Crossing on a Word   Leave a comment

Perform a Rite of Chocolate: only you and your Guides know how much is too much. (If you need an actual god of chocolate, the Mayan deity Ek Chuah, “Black Star,” patron of merchants and cacao, may serve your purposes; this site includes an image and some ritual details to build on.)

/|\ /|\ /|\

northalafields

A 21st century mound — Northala Fields, London

Robert Frost makes do for my divination today — words from his too-famous “The Road Not Taken” bumping into each other in my head this morning after a walk: “I saved it for another day, but knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”

The Spiral we all walk leads me away and away, until I forget I ever meant to come back at all. Then when I do, I run smack into what I’d “saved for another day.” Now the day’s here. Nothing lost. That inexplicable half-recognition at the arrival of things that we can’t possibly know, that kiss of the strange-familiar we all face once in a while — or many times — washes over me, gift of the Spiral. But oh how the hide-and-seek of it all can last lifetimes. What else did I save long ago “for another day”? No way to know, till it happens again.

/|\ /|\ /|\

The last few days I’ve been awkwardly mindless.  Today, a little more joyously mindless. Oh, I still think, or maybe more accurately, what passes for thought comes flitting by and makes do, till my brain finds it way home again.

Fortunately this masquerade of consciousness seems to convince everybody else around me right now. I got through a short-term job interview yesterday that seemed to go well enough, I balanced my checkbook, I wrote a note to an old friend.

“Your brain could fit in the navel of a gnat and still rattle around like a BB in a corn-flakes box.” The old high-school insult, embroidered and endlessly recycled, just about sums me up right now. Except it’s insult no longer, just blunt fact.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Men an Tol

Without warning I feel the power gather on the other side of the Gate. (What Gate? How should I know? But there’s a Gate right now, and power on the other side of it. Ya gotta roll with these things, I tell myself. Mindlessness helps.) A sound, a word, it’s the name of an ancestor who wants to reach me, whose wisdom I need right now, name which is also a pass-key to a world opening like an eye onto a twilight landscape.

I know this word, I say it to open wider, but it’s nothing I can write down, nothing to save for another visit, nothing with a human shape, though I keep saying it. But even as I think this, the inner reassurance comes that when I need to visit again, I’ll be able to. Then the whole thing is gone as quickly as it came. I stand on an endless beach, watching the tide go out all at once. At least that’s how it feels.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: Northala Fields, London; Men an Tol, Cornwall — from a wonderful site of Moon Gates.

Deeper than Yin and Yang, Part 2: Playing the Field   Leave a comment

[Part 1]

willow-byardIt must have been early in its life that the 70 ft. trunk of the willow in our back yard split in three. In this picture I took yesterday, it almost looks like three separate trees. As an instance of the triads and triples and threes prominent in Druid tradition, the tree serves as a visual reminder every time I look out the bathroom window. (It’s also just a tree.) And whenever I’m there,  I can if I choose consider the willow. When I face a choice between two paths, often enough if I look patiently, a third option comes into focus, standing behind the two in front. Well, maybe not always as clear as these three trunks, but still …

As many others have before me, I find that looking for an “obscured third” factor or option is good discipline. While three no more constitute the whole field of the Possible than two do, seeking and finding a third is one step in a helpful direction. With bad math I can claim it’s 33% more accurate. At least it acknowledges complexity, and lets me read the contours of a moment or situation more fluidly, allowing for wider possibilities.

The ready tendency of human perception toward isolating pairs of opposites does of course simplify the messiness of the field. Of the universe, of life-as-we-know-it. As a preliminary take on what’s going on beyond our noses, it’s often not bad as a first approximation. But it’s only that. We all remember the crisis, the either-or, the hard call under stress, but far more often than we realize, the energies, potentials and tendencies in most situations are multiple rather than binary.

