Samhain: Season to Taste   Leave a comment

Unlike that high school or college or professional exam or road test or other ego-destroying experience of assessment, your first or hundredth ritual needn’t achieve a certain score before you “pass”.

If you bought candy to distribute, you’ve performed a small ritual. If you have decorations you’re thinking about putting up (or you already have them up), you’ve performed a ritual. If you plan to sit quietly and reflect on the season, you’re doing ritual.

As John Beckett remarks on his blog, it’s the Samhain season, not just a single day.

I invite you to join me in celebrating Nine Days of Samhain. I’ll be posting every day for the nine days starting Friday the 23nd through the 31st with contemplations, any insights, ritual gestures, and whatever else comes through, so if you’re looking for meditative company in the days leading up to Great Hallows, check in as it pleases you:

First Day, Friday the 23rd: Tide of Winter
Second Day, Saturday the 24th: Shrine of Sleep
Third Day, Sunday the 25th: Unchanging Wisdom
Fourth Day, Monday the 26th: Dedicated Waking
Fifth Day, Tuesday the 27th: Thresholds, Doorways
Sixth Day, Wednesday the 28th: Grandmothers, Grandfathers
Seventh Day, Thursday the 29th: Gates of Welcome
Eighth Day, Friday the 30th: Cauldron of Memory
Ninth Day, Saturday the 31st: Deepest Refreshment

Note: the themes and seeds for the Nine Days loosely derive from Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional.

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Cat of the South, Horse of the North   Leave a comment

The Sunday Guardian included this article on a large feline figure among the Nazca lines in Peru.

Nazca feline figure / Andina

Now we have two out-sized figures — the Nazca Cat and the Uffington Horse — to use when we call the Quarters/welcome the Directions/invoke the Watchtowers/hail the Archangels/commune with the Guardians.

Uffington White Horse / Wikipedia

Let our Druidry span the planet!

But wait! What is it I’m invoking, or at least imagining here?

We have marked the images of animals on our landscapes, both physical and psychic — marked them visually, emotionally, energetically. It feels like part of the same impulse that leads us to put pictures of friends and family on our walls and mantles and desks. Image evokes presence, welcomes the energies of the imaged being (or place). We go where our attention takes us, so it’s prudent to be conscious about what we allow into our attention — a potentially profound practice over time, over an entire life. Image, icon, logo, meme, visualization — we use this human ability in so many and such varied ways, for our enervation and also for our betterment.

It can be a practice to meditate with these images, to inquire what they can teach us, what we should be attending to, how to regard them, what energies they mediate into the landscape where they are located, and into our consciousness when we think of them, recall them, bring them to mind, see them with the mind’s eye. Those of us who feel “I can’t visualize” may in fact be profound visualizers, since visualization is as much about feeling and sensing as it is about “seeing.”

When we plan a trip, go to the grocery store, think about dinner, bring up a memory, the associated images can pass by the screen of our inward attention so quickly we think we’re not seeing them, when in fact they may merely be passing faster than thought can separate them. We’ve done this since we arrived in this life, so it’s little wonder the images we practice are fast. Often we “flesh out” or incarnate an anticipated event by just such an inner run of images. We may not necessarily “see them” in a “daily life” way, but a part of us notes whatever is missing from the sequence, and that’s what we add to the grocery list, or remind ourselves to attend to after we return home.

Some practice with this can be revealing, if we start from the assumption that visualization isn’t our “problem”, but rather a skill we’ve already perfected, one we do so automatically we no longer notice it, like walking without falling over like when we were toddlers, any more than we notice our cerebellums telling our hearts to beat, or our stomachs to digest. Bringing these semi-voluntary and involuntary actions under conscious control is a different matter — some branches of yoga teach this — but we all visualize constantly, and usually faster than thought.

As above, so below — yes. But as within, so without, also. Our inner and outer worlds can start to work together rather than fighting each other, with loving practice to what our attention is doing, and where we’re placing it, and how we feel about what we’re attending to.

Attitude and attention — two of the greatest powers we have.

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What’s Up with “An”, “Rede” and “Mote”? / Curious George is My Druid   Leave a comment

“An it harm none, do what you will” (The Wiccan Rede).

“So mote it be”.

East Coast Gathering 2017 — a Druid blend of Hindu rangolee and Celtic ogham

Spend any time on Pagan and Wiccan sites and you’ll eventually encounter some version of one or both of these ritual assertions. Just this morning someone asked in an online Druid forum why such phrases have to sound obscure or use strange vocabulary. “Can’t they just say it clearly?”

The archaic language in each case can certainly cause hiccups in understanding. Sometimes you’ll see “corrections” or modernizations of the first one like “And it harm none …” which at least looks like a better word for the context. Discovering that an is an old word meaning “if” helps sharpen the sense into something to work with: “if it doesn’t harm anybody, do what you want”. It’s a version of the Golden Rule. As a subject for meditation, ask and decide which version might guide your life better.

(Spend enough time with Shakespeare and you’ll run into his variant form an if, like in Romeo and Juliet: “An if you leave me so, you do me wrong”.)

The same is true for mote, a form of the Old English verb motan [link to an OE dictionary entry] meaning “may, be allowed, be able”. So mote it be — may it be so. In literally one other word — amen. The use of mote in Wicca and in Paganism more widely can be traced back more than half a millennium to the ceremonies of Freemasons. Here’s a link to an article in the Scottish Rite Journal from 2009 that explains in more detail.

We hold on to old expressions like this for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s just a love of the familiar things we’ve inherited, even if we don’t always know their meaning. We’ve said these words before, and we’re saying them now, and our continued saying matters more than anything else. We’re still here, and still together. The tribe endures. We take any meaning we need from the context, and that’s enough.

Sometimes, of course, language marks us as insiders, or outsiders. Then it’s a useful flag or badge of identity, or a password. Other times it can offer a teachable moment, if we let it. Rather than excluding, we can bring another person into the sacred circle that we mark with such words.

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A change of topic. Or maybe the same, since it’s about understanding.

My Druid Teacher of today is Curious George. A former student of mine was reading to his daughter this morning, and they came to the page below.

He read down the page, as we normally do — and the words no longer made sense. In a moment he realized that, unlike all the other pages in the book, this page needed to be read across the divide.

I like the symbolism or metaphor here. Reading across — taking in the whole spectrum — reveals a wider perspective that helps us make sense of things. A stance “right in the center” avoids the extremes which, the Tao Te Ching counsels us, “do not last long”.

Another way to think of it: a path with heart, Don Juan Matus calls it, in Castaneda’s classic The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, the book that launched the series. A path with heart, that’s the secret: “For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length — and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly”.

Whatever else is going on that may well be beyond my control — and the past six months have illustrated that in painful living color for so many of us — the path remains.

Don Juan goes on: “A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use”.

A final citation, since threes have peculiar value in teaching, memory, physics, life. Don Juan observes, “Think about it: what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow men. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone”. If I can begin to let go of just this one practice, I have begun a path with heart.

May we all find such paths and walk them.

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Spiritual Quests — “Deliciously Druidic”   1 comment

“What … is your name?” asks the Bridgekeeper. “What … is your quest?” Monty Python and the Holy Grail is definitely onto some truths about the cosmos, veiled in the form of humour, a potent magic. Looking for a Noble Quest? It will demand of us an account of who we are and what we seek. Do we really know? Can we answer truly?

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When does the excitement of the Quest of our lives first dim? We set off, full of a consuming certainty that This is It. The Big One, whatever it is. Sooner or later, though, we run smack into some kind of Wall. Our first Obstacle. (All the Great Quests include them!) Often enough, it takes on the form of a Rule. We face a “No”. A Can’t, Shouldn’t, Mustn’t. Often, human life being what it is, the Rule comes to us through a person. Our Bridgekeeper of the Moment stands before us.

Enough people have turned away from — and been turned off by — “rule-religions” and the “morality police” that it can sometimes come as a surprise to encounter any mention of spiritual law apart from the dogma and doctrine of a particular faith group. Yet a successful Quest navigates via spiritual law — navigates it with style, with flair, with panache. We instinctively respond to a good quest story because it “rings true”. Its spiritual melody harmonizes with something deep within us.

