Midsummer and Vervain   Leave a comment

I’m going all lore-y in this post, so if plants and herbal history aren’t really your thing, move along.

Vervain (Verbena spp) — “leafy branch” — known among herbalists since at least the time of dynastic Egypt, has associations with midsummer, most obviously because in the British climate where we get much of herbal lore in the English-speaking West, that’s approximately when it flowers. The 11th-century Old English Herbarium (Ann Van Arsdall, Routledge, 2010) describes gathering vervain, using the Latin name uermenaca, at Midsummer. (Any left over from the previous year was to be tossed into the Midsummer bonfire.) Fans of The Vampire Diaries know it for its colorful flowers and anti-vampiric powers. The TV series showed the variety Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata), an American species, and dramatized the herb’s toxicity to vamps and its ability to protect a mortal from compulsion by vampires. Who says pop television has no wisdom to offer?!

The range of vervain’s nicknames also indicates something of how firmly fixed it is in herbal history: enchanter’s plant, holy herb, herb of the cross, herb of Saint Anne (yerba del Santa Ana), Juno’s tears, pigeon’s grass, pigeonweed, turkeygrass, herb of grace, etc.

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Blue (or Swamp) Vervain (Verbena hastata)

I’ve been on an intermittent local quest to spot some growing wild. Many North American varieties of the plant are originally native to Europe and were brought by early colonists. In the sometimes quaint and often rewarding language of herbals and herbalists, vervain “has enough garden presence of a rustic kind to justify its inclusion, being in no way boorish or uncivil, and it is easy to start from seed and easy to grow” (Henry Beston*, Herbs and the Earth, David Godine, 2014).

Vervain varieties (over 250!) have been prized for numerous benefits, depending on dose and preparation, along with a few qualifications of sensitivity and toxicity at higher levels. It has tonic, diuretic, and anti-parasitic properties, and can stimulate both dopamine and serotonin, meaning it lifts you up and also slows you down. Leaves, roots and flowers, again depending on variety (harvest early in the season to avoid strong, even rank flavor!), make a soothing tea.

In herblore, vervain sprang, according to one story, from the tears of the goddess Isis as she wept at the death of Osiris. Greeks and Romans both used it as a sacred herb, sweeping it across their altars.  In Christian Europe the story runs that vervain was used to slow the flow of blood from Christ’s wounds (though logically this would merely have prolonged his agony), and so thereby the plant gained another of its nicknames — herb-on-the-cross.

Western medicine officially disdains to acknowledge much value to the plant. One site (drugs.com, sourced from Harvard Health Topics), notes “There is no clinical evidence to support specific dose recommendations for vervain. Traditional use for its astringent properties required 2 to 4 g daily in an infusion … Research reveals little or no information regarding adverse reactions with the use of this product” but adds that for pregnant and nursing women, “Documented adverse reactions. Avoid use”.

Nonetheless, many sites include recipes for nursing mothers, such as this one:

Combine 1 quart of water with 1 teaspoon of vitex berries, 1 teaspoon blessed thistle leaves, 1/2 teaspoon vervain leaves, 1/2 teaspoon nettle leaves, 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, and 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds; steep for 20 minutes; drink 1 to 3 cups a day.

I’m leaving out the source, perhaps to protect the guilty. But anyone who’s benefitted from herbal remedies, as I have, especially if nothing else has worked, can readily attest to their value from personal experience, in the face of official disdain and ignorance.

With all this history and attention, it’s little surprise that among the plants set forth for study in OBOD’s Ovate grade work, vervain occupies pride of place.

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Sources (besides personal experience): OrganicfactsDrugs.com; Mother Earth Living.

*Henry Beston (1888-1968) wrote, “Nature is part of our humanity, and without some awareness of that divine mystery man ceases to be man”.

Keys to the Temple   Leave a comment

Solstice blessings to everyone! What are they? Read on!

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devil’s paintbrush, 21 June 2017

Solstice time is sacred time. That picnic or party you’re holding on the Solstice, alone or with friends, is just as sacred as my Druid ritual, or the monk or nun at prayer, if you’re comparing (un)conventional symbols and images.

