spider web; Lower Falls at Letchworth State Park, New York.

Shinto and Shrine Druidry 1   2 comments

[For some of my other posts on Shinto, visit here, here, and here.   For a two-part and more personal reflection, try here. The second part of this post will look at some possibilities for the "Shrine Druidry" of the title.]

IMG_0780I’ve mentioned Shinto and Tsubaki Grand Shrine before in these pages — a lovely shrine in Granite Falls, WA, about an hour north-northeast of Seattle. Recently during our car tour that included the Pacific Northwest, my wife and I “made omairi” or paid a visit on a sunny July day. The idiom “pay” is illuminating: some kinds of visits can be the fulfillment of a religious vow, a pilgrimage we dedicate to a spirit or an ideal — acts, in other words, performed at least potentially in fuller consciousness than usual.  True, “the bow can’t always be bent,” as the old occult proverb goes; we “have to live in the real world,” as my mother used to admonish me.  But you quickly find that cultivating regular times of intention and focus brings spiritual advantages just as it does other kinds of advantage in other aspects of life.

IMG_0782Tsubaki finds a working balance in explaining just enough about itself and about Shinto to the visitor who may know little about either. Shrines express unique and individual presences, and Tsubaki is no different.  We can argue till the cows come home and make their own butter whether such distinctiveness comes from human intention solely, or from a happy cooperation of human and divine.  What remains is the shrine itself, beyond mere debate: a place to visit, breathe, absorb, reflect on, and if you feel called to do so, revere and commune.

Tsubaki aids visitors in doing this. Here is the shrine’s temizuya, literally, “hand-water-place,” a feature at most shrines, offering an opportunity for ritual purification.  The shrine offers a bilingual placard explaining the temizu ritual. Participating (or not) is left beautifully up to us, especially on a day like this was, with no one around but one silent shrine tender, sweeping and cleaning.  But the temizuya does stand ready as one invitation among many to make our own discoveries through performing a small ritual action.

IMG_0783Of course, a shrine need not always explain. Tsubaki, like so much of Shinto, also demonstrates the value of silence in fostering encounters with the natural world. They are not separate things; the human is part of the world of the kami, of spirit.

IMG_0779

From another viewpoint, a shrine simply acknowledges what is already present, whether it chooses to point our attention to it, or bring us together by putting us in the same place. Here is the path from the central shrine down to the gravelly bed of the Pilchuck River. There you can see another small shrine (in the center of the picture, looking something like a tall sawhorse draped with white flags) standing near the water’s edge.

IMG_0775

IMG_0770

The plaque above adjoining the emaden explains another Shinto practice. Below is the emaden itself.

IMG_0771

Less formal are the written prayers tied to natural features like trees and to man-made objects. And many Westerners have become familiar with Tibetan prayer flags. Odd that in the West a prayer is considered primarily a verbal action. The silent written prayer can stay in place; we can walk away, knowing our peitition or vow or praise or thanks remain, where we made them.  We wish for a change, a response, to manifest at least in part in this natural world.  Then let our petition, our expression, our acknowledgement of spirit linger in the world, till the world’s elemental and spiritual forces reclaim them.

IMG_0774

In addition to other kami, Tsubaki also enshrines America Kokudo Kunitama-no-Kami, the kami protector of the North American continent.

In the next post, I’ll look at some possibilities for what Shrine Druidry could look like as an expression of Druidic experience.

/|\ /|\ /|\

One Weird Trick Most Gods Don’t Want You to Know   Leave a comment

(Scam, scam, scammity scam.  Oh, is this mic live?!)

“One Weird Trick Most Gods Don’t Want You to Know.” A bestselling strategy if there ever was one. Almost fail-proof. Get in on what THEY’VE been keeping from us, Honest Suffering Upright Citizens that we are.  Who doesn’t want IN? (Another 100 cable channels! Salvation by proxy! Acne-free in seven days!) Click here. Operators are standing by.  No credit? No problem! No money down! Just open a vein! (Can’t get no) satisfaction guaranteed!

(Can any truly worthwhile thing be bought?)

But YES! one god really does want you to know: introducing capital-L Loki, AKA the Trickster, the Wheeler Dealer, the Original Houdini of the Truth Trap, the Cosmic Con, Bad Penny, Black Sheep, the One in Every Family, Every Religion’s Got One Somewhere.  Him!  Well, who should know better than the Master, right?  (Deep down, that part of us all that’s a little loki-in-training.  Who whispers Alternatives, in spite of all the noises-against-the-voices we can dump into our ears.  Crank up the volume.  Maybe they’ll go away.) Figures that the only source for reliable info turns out to be a Trickster.