Windham Pinnacle Trail. A Golden Path to …

We’re usually not surprised by the existence of physical laws, like Newton’s laws of motion that govern the movement of physical bodies. In our first dozen years on the planet we typically pick up enough firsthand experience with gravity, acceleration, mass, and so on, even if we don’t call them by those names, so that by the time we start to operate cars and trucks we don’t (usually) have to start from scratch and repeatedly crash into trees, walls, or other vehicles just to learn how to drive.

Indeed, we spend our first years falling down, getting knocked over, getting up again, bumping into things, getting hurt and recovering, because we often learn best by doing. (The trick of good parenting is letting that happen under reasonably safe circumstances.) We may then spend the next several decades learning (or not learning) how to apply versions of the same lessons to our relationships, jobs, goals and dreams. Yes, our lives provide such good material for song lyrics and film scripts that we should all get a cut of the box office proceeds and royalties.

For example, at some point I may find myself pondering old proverbs such as ‘birds of a feather flock together’ and ‘like attracts like’. I run into some version of the law of harmony, or harmonics. By the time we arrive in our 20s or 30s, we’ve seen people careen from one bad relationship to another, while it can seem others ‘have all the luck’. We’ve also met enough exceptions to such proverbial wisdom, maybe in our own lives, that many situations we find ourselves in deserve more than a fixed or set response. Sometimes it can seem like “other laws are at work”. Often enough, we’re not wrong. When things “go our way”, we’re often going their way. We’ve aligned, however briefly, with a current, a larger flow in the cosmic stream. And that’s usually a pretty damn cool sensation — a kind of “effortless effort”, a sense of connection to something bigger.

View northwest from Pinnacle.

The Shape of the Quest

A helpful approach in studying spiritual law is one of curiosity and experimentation, an echo of the effortless effort. I don’t want to just listen uncritically at the outset to somebody else’s moralizing about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ — their version of “No” — mostly because it offers little more than just the kind of fixed or set response I mentioned above. Instead, I want to find out for myself what laws exist, how and when they operate and interact, and how I can work with them, like a sailor learns to sail with, across or down the wind. ‘When the winds blow, how do I go?’

Most formal moralities express a codified version of spiritual law. Too often, it’s one that’s either clumsily taught, or taught without imagination and human insight, taught hypocritically and humorlessly, or in ignorance of its underlying purpose. Someone “holds the the rules over us”, rather than setting them down so we can stand on them to reach the stars. Good teaching liberates rather than confines. It opens up possibilities and new pathways, rather than shutting them down. The old insight that “the truth shall set you free” means spiritual law is for our benefit and growth, not for our limitation and restriction. We learn the steps so we can dance — we learn the notes to join the song.

What makes our quests so deliciously Druidic is that “we can look to the world of nature around us for help in understanding our own nature, recognizing that if a theory about the nature of the universe proves to be a mistake when tested against the world around us, it will also prove to be a mistake when applied to the world within us … ‘the visible is for us the measure of the invisible'” (Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, pg. 15).

To put it another way, my life is my laboratory, my studio, my garden, my craft space, my canvas.

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Great Hallows   Leave a comment

In this Samhuinn season I turn again, as I so often do, to Bards. Lorna Smithers’ “Annuvian Awen” offers us a chant for the approaching “Great Hallows” of Hallowe’en, as a friend once called it.

“Out of darkness I am born”, Lorna sings. “Out of blood I am born/
Out of spirit I am born”. Change the pronoun and you have a chant for a group rite.

This is invocation and evocation, true, but it also states spiritual truth. It both summons and declares what is already present. Halfway between Equinox and Yule, the Celtic New Year begins, even as the Celtic day begins at sunset, and continues through the night to dawn.

In the southern hemisphere, Beltane nears, halfway between equal-day-and-night of the spring equinox, and the longest day at Midsummer. What links between the “Fires of Bel” and “Summer’s End” — one plausible set of meanings of the names Beltane and Samhuinn? One theme for meditation: they happen at the same time, depending on where you are, where your attention rests.

The form of the triadic chant I’ve been looking at above reaffirms such truths: it consists both of stable elements and changing ones. In that way its rhythms are those of life. And going further, the three words “darkness, blood, spirit” could be changed in a Beltane chant to “brightness, fire, spirit” or some other suitable triad. With enough people singing it as a round, both sets of words could sound together, Beltane and Samhuinn, Samhuinn and Beltane.

Of course, at other times, just one or the other is all you need.

As with so many things Druidic, the chant comes first, and possible meanings and magics come second. Or we notice them second. Set the chant going on your breath, give it a simple melody, carry it with you like a fragrance for the day, and you do a Druidic thing. You call on all that you are to explore the value of a thing, to test its measure, not just with the head, or reason, but with flesh, blood, spirit, breath, fire, dark and light. Work with the chant and it will feel different at sunset than at dawn. Different again at Beltane than at Samhuinn.

One of the Putney Stone Chambers — “kiva-style”

Set the chant against whatever comes to you during the day. What weight and authority does each thing have, event and chant? Is that the weight and balance you desire? Keep the chant going and ask how the balance can shift to one you can serve.

Samhuinn is a time of death and birth, even as Beltane celebrates the fires of vitality and magic, conception and sex and creation. “The ideal that you hope to achieve is always to be ready for an incarnation”, observes Paul Twitchell, “whether it is in this world or those planes beyond. But unless an incarnation can be offered its birth through you, though, it is incapable of being brought into the manifestation of life. Therefore, your attitude should be one in which, having desired to express … the higher states of consciousness, you alone accept the responsibility of incarnating a new and greater value of yourself”.

And if something needs to die before something better can be born? Well, the Samhuinn season can be an excellent time to explore that, too. Will I allow it? How might I be standing in my own way? How can ritual help me let go of that obstacle to what I desire? How can I celebrate a Samhuinn and a Beltane, too, for transformation? And can I also let go of desire, once I have expressed it, again getting out of my own way, letting go of preconceived ideas of “this is how it has to happen”?

Oh, if you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you know enough by now: I seek practices to stretch me. Elastic lives, brittle breaks. Haven’t enough of us learned that at least a little bit?!

“Can’t I just celebrate and enjoy the season, and not bother with such things?” a part of me asks. Certainly — as long as you’re sure such things won’t bother with you, whether you will or no. Do Druidry long enough and you’re called to go deeper. As Gaga sings, we’re far from the shallow now.

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“The rest of the results might not be what you are looking for”, Google alerts me this morning. “See more anyway” appears as another option. How many reminders do I need?!

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Posted 12 October 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, Lorna Smithers

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“Everything is Talking”   Leave a comment

“Drink water from the spring where horses drink. The horse will never drink bad water. Lay your bed where the cat sleeps. Eat the fruit that has been touched by a worm. Boldly pick the mushroom on which the insects sit. Plant the tree where the mole digs. Build your house where the snake sits to warm itself. Dig your fountain where the birds hide from heat. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time with the birds — you will reap all of the day’s golden grains. Eat more green — you will have strong legs and a resistant heart, like the beings of the forest. Swim often and you will feel on earth like the fish in the water. Look at the sky as often as possible and your thoughts will become light and clear. Be quiet a lot, speak little — and silence will come in your heart, and your spirit will be calm and full of peace.” — Saint Seraphim of Sarov (1754 – 1833).

An infallible guide to living without risk? No, obviously not. A path of harmonious wisdom, a portrait of observant sanity, a practice of reverent joy? Yes. The highest truths never demand that we abandon common sense.

Sarov Forest Pilgrimage spot for St. Seraphim. Wikipedia CC images

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Posted 7 October 2020 by adruidway in Druidry

The Other Three Corners   Leave a comment

[Part One]

Getting into nature if you can at all will go far to restoring balance and harmony. It can just set things right. For that reason I’ve illustrated this post with images from a recent walk my wife and I took along the Pinnacle Trail, part of a 35-mile (56 km) community-built system of trails in our area here in southern Vermont. With closures because of the virus, we had to walk 2 miles from where we parked in a neighbor’s drive in order to reach the trail-head. During the four-hour, six-mile hike we met just three other people.