“I have to make more money or go into foreclosure. For here or to go? Either you’re with us or against us. If I don’t quit now, I never will. Yes or no? Soup or salad? Boy or girl? Either you believe in God or you don’t. Liberal or conservative? Thin crust or deep-dish?” We’ve all faced and heard these kinds of choices, possibly muttered — or shouted — some version of them to ourselves or others. “Paper or plastic?” “Left or right?”

How often have we’ve acted on one or the other, and not always to our advantage? I can feel my hackles rise, just thinking about it all. No one likes to be boxed in. Even “thinking outside the box” is still in or out. Still either-or, yes or no. Who makes their best decisions hassled, pressured, under the gun? Yes, some of us may be intermittent adrenalin junkies and love the high of danger, the thrill of risk, the seat-of-the-pants choice, the coin-toss of fate. But as a whole lifestyle, after a while it can start to look much less attractive.

“Left or right?” Well, we could turn around and go back the way we came. Or get out and walk straight ahead. Or park and wait for a bus or cab. Climb a tree and scope out the area. Or …

“Paper or plastic?” “Neither. I brought my own bag.” The relaxation that often follows seeing and feeling and acting from the richness of a third (or fourth or fifth) choice rather than from a false binary should tell me I’m onto something. (So should the occasional look of surprise on others’ faces as the moment breaks through habit, routine, semi-consciousness.) Maybe the choice itself matters less than I thought. Or maybe more — and so it shouldn’t be rushed, but savored. We love options, then deprive ourselves of them when they count most.

Part 3 to come.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Updated 26 August 2015

Deeper than Yin and Yang, Part 1: “The Darkness Also Had Spoken”   Leave a comment

[Part 2]

So your spiritual practice – i.e., your life – is going well, and moments of insight come to you like the god-kissed gifts they can be. The afternoon light slants a certain way, bees hum in late-summer flowers, the sweet air itself intoxicates you, and the golden pollen of August dusts your eyesight. It’s what the SBNRs, the spiritual-but-not-religious, count among the “treasures outside the walls” of a church or temple. Walk but a little deeper into such moments, hone that attention ever so finely, and you may more fully participate in what the Lakota call Great Mystery:

A bird sings in a nearby tree, and “in that moment you understand the singing of the bird … the shape of the clouds, and the beginning and end of the wind that stirs the leaves … it may even seem to you that you yourself are a word spoken by the sunlight” (A Wizard of Earthsea, pg. 35).

woe-legThese words are slightly adapted from Ursula Le Guin’s classic fantasy, a source of wisdom I count among my teachers in book form. Such a charged sensibility as Le Guin describes glimmers at the edges of our awareness all the time.

Of course as we age, we learn how to turn it off, shut it down, dull its sheen into an occasional daydream, because in full spate it can remind us painfully of what we have forgone in our quest for other things we thought mattered more. Often I abandon the greater magic for the lesser – and the spell I cast, the one we cast together – works all too well.  Exhibit A: just look around, or check out the shrieking headlines.

Or it’s nothing, as far as I can tell, that I’ve done, or left undone.

Nevertheless I search my thoughts and actions for a clue, plumb my mood and my intent, skim my spiritual journal (if I’ve been keeping it up to date, if I keep one at all).

And sometimes, as over this past six weeks, I know precisely where the imbalance lurks. I’ve just finished a teaching intensive, working with international high school students in a residential summer program, doing evening dorm duty, teaching classes, chaperoning day excursions – the kind of all-encompassing, immensely rewarding and exhausting work I’d already done for sixteen years, and which I’d consciously left two years ago. So I knew exactly what I was getting into.

And I could see how out of balance I was getting day by day, postponing regular and vital “inner time” till after the meeting about a troubled boy in the dorm, after I’ve had breakfast — I’m starving!, after teaching three straight classes, after grading this stack of papers I’d promised my kids for yesterday, after a nap I’ve got to have now, or I’ll fall over. After, after, after. Because after all, these things are i m p o r t a n t ! I’m serving, giving, helping, connecting, making a difference! (Best seduction ever.)