And he’ll tell you:  Religion’s all a scam, an empty fantasy, a fool’s errand, a wild goose chase. This god-or-not and belief- and worship- and daily-practice thing is, like you always suspected, just an endless maze of mind-tricks brought on like a nightmare, courtesy of an overactive cerebrum, that gift of Evolution that just keeps on giving, that two-hemisphere marvel and misfit that — in spite of all its tricks and traps and delusions and the stories it tells about itself and how wonderful it is — will still leave us all just as dead in a hasty handful of decades as if we’d devoted our lives entirely to pleasure. Just like the good old boys and girls over at Epicurean Central always told us we should.  Yes, go out and download the app for it.

lokiThanks, Loki.  Now a word from our sponsors.

Not.

Except …

Godding isn’t what it used to be.

(Even with a nose-and-chin like Tom Hiddleston‘s.)

Even the gods you used to be able to count on turn out to be … puny.

One weird trick most gods don’t want you to know is that their truth or falseness has little to do with what they can teach you, how interaction with them can change your life, and so on.

Just because they don’t exist has very little to do with anything at all. Existence isn’t an absolute.  It de-pends.

And like those pesky anatomical pend-ant or hanging things, the so-called “fact” of existence or non-existence can get us pretty confused about reality*, which is, after all, only another name for thing-ness. Anything that’s not a “thing” tends to get left off the List. Which is another weird trick most gods hope we’ll kinda ignore. For our own good, of course.  Lists. Everyone’s got one, gods included. (Gods especially.)

What to wear, say, think, do, attend to and let slide.  Everyone’s been be-godded, infected with at least one god, right down to our nail-beds and stomach linings: sex, wealth, image, status, art, pleasure, the “right views,” seniority, rationalism, salvation, comfort — even “just being left alone.”  Gods everywhere.  No place free of ‘em. Hanging from the rafters, crawling around and inflaming our skin like some sort of divine psoriasis. No god-be-gone, available now while supplies last.  Annoying little (BIG!) suckers.

Even death won’t free us when-not-if — un-gods help us all! — we’re reborn into some vastly cooler, endlessly hip world where everyone is fashionably thin (or plump), calmly atheist and perfectly dressed, coiffed, housed, spoused, aroused and soused.  Tastefully conformist down to the designer toe-rings.  No gods here, nasty things — had mine removed eons ago, old chap.  Do yourself a huge favor, darling.

And so, illusion-free at last, eternity or oblivion (choose your mirror image) is ours!

Paradoxes to amuse children.

(Loki’s laughing all the way to Valhalla.)

And the Goddess? The Goddess is laughing at him.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: Loki and The Hulk from The Avengers.

*Reality, from Latin res, thing; realis; re-al or pertaining to things or their qualities, like the ability to slap you in the face, fall on your big toe, eat you for breakfast, if you don’t pay attention to them. Which gods like War still do, come to think of it.  Details at 6:00 (or 18:00) tonight!

“The Name’s the Thing”   Leave a comment

From a distance, Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming looms over the landscape, prominent against the horizon, but once you enter the park surrounding it, it seems to vanish, only to reappear in fits and starts at first, peeping over colorful hills and cliff faces.

Geologically, we’re told, the tower is properly an igneous intrusion or eroded laccolith, two fun pieces of scientific jargon, technically descriptive, but lacking something nonetheless. And “Devil’s Tower”?  Why should the baddie of Judeo-Christianity get any credit at all for this splendid rock formation?  Let him stick to devilled eggs and devil’s food cake.

Those of us over a certain age may recall the Tower’s appearance as dramatic staging in the final portion of the ’77 Spielberg sci-fi film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a pop-culture association that now seriously dates us.

IMG_0897

bearlodgeMy wife and I arrived late in the day, which helped throw the tower’s dramatic vertical striations into high relief. A park information kiosk quietly points out that the English name “Devil’s Tower” is comparatively recent. Native names from several different tribes associate the formation with the bear — the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow and Lakota all call it some variation of “Bear’s Lodge” or “Bear’s House” and their traditional stories describe bears marking the great stone with their claws.*  (You can read several versions under the section “Native American Folklore” here.)

Both name and thing started shifting for me as I read this: a good name illuminates the thing, and the thing itself lives more brightly and fully under a good name. I can still feel the association “stick” — now a piece at least of that older (and to me more apt) story has become part of this landscape.  Devil’s Tower, yes.  But the “real” name, well, that’s a different matter.  Invoke the place in memory by the older name — in this case a good one — and its naming story comes with it.  Misname something, or someone, and you may not be able to see that thing or person clearly or truthfully.