Pinnacle signpost 1/4 of the way along the trail.

One thing that distinguishes much of Druidry — or at least many Druids, which isn’t always the same thing — is a way of responding to times of stress and crisis. I should be more accurate: deploying a widened range of ways to respond. Of course the same holds true of any spiritual path. The widening comes about through direct experience, and through something else we often forget: We’ve survived before. We can do it again. And maybe even — this time — thrive.

[When I first encountered Old English, some decades ago now, one particular proverb stuck with me: Þæs ofereode — þisses swa mæg. It appears as the refrain in a poem called “Deor“, and means literally, ‘That’s passed over; so can this’. We run into modern versions of it everywhere: Takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’ goes one example. When the going gets tough … (you know the rest) is another.

Yes, I’ll admit that like you sometimes I want to reach through the phone or computer screen and throttle the blithely casual writers who toss such sayings about, as if words alone can fix things, as if I never would have thought of courage or persistence, or decided to push on without such helpful reminders, but would have resigned myself to despair and conveniently expired on the spot.

Of course, invocations of fortitude and perseverance have their place. Our ancestors doubtless knew their own variations on such themes, and probably felt much the same way about overusing them. We might consider what the present love of memes and gifs with inspiring (or despairing) sayings has to tell us about our capacity to hold larger and smaller goals and energies in our consciousness in times of change like this one. Survival first happens spiritually, and then our bodies follow.]

Check out Druid forums online and it’s our individual uniqueness that stands out: a remedy or strategy that sometimes works for one works wonderfully for another person and not at all for a third. And that’s no surprise. The tree in your front yard, the same species as the one down the road, still grows in its own way, with a unique spread of branches, because your yard is different, unique in its light and shadow, in any neighbouring trees and buildings that surround it, in rainfall and earth, and in any care or pruning that land-keepers think to give it.

A Druid respect for uniqueness feels almost built in to our inescapable experience of encounter in nature. Bear or bug or beech or bass, no matter the species, right now it’s the individual in front of me that matters. Bear-in-the-abstract isn’t this bear, plumping itself on fruit in preparation for hibernating, or peering at me quizzically from across the meadow, or as surprised as I am when we meet in the woods behind our house.

So when something like this “one corner out of four” quotation courtesy of an old Wisdom-Teacher like Confucius plops down in front of me, I may resort to a different tool-kit than you will in my response. And that’s a good thing.

100-million year old bedrock exposed along the trail

A dear friend uses an “inventory of the bodies” technique when life turns hard. Like all of us do, she uses a particular map of reality to clarify experience. Her map divides the human self into five parts: physical, astral, causal, mental and soul. Knowing where events and experiences are clustering is a step toward working with their energies. Her partner often works with her map as a couple’s meditation, checking in with her and asking: “How’s your physical body? How are your emotions? What memories are stirring?” with pauses between each gentle inquiry.

Whatever my own map, just the act of stepping back and looking and listening to the movements of experience across my consciousness can bring needed clarity. If I can track a sour mood to a morning back-ache or to an uncomfortable memory surfacing, I’m halfway toward taking responsibility for my state of consciousness. Literally — my ability to respond, rather than merely react. It’s another practice, which most often means recognizing where my attention is right now, and then deciding if that’s where I want it. Likewise with a positive state — what does it empower me to do?

Yes, much may well lie beyond my control. (Longing for control is another issue to explore. I need only look at today’s headlines to see power-plays in abundance, with so many centers of power — people and institutions, spirits and egregores — demanding my attention and assent to nourish them. There’s a reason aboriginal peoples speak of “soul retrieval” — how often do I give it away?) But where my attention rests, and how I’m attending, are two potent keys for change and transformation. To echo the previous post, if I’m tired of the same old story, I can turn some pages. Like all practices, this one takes time, but I can (1) start right now, (2) start small, and (3) keep going.

stump near the Pinnacle ridgeline

There’s a triad that lies close to the core of much that I value in this life: timing, size and continuity. Size matters, it’s true, but most things that matter to me aren’t the big ones that roll in just a few times in any life, but the small daily experiences of joy, wonder, love. That’s mostly what I have to build on, or dismiss, each day. And, my friends, so do you. A practice of once during one day has an effect that’s usually small. But it’s a start. Make it small enough that’s it’s too easy not to do. Then keep going. Check in after a week. Then a month. A year, and then a life, and you will see changes, guaranteed. In the end, we can prove it to ourselves by the doing of it.

We’ve been conditioned, it’s true, for astonishment. Movies market it. Think for a moment what a “blockbuster” is designed to bust. (The military imagery continues in expressions like “blowing my mind”. Unless I’m so stiff and rigid I need such explosions, rather than blowing it, let me collect and assemble the pieces.) Love stories trade on astonishment, and every advertiser promises a piece of it, if I only buy buy buy. Religions depend on it, too — if promises of joy and salvation grow old, there’s always hell and damnation for the lurid thrills they offer.

Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” offered hell as entertainment. Up to a point, a superficial reading of Dante’s Inferno offers the same thing. Firsthand accounts of Edwards’ preaching report people shrieking with fear, even as they lapped it up. We might call it disaster porn — a version of the same thing promised by both sides in the partisan charade that’s taking place in the U.S. right now. We deny magic, even as we live half- or wholly be-spelled and enchanted by others every single day of our lives. Time to exercise some of our own craft on our lives, even if it’s just to explore what happens with our particular flavor of magic. It will fit us better than any one’s, because it comes from us. Let us surprise ourselves for once. Then make it a habit.

“Follow the Yellow-Leaf Road”

In that original quotation, it’s true, Confucius seems unconcerned. He seeks willing students — but then who doesn’t? All he’s both offering and asking from us is one corner — 25% — a flash of recognition that what he’s offering has value, that it might be worth a try. Twenty-five percent is a decent-sized sample, a good taste of the merchandise. It’s taking the car for a test-drive, looking under the hood, checking the under-carriage for rust, kicking the tires, and peering down the exterior for tell-tale dents and ripples in the fenders.

Many of us are already operating above 25%, give or take. Given that percentage, our lives can resemble a baseball game, a few home runs along with more than a fair share of strikes and fouls. “Two out of three ain’t bad” goes the saying, but one out of three is already a very respectable baseball average.

A lot of what we need is already in place, waiting to be activated. You can feel that from time to time, if you’re anything like me, in the mortal restlessness that creeps up on you. Some of the time, we really do “get it”. Moments of clarity illuminate the outlines of the path. Glimmers, snatches, fragments. We may lose sight of it again for a while, a month or a decade or — gods help us — an entire life. (“Better luck next time” at that point is just cruel).

All of this is — or can be — useful data, material for making a change, spending time with the pieces till they form a recognizable outline we can understand. We’ve done much of the necessary work already, or we wouldn’t even know this much.

Together with the inertia inherent human affairs that can seem at times like “malevolent forces out to get us”, and less dramatically as “one step forward and two steps back” is a parallel protection from “going off half-cocked, on a wild goose-chase”, etc. These old proverbs and expressions are both useful cautions and reminders of the status-quo mindset.

So let us meld them into a missing whole. Together — the synthesis, the third element of the triad that begins with thesis and antithesis, joy and sorrow, argument and counter-argument — they point toward a path that moves with a rocking motion, a rhythm that draws from both, as one way forward. Try it out — you’ll recognize it when you do. It’s the rhythm of waves, of horseback-riding, of sleep and waking, death and birth, of sex — the movement of spirit in these worlds of time and space and matter, the Old Magic always waiting for a consciousness (yours! mine!) to activate it and deploy it to make new forms of possibility and joy and love.

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Mist rolling in around the 50-mile view from the Pinnacle Ridge.

One Corner (out of Four)   Leave a comment

[Part Two]

In the Analects, Confucius (Kong Zi or Master Kong) is reported to have said:

I never try to make people open up [to the world of learning] unless they already have a pent-up excitement about it. Then if I give them one corner [of a problem or point of study], if they do not come back to me with the other three corners I will not involve myself with them again.