As much as anything, I’m found, the sacred is a habit. It’s not only a habit, of course. But a desire to experience the sacred, and the placing of yourself in spaces where experience of the sacred can happen, help it along.

The front lawn I’ve resisted mowing for two weeks now flares with devil’s paintbrush (Pilosella aurantiaca), a weed here in the U.S., though protected in parts of Europe. Also called fox-and-cubs, orange hawkweed, and other names, for me it’s been a harbinger of high summer since I was in my mid single digits, just old enough to ask and remember its name.

I sit on the lawn and begin to count other plant species nearby. Quickly the number extends beyond my skill to name. The first wild strawberries of a few posts ago yield their lovely tartness when I reach for a few to taste. Clover is spreading over the north lawn, and I welcome it, since both bumble- and honey-bees love it, and it crowds out weeds and nitrogenizes the soil. When I was a boy we re-seeded our pastures every few years with clover because it’s such good food for cows and other grazing animals.

The sacred is a kind of love. It feels always new. Sitting on the lawn I forget everything else as I look around, breathe, listen, and feel the warm earth beneath me. Six months from now the ground here may be frozen, perhaps covered in snow, but that will not negate the marvel of earth underfoot, air in the lungs, the sky always changing overhead. Who has not longed for and known the kiss of the beloved? With these bodies and senses we greet the world each day.

The sacred is a celebration. Cultures throughout human history set aside days and places to witness and commemorate seedtime and harvest, greatest light and deepest dark. The solstices and equinoxes are human events as much as astronomical ones, and predate any written scripture by thousands of years. We likewise mark births and deaths, and we make vows and promises to uphold our marriages, friendships, communities and nations.

Moses (ever tried a desert solstice celebration?!) gets to say it in Deuteronomy 30, that what we seek

isn’t too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It’s not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who’ll ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may do it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who’ll cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may do it?” No, the word is very near you; it’s in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Oh, hear talk of “obeying” and perhaps you resist. I know I often do. Too many times we’ve been ruinously misled by over-trust and heedless obedience. (Republican or Democrat, or whatever the party platform, it hasn’t let up yet.)

As author Peter Beagle describes it, “We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers—thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams” (“Introduction”, The Tolkien Reader). What we can rightly obey shares an affinity with dream. It’s what resounds in us most deeply, if we turn off the jangle of the other voices. Rightly, if not always safely. The sacred is no more “safe” than love is. Both can lead very far from where we thought our lives would go. But the “wrong” voices? What is mass culture but a form of consciously-accepted schizophrenia, if we end up listening to every voice except the first one, the original?

For any authority the sacred wields is not a “command” so much as the first law of our being. To “disobey” it, or attempt to deny or ignore the sacred, is like trying to live outside our own skins. A human without the sacred is exactly that — something eviscerated, no longer alive. We use the sacred itself when we deny it — we employ energies on loan to us even as we refuse them or cast them aside. What else will we do with them?

A habit, a love, a celebration. These are among the keys to the temple. “In every generation” (can’t you hear the movie trailer voiceover for that summer blockbuster, as it proclaims the words?!) whether we throw the keys in the grass, or take them up, use them to open marvels, and pass them along to those who come after us, the temple — oh blessedly and forever! — the temple always awaits.

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Triple Solstice, 2017   Leave a comment

Yesterday our local group celebrated an early Solstice. The forecast rain held off — Blessing of the Sun! — and at the very end of the rite as we uncast the circle, a couple of birds landed in the branches of the tree above the altar, just a few feet overhead. As many of you have also witnessed, the natural world acknowledges the energies of ritual respectfully performed.

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Several members of our group are Wiccans — note the brooms to sweep away negative energy as needed. They’re not only working tools but useful working symbols as well. By that I mean a symbol to carry into meditation and deploy in visualization, as well as a physical object. Catch myself in less-than-desirable states of consciousness? Out comes the “inner broom”. My particularly stubborn inner trash gets swept into heaps, dumped in a bucket and cast into an inner river which dissolves it and washes it away, reintegrating it into the cosmos. (Repeat as needed.)