IMG_0891

Bear’s Lodge, now I pass along a little of your story to others, so they too may enjoy the rightness of a good name.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*The tower remains a sacred site for several tribes.  “In 2005,” the Wikipedia article notes, “a proposal to recognize several Native American ties through the additional designation of the monolith as Bear Lodge National Historic Landmark” faced political opposition and the argument that a “name change will harm the tourist trade and bring economic hardship to area communities.”

Image:  Bear over Devil’s Tower — park info kiosk.

So What About the Non-Religious?   2 comments

You may know some of “them.”  (What’s it say about us that we say “them”?) They’re often wonderful people, they raise families, they “contribute to society,” they’re fun to be around — and they may seem not to have a religious or spiritual bone in their bodies.  And that’s not only something to “tolerate” or “accept.”  It’s just as it should be. “I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead,” says H. D. Thoreau.

Two couples whose company my wife and I delight in and seek out certainly qualify as non-religious: you can see their unease or discomfort if the topic happens to come up in conversation.  An innocent question, or a comment in passing. “What’s that pin you’re wearing?” or “What did you do last month when you were in Minneapolis?” And hearing our answer, a kind of stiffness, a change in expression, a wilting, or wariness.  “Oh no,” you can practically hear them thinking.  “We’re going there again.”

And my wife and I laugh about it afterward.  You get it, right? So often we’ve been the defensive ones, either avoiding the topic altogether, or passing off our beliefs with a quick, casual acknowledgment and then turning the talk in another direction, or (sigh) girding ourselves to explain, justify, account yet again for our non-mainstream practices and events and perspectives.  The lesson for us continues to be this: if the opportunity opens up, find a way to talk about day-to-day benefits rather than beliefs, seek the common ground we all know from living on this planet, demonstrate it as a part of our lives, which they do care about. Then move on.  Build trust, keep the lines of communication open, share your vulnerability and — as needed — shut up.  You know:  basic relationship stuff.

On our recent car trip, which I’ve touched on in the last several posts, we managed to reconnect with colleagues from over 25 years ago, a couple I worked with during my year of teaching in Changsha in the People’s Republic of China in the late 80s.  We’d fallen out of touch: the first of their three children arrived, three of the four of us were back in school, several of us were patching together jobs out of already unconventional work histories, and both of our families moved at least a couple of times to accomplish these things.

IMG_0879We joked about our reunion later, over a dinner of home-made jiaozi.  Making and eating them had become a lovely family tradition for them after China. The four of us and their youngest daughter, now 19, stood around their dining room table, filling and wrapping and talking, brushing the jiaozi wrappers with the cornstarch-water mix to seal them, then watching as the plump crescent dumplings steamed. Earlier we’d met for lunch in a restaurant, in case any of us had become raving loonies in the interim, and a convenient escape was needed.  Eight hours later, we all knew we had nothing to fear.  And the best demonstration, in the moment, of spirituality in all of our lives?  Friendship, hospitality, a shared meal, simple pleasure in each other’s company.  A touch of nostalgia didn’t hurt either.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Image of jiaozi steaming: me. Actual kitchen, steamers, stove, etc., courtesy of S. T.

Edited: 2 Aug. 2014

Margot Adler: NPR Reporter & Pagan Author, 1946-2014   Leave a comment

madler04

Margot Adler in 2004. Picture: Wikipedia OTRS, by Kyle Cassidy

Quietly, steadily, Margot Adler helped Paganism gain wider understanding and respectability. Her passing at 68 from cancer this last Monday, 28 July ’14, also leaves a gap on the airwaves.  Often people seem to know her either for her work as a veteran reporter and correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR), or for her seminal book on Paganism and her involvement in Wicca, but less often for both.  Yet the combination is a key to her life and significance, and helped to give her and what she had to say particular impact, harder to ignore because of her reasoned and thoughtful public voice over the decades.

The NPR website provides a couple of short audio segments acknowledging her work and her passing.  This one includes brief mention of her involvement in Paganism toward the end, around the 3:40 mark, and includes a link to the other segment.  Both segments include written transcripts as well.

Adler’s signature book, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today, to give its full title, was first published in 1979 by Viking Press. The Amazon page for the 4th revised 2006 edition enthuses:

Almost thirty years since its original publication, Drawing Down the Moon continues to be the only detailed history of the burgeoning but still widely misunderstood Neo-Pagan subculture. Margot Adler attended ritual gatherings and interviewed a diverse, colorful gallery of people across the United States, people who find inspiration in ancient deities, nature, myth, even science fiction. In this new edition featuring an updated resource guide of newsletters, journals, books, groups, and festivals, Margot Adler takes a fascinating and honest look at the religious experiences, beliefs, and lifestyles of modern America’s Pagan groups.

ddtm1sted2005 article in the Religion Journal of the New York Times, “Witches, Druids and Other Pagans Make Merry Again in the Magical Month of May,” observed that “the book is credited with both documenting new religious impulses and being a catalyst for the panoply of practices now in existence.”