Full moon vision to you.

The first time I encountered this passage, I recall thinking that it sounded arrogant, exclusive, etc. Over time, though — especially after I became a teacher myself — I realized it’s just common sense. Not every student will care or bother about things that may in fact be central to their lives either now or down the line. Teachers themselves may or may not perceive this, but it doesn’t matter. Insist, or try to force the issue, and it’s like pouring water into a cup that’s already full. Until you take a drink, any more just spills over the sides and onto the ground. No one benefits from pushing it, and relationships can go sour through nobody’s fault.

This, I’m finding, makes for a very useful seed for contemplation. What corners have I received that may like seeds now be lying fallow, that I can set into soil and encourage to germinate?

After all, nature wastes nothing, though it can at times look incredibly profligate. Plants produce thousands of seeds for just a handful to find a niche, germinate and grow. Many fish likewise spawn thousands of offspring, and most will die or get eaten. Even with mammals, who take greater care of their young, many will never reach adulthood. Yet each living thing, either by its life or death or both, enriches the whole in countless ways we’ve only begun to explore.

The imagery of four is another useful key key: often a corner [of a problem] pokes up in the form of an elemental “flag”. At first glance the details and circumstances of my life seem isolated, fragmented, singular and disconnected from each other. Like a materialistic view of individuals, whatever concerns this one stops at the borders of the skin, and doesn’t touch that one.

Superficially at least, that may well prove true. But life itself often prods us to dig deeper. By that I mean that I may face a health concern, like the flare-up of a skin condition I’m experiencing right now. On the surface — in this case quite literally — it’s “just” a skin condition. Something skin-deep. But almost never do such things come singly, but rather in a skein or network or cluster. How a deeper situation presents itself elementally can be a significant spiritual diagnostic tool. Earth may be the dominant elemental signature of a deeper situation — the “one corner” that widens to show new connections to the other three.

We’ve slowly been learning as a species how a systems approach not only links seemingly disparate events and circumstances, but opens up new strategies and approaches. Formerly invisible but beautifully appropriate and creative responses become visible and possible, once we broaden our vision, once we experience and consider the whole. My skin, my house, my level of exercise, diet, stress level, outlook, toxins around me, etc., all interplay and correlate and function together as a system of interlocking relationships and influences. Pluck just one string of the cosmic guitar, and the whole instrument starts vibrating.

I’ll look at “The Other Three Corners” in the next post.

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Telling Good Stories   Leave a comment

John Beckett’s most recent post talks about the myth and importance of telling good stories, the stories that shape our lives, which is what myths do. Neither conveniently true nor false, myths work archetypally. Rather than “telling the truth”, as if there’s just one, or just mine, they provide maps by which we make sense of things. Frodo “never carried a Ring to Mount Doom”, and Harry “never defeated Voldemort”. But that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say to us. Enter a mythic world, and things change. “Myths never happened”, says Sallustius, “and always are”. Open the book to page one, or click to play the video, and the story starts again.

Cabin banners at East Coast Gathering. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Though part of John’s post examines what he calls the “unnaturalness” of the myth of the patriarchy, every myth serves a purpose. Otherwise we wouldn’t keep it alive in our consciousness. The stories we tell are choices we make, after all. Yes, we inherit myths, along with much else. Every generation chooses what it will keep alive as part of the legacy it has received. And like maps and relationships and all mortal things that pass through our hands and hearts, myths can go wrong as well as right.

If we listen to our Bards, who are after all among our storytellers, we can attend to good counsel — here’s an instance from REO Speedwagon:

So if you’re tired of the
Same old story
Turn some pages
I’ll be here when you are ready
To roll with the changes

I knew it had to happen
Felt the tables turnin’
Got me through my darkest hour …

If you’ve been paying attention, of course, you might have started wondering who “turned the pages” the last time, and what it was that lead us into our present stories and situations. What was the previous story, and why did we give it up? John offers some suggestions in his post. Certainly we seem to live in a time when sharply-contrasting myths move us in different directions.

The challenge of myths is that other people’s stories look like “just stories they tell themselves”, while our myths are of course the “truth of the cosmos”. How can “they” even think that, “we” wonder. So potent is our own story (until one day when it isn’t any more), that we cannot see it as story.

John’s perspective on possible directions we might take involves an intriguing strategy. “Facts”, he notes, “can’t beat myths – people deny inconvenient facts, truth be damned. Rational explanations can’t beat myths – people jump to ad hominem, straw man, or other logical fallacies, or they just tune it out. If you want to beat a bad myth you have to tell a better story”.

Always another story. Christian and Nadia preparing for ritual.

Think of stories that catch your imagination. Many of us have experienced this with a favorite song, movie or book. You don’t want them to end. While you’re under their spell, you live in their world. Like falling in love, we live transformed, at least as long as the first glow lasts. With luck and spirit willing, that first glow transmutes into something more substantial and lasting — we may well live out our entire lives with that story. By itself that is neither a good or bad thing. But “by their fruits you shall know them” persists as still-excellent counsel: what comes of our story? Does it make our lives better, richer? Are we stronger and more adaptable with it as part of our map of consciousness?

We all know people whose personal myth or inner story helps or hinders them. We can change the stories we tell ourselves — in fact, an “interesting” life usually presents us with circumstances which compel us to change stories. Like a hermit crab, we grow too large for the shell which has sheltered us and been our home. Sometimes we can’t identify growth for what it is. Everything else goes wrong, and we fail to recognize the lack of fit between us and a story that housed us and kept us safe. We may well “roll with the changes” — but in a bruising way.

Changing one story — when we have a whole set of them — usually ends up deepening our appreciation for stories. We shift to another story, because it better reflects what we need at the moment. We learn to keep a number of stories in play — spices in our kitchen, arrows in our quiver — because that’s what the Wise have shown us will help us not merely survive, but thrive.

Great Circle, Four Quarters Sanctuary.

But changing the sole story we know can feel like our world is ending. Because in some sense it is. We won’t ever “be the same” afterwards. Whether or not that might be a good thing usually doesn’t occur to us. Another story might help us roll with “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” as Hamlet calls them. Another story might help us be of use to others, too, when their stories change, when they need wise counsel from us, or just our patient listening.

Healthy spiritual practice keeps us supple and curious and ready to laugh. It helps equips us with a range of stories that aid us in rolling with the changes. Changes? They’re guaranteed. How we roll with them is a matter for negotiation. Let’s start that conversation.

Find the right tree, I wrote in my last post. Do that much, and I’ve haven’t completed the journey. No — that’s just one place where a new story can begin.

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Posted 27 September 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, myth, Sallustius, spiritual practice

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“Find the Right Tree”   Leave a comment

says a line in my current OBOD Ovate gwers (Welsh for “lesson”). No, I’m hardly giving anything away. Or at least no more than I often do here on this blog. (Thus I fulfill the wise counsel of Lew Welch’s 1969 poem “Theology” to “Guard the Mysteries! Constantly reveal them!”)

Though the instruction may sound peremptory or authoritarian, the judgment about any “rightness” is — no surprise — left to the student. Thus are we led and set free in equal measure by spiritual teachings that prove their worth in such encounters.

In practice it’s not so much different from deciding which flavour of ice cream you’d like as you stand in front of the menu board. The quality of your decision will be reflected in your choice, and in your subsequent experience. You are not separate from your situation, but an integral part of it.

Or to enlarge the kind of choice a little, not too much: who will you commit to and spend your life with, if you choose to do such a thing? How do you recognize the — or just a — “right” one? What can your recognition teach you? What qualities of rightness met your judgment, sense, desire, will, reason, imagination, etc.? As interesting, perhaps, do these same qualities arise today when you recognize rightness?

Curiously enough, any rightness isn’t for hoarding. It’s rarely some kind of endpoint where I arrive, having won the prize, and where I can now rest, fulfilled, accomplished, self-realized, gone to the other shore, salvation assured, gold crown in hand, halo proudly pressing on my brow. Much more often, it’s for giving away, for planting, for setting in the earth to manifest, so that more rightness can arrive. It’s the rightness that arrives, not me. I take this as a good thing. When any rightness arrives, I can serve it, rather than the other way around.