So often we look half-aware for something to replace negativity, and lacking a viable replacement we can get sucked back into it, because its tug draws the emotions. Symbols stand ready to our need, charged with their own emotional electricity. When I find it may not be enough merely to purify, whether with prayer, salt, incense, ritual or some combo of them, a symbol can help rally inner resources. Some unwanted stuff has a way of creeping back in, and the situation may call for an ongoing cleanse. Broom, en garde!

If it makes you feel better, because you “grasp” or “understand” such things, to call them “psychological”, by all means do so. What matters more to me, though, at least in the moment, is whether they work. One member couldn’t join us yesterday who played a specific role in the rite-as-written, so after a quick exchange of PMs with the ritual writer, I stepped in, among other things to cast the circle. This gave me a splendid excuse to de-rust a sword for the purpose and, not-so-incidentally, help me confront why I love and seek out ritual, but shy from consecrating objects I already possess as ritual aids. I’ve touched on this in previous posts [among others, here].

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Fire comes to our ritual and bodily need (why separate them, after all?), its heat, light and hue all central to the season and a ritual working: nearby fire-pit shedding warmth on our skin, or candles flickering on the altar. But the sword is a fine tool of power, a weapon, a strong and ancient symbol, forged in flame and often enough incorporating a cross where hilt meets blade. So it gathers up a whole complex of symbolic vectors of energy.

The replica sword I cleaned up yesterday morning before the ritual is an older design than the more familiar Medieval ones with the exaggerated hilt. Its edges are very dull — no risk to anyone of injury — so it’s also ideal to transport. If by chance the police should stop me for any reason, it’s much easier to explain a stage sword than one like my other sword, much rustier, but with a wicked edge still. Seeing how well the white vinegar cleaned off the rust from the smaller sword, though, I’ll be tackling that more extensive cleaning job tomorrow.

I mention all this at some length because the curious resistance I felt at bringing a ritual tool along to the ritual told me something curious is afoot. Two swords (a promising name for a novel, or magical order!) put me in mind of the two ancient Indo-European words for elemental fire, *ogni the active, and *pur the static. Is there something at play in my conception of ritual, or my ritual purposes, that I’m missing or blocking? The smaller, less impressive (and very dull-edged) blade has the fancy scabbard. The other, larger and deadly weapon has a simple leather sheath, all practicality, but no tooled design. Surface and deeper meaning, keenness and showiness, purpose and pretension? I’m still listening.

After uncasting the circle yesterday, I drove the point of the blade into the soft earth by the altar, saying, “The circle open, but unbroken”, or some variation on those words.

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And the ritual circle in my mind, open and unbroken, interrogates me still. If I gain any insight, I’ll pick this up again in a subsequent post.

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“Where can I celebrate the Solstice?” You can find some version of this question online. Best, I’d answer, is your own celebration. Yes, there are plenty of group events around the world, but the shortest night of the year offers you your pick of how to observe the festival. An all-night party (a lively Scandinavian tradition) or a vigil (some Druid traditions) are two popular options. Or some unique combination of the two.

I plan to stay up Tuesday evening for a “second Solstice” and greet the Sun Wednesday morning, June 21st, on what will be the longest day in the eastern U.S. Where I live, daylight on the 21st is 15 hours and 21 minutes long, making the night just a little over 8 and a half hours.

The “third Solstice” is Friday 23 June, whether I attend a group celebration just outside of Boston (a drive of 3 hours in Friday evening traffic) or do a ritual solo at home.

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Deconspiracizing & Druidry   Leave a comment

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through the branches, opening doors

Depending on where you lurk on the Net, you may have run across this passage:

Be sure the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control. Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration, and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing. Ensure the patient continues to believe that the problem is “out there” in the “broken system” rather than recognizing there is a problem with himself.

Keep up the good work,
Uncle Screwtape

“Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis ~1942

One of my cousins posted this recently on Facebook.