In the middle of all this supposed selflessness, my wife and I found our arguments escalating and cutting deeper. I shirked tasks and cut corners, pleading fatigue. And when I didn’t step forward quickly enough to deal with a cluster of dorm incidents — including sexual hazing, secret videotaping, and two fights, all within a 24-hour span, and the deans took over and dismissed my complaints that I was cut out of the solution they had to impose in my absence — I took refuge in ugly self-pity.

Of course, nothing new. As magician and poet R. J. Stewart characterizes it,

lma-cover-rjstewartWith each phase of culture in history, the locks upon our consciousness have changed their form or expression, but in essence remain the same. Certain locks are contrived from willed patterns of suppression, control, propaganda, sexual stereotyping, religious dogma; these combine with and reinforce the old familiar locks restraining individual awareness; laziness, greed, self-interest, and, most pernicious of all, willful ignorance. This last negative quality is the most difficult of all to transform into a positive; if we truly will ourselves to be ignorant, and most of us do in ways ranging from the most trivial to the most appallingly irresponsible and culpable, then the transformation comes only through bitter experience. It may seem to be hardship imposed from without, almost at random, but magical tradition suggests that it flows from our own deepest levels of energy, which, denied valid expression by the locks upon our consciousness, find an outlet through exterior cause and effect (Living Magical Arts, pgs. 20-21).

We respond to stories, to myth, because they are our own lives writ large. My little drama, echoed in epic. It does not pay for me to ignore the second teaching, after the pleasant mysticism of sunlight and glorious connection. “Once … he had felt himself to be a word spoken by the sunlight. Now the darkness also had spoken: a word that could not be unsaid” (A Wizard of Earthsea, 66).

O, shut up, says my severest critic. Can you contemplate getting over yourself for a moment?! The story’s a cool story, and your human pettiness is no different than most other people’s. There’s no cosmic link. Stop your posturing, make your point and be done with it already. So I will assay nothing better than to close, once more with Le Guin’s words — the epigram that opens her book.

Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk’s flight
on the empty sky.

[Part 2 looks further at dark, light, and the field they appear on.]

/|\ /|\ /|\

Le Guin, Ursula. A Wizard of Earthsea. New York: Bantam/Parnassus Press, 1984. Stewart, R. J. Living Magical Arts. Living Magical Arts: Imagination and Magic for the 21st Century. London: Blandford, 1987. Images: A Wizard of EarthseaLiving Magical Arts.

Privilege   1 comment

The living know a privilege the dead no longer do. And if the ancient Greek historian Herodotus is right (“Call no man happy till he is dead”), the dead enjoy an under-appreciated but inevitable mirror privilege.

We resolutely continue to reproduce in the face of a world seemingly ever more uncertain as a cradle for life. How can we balance both privileges and also (peace, Hunger Games) odds increasingly not in our favor? Possible answers abound, many of them very old, some discarded, some revived, a few hoisted as banners, or burnt on street corners, excoriated on Twitter, or — of course — all of the above. How can we test them for validity, utility — or compassion?

A healthy person, privileged by good genes or birth in the right body or borough, blessed by careful diet and exercise, pure dumb luck or divine gift, enjoys a privilege her sick double may long for and envy each weary day. Medicine, unevenly available or efficacious, may or may not redress the named injustice of it all.

Animals all around us, subject to ecosystems fine-tuned over millennia, spawn, hatch, are born, devour each other and die, in carefully interlocking patterns of privilege and disadvantage balanced by contingencies both evolutionary and reshaped by human presence.

The very characters of our myths and stories, movies and daydreams, often laze in privilege, vie for it, abandon it all for love or destiny or despair, shuffle their cards one way or another and start over again, or bow before their uncaring fate. We earn and forfeit it, find comfort in promises of future rebalancing, accuse and suffer and strive to comprehend. We are born in or out of it, notice or ignore it, act from or against it, minimize or maximize its effects, in the scant few years we have between entering and leaving this world.