Sometimes the bright tree is also the right one. Or vice versa. Maple this a.m.

Here I’m with a maple I transplanted two years ago from where it had sprouted right next to the foundation of our house. This is the first autumn its leaves haven’t simply fallen, but turned bright red first, in best sugar maple fashion.

Sometimes the “right” tree is one you’ve already connected with. Sometimes it’s one you’ve yet to learn from. By branch and leaf, elder brothers and sisters, steer me towards the tree of today.

Of what value is such a spontaneous desire or prayer?

I want to weave in another thread here, this time from Jung, whose introduction to the Wilhelm version of the I Ching offers some deep insight into how attention and divination (and magic, for that matter) can work. Rather than build my own argument — Jung does it much better — or spend time cutting and pasting text from an online version you can as easily find here (https://www.iging.com/intro/foreword.htm), I encourage the curious or thoughtful reader to investigate.

The only indulgence I will grant myself are these closing lines from Jung, which seem to me to accord with the spirit behind the gwers instruction to “find the right tree”:

The I Ching does not offer itself with proofs and results; it does not vaunt itself, nor is it easy to approach. Like a part of nature, it waits until it is discovered. It offers neither facts nor power, but for lovers of self-knowledge, of wisdom — if there be such — it seems to be the right book. To one person its spirit appears as clear as day; to another, shadowy as twilight; to a third, dark as night. He who is not pleased by it does not have to use it, and he who is against it is not obliged to find it true.

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Your Equinox

[Update 12:47 EST]

Visit Penny Billington’s blogpost Gifts of the Equinox for inspiration and ritual ideas.

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Looking for an Equinox Ritual? Searching for one that fits your experiences and perspectives?

If you’re not a member of a practicing group, it can be a challenge to know where to begin.

Fortunately, I’ve got you covered. That’s why you’re reading this post, right? With some thought and creativity on your part, you’ll be on the way.

If you visit my Ritual page, you’ll find an outline at the bottom of the page for composing your own rituals. I’ll be expanding on that outline here. The advantage of any model or example is that almost immediately you’ll see things you want to change, drop or add. That’s a good thing.

If you’re anything like me, give me something to work with, to push against, and my imagination kicks in, offering its gifts. Vision and desire and dreaming crave form — that’s one of the magical “secrets” we all practice in our own ways, but don’t think about very much. Working with them even a little and good things can spring forth.

The ritual you write and perform has something of you in it. That becomes part of the offering you make, and part of the hallowing the ritual achieves.

1–INTENTION — what do you want in an Equinox ritual, or out of it? The whole ritual follows from this. A clear intention, large or small, leads to effective and enjoyable ritual. You know what you’re doing, and why. You want to celebrate the season, you feel a need to be more grounded, you wish to honour the presence of spirit, in large and small ways, you’re grateful for good things in your life — all excellent reasons to ritualize your experience. There are plenty of additional reasons, too. More than one is fine, but let one be chief.

Write down that intention. Sometimes we resist this simple step. (Why we resist is a fruitful subject for meditation — at some other time!)

my intention occupies space, even before I light in up …

Getting it into words helps a lot. “Oh, you’re celebrating the Equinox?” says a friend, neighbour, relative, passerby. “Why? What’s your ritual for?” Now you have an answer. “I’m grateful for my garden, my pet, neighbours, family, life, the beauty of the season, the promise of renewal, the strength to continue, the conversation with a classmate I hadn’t connected with for years …”

Let gratitude become a ritual habit, and you’ll want to celebrate more often. Ritual can deepen gratitude.

“I come to give thanks for the gifts of this season”.

Where are you? “In this sacred space …” if you’re in a place you’ve held ritual before. Or if in a new space, your attention and anything else you add can help sanctify it, making it sacred for you and your intention. If it’s sacred, why not say so, and do something that signifies that truth.

Sometimes, every space is new and sacred too. You may need more words or deeds, or none at all, to know it as the truth.

2–MATERIALS NEEDED — As soon as you’ve written down your intention, the things you may want to include will start occurring to you. If you’re grateful for something, bring it — or a representation of it — into your ritual. Let it be part of your ritual focus. I love to have a fire, as I mention in many of my posts, if the weather allows it. Otherwise, a candle is an excellent equivalent. Our woodstove in winter is a daily fire, and a heartening meditation-companion all through the cold weather. Who knows how many great things have come from fire-dreaming?

Cycle back to add to your list as you develop your ritual. Remember to include the actual list at the beginning of your script as a reminder, so when the day and hour come for your ritual, you have it on hand and can pack the car, carry the materials to your yard, set up your living room, etc. If you’re doing ritual with a friend or friends over Zoom or Skype, a copy of the list for them helps everyone get read. (Share it on the whiteboard for any who arrives early!) If you’re meeting in person, will you or somebody supply masks for everyone? How can you make social distancing part of your ritual in some way?

“Keep it simple” is a good principle. “Ritual stuff” isn’t the main event, any more than ritual bling. But lacking the one or two things you DO need in the middle of the ritual, once your script grows to include them, is a real downer. That ritual knife, candle, bell, bowl of water, smudge stick now needs to be there. Do you need ritual clothing, body marking, etc.? If you do, make sure it gets on the list.

3–PARTICIPANTS and ROLES — how many does the ritual need? In these Zoom-days, you may find yourself more solitary than usual. Again, cycle back to update your “cast of characters” as your ritual plans develop. In the event of missing participants, how can you double up on roles?

Can you include objects — dolls, dressed figures, symbolic objects — for some of the roles? A tarot card, for instance (enlarged on a photocopier?) may serve as a stand-in for a role. Miniaturized ritual could be another fruitful area for experimentation and discovery. Think of the kinds of spontaneous role-play that children often do, and you’re halfway there already. Quite literally, they talk themselves into it, imagining it unfolding all around them. And it does.

Is there something for guests to do who aren’t speaking or performing major ritual actions? Can there be? Do participants — or visitors — need to prepare in advance in some way? Learn a short chant by heart? A melody? A ritual gesture? Vigils, fasts, prayer, meditation, questing, etc. can help participants bring their full ritual selves to the rite from the beginning. Work with the limits and possibilities of Zoom and Skype to bring some of the experience of ritual online.

4–PLACE and TIME — flexibility is key, especially if weather, others’ reservations, or schedules have other ideas for your ritual. A solitary ritual can happen in a fifteen-minute interval of sun on a rainy day. But group ritual benefits from pre-planned alternative locations, announced in advance. These things keep confusion and disappointment to a minimum. Is accessibility an issue for any participants or visitors? Again, will you provide masks in these Covid times?

5–RITUAL HOUSEKEEPING — “Please turn off your cell phones!” Run through any details guests need to know. “This is what we’ll be doing. Don’t break the circle, or remember cut yourself a door in it, or ask a ritual celebrant to do so for you. Restrooms are at the end of the hall, or 20 miles away; find a tree. That’s north, so this is west.”

Doing ritual online may mean reminding participants to mute themselves if a phone rings, a motorcycle roars past, etc. When each of us takes a portion of responsibility for ritual conditions, ritual works well. Help others, and yourself, avoid NINO — nothing in, nothing out, ritually speaking. What we bring contributes to the rite, so let us bring our best. And this, too, could be a line to add to the script.

6–FORMAL OPENING — you probably want some combination and sequence of purification, grounding, centering, welcoming, proclaiming ritual intent, honouring and inviting Others to be present.

How will this happen? Write it down. It can be simple. But come back to it when and as you need to in order to tweak it, add or take away, include a rhyme or poem or song, etc. Achieving an opening online often calls for something visual, as well as auditory, because Skype and Zoom offer just two senses, and magnify (distort?) their importance.

Bells, singing bowls, incense, water, fire, salt, chant, drums, etc. all can help. Casting a circle, establishing sacred space, erecting or acknowledging altars, redefining the status of participants, the place, objects nearby or some combination of any or all of these may be appropriate. Choose who does these things, and why, and how others can take part. Less talk is usually better. So is simplicity.