My 1981 Beacon Press* paperback edition has begun to yellow with age.  Paging through it as I write this post, I remember how I read and re-read it, fascinated by practices, perspectives and beliefs that variously called to that 20-something me from a place both familiar and strange, echoed my own experience, or surprised me with their outright oddness.

If modern Druids and Pagans more generally have relied heavily on books to launch and sustain them, that’s because it’s often principally or solely through literacy, books, and reading that many Pagans learn they aren’t alone after all, that others like them really do exist, and that the spiritual energies they finally must acknowledge are at work in them deserve expression rather than repression — that the way opening before them is possibly even worth the risks and hardships that may come with it. The brave Solitaries in their personal practices, and the Pagan groups that have formed and continue to form, resemble those of many other new religious and spiritual movements that coalesce and arise, and have arisen historically, within cultures typically oblivious, resistant or actively hostile to the opportunities, perspectives and critiques such movements offer. Where else, after all, would you expect Pagans to begin?!  Where and how else do any new spiritual and religious movements begin, but by those with a shared experience or vision recognizing each other, and drawing nourishment from the common ground between them?

That original book cover of Drawing Down the Moon looks tame today, but it made me want to hide it from casual view, even from my parents who were very accepting of whatever their bookish son was currently reading.  So what happened next with me?  Very little, outwardly.  But the book and its many voices, together with its author’s reflections on the Pagan movement, fell onto fallow ground.  I can trace its impact directly to my involvement in Druidry now.  And from what I’ve heard, I surmise this proved true for many others as well.  Roots and branches of many lives.

So all this is to say thank you to Adler for her book and also for the questions she raises in it, most of which remain valid.   While various streams and strands in Paganism have grown and strengthened since the time of the first edition of Adler’s book, the challenges she perceives for Paganism persist.  I’ll close with an example:

Neo-Pagans, Adler asserts (pp. 385-386*)

have so many different visions that together they seem broad enough to sustain the human need for beauty, freedom, and growth.  They contain a vision of the earth that is a noble one, a reverent one.  I am still inspired by it.  These ideas seem capable of stirring great ferment; they seem capable of ending human alienation from the planet.  But will they?

… It also seems clear that those who choose to be Pagans do so to nourish and sustain a Pagan vision already inside.  This vision exists as a painting exists, or a piece of artwork.  And Neo-Pagans are the artists.  But the relationship of artists to living on the earth has always been uncertain.  Perhaps it is important to emphasize the visions of Pagans rather than the realities of their lives, the poems they write rather than the jobs many are forced to keep, the questions the movement asks rather than the goals already attained.  The goals sometimes fall short of transcendence, and Pagans are often imprisoned by the very civilization they criticize.

Of course, that’s partly WHY they criticize it.  Plant a dream, and it may well take time to germinate, if conditions are less than welcoming.

“You’re much too journalistic,” Michael told me again and again as we walked around Craftcast Farm in the winter of 1976.  “I want to know what people feel like in the circle.  That’s what I want your book to tell me.  That’s what I want to know.”

Along with her good thinking, and the words of many who have become our Pagan elders, Adler’s book definitely conveys both that atmosphere and the challenges Paganism continues to grapple with.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images:  Margot Adler; book cover of Drawing Down the Moon, first edition.

*Adler, Margot.  Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1981.

Edited 4 Aug 2014

The Green Man, Kitsch and Mystery   Leave a comment

Then there are those times when you’re simply enjoying the kitschier side of your culture.  And maybe, in spite of everything, you still encounter a kind of metaphorical economy inherent in things, in which even apparent kitsch can reveal a mystery, or prompt a discovery.

My wife and I were on a return leg of our car-trip yesterday afternoon when we saw a Minnesota highway sign at the town of Blue Earth that caught our attention.  A short turn off interstate 90 led us to a parking lot and a small patch of, well, green.

To celebrate the 1978 completion of interstate I-90 as a highway linking Boston to Seattle, Green Giant Foods erected this statue of their Jolly Green Giant mascot in Blue Earth, Minnesota.  (Green Man always manages to sneak his way into consciousness, one way or the other.)

IMG_0967

Like some of you older readers, my wife and I grew up hearing the bass voice-over of “Ho, ho, ho … Green Giant!” as the animated cartoon version of the big green guy hawked frozen vegetables on TV.  Now here he was “in person,” or as close as we could get.  And may this post be a small tribute to His Greenness.

Edited: 30-July-2014

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 169 other followers