What is it about the word or its shifting referents that’s made it recently so toxic in the West, so raw and troubling? Do we really need to ask?! Is there anything anyone can say about it right now without someone else disagreeing?! And doesn’t that give us our diagnosis — and prognosis, too?

Two hands, a heart, a mind, and time still ahead of me. Work to do.

Posted 18 July 2015 by adruidway in Druidry, ecosystem, privilege

Tagged with , ,

Our Honored Dead   Leave a comment

[I’m teaching in a 5-week boarding school summer program this June-July for American (academic enrichment) and international (English as a second language) middle and high school students. The intensity of the pace accounts for the dearth of recent posts here.]

entrance

Egyptian entrance gate, Grove Street Cemetery

 

Tomorrow we have a day off from classes for a visit to the Yale University campus. For the older students, we’ll also make a side tour of Grove Street Cemetery, listed as a National Historic Landmark for its historical interest (its first burial occurred in 1797 after a Yellow Fever epidemic), the names of its famous dead, and its enduring ties to Yale.

In the past year my wife and I’ve discovered our ancestors lived in the same small town (in a different state, near the Canadian border) around the same decade that Grove Street was established, and mostly likely they knew each other. And as we’ve been telling the students this summer, a well-landscaped cemetery can be a peaceful and unique experience, because it can enlarge our sympathies and imaginations beyond the immediate concerns of own lives.

Live long enough, I’m finding, and your sympathies may enlarge so that any dead become part of your honored dead. We share DNA from around the planet (one of my cousins had his DNA tested and found Greek and Central African markers in it), we all face the same challenges of dying and living, and if the dead have any honor in my memory, it’s because I give it to them.

JunglebookCover

cover of the first edition (1894) of The Jungle Book

 

In Kipling’s Jungle Book, the human boy Mowgli says more than once to his animal companions, “We be of one blood, thou and I.” Such simple acknowledgements may at times matter more than many prayers and offerings, if they open our hearts to gratitude and the wisdom we inherit in our bones and our mortal dreams.

So tomorrow in my own way I’ll commemorate the “Grove Streeters” by reading and repeating their names, pouring libations of water (nothing stronger — I’m with adolescents, after all) in their honor, and acknowledging their part in shaping the world as we have it today. And always, I am confident, there will be others who will follow us and do the same, touched through their own sufferings and joys by a similarly enlarged sense of kinship.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: Egyptian entrance gate, Grove Street Cemetery; Jungle Book cover

Growing Down   Leave a comment

greenworldThe green world burgeons all around me, though I fall silent. I don’t grow up like these eager stems, leaves and blossoms that surround this house of self in a blaze of green glory. So early this year, summer already launched in the heart of spring. Not up. No. I grow down.

The word itself brings the action. D o o o w w w n n n. Without thought, something bones and skin and gut do. Are doing. I shudder in a moment of vertigo. One world spins and collapses around me. Then I’m touching another, walls that shape the passage-way around my descent. Something deepens, I sense roots like fingers, fingers like roots, reaching into darkness, into cool earth and colder stone.

sheela-na-gig

I feel them ever so subtly at first, their branching shapes, the strength of this bark-skin, root and claw, fingertip and tendril, things that are somehow both my hands and also the tree roots I find myself grasping.

Then all at once, that subterranean tug of ancestors, my roots their roots, reaching and twining into the dream earth I crawl into each night and pull over me. I shiver, bone-deep. All that they were, I am. All that they feared and love, I too fear and love. In the darkness, a space opens. Water pools at my feet, a faint glow illuminating it, silvering the surface. Ripples die away and all lies still. My own breathing deafens me, too loud. The dark silver still shines with its own light, waiting … for what?

nightlake

I’m jerked upright, to my feet. Want to meet your ancestors? asks an insistent whisper. Look, the whisper says. Look, Pilgrim, in the mirror. The silver surface of the water steams, mist swirls up from it, the fog thickens, then furls back and away. I kneel down to look …

/|\ /|\ /|\

Singing. I hear singing.