“I stand in this sacred place, at this sacred time”.

The small online Equinox celebration via Zoom that I’m hosting tomorrow evening is a little over three printed pages in the OBOD solo version. Half of that is stage directions: “Enter your circle from the West”. On Zoom, or in a solitary ritual, you may opt to focus that inwardly. What is “West” where you are? Trees, a hill, an open field, a neighbouring house? You may have your own associations, or objects to help evoke West.

“Let this bowl be my West, vessel of dream and inspiration”.

Doing these things via Zoom/Skype, etc., often calls for innovation and creativity. Can a swivel chair make do for turning toward each of the directions? Can picking up an object for each of the directions suffice? Private ritual is a chance to work on visualization, to slow down, and take the time, rather than letting the time take us.

7–The MAIN RITE — what you’ve gathered to do. Re-enacting a myth; marking the changed status of a participant through initiation, etc.; celebrating the season, a date, festival, harvest, planting, boat-launch, new home, new family member, etc. Healing, defending, strengthening, commemorating, blessing, gifting. Where you do the stuff specific to your tradition, practice, gods, calendar, and so on.

Equinox is a time of balance, so language, gesture, actions, focus, ritual movement can all focus on images of reciprocity, balance, light and dark, polarity, exchange, mutuality.

“On my right hand, ___. And on my left, ___ .” With intention and love, something as simple as this can serve as part of your rite. Or make it a triad:

If you’re facing East, for instance, “On my right hand, the warmth of the South. On my left, the cool of the North. On the right, I give thanks for gifts of passion and fire. On my left, I give thanks for the gifts of harvest, nourishment and sustenance. On my left, what needs to sleep, may it slumber and awake refreshed and renewed. On my right, what needs to kindle and ignite, may it burn brightly and cleanly”.

8–FEAST, ritual meal, distribution of ritual objects, etc. — a piece of maypole ribbon, a slice of apple (showing the star), a drink, a stave of ritual significance, a card or picture, stone, sea-shell, etc.

We still feast ritually, even if we’ve abandoned other ritual forms. Whether at a restaurant or at home, your chosen or blood family may or may not pray before (or after) eating, but you can include prayer that is meaningful to you in your rites. Silent prayer, a quick blessing, may be something you wish to bring back into your daily round.

Why, if prayer isn’t a part of your repertoire? To explore it as a ritual tool. To allow it to slow us down, closer to the pace of the trees around us, who breathe in and out once a day. To let the focus of its words wash over us in their specific ways. Add your own reasons, so you know.

My wife’s family, coming from diverse experience, belief and practice, often uses this old prayer, which can stand in as an example of something accessible to many who might have difficulty with language specific to any one tradition. Again, modify, add and delete as you need to.

Back of the loaf, the flour.
Back of the flour, the mill.
Back of the mill, the sun and the power,
the love and the Shaper’s will.

9–READINGS, Music, Poetry, Blessings, Prayers — this important portion of a ritual can accompany the Feast, etc. to help sustain the ritual energy, hold focus, minimize side chatter, etc. It also gives everyone present a chance to contribute personal requests, blessings, songs, etc.

Always we’re passing through markers, doorways, portals. What are your Equinox Gates?

In a solitary ritual, your own voice can be a gift, for the simple reason that it’s yours, speaking your gratitude, your celebration. Or a bone flute, a gong, drum, flute, stringed instrument. An empty bottle, blown across its open end, produces a pleasing tone. Pebbles in a jar, can or bottle will — with some experimentation — make an effective rattle.

And sometimes, rather than words, your rite may call for silence.

10–CLOSING — reverse what you did for the opening: thank Others you invited, uncast the circle, return ritual elements to their original places, desanctify what needs desanctifying. Take down the altar. Ring the bell, beat the drum formally, close the ritual. Re-establish the world before the ritual began. Again, simple is good.

Online, a clear visual or a gesture, along with a sound, can help mark the ending. Often on Zoom, with its over-emphasis on just two senses, and especially on the visual, a combination of markers is effective. Let participants SEE an ending, as well as hear it.

11–ANNOUNCEMENTS — upcoming events, requests for help with clean-up, calendars, thanking visitors, etc.

With a solitary rite, you can certainly skip this part. Or make of it an opportunity to announce that you wish to hold future rituals, to come again to celebrate and commemorate, to honour and to thank. It can take the form of a vow, or simple intention, expressed in sacred space. So the Wheel moves, each turn both same and different.

One of the earliest things we teach children is to take turns. That’s how the cosmos flows, so it is a priceless lesson, one we need to keep re-learning as adults, in new and varied forms.

12–CLEAN-UP — leave the ritual space as pristine — or more so — than when you arrived. Make this a ritual act of service and gratitude.

Again, this may seem less or not necessary for a solitary rite, but if you have a fire-circle and hold your rite outdoors, for instance, there’s clean-up to be done. Let it be part of your ritual, giving thanks and visualizing the Others who attended, sending after them your gratitude and goodwill on their journeys.

Conversation following the rite can be an opportunity for formal teaching, Q-and-A, casual discussion, ritual debriefing and a post-mortem “how did it go?”, planning for another event, etc.

13–RECORDING — entering details of your ritual in your journal is another way to grow and discover. Insight may come in the act of sitting to write, or a day or two later, as an addition to that entry. With larger public events, a paper copy of the ritual can serve as a souvenir and also a place for notes and reflections. What did you experience? Anything happen that seems a coincidence at the time, or after, or before? Record it.

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Posted 19 September 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, equinox, intention, ritual

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“What am I doing for Emnight 2020?”

[Updated 11:51 EST]

John Beckett offers Two Online Equinox Rituals on his blog.

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Ah, Emnight — that word I’ve lifted wholesale from Old English emniht, from *efenniht “even-night, equal night (and day); equinox”. (Hail, Kin Down Under at the start of Spring)!

I don’t know about you, but I like the homely feel of Emnight — literally, the feel of home. It’s a word loved by use, a word with its edges rounded off, that begins to match the age of the celebration, fitting for the interval when we enter the dark half of the year. Not em-day, but em-night.

Always we’re climbing in and out of darkness, in and out of the restoring earth. Hiking with friends at the Putney Stone Chambers.

I’m doing three things around Emnight, since you asked. First, hosting a Zoom workshop with the Druidry and Christianity group I’ve mentioned in previous posts. One of our members has recorded a meditation that will form part of what we do online and in our hearts. We’re also drafting a set of commitments for members’ guidance and practice. Here’s what we’ve got so far, a nice symbolic seven that may shift as we explore and revise:

1. We commit to a daily spiritual practice to help us attune to divine presence.
2. We commit to witnessing and practising an ever-growing path of peace.
3. We commit to becoming more in tune with the natural world and its rhythms.
4. We commit to weighing our thoughts, words and deeds — are they true, kind, and necessary?
5. We commit to not judging others on their paths, but instead to rejoice in those places where our paths cross.
6. We commit to sharing our relevant knowledge and our own faith/spiritual experiences for the purpose of our mutual spiritual development.
7. We commit to sharing the divine love by service to others according to our abilities and circumstances.

Try them out. Sharpen them, adapt them to your path and practice and situation.

Second thing I’m doing: a small Zoom Alban Elfed gathering, with a meditative read-through of the solo OBOD ritual for Autumn Equinox. The advantage of the solo version is that it’s scaled down, maximally flexible for whether three or thirty people join us (and our numbers will hew toward the former, not the latter).

“I stand at the threshold of dark and light”, runs the solo rite. “Though I come to this gateway time after time, never come I to the same Gateway twice. Tonight I shall pass through once more, and enter the dark half of the year”. The center of the ritual asks us to acknowledge the Four Directions and the representative objects we’ve placed there. A time, as the eight yearly rituals all are, each in their own ways, for gratitude, reflection and commitment.