Also depending on your alertness and your familiarity with Lewis and his works, you may or may not have additionally spotted the following caveat. “Screwtape’s ‘fixated on politics’ quote”, notes Joshua Dance, “is not by C.S. Lewis. You and I may like the idea, but proceed with caution.”

How perfect for my purpose here: to use a wrongly-attributed quotation in the process of desconspiracizing ourselves. What ideas do we like, and how cautious are we — can we be — should we be — with them as we proceed?

And does this piece of wisdom still retain any value, once we uncouple it from its famous but misidentified source?

If you think it does, I invite you to keep reading. (If not, here’s the new-as-of-June trailer for Voldemort — Origins Of The Heir, a fan-film.)

Human liking for conspiracy theories is by almost all accounts wonderfully unbiased in its spread. Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian, Communist, Anarchist — whatever colors I fly on my mast, I’m just as susceptible to a theory that fits my prejudices as the next person. No one’s immune. In my book that qualifies as a “problem with myself”. Fortunately, remedies exist. Maybe not cures, but remedies.

Here, after a completely unscientific search, are seven news links [ Paul RatnerThe Independent | The Telegraph | Time | The Guardian| Conspiracies.net6 True Conspiracy Theories ] to some of the most popular conspiracy theories out there in the English-speaking world. (Those of you with a foot in other linguistic and cultural communities have your own favorites that you know far better than I.)

And if you’d like just one of many available pages pointing out the logical fallacies underpinning conspiracy thinking, here’s an example that offers 13 fallacies.

My main goal in this post? I want to remind myself most of all, and any of you so inclined, to  continue the work needed to minimize the effect of conspiracy thinking. Secondarily, I want to refresh my understanding of ways of thinking and doing — like Druidry — that can “distract me from the distractions”.

Two things I’ve learned over decades to treasure and nourish in myself and my dear ones more than anything else: what I choose to attend to, and how I choose to attend to it. In other words, attention and attitude.

We know how valuable our attention is because advertisers and politicians work so hard to get it and hold on to it. Our attitude matters just as much: everyone wants to tell us how to feel, rather than letting us discover that on our own.

Once someone has my attention hooked, and my attitude in their pocket, they own me.

So here’s one of my triads for action:

1) Love what I can see, touch and talk to most often — daily is ideal. This includes family, friends, trees, pets, the garden, ancestors, my community, and the people I meet. “I bless you in the name of what you love most deeply” is a silent prayer I can offer for everyone I meet. An even briefer version: “Bless this day and those I serve”. (I also find it’s very useful in stopping me from mechanical reactions for or against, from forming pointless opinions based on superficial details like age, weight, dress, gender, etc. — or for cutting me off in traffic, or tailing me much too closely. So I “repeat as needed”: “I bless you in the name of what you love most deeply”.)

2) Whatever time and energy I can give, work so that it will benefit others as much as myself. This blog is one of those things. My years in teaching, and in holding open discussions on spiritual topics in our local library, are a couple of others. A chance conversation in a shop or store that acknowledges another’s humanity and dignity can be a profound service to others. I don’t try to be selfless; I try to enlarge my sense of who is part of the Self. Because I’m  still learning, whenever necessary, I start small.

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backyard willow on wash-day

3) Thank everyone and everything that helped me do the first two things. Gratitude may be too simple for our complex and suspicious age, but, I notice, it never goes out of style. Again, it may be silent just as often as something to express. Yes, this can be a dangerous age to live and be generous in. But I find a wise kindness works well.

If I focus more on my attitude and attention, I can diminish the moments of “angst, frustration, and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing”.

The more I experience the inherent joy in using my attitude and attention skilfully, the more I find myself energized to keep on practicing with them. These are some of the truest things Druidry has helped me discover.

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Virtual Solstices — June 2017   Leave a comment

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midnight sun — Fairbanks, Alaska

Ah, Summer Solstice, almost upon us. Time of greatest light, and — with the kind of paradox implicated in so many human experiences — the start of a slow turn toward longer nights and shorter days.

So many solstices in our lives. Make a list for yourself. How many times has a peak — longed for, striven for, suffered and sacrificed for — also signaled its own diminishment? How often does crest drag trough along with it? And how many times has this seemed like a sad, bad or terrible thing?

