What It’s All For, Part 157   Leave a comment

“Why am I dealing with these things now, at 71?” a dear older friend asked recently. “Couldn’t I have tackled it earlier along the way?” After a pause, he answered his own question: “But I didn’t have the necessary perspective any sooner than this to handle what I discovered about myself, and about the work I needed to do”. I spiral like we all do, when I think I’m merely circling. Last year, this year, next year. More of the same old thing, or something new, unexpected, challenging. Often both together. Arms of the spiral.

byard-snow

Silver-white back yard, 11:42 am EST, 10 Feb 2020

Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time knows my focus rests primarily on the inner texture and quality of my journey. Among other things, I’m a Druid, and sometimes I’ll post about a more outer-facing “Druid” subject — a sacred grove, an altar, images from a group ritual I took part in. But mostly I write about aspects of my own spiritual growth, or lack of it; about my questions, doubts, strategies, techniques, discoveries — things I hope are also useful in some degree to anyone who practices a spiritual path over time. Especially after the initial gloss has worn off, the honeymoon is past, the foothills are behind you, and the first outlines of your life’s work present themselves. And usually not in a form you expect, or even recognize right away.

This is the point when I find it’s often fitting to laugh helplessly, laugh so hard you end up gasping for breath. Or maybe it’s not fitting, but I do it anyway. Because you can’t take yourself too seriously. (Well, of course you can, and we all know those who do, but they’re often not the easiest people to be around. By the grace of forbearing friends and family, may I learn to grow out of my own vanity. If you’ve been with this blog long enough, you know most of what we work on falls into two categories, ego project or container issue.)

Enough of you recognize something of your own experience in what I write here that you keep coming back. Or at least you find the spectacle of my journey entertaining, because in fact it’s nothing like yours at all. You’re crafting a wand, planting a sustainable garden, protesting inert government officials to get off their asses, raising children to honour the earth and each other, or you’re single, widowed, newly launched into a different life than you foresaw, but living your path as best you can, in all its singular beauty and strangeness, in churches, temples, bedroom shrines, backyard altars, cathedrals of trees, holy places of the heart. You belong to a god or gods, or you’re non-theistic, you know the signs and songs and pass-words of your beliefs and practices and community, even if they no longer describe you fully, or maybe especially if they do.

Or you’re undergoing your own inner apprenticeship, something near-impossible to talk about, even with dear friends, and especially with family, who are often the last to know, or to come to grips with how dear Sue or Bill or Jimmie has “changed” and grown into something exotic and possibly uncomfortable and maybe more than a little threatening to an old dynamic that no longer works for all the people it used to link and to explain to each other. Or you’re bound firmly, as far as you can tell, in a circle that for whatever reason you need to stay in for now, in order to survive at all.

All you know, to quote that Victorian or maybe Edwardian novel, is that for your family, you are no longer PLU — “People Like Us”. Elvis has left the building. The horses have broken through the fence and gallop, heedless of human cries, across the plain and away.

Or you’re not changing. Everything and everyone else has changed. You’re becoming more of who you’ve always been. Why can’t they see that?!

Right in the midst of such tumult, it can feel like the very last thing that’s happening is “what it’s all for”. Instead it feels the exact opposite of that. Let the dust settle and the rubble stop bouncing, though, and a different outline can begin to emerge.

(Try to map spiritual geography most people will recognize and you miss the mark 50% of the time. Still, in baseball, that’s a mightily impressive record.)

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I know now that what it’s really all about is the white rabbit.

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My mother’s elder sister gave me this porcelain hare when I was seven. We’d visit her just once a year, for a long weekend — my mother and I traveled to Iowa most springs to stay with that side of the family. I remember thinking some seven-year-old boy version of “But I can’t play with it — it’s too delicate”. It was a “shelf-sitter” for sure, but even then it carried a charm it’s never lost for me. Its pinkness never bothered me as “girly” or wrong for a boy (I shot the image above on a pink towel to emphasize the painted highlights). For all I know the figure was a commonplace object several decades ago — some of you may have one just like it sitting on a mantle. But all I knew then was that someone had entrusted me with a delicate object, one valuable for its own sake, not for what I could do with it. It arrived, as such gifts sometimes can, at a moment when I could appreciate it.