Autumn Equinox, East Coast Gathering 2017

And last thing: a fire with just my wife and me and a few bluejays for company, along with a fall crop of crickets singing counterpoint. “Pray with a good fire” remains one of my standing counsels for those seeking to put their leanings into practice — that ancient advice from the Rig Veda. A fire focuses and clarifies, lifts the heart, and embodies the moving spirit in things.

Posted 18 September 2020 by adruidway in autumnal equinox, Druidry, emnight, OBOD, prayer

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Equinoxing 2020

Ah, evidence that sometimes you’re just further ahead NOT posting to your blog 🙂 Who knows what drew 600 views on Sunday, then 800 yesterday? Certainly not new content.

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Equinox, we sense you on our skin. Whichever hemisphere, whether north or south, the light level has changed. Clearly the sun now climbs to a different point in the sky — different enough that finally we notice it. The birds tell us, too, if we haven’t been paying attention ourselves.

“Go into the earth for counsel …” — Putney, VT stone chambers.

So many thing bark for our attention these days. And a range of responses are still open to us, in spite of the insistent and distorting messages behind the barking — that only one choice remains open, that we’re a small and single step from disaster, that Evil walks bodily among us, that the Dark Lord has risen again, soon to place the Ring on his demonic hand once more, and usher in a final darkness.

More than enough real trials and struggles merit our attention that we needn’t twist our creativity and imagine more of them. To choose just one challenge from my own country as an example, widespread fires burn on the west coast of the U.S, taking lives and property.

We know bad news sells. Rather than feed our nerves and anxiety with servings beyond our ability to digest, though, it’s spiritually prudent to focus on what we can do with love and attention. Rather than prescribe what form that might take, it’s the part of wisdom to leave that to the discernment of each person.

I know I need to keep reminding myself of all these things — one reason I’m writing them here. You, my readers, are part of my practice.

A “Triad of Triads”

Last Saturday a friend offered a “spiritual form” to several of us, a “triad of triads” he does as a monthly rite: three things he’s grateful for, three requests he has, three things he’s learned or discovered that month (sometimes in response to his requests from the previous month).

These three can also form prompts for the core of an enacted monthly ritual as well. Sometimes we need that larger gesture to reach our own awareness more concretely, to realize what we know, quite literally to make it real to us. For the three things I am grateful for, a small offering for each. For the three requests, a lit candle, or incense tossed into a fire, or a small individual fire kindled for each. For the three requests, three nuts or seeds placed on the altar — potentials to be manifested. (Adjust to fit your need, style and inner guidance.)

Often he writes these down, as a way to record his spiritual journey, the long trajectory it takes, the shape of his life. We think we’ll remember, but any time spent with such a record reveals we forget by far the greater part of such things. Even reviewing this kind of personal track-record can re-ignite hope and provide concrete evidence of participating in something larger than what passes for news these days. The real news that is always happening pours onto us out of silence, as Rilke says in his Duino Elegies. The silence when we greet the dawn and the trees, and the world ever new each day.

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Posted 15 September 2020 by adruidway in Druidry

Refounding Our Fundamentals

First, a quotation from Dion Fortune, who flourished in the 30s and 40s of the last century, and did much to launch contemporary understandings of spiritual wholeness, vitality and magic:

“When, in order to concentrate exclusively on God, we cut ourselves off from nature, we destroy our own roots. There must be in us a circuit between heaven and earth, not a one-way flow depriving us of all vitality … it is not enough for our mental health and spiritual development that we draw down the Divine Light, we must also draw up the earth forces. Only too often mental health is sacrificed to spiritual development through ignorance of, or denial of, this fact. Nature is God made manifest, and we blaspheme Her at our peril.” — Dion Fortune, Applied Magic.

While several monotheisms exist which offer training in drawing down the divine light, where in the world do we learn how to draw up the earth forces?

Some of us learn precisely here — in the world. Exploring nature as a child can often go far toward linking us with currents which can help sustain us all life long, if we don’t break the circuit ourselves. We find that secret place away from adults — a tree, stone, grove, meadow, pool in a stream. Maybe we share it with a few others our age, or maybe not. Many who feel drawn to Druidry as adults once enjoyed that contact, and come to realize it includes part of what’s missing after they’ve been alive for a few decades and felt the loss keenly.

[Some forms of Christianity have much to teach concerning honoring the earth and drawing on the telluric or earth forces. The current interest in Celtic spirituality, admittedly sometimes a romanticizing of the realities of its ascetic strain, mirrors such an instinctive search for the rebalancing of the telluric and solar forces. And among other contemporary Druid teachers, J M Greer addresses this in his The Druidry Handbook:

“It’s no wonder so many modern people are deluded into thinking of nature as an unnecessary luxury, and fail to notice their glittering artificial world depends, moment by moment, on vast inputs of materials and energy wrenched from their places in the cycles of the living earth …

Psychologists have shown that many kinds of mental illness have a central factor in common. Despite the stereotype, mentally ill people don’t lose the ability to think clearly; psychotic delusions are often masterpieces of internally consistent deductive logic. The trouble comes because this elegant reasoning loses touch with anything outside itself. Deductions become delusions when they stop being tested against the way the world actually works” (pg. 144).

That wordless communion a child enjoys, which it may not be able to verbalize to adults, begins to be restored to us when we again spend time outdoors. While our headspace is fuller and noisier than when we were children, the “green yoga” of opening our senses, listening, and letting thoughts subside, is a vital practice — quite literally: one that grants vitality. A backyard altar, as simple as a low-hanging tree branch or flowerpot or corner of the fenceline, which I visit each day and where I rededicate myself, becomes a source, a well, a font of sanctity.

Those who struggle to blend approaches, who have — for instance — remained devoted to Jesus, even if church has become a trial and even a hindrance, and who long to honor the holiness they also sense in the natural world, might ponder this reflection from Steve Shelton, who has commented here and elsewhere, and whose path as Christian and Druid lets each enrich the other:

“Let the Christian and Druid talk with each other — they seem to have a way of working this out, usually while we are doing something else.”

And Denise comments:

“Nothing new under the sun, as Ecclesiastes says. We can only do what the ancestors did — keep trying. As long as we’re still human we won’t quite get it right, none of us. Some days — most days — the biggest challenge is to remember that I’m as bad as ‘them’ in my own way and do my best not to cause harm”.

Here is humility, a quality often missing from fundamentalism, which too often speaks from an arrogant certainty that closes off possibilities of growth and discovery. We can also flip the words at need: “I’m as good as them in my own way, and do my best to cause good”.

The etymology of humility tells us much — earthed, grounded, in touch with the humus, the dirt which nourishes us through the other bodies we consume, whether plants or animals, and which our own bodies will nourish in their turn.

The Dao De Jing (Ch. 14/Winter Bynner trans.) observes (adjust the gender to present-day standards):

One who knows his lot to be the lot of all other men
Is a safe man to guide them,
One who recognizes all men as members of his own body
Is a sound man to guard them.

And again, in Ch. 27, pointing us towards one of the results of practice — our ability to salvage in each other what we may think we’ve lost:

A sound man is good at salvage,
At seeing that nothing is lost.
Having what is called insight,
A good man, before he can help a bad man,
Finds in himself the matter with the bad man.
And whichever teacher
Discounts the lesson
Is as far off the road as the other,
Whatever else he may know.
That is the heart of it.

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Where else does fundamentalism take root? The plant metaphor is an apt one. It finds fertile soil in our human capacity to navigate through a deluge of complex sensory and mental inputs, filter and sort them, and then to generalize, schematize, summarize, simplify and transmit them to others.

Blessings to the ancestors for passing along to us many rules of thumb. Some concern the natural world. They may be simple, and some even rhyme: “leaves of three, let them be” for identifying poison ivy. Others we seem to pick up from the air around us. It’s no surprise we’re comfortable around PLU, Jane Austen’s name for and means of poking fun at our clannish and tribal tendencies. “People Like Us” reassure us we fit, we belong to a place. Yes, they say, there’s a soft, warm niche among us with your name on it. And anything that threatens that can draw up deep reserves of fear of the Other. Let that threat come from among a member of the tribe, and that member will eventually be ostracized as surely as a complete foreigner and outsider will be.