If I search even briefly on Youtube, log in to my handful of friendly Pagan Facebook groups, read a blog, or play some of the latest computer games with their massive, nimble and interactive CGI engines and palettes, I can savor a virtual festival or gathering or historical re-creation: case in point, here’s a Stonehenge app.

I love the definition of “virtual” at dictionary.com: “being such in power, force, or effect, though not actually or expressly such”. It’s only the third definition that’s explicitly cybernetic: “temporarily simulated or extended by computer software”.

“A reality in power, force or effect that is temporarily simulated” by humans is a fair definition of ritual, including the last major dinner you had with family. Unplug, and your reality gets only more virtual — closer to “real” reality.

Isn’t every reality “virtual”?! (“My reality’s more virtual than yours!” “New and improved reality: 37% more virtual than the leading competition!”)

So what are my responses to the questions I posed back in that second paragraph? I’m putting myself on the spot here, because I asked you to do the same. If you haven’t, do you know what you’re missing?

How many times has a peak also signaled its diminishment?

Well, every time I can think of. From what I’ve seen, that’s how we define a peak, how we recognize it at all. I wake on the morning of either solstice, summer or winter, and know that though I can’t see it yet, the shift’s begun. Pay careful attention and you can feel it, something about the light, something you can almost hold in your hands, or feel along your spine, a kind of undertone to each day, a melody just below the threshold of hearing. (Ritual works, among other things, to amplify the melody just a little, so we can hear, honor, learn from, cooperate with it. Music of the spheres, voice of a god, thrum of blood in our veins, all, none, the same.)

But with the drag and inertia of this dense, physical world, there’s often a delay in change manifesting. The greatest heat’s yet to come after the longest day. July and August will bring it in swaths. The sharpest cold arrives a couple months following the shortest day, late January and February breathing down our necks, here in Vermont.

How often does crest drag trough along with it?

Pretty much always. Optimist or pessimist, conspiracy theorist or activist, conservative or liberal, I pick my favorite “partialist” partisan, or out myself as one. I choose which part of the cycle I want to focus on and ignore the rest of it. Trough, crest, average of the two, nudging the shape of the curve to resemble the wing of a bird or a turtle’s shell — I take my pick of virtual realities, and make it my reason for living. I establish “a reality in power, force or effect that is temporarily simulated”! (Or fail to do so, doubtless because of the machinations of some evil Other.)

Ritual says Look. Listen. Look again, wider. And again.

And how many times has this seemed like a sad, bad or terrible thing?

Solstice says Here are light and warmth and life. Like that old but choice piece of wisdom also says, To everything there is a season. And a Pagan adds And a ritual to go along with it.

Marcus Aurelius observed, “…the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are, and to make new things like them”.

[But it’s this one I love! I cry. This one I’ve lost, the one I will lose, one like no other. The sun of my life will go down, and nothing to be done about it.]

So I make it one of my spiritual practices to try out the wisdom of that crazy old Bard, Ezra Pound, in his 81st Canto: “What thou lovest well remains,/the rest is dross/What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee/What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage”.

Oh Ezra, you say it with such conviction! But I’m (mostly) no fool. How — in what ways — is this true, for me anyway? (You must answer for you.) Are some ways truer than others? How can even one of them shape a sorrow, deepen a joy? Are there exceptions? And what do they teach? The Bardic gift may often be the gift of song first, but I need not drop good sense. Let melody carry me to a fuller measure of wisdom.

(Dross, how much of my life have I poured out in loving and losing you? A ritual to leave dross behind, recycle it, hand it over for composting.)

That’s one of my Solstice meditations, as virtual — full of virtue and power — as I can make it.

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Depending on your geography, you may witness six seasons, or two, or nearly none at all, if you’re living in the equatorial tropics.