In all the many moves of my life — at last count, 22, including to and from China, Japan, Korea, and six states in the U.S. — it’s traveled without damage. I thought of it for a long time as an Easter rabbit — not THE Easter Rabbit, but a rabbit associated with springtime. Now it’s an Imbolc hare as well.

Blessings of Imbolc
hare to you, warmth of white fur
soft as dream, close as the dreaming sky
against your skin. Grace of paws
in the snow to you, delicate toes,
each touching with its own print.

Blessings of animal presences to you.
Alertness of hare to you, ears pointed
towards the awen, that whisper
each of us hears, time’s changes tumbling
round us. Fleet foot of the hare
to you, the answering dance of hare,
a dive into a burrow, or a mad dash
(dash of the Mad March hare, a month early)
for the nearby hedge and through,
through to all the bright fields opening beyond.

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Posted 10 February 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, hare, Imbolc, magic, spiral

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But What’s It All For?   Leave a comment

[edited/updated 10 Feb 2020]

(I’ve posted rants before, and alerted readers up front. What follows is another, lit with caffeine, a dose of the cabin fever of a typical long New England winter, and maybe even some insight.)

snowdrops

What’s a spiritual path for?

We can say, using a mixed bag of traditional language, that its goal is to reconnect us with cosmic law, attune us to deity, re-balance us, align us with the flow of the Ten Thousand Things, show us God’s will, conform us to the ways of Spirit, and so on. (Sometimes it’s to save us. Other times it spends us like the prodigal sons and daughters we are. Either way, value gets exchanged.)

Or we can use the language of modern commerce and say we want to optimize our results, so we can increase efficiency, profits, and customer satisfaction. (Pay particular attention here: do you respond, like I sometimes do, more to this formulation of the goal than to the first? Ask yourself why, and then ask what follows from your response.)

If you’ve read the classic Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (maybe pausing to ask “Why seven?”), you know there’s little new under the sun. The magic of the book isn’t the habits themselves so much as it is its streamlining and re-ordering of principles we’ve always known, which is a magical act: to optimize flow, to organize what we need to understand and feel and do, all in ways our minds and emotions and bodies can recognize and put into motion.

We need and seek out such new re-formulations of old wisdom in every age.

Or if a book’s not your thing, you can find an even more compact form of the Seven Habits at the author’s website. They’re an excellent primer for whatever we intend to achieve.

Memes are another form of magic. If something “goes viral”, that means it’s found the optimal way to spread, to replicate, to make its mark. Using image and word, it shapes itself as a key to locks everywhere. It activates upon arrival. Like an object within range of the motion sensors on the sliding doors of our psyches, it opens us and enters.

Advertisers deploy music, light, voice, color, rhythm, beauty, movement and image — magical techniques, every one of them — and opening us, they implant desires in us for things we never knew we wanted.

Mages look with vast amusement at our materialistic culture that often mocks magic or “doesn’t believe in it”, even as we encounter and often yield to magical influences every single day of our lives. In the process, magical techniques earn billions of dollars for their users, bending our thoughts, emotions, and credit cards to the wills of corporate and political magicians who’ve mastered some of the cruder techniques of glamouring other people. This isn’t paranoia but simple fact: what else is advertising for? What are political campaigns ultimately intended to accomplish? A catchy slogan, a memorable logo, an appealing face and even a dollop of charisma, and you’re halfway there.

You could say that beginning spirituality is nothing other than beginning to (re)build our “defenses against the dark arts” a la Harry Potter. Anyone half-awake (and I don’t mean “woke”) knows the need for such D.A.D.A. is at an all-time high today. Exhibit A: today’s headlines and media feeds any time we choose to look at them.