Three awens for the dead, who live again. Three awens for the living, who will die in turn. Three awens for those yet unborn, who know both worlds, who await a third.

O Walker between the worlds, do you wish to remember all you have forgotten? Then stand ready. The nine awens of change wash over you.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Are you ready?

It’s not a question. Oh, it has the form of one, but it’s not. It’s a choice. I show I’m ready, or not, by what I choose. And by how. Not by thinking of an answer.

It’s a fair choice. It’s always a fair choice, I hear. Because it’s yours. But if I don’t know it’s a choice, if I listen to fear, or doubt, or judgment, or anything else but what I was born listening to, what shaped me while I was a mere thumbling in my mother’s womb, I miss the choice, and think it’s merely a question to answer, one that already has an answer, not one I answer in this moment, right now, by choosing. What will I choose? That’s the real question.

aceofcupsI gift you with a grail, the chalice of your desire, says the short powerful figure before me. I try to make out a face, but nothing other than an outline in this dimness.  And the voice.

What will fill it? Where will you pour it? The gift cannot be given to you until you give it away.

How? I hear myself shouting, how in the name of the Nine Druids do I give away a gift I don’t even have?

/|\ /|\ /|\

I’m coming back. Ascending, though that’s not exactly it either. One world fades, another gains strength.

A final whisper. Wanderer, you have no other home. Home is where you serve.

Images: greenworldsheila-na-gig; lake at night; grail.

Posted 14 June 2015 by adruidway in ancestors, Druidry, grail, initiation, Ovate

Tagged with , , , ,

Inward to Ovate   4 comments

pathImagine a path you create as you go. We don’t need to call it “shamanism” or “Druidry” or “earth spirituality” or anything else in particular. If anyone asks, it’s “nothing special.” It’s just “what you do every day.” I call it my life.

You respond, or you don’t, to the guidance of hints, nudges, dreams, gut instinct, chance encounters, coincidence. You seek, or you don’t, for something that begins to answer the call inside you, the tickle or itch that won’t go away. Oh, you can dull it for days or decades with a wider variety of distractions now than at almost any other time in the last ten millennia.

Sometimes, perversely, it seems the call or itch or tickle is ITSELF the distraction. Can’t do it all. Just gonna live my life. Keep my head down. Leave me alone, will ya? Not gonna get suckered into a wild goose chase, a will o’ the wisp, a fool’s errand. (How many names we have for them …) YOLO. You only live once. Just do it. Live like nobody’s watching.

And the silence, which never quite goes away, which nothing ever completely fills, which opens ever more deeply inward.

Until the day it doesn’t. A barrier, a wall, a blockage. Maybe a guardian who challenges you there. Inside, perhaps, or outside. That restless partner, impossible boss, difficult co-worker, awkward relative, rebellious child. Just for you. Old story. New each time it happens to me, though. OK, so what is it this time?  What’s the point, the life lesson? Sometimes a pain in the ass can just be a pain in the ass and nothing else, right? Please? Can’t the growth thing give me a break?

Then, oddly, it does. A month, a year. Smooth sailing. What’s new? Nothing much. Your holiday notes are short because, blissfully, things are going well. If you’re the suspicious type, you wonder why. If you’re just grateful, you go with it.

Soon enough the sane plainness of it all threatens to run you stark raving mad. Something, anything different. The uneventful routine you longed for has sucked you dry as last month’s bread. You’d prefer a little drama, maybe — you hear yourself actually say it — a minor, manageable disaster. Just, you know, for some color. Something different.

monsterThe universe, remarkably compliant, gives us what we ask for (or what we fear, which is asking by negation; or what we’re least prepared for, which is a gift for our carelessness; what we never saw coming, which is “a little something” for our blind indifference), whether we want it or not. The universe: compliant, and monstrous. Monster under the bed, enormous, hairy and fanged. Or snake-slick and implacable. Or less distinct, and thus scarier: dark tunnel over there, on the other side of the light, which the whirlpool of this dream drags you toward, closer, closer …

If you know all this, have done all this, seen it all, heard it all before, know it inside and out, welcome. You’ve just finished the introductory material. Now for the actual beginning.