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winter 2014 “lake effect” snowstorm

Growing up west of the Finger Lakes in New York, I knew Summer Solstice meant school was out for the summer — hail, Alice Cooper! (With all the snow days likely in lake-effect country, with the heavy wet snows typical around Erie and Ontario, easternmost of the Great Lakes, some years it was mid-June before we’d made up all the missed classes. The year I graduated high school was one of the latest because of the Blizzard of ’77.)

balingIt meant the first cutting of hay went to silage, or — if the weather was unusually dry for green, wet western New York, we cut, raked, and baled it, and ferried wagon after wagon of it to the dark, looming haymow. Under the gray asphalt shingles that covered the immense gambrel roof, you’d sweat just standing still in the dim half-light, waiting for the elevator to drop seemingly endless bales as you scurried to stack and balance on the slowly rising tiers.

Solstice meant calves born in our summer pastures, either one of two 25-acre spreads of grazing, hills and thickets and streams, with a newborn easily hidden by its mother in grass already waist-high by late June. Solstice marked whether we’d likely prevail once again with our corn-crop and the annual proverbial goal:  “knee-high by the Fourth of July”.

Solstice meant wrapping up a freshman biology project at year’s end: I recorded how on average I consumed 5000 calories a day once summer farm work began, and as a rangy and growing 15-year-old I still lost weight.

Solstice meant lilacs, rhubarb, strawberries, new-mown grass, the sustained spike in the cream content of our cows’ milk, once they could graze the pastures — a luscious languor that matched the blissful coolness of summer evenings moderated by the massive heat-sinks of nearby lakes the size of small oceans.

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Letchworth State Park, middle & upper falls

Solstice always arrived a scant few days before my parents’ anniversary, always the occasion for a family picnic in nearby Letchworth State Park, 14,000 acres of Genesee river-gorge and hiking trails and secluded picnic spots.

Solstice set the rhythm of my late boyhood.

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Cathasach: The rhythm of eternity in a world of change can only manifest as cyclic change.

Mathghamhain: You say that. But what does it signify? Even granting such a thing as eternity —

Cathasach: Eternity’s not a thing. Language misleads us. We think there are individual things we can choose to believe in or not, rather than how stuff is. The stuff we use to believe or disbelieve in something is part of what we believe or doubt. Can’t get outside it and be “objective” about it. Among all the other things eternity does is time.

Mathghamhain: Ah, you quibble now.

Cathasach: Not at all. I challenge. What is a cycle but a pattern of regular change, a wheel that rolls, that spirals rather than digging a rut?

Mathghamhain: It’s not stationary, but it returns, yes. On that we can agree.

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Stonehenge Solstice Sunset

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Images: midnight sun, Fairbanks, Alaskalake effect snow; baling hay; Letchworth State Park; 2005 Solstice at Stonehenge.

Alice Cooper, Ezra Pound, the Solstice, western NY, and Druidry: not where I’d intended to go at first!

Strawberry Moon   2 comments

The June full moon, often aptly named the Strawberry Moon, actually reaches its fullest tomorrow (Friday) morning, but most North Americans will see it at its peak tonight.

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wild strawberries, north yard — perfect reason not to mow

 

Tonight I’ll offer my full moon ritual for the health of the hemlocks that line the north border of our property, as well as other beings, “quando la luna è crescente” — while the moon’s still waxing. As the full moon nearest the summer solstice less than two weeks away, Strawberry Moon plays counterpoint to the shortest night and longest day of the year, and governs the first of the true summer months here in New England. I’ll be posting a follow-up in the next weeks.

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“queen” hemlock, 50 ft. tall, visible from where I write

As Dana has so passionately documented on her Druid Garden site, including a powerful ogham/galdr healing ritual, the eastern hemlock battles against the hemlock woolly adelgid, widespread enough that it’s gained its own acronym — HWA. The adelgid, an aphid-like insect, is just one of several pests that afflict the trees, but one not native to North America and a factor in near-complete mortality in infested areas. As a commenter on Dana’s blog notes, natural biological agents offer the best and least toxic means of control and containment. The United States Dept of Agriculture site summarizes the situation well.

And if you ask why, Our true self and the land are one, says R. J. Stewart. As always, test and try it out for yourself. That ways lies deep conviction, replacing casual opinion with earth loved, spirit manifest, life full.

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Moons of Spirit, Synonyms for God: Part 3   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

[Updated 7 June 2017]

9. How well does my spiritual interaction pass through the “Three Gates”?

This, I’ve slowly learned, is a great question to ask both before and after. In other words, any time.

As Matt Auryn notes in his original blogpost, “Rumi is credited with wisdom about three gates of speech. ‘Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: At the first gate, ask yourself “Is is true?” At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?” At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”‘”

These gates, I’ve found over the years, work splendidly as a guide for my spoken interactions and for any other kind, too. They also form a powerful Triad for making decisions.

I need to include myself in the Triad: is my speech, action or decision also true, needful and kind — to me? What about my thoughts? And my feelings?

Often, whatever I’m testing with the Triad, I can get two out of three. Often it’s true and necessary. But it’s not kind. Return, return. Start over.

Standards tighten, I’m discovering. It’s not necessary anymore merely to “do no harm”. Someone — god, ancestor, higher self (same, different?) demands more. As elastic beings, staying where we are almost guarantees that the past stretching we’ve suffered through and learned from and grown into will weather down into slack. I can read the signs — tedium, stagnation and listlessness, if I don’t keep on stretching, letting myself be stretched, seeking out opportunities to stretch not just further, but wisely.

10. What’s my goal for interaction with Spirit? What is Spirit’s goal for me?

Important questions. Sometimes I know, or think I know, what’s needed at the moment. Sometimes it takes some digging to get to honesty with myself.

Other times the answer’s easy: no clue.

Usually that’s an excellent place for me to be. It means I need to listen first, before anything else. Instead of a ready cliche or a stock answer or something I dredge up from my own most recent spiritual slackness, I practice patience.

Sit, sing and wait, counsels one of the Wise. So I find different places and perspectives to sit in. The front entry of our house does duty for a small but useful office. Or a tree-stump from a powerline clearing that Green Mountain Power left beneath the row of hemlocks on our north property line. I sing a word, a name for spirit, a line from a song or poem, a spoken fragment from a dream. And I watch as this moment crystallizes into the next, and shapes of possibility begin to form. Often they scatter, birdlike, flying somewhere along the horizon, not where I’m gazing at all. I stand up and go about my day, and a whisker of insight, if I honor the handshake of spirit, comes.

11. How can I see and describe my understanding as a perspective?

Matt Auryn observes, “One of the best ways to keep your ego in check when discussing different methods and ideas is to claim them as your perspective and not as the dogmatic way to do things”.

So I try to remember to tell myself rather than believing X or Y that I suspect X or Y. Because whether it’s a ripple in the apparent world or a flash in the Otherworld, I almost always under-perceive it. I miss something, and often a lot. I kneel down to study a large footprint in our muddy backyard, never seeing the bear that made it lumbering away to forage among early blackberries. But knowing there’s alway more to perceive doesn’t discourage me. It makes it a game, even and especially when the stakes are high. Sometimes my best contemplations take wing when I begin by asking So what did I miss this time?

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backyard black walnut coming into leaf

12. What hints and nudges has spirit sent to me already about fine-tuning my practice?

Every week or so, there’s a tonic that Spirit throws me down for and forces me to swig. “Take as indicated”, the label reads. And the fine print says:

“You’re a slow learner. That’s ample reason to practice humility. Everyone else is a slow learner, too. That’s an excellent reason to practice compassion.”

Funny how I haven’t yet overdosed on either of these.

13. What examples and teaching from the natural world greet and guide me today, right here and now?

A question I need never cease asking.

Yesterday and today, rain. The power out for about 90 minutes. The thermometer reads 46 F (8 C). I lit a fire about an hour ago. And as I set a match to the wadded newspaper and kindling, breathing the faint cold ash of the last fire, I knew Brighid was present, whether I’d invoked her this time or not.

Invocation, I heard/thought as the flame took hold, is my privilege. The gods welcome my service, but they move in the worlds just fine without me. And where there is privilege, and service, there is also wonder.

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