While carnival- and circus-owners and confidence-men long ago discovered “There’s a sucker born every minute”, we can (to mix a metaphor or two) learn not to suck. The old Hippocratic oath “Do no harm” may not resound in many ears like it used to, but everyone still needs to swear some version of it. We can update it to the jargon of a 21st-century version: Don’t be a jerk. This can be our Silver Rule, since clearly so many of us no longer want to know or practice the Golden version. The Medieval world and its Latin speakers had their own con-men, and their own cynical, world-weary warning: Mundus vult decipi. “The world wants to be deceived”.

Looking for a guide for electing government officials, choosing life partners, spiritual guides, car dealers? If you can’t find anyone who works with the habits of effective people, then “simplify, simplify”. Find one who’s at least trying to practice the new Silver Rule and shows some persistence at it. And with any discernment, and the blessings of even one small god or goddess, we can begin to practice it ourselves. (So I begin again, which is I suspect 9/10 of any spiritual path worth walking.)

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Thecu and Brighid, storm goddess and triple goddess, both in their own ways forging, healing and inspiring us:

When storms pound the walls of the world, empower me with wisdom.
When thunder rages, forge my sinews into strength for myself and others.
When human contrivances fail and fall in tempests, illuminate my path forward.
When the bridge breaks, guide me to build a boat to cross with.
When fires blast, fix my will to continue what my ancestors began.
When the shores vanish, show me your compass.
When darkness shrouds my North Star, show me light within.

Now this is a prayer of petitions and visualization. (Adjust the pronouns at need.) But sometimes such forms can feel too demanding. I often like a more meditative version as well, one that encourages me to see these things already in manifestation, not merely waiting to appear. Just a few tweaks — acknowledging the presence of the goddesses already, of spirit at work before I even begin to think the words …

When storms pound the walls of the world, you empower me with wisdom.
When thunder rages, you forge my sinews into strength for myself and others.
You illuminate my forward path, when human contrivances fail and fall in tempests.
When the bridge breaks, you guide me to build a boat to cross with.
When fires blast, you fix my will to continue what my ancestors began.
You show me your compass before the shore has vanished.
When darkness shrouds my North Star, you show me light within.

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Image: Pexels.com.

Making the Most of “Magic Sunday”   2 comments

Here we are, on an excellent day to test our actual as opposed to our rationalized beliefs: It’s “Magic Sunday”. What’s that, you ask (if you haven’t already read the day’s numerological clickbait)?

sugar-shack

A “sugar-shack”, New England Imbolc — the start of maple syrup making

Whether you deploy the European sequence of day-month-year, or the North American one of month-day-year, today is 02-02-2020. A palindrome, the same sequence backwards and forwards. You can read more about it in the middle-market, slightly left-leaning USA Today. (I monitor a range of about a dozen papers spanning the political spectrum. Leftist hysteria balances rightist hysteria, sort of like stomach acid and an antacid, except not.)

After reading the article, ask yourself: do you feel your mood or perspective even slightly altered, knowing the rarity of a palindrome date like today’s 02022020 sequence last occurred some 900 years ago? (See Palindrome Daypalindrome date.) Of course, if you keep reading, other similar dates loom in the next two years. Anticlimactic?

Try doing a task today, specifically focusing on the rarity of the date as a source of empowerment — even, or especially, if you don’t believe in such things.

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Now add to this the celebration of today, at least in North America, as Groundhog Day (No shadow! Early Spring! Go, Punxsutawney Phil!). And Imbolc. Does that change anything for you?

The foregoing is an illustration of our varying susceptibility to what’s been called “magical thinking”.

I find the term less than useful, because it’s often disparaging: irrational, superstitious, and so on. Instead, let’s look at all such things simply as inputs. Inputs surround us continuously: the weather, our diet, home, job, nationality, other affiliations, memberships and identities both chosen and inherited. What do we grant access to our mood, attitude, perspective, belief system, emotions? What operates largely below our level of awareness, as a sort of background hum? What do we resolutely shut out so decisively that it can gain little traction with us (even if it impinges subconsciously)? Do we even know?

Take it as a “Druid challenge”, or a bit of research, a holy ritual, a game — whatever makes it useful and engaging to you.

And if so inclined, try a form of alchemical magic most everyone uses — coffee, or a little sugar, in the form of maple products, sweets, cookies, candy — to satisfy that midwinter carbohydrate craving — and give you a “magical” sugar or caffeine buzz. Now that you’ve magicked yourself, explore what comes next.

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Image: Wikipedia sugar-shack.

Welcome, Brighid   2 comments

Often, simple is best.

Mantle of Brighid about me,
Memory of Brighid within me,
Protection of Brighid around me
keeping me from harm,
from ignorance, from heartlessness,
this day and night,
from dawn till dark,
from dark till dawn.

— John O’Donohue (adapted), The Four Elements, Transworld Ireland, 2010, pg. 109. (Also available in Random House editions.)

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Crafting Brighid’s crosses. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

Outdoor Imbolc, Mystic River Grove:

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Outdoor rite. Photo courtesy F. Hanks.

May you be forged anew, inspired and healed.

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Posted 1 February 2020 by adruidway in Brighid, Brigid's cross, Druidry, Imbolc

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“One Genuine Real Live Druidry”: Take 47   Leave a comment

Previous posts touching this theme [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 ] have drawn a range of responses. Some readers took issue with the word “fake”, rather than reflecting on the often spurious claims to legitimacy and authority that prompted its use in the first place. Some took it as an insult, like Robert Frost’s bird “who takes/Everything said as personal to himself.”

Another noted, though don’t I recall mentioning gods, that

the deities … do not need belief in order for them to exist, nor do they need faith. They existed before we even came onto the earth, we are born and surrounded by them and gain consciousness of their presence …

Of course, such an observation is itself a statement of faith. A staunch materialist is equally convinced that the physical world and its processes are sufficient to explain everything — no “gods” needed.

pillars1

Attend a Pagan gathering, a Muslim masjid at prayer, a Christian church service, a Jewish synagogue or temple on the Sabbath, a Hindu puja, and so on, and while statements of belief may be part of the event, the communal experience dominates. People gather for celebration, for spiritual reconnection, for a dip into sacred time and space.

Druid, this dip’s for you.

Argumentation and logic and pure intellect have their place, but if they were all, we wouldn’t have much in the way of human culture. Would even music or art exist? For so many of the purposes they serve are akin to religion and spirituality — something more than molecules moves our hearts. And without that, would some of the more unlikely religions such as Dudeism or the Jedi faith (link to lively interview on British TV!), to name just two, ever have gotten off the ground? What are we to make of this impulse that surfaces in every human culture and enriches it beyond measure, in an astonishing abundance and a variety of forms and colors? Does it have “evolutionary value”? Why might it persist?

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We can add fake to other dangerous four-letter words like true, evil, just, only: you know, “It was just a dream”; “It’s only your imagination”, and so forth. (We won’t even mention three-letter words like why, or two letter words like if.)

“My fake Druidry is faker (and therefore more interesting and exciting) than yours, so there!”

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From “Meditations of the ‘One Genuine Real Live Druidry’ Ogreldi Druid”:

There’s always more to learn.

Spirit refuses to sit obediently within any human container. That includes death.

The Land where you live is your teacher today.

A magic as big as your heart: begin now.

We all live in more than one world. Check your passports before entering.

When does a wall become a window, then a door?

The awen sings in your blood and heart, in your neighbors’, in the stars, in the spider’s in the corner. What songs have you heard today?

The Ancestors still talk.

Make an ally of darkness.

Everything starts dancing, when you look closely enough.

Evil is misplaced force.

Find the fire.

A moon for mundane tasks, a year and a day for magical ones.

Everything is true through which we become better.

Nothing is mundane. Absolutely everything is. A sage bought this at the market of truth, but it’s not the final word on the matter.

What shatters the veil of form?

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We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

 

Seeker, Devotee, Bard, Awenydd   Leave a comment

Those of you who don’t already know and follow Lorna Smithers’ excellent blog may want to read her latest post, a lovely meditative poem she follows with a brief comment. “Hour One — Candlelit Illumination” conveys a feel for what we do when we listen, when we approach and sense spirit, when we follow through on vows, when we dedicate ourselves to a spiritual path. “I have no temple”, she writes. “Only a candle …” And that’s spiritual plenitude.

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bede-winter

“It was winter’s tide, and the winter was grim and cold and frosty and with ice bound …”, writes Bede (672-735) in the Old English translation of his Latin History. But we really don’t need a translation in this case, especially with the visual of my snowy backyard about a week or so ago. Across more than a millennium, ancestors are speaking in older languages as well as newer ones, reminding us of a vast pool of shared experiences.

As we become ancestors ourselves, what are we contributing? (Does that feel like a difficult or awkward question?)

Sometimes it’s survival. We may not credit ourselves enough for that, but it’s a signal accomplishment all its own. (The Ancestors are cheering!) We’re still here. Yes, we may be losing things along the way — hair, dreams, relationships, sanity. But bards make sure we remember this turn of the spiral, too, not that we’re likely to forget — as we gain survivor’s wisdom, and survivor’s grace.

You know that grace when you meet it, more easily in another person than in yourself, sometimes. The other person looking into your eyes knows, and their eyes tell you they know — if you know. Then that mutual recognition flares up between you. They too are “acquainted with the night“, to shout out to another bard. And in spite of all, they’re still here.

No, we haven’t (yet) lost ourselves, though Things seem determined to tug pieces of us off and away. After the bigger tugs, you arrive back in your life like flotsam on a strange shore, unsure of your footing, the light, the press of earth beneath your feet, the weight and substance of your own flesh. You feel strange to yourself, as if you’re in your dream body. (And that’s precisely where you are, like you always have been. Now you just notice it a little more.)

Lorna documents her intense experience of a “winter of harsh descent” as she dedicates herself to her patron deity, in a second post from a year ago, which you can find here. The spiritual intangibles that arise from such experiences are things few other people may recognize in you, or be able to hear if you try to talk about them. But the Ancestors know them very well, and make a good audience. (They’re playing the Long Game, after all.) A journal entry, a poem, a song, a prayer, a meditation, a moment of silence “in their direction” — whatever level of dedication you offer, they will welcome.

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I’m slow to answer to the vision from Thecu, or intuition or hallucination or whatever it was and is, and its directives. Slow, but I get there — partly because I’m curious. (If I build it, will she come?) The goddess certainly can’t count on me for very much, at least not yet. But outdoors in the snow for a few days of purification, I’ve set the metal sheet on which I’ll inscribe her runes. Tomorrow I’ll bring it in.

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From the Druid’s Prayer Outward   Leave a comment

Ri, a’h Isprid, do iscod …

Grant, o Spirit, thy protection …

If I pray, or make a vow, in a constructed language like the one I used to translate the Druid’s Prayer two months ago, is the prayer worthy, or the vow valid?

One direct test: does the spiritual world take them seriously? How do I know? And what, in turn, can that tell me about intention, creativity, awen and gods I may not worry about “believing” in, but whom I’m happy to work with, if I ask and if they choose?

(O Bríd and Oghma, for the gift of speech already I thank you …)

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eastern counter-glow over our roof at sunset

“Sound”, says the Old Irish In Lebor Ogaim, The Book of Ogams or the Ogam Tract, “is the mother of Og(h)ma, and matter his father”. Sound becoming language, the tongue of human beings, mediated by a god. The awen you sing, from the deep you bring it. And I pray you will.

No, I’m not claiming for my nascent Celtic con-lang any sort of special divine or holy status. (At least not in advance.) All languages are holy, or could be. But yes, I am working magic, going with an intention, asking blessings on it, charging it with desire, putting in a sustained effort, sailing with the wind, trusting to its fulfillment in time, doing my part, perceiving it from the vantage point of already-manifested, working with the as-if principle, feeling it as much as thinking it — because feeling charges an intention till it begins to spark, and it kindles (mostly) along paths we’ve laid for it, following the principle of the path of least resistance.

“I look forward to seeing where this goes as you work through the details”, writes Steve.

So do I, whether he was referring to the language or the prayer behind it, or both, or something else. “Working through the details”, the concrete form or mold into which we invite the magic to pour, helps give it shape. But whether it fills that form, or another more open to its flow, isn’t wholly up to us. If you’ve been at all involved in the building of a house or barn, with concrete being poured, you’ve run across stories of the concrete forms blowing out, and the heavy wet stuff flowing everywhere you didn’t want it. Magic is alive, god/dess is afoot, as much when I stub a toe or mash a finger as when the magic shifts my life to wonder and growth. Force flowing into form.

More than a little humility can help keep us from acts of outright stupidity in the face of divine power manifesting. Insisting that magic go a certain way is like commanding the tide: the tide always wins. But not seeing it as a contest, but as a chance to sail on the seas of magic, lets me ride the waves, tack across the wind, or run with it, and reach harbor. A light hand on the tiller, a boat that isn’t an ego project, a “vanity vessel”, but a seaworthy ship.

Expecting the wind to drive my boat out onto the waves, steer it where I want to go, and deliver me without any further effort on my part beyond the “ask”, is folly beyond telling. To put it more crudely and memorably, in words a friend said to me recently, it’s just naive as f*ck.

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So what lies “outward from prayer”? (Between sacred and profane may lie the merest hair’s breadth. Live, pure, wise, fire and true are also among our four-letter words.)

Make the turn, just don’t insist on logic as the link.

The Great Triad of Jesus is familiar to many, but too often we forget the hard-earned admonition that immediately precedes it:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

I know I squander the holy far too often, casting it aside like a paper wrapper around the candy of what I think I “really want”. After all that asking, seeking and knocking, I just let it slide from my fingers. So I take up the task again, asking, seeking, knocking — until I find that supple, elusive thing I need like blood and breath.

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I’m slowly reading two related books (like many “bookies”, I almost always have more than two going at any one time), to listen to them echo and ricochet off each other: Thomas Kunkel’s Enormous Prayers: A Journey into the [Catholic] Priesthood, and Rev. Lora O’Brien’s A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood. The first volume I’d salvaged free from the last day of a used-book sale where any remainders were given away to clear space. The second I recently bought used, though it appeared in 2019.

We still grant to “priest” and “priestess” an aura of magic and mystery — tarnished, yes, by years of unfolding Catholic scandal among others, while also reclaiming, often from non-Christian sources, new resonance and imagery and sacred fire. As one priest in Kunkel’s book exclaims, “… people are starving today for mystery, the power that grounds, suffuses and surpasses all things, that ever-present but elusive reality … as a result, our souls are withering from underuse and lack of nourishment.” And we know this because “people have a sickness that no psychologist or physician can cure …”

We need to move beyond prayer to find that use and that nourishment. Fortunately, many are beginning to wake again to themselves, and to reclaim that holy task, rather than yielding it to any other.

Priests and priestesses? Needed, yes. Needed very much at times. But not essential. The life we each hold (a trust, a sacred heirloom, a gift from the ancestors) is enough.

And may you know blessing as you too reclaim, and name, and flame.

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Kunkel, Thomas. Enormous Prayers: A Journey into the Priesthood. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.

O’Brien, Rev. Lora. A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2019.

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