Part of the vigor of the fundamentalist tendency in all of us rests in our solidarity with a tribe whose members are all “looking in the same direction”.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Two keys for dealing with the fundamentalist tendency find echoes in the common law of almost every society we know. In simplest form, they’re the promise and the practice of respect. At root, they form the core of common law, of contract and tort law.

In his remarkable book Whatever Happened to Justice (2004), Richard Maybury lays them out like this: “Do all you have agreed to do, and do not encroach on other persons or their property”. If we’re searching for a clear-headed diagnosis of the times, we might consider how well we’ve been applying these in the United States over the last few decades.

Extend the first principle just a little, and we begin to see a spiritual obligation we often lose sight of. What have we agreed to do? The Western version most of us have inherited has been pared down and simplified until it resembles “Do what makes you happy”; “Follow your bliss”, “March to the beat of your own drummer”.

We’ve lost a more comprehensive vision that connects us to every other being and level of existence. The “mass fundamentalisms” of the West have swept us all up, whatever our private beliefs. They have deified the self of the apparent world (the one that Druidry gently tries to draw us beyond from time to time, so we can recover a vision of the greater self), while also delivering us to a point where we don’t know that we’ve agreed to anything else (we often deny that there is anything else to agree to), or that we are also selves beyond the apparent world, so that we can’t see the terms of our agreement coming due, we’ve “blasphemed Nature at our peril”, and we’ve forgotten how to get back on a good track again.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Fortunately the tools we need are at hand, and a little exploration and experimentation shows us which ones will serve us best in our own unique circumstances and situations.

Despite what you read in the headlines, the most important fixes are never big ones. They begin small, in the self, in each self, where all real change occurs, and then flow outward into the world from there. When a “big fix” occurs, it can only occur because enough selves have “gotten on board”. The group consciousness has to change first, and that’s where it’s most productive and effective to focus.

I make of myself a culture in the biological sense, and I then infect those around me. That is, I cultivate a set of attitudes, perspectives and abilities which will spread and flower and propagate because I have brought them into manifestation in myself. This may sound mysterious or bizarre or even frightening, until we realize we’re all doing this all the time already. The sole difference is whether I do it as consciously and intentionally as possible, or whether I tend to drift and sway in and with the living currents others send out toward me.

Will I be cause, or effect? Will I at least choose?

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Fundamentalism and Me

This first post in what will be at least a two-parter takes a tangent that may feel like a change of tone and pace. It’s a reflection sparked by John Beckett’s 9 Things You Can Do To End Fundamentalism, posted earlier today. And I’d say read that post first, and you may not need or want to read this one.

View of Rice Terraces
What terrace am I currently working on?; Pexels.com

Long-time readers of this blog know that often I try turning these things onto myself, especially “things” like this topic, because my inner Fundamentalist is alive and well. I assert that we all have one, and where he’s most active (Fundamentalism feels sexist, so I’m happily calling it a “he”), he can likewise be most revealing to examine.

John’s post is partly a response to a friend’s question about how to “end Fundamentalism”. I’m going to trust Jesus on this one: “the poor you will always have with you”, and by analogy it sure looks like that’s true of Fundamentalism, too. We won’t be “ending it” any time soon — I’m not ceding any ground here, but merely acknowledging realistically a feature of human behavior, the better to strategize about “OK, so what then?”

One of the prime definitions of Fundamentalism is “strict adherence to the basic principles of any subject or discipline”, and if it just ended there, we’d be in a different place and space. But there’s also that annoying corollary, “… and you must adhere, too”. Fundamentalism has just one story to tell about the cosmos, and a corollary hatred of any competing stories.

The Last Bow Book
What are your stories? Pexels.com

Like ignorance or anger or lust, these orientations to human existence don’t “go away” through the effort of supposedly more enlightened people like you or me. As long as the tendencies are present in each of us — and I assert that they are — such things send out runners and spores, seed packets, shoots and burrs, and doggedly persist and re-root. That very energy and vigor is revealing of things I hope to cover in a subsequent post.

Part of the good news is that we can work to limit them and rein them in, starting first with ourselves, and returning there as a default setting in the face of any moralizing we — I — feel inclined to do. Beware the soapbox, I hiss to myself. The poor, the “fundamentalist tendency”, the human propensities toward laziness, selfishness, lust, anger, attachment, vanity — we have these with us always. Again, this isn’t any admission of defeat, or reversion to a “dead morality”, but an attempt to describe some aspects of a larger reality, and maybe even develop an actual workable set of strategies in response. (After all, that’s what things like Christianity and Druidry — and Fundamentalism, too — all claim to be: responses to Things As They Are.)

Paganism and Druidry often struggle with evidence of human evil, one instance where Christianity has developed some peculiarly profound insight. One tacit Pagan or Druid assumption seems to be that if we’re in touch with natural rhythms, most of our actions will be harmonious and balanced, in imitation and synchrony with those rhythms. It’s a pleasant conclusion, but is it accurate or helpful?

Even the naming of such things anger, lust and ignorance as “human evil” can sound quaint, faintly ironic, or old-fashioned, irrelevant to the Woke among us who’ve supposedly “moved on” from such labels, improving ourselves in the best American tradition of bootstrapping our way to Utopia. (Somehow, generation to generation, we just keep failing to arrive.)

Photo of Pathway Surrounded By Fir Trees
Sometimes a label would help a lot. Pexels.com

But whether we like to admit it or not, ignorance, anger, lust and so on are heightened expressions of innate human mechanisms with a certain value, or they wouldn’t persist in human behavior over such long time periods. We see equivalents of them in animals, which should red-flag them for us, not as “bad” but as structural or even genetic — part of our inheritance, just like the mixed bag we inherit from our specific ancestral lines.

While meme theory tells us that memes propagate by themselves, like viruses, regardless of how maladaptive they may be for “human thrival”, the capacity in us that both memes and fundamentalisms* hijack and exploit is what interests me more, because I see it in all of us. It’s not just the despicable behavior of some Other (“The evil ____ will destroy this nation if elected!”), mysteriously detached from my own experience, but also inherent in me, too. (Note that Fundamentalisms excel at Othering.)

To pick on just one secular response to such human “bad choices”, the “Values Clarification” exercises popular in some schools decades ago, and still a current therapeutic practice, don’t automatically lead us to make better choices. Such things seem to operate from faulty assumptions about the source and pathways of behavior.

If some form of Fundamentalism wasn’t there in me, albeit in what’s hopefully a less virulent, milder form, I wouldn’t keep pushing ritual and spiritual practice on you, dear readers. Yes, I’m trying to “improve” you the best way I know. Hence my concurrent strategy to turn these things back on myself, to try to walk my talk as best I can, in public, on a blog, for everyone to see who cares to, and hopefully learn from. Some days a blog can feel like a spiritual hit-and-run accident. Other days it’s like the best picnic ever. You learn to roll with these things.

I know that Fundamentalism as we see it now is often simplistically labelled “a response to modernity” and hardly dates to earlier than 150 years ago or so. But if I take even a cursory look at previous centuries, oddly enough I see a set of behaviors that look awfully similar, behaviors largely indistinguishable that I’m including here under that label Fundamentalism/One-Way-ism for my purposes. These behaviors just kept manifesting in things like the Inquisition, pogroms, Crusades, internment camps, the Islamic State, Native Reservations, Satanic Panics, and a host of similar phenomena.

I’d like to close this first and very probably deeply depressing post with the briefest suggestion for where I’m planning to go in the next post: toward a revisioning of Fundamentalism as a positive, a set of basics that form a powerful and productive core response to finding ourselves here, now, alive, and trying to tackle what playwright Arthur Miller [at link, go to eleventh paragraph] called our “single problem: how may a man make of the outside world a home?”

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*fundamentalisms, plural. We’re seeing them, in case we forget, in India with the Hindutva movement Modi is exploiting, in forms of Islam in the Middle East as we’ve witnessed for decades, in Buddhism, and elsewhere.

Posted 20 August 2020 by adruidway in Druidry

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