/|\ /|\ /|\

In the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo sings of the path, his path as he leaves the Shire. (That’s old wisdom, not taught much anymore. When in doubt about something, make a song of it. It helps.)

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Walking two paths and contemplating the Ovate grade feels something like this to me right now. The real climb is about to commence. (Already has.) I’m standing where I’ve always been, which is on the way to somewhere I can’t quite make out. Glimpses, sometimes. A voice I know, then a good conversation one afternoon. Or a curve in the path opens onto a familiar vista. The waterfall, or lake, or mist over the valley. The call of a bird. A memory, piercing in clarity. A discovery, one that time brings you, or one that has nothing to do with time. Rest point. Then back out into it.

OdinThe start of Ovate is both the vehicle that has brought me here, and simply a step with a label off the shelf that I grab for convenience and plaster on my experience because it’s there (both experience AND label), because it caught my eye. “Oh-vate.” A little inspired, a little crazy. Vatic power, and all that. Indo-European *watis “inspired, mad, possessed, crazy.” Ancient word sent through its changes, re-surfacing in Old Irish fáith “seer, prophet” and then as Woden or Odin, god who hangs on the World Tree Yggdrasil for nine days for the gift of wisdom, for insight. God who sacrifices one good eye for the same reason. Your life comes asking “What’s it worth to you?”

Warrior, traveler, initiator, self. Homeless person you meet on a street corner, and turn from, because he reeks of sweat and urine, because he’s mumbling (or screaming) to himself. So not the Druid I was looking for.

And yet this, too, is useful, or not. We reach for images to see the invisible, to name the nameless.  The Way that can be walked isn’t the real (lasting, eternal) Way, says the Tao Te Ching. Six words in Chinese: dao ke dao fei chang dao. “Way can way not lasting way.” A mantra for the possible, for the (in)sane, for the despairing. “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go.” Same woods where Little Red Riding Hood meets a man-eating wolf on her path.

Carl Larsson's Little Red Riding Hood.  Wolf at your elbow?

Carl Larsson’s Little Red Riding Hood.
Wolf at your elbow?

But we walk it anyway, because there isn’t any other way. No way! people say when they don’t believe something. No path to understanding. I’m stuck in surprise and disbelief. Not a problem. You can “way” it anyway. “What’s love got to do with it?” asks Tina Turner in her signature song. What’s belief — or a clear path — got to do with it? Some people stop at the first line. But the Tao Te Ching does actually offer some useful advice mixed in with the maddening inscrutability of its lines:

True, the way you can walk ain’t no lasting way. The name you give it (or yourself) ain’t no lasting name. Give one thing a name and you find a whole world of (other) things. Long for anything and you may run up against its shape (or its opposite) everywhere. Give up longing, though, and it opens into a mystery. Both of these come from the same source. If I had to name it, it’s darkness. Darkness IN darkness, a door to understanding. Really? Uh-huh.

Understanding. Great word. When you stand-under it, and don’t grab at it, it comes to you of itself, like dawn, arriving every morning without any tugging on your part. Like a bird at the feeder which grows accustomed to your presence as you patiently fill and refill the seed each day. Feed your mystery until you feel its wings beat and hear its chirping.

/|\ /|\ /|\

The last chapter of The Lord of the Rings (which is never the last chapter, another piece of old wisdom now fallen into sad disrepute) gives us additional words to Bilbo’s walking song:

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images:

path; monster; Larsson’s Little Red Riding Hood; Georg Von Rosen’s Woden/Odin.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 252 other followers

%d bloggers like this: