Archive for February 2013

Geeks, Greeks, Dudes and Druids   Leave a comment

tblSometimes I can contrive nothing better to say or do on this blog than simply pass along something I’ve been reading for its surprise or its insight — or at best, both at once.  (Why begin with an image of Jake, Donny and Walt? Keep reading.  Or call it a Druidic obsession with triads…)

Today’s shamelessly self-indulgent instance of such a something comes from a post on another blog, where I encountered the following passage from The Greek Commonwealth by British scholar, utopian and idealist Alfred Zimmern, first published 1911, and now available online. (It’s also been reprinted at least five times by Oxford, the latest edition I’ve found dating from 1977.  Yes, I spent time tracking that info down.  It’s better than grading the mountain of essays that sit on my desk and desktop. Call it rationalized procrastination.)  In a chapter on poverty, noted the poster, Zimmern “tries to get the reader to imagine, in a poetic passage, the daily life of the Greeks in Classical times.”

Sappho and Alcaeus

Here, then, is Zimmern himself:

We think of the Greeks as pioneers of civilisation and unconsciously credit them with the material blessings and comforts in which we moderns have been taught, and are trying to teach Asiatics and Africans, to think that civilisation consists.

We must imagine houses without drains, beds without sheets or springs, rooms as cold, or as hot, as the open air, only draftier, meals that began and ended with pudding, and cities that could boast neither gentry nor millionaires. We must learn to tell the time without watches, to cross rivers without bridges, and seas without a compass, to fasten our clothes (or rather our two pieces of cloth) with two pins instead of rows of buttons, to wear our shoes or sandals without stockings, to warm ourselves over a pot of ashes, to judge open-air plays or lawsuits on a cold winter’s morning, to study poetry without books, geography without maps, and politics without newspapers. In a word we must learn how to be civilized without being comfortable. Or rather we must learn to enjoy the society of people for whom comfort meant something very different from motor-cars and armchairs, who, although or because they lived plainly and austerely and sat at the table of life without expecting any dessert, saw more of the use and beauty and goodness of the few things which were vouch-safed them – their minds, their bodies and Nature outside and around them.

Greek literature, like the Gospels, is a great protest against the modern view that the really important thing is to be comfortable…

How many Druids would hold this up as an ideal as well, at least at first?  But would — or could — we be as happy? Somehow I can imagine Jake Lebowski (from the Coen brothers’ ’98 film The Big Lebowski) would manage better in such conditions than I would. The Stoner might just beat out the Loner.  “There are things more important than comfort, says fantasy author Ursula LeGuin, “unless one is an old woman or a cat.”  She’s now an old woman, as her image here shows; I confess that for some years, I’ve noticed a creeping feline-ness of (dis)inclination invade my once radical and rebellious bones …

leguin

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Images: BBC News article on The Big Lebowski (worth reading!); Plato’s Academy; Ursula LeGuin.

Updated: 18:31 24 Feb. 2013

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Christian spam, “cheap grace” and Commitment   Leave a comment

Most spam to this site gets deleted without me ever seeing it.  Some slips past the filters and I manually delete it after scanning it.  The following piece that arrived earlier today felt like I could squeeze it for something bloggy:

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow upon ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate…When Christ calls someone, he bids them come and die.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

We like things to be easy. We don’t want to have to think or commit too much to anything. We want to get the most reward for the least amount of effort. We expect it from our technology, our education, and from our God. “I went to church and I even put money in the offering, so we’re cool, right, God?” We did the minimum and we think that should be good enough. Yes, you’re still saved through grace; grace that is a free gift. But that grace is hollow, because you didn’t put yourself on the line for it. For years, our experience of church has been safe. Sit, stand, sing, bread, wine, Jesus loves you. Being a follower of Jesus is mainstream and acceptable. In most cases, we don’t risk anything by being a Christian. We proclaim a cotton candy gospel (that is, mostly sugar and air) and nobody gets stoned to death, crucified, or drawn and quartered. Do you see what I’m getting at? I’m not saying you have to defy the Roman Empire to validate your faith, but if you’re not willing to stand up for it, what is it really worth? What are we worth if we let intolerance and injustice rule over us without a fight?

The message intrigues me.  (Learn wherever you can, I tell myself.  Don’t turn away from a teacher just because you don’t like the color of her skin or the accent of his voice or the flavor of her wisdom.  You might pass up something valuable.)  It also spurred a set of responses.

One is how contrary to much preaching, but how common-sensical, it is:  ya gotta work at anything worthwhile.  Salvation in Christian terms is a gift, unearned, but this post tells a deeper truth.  Salvation isn’t enough; it’s just the start. In eco-spiritual terms, Christians may get saved, but Druids get recycled.

The second probably arises out of the time of year.  A good number of us are halfway into hibernation mode right now.  Yes, we often want the easy path, because we’re lazy.  Why expend energy pointlessly?  Laziness makes good animal sense, up to a point.  Devote your hours and muscles to acquiring food, finding a mate and — later — protecting your offspring.  Anything else is likely not worth the effort.  If you’re human, add in a few comforts you may have come to expect, if they don’t cost you or the planet too much trouble.  Beyond that, it’s almost always diminishing returns for your efforts.  OK, that’s one view.

Another is the universality of suffering, as Buddhists like to remind us. It’s not like Christians have any corner on resisting intolerance and injustice.  To point out just one example, can anyone say Arab Spring?  Any person can reach the tipping point of disgust with tyranny or suffering or despair and rise up to fight it.  It need not be a specifically religious struggle at all — though it can be a profoundly spiritual act.

A fourth response (in case you’re counting):  plenty of Pagans and Druids are also easy in their practices, just like the “cheap-grace” Christians in the spam above.  And we can opt to let them enjoy a space and time where they may practice undisturbed.  But others, depending on what part of the world they live in, may face considerable daily risk.   Does that make them “better” Druids and Pagans — or Christians? Not necessarily.  Maybe more careful, or stronger, or more committed.   But these are character traits, present in some practitioners of all spiritualities and religions — and none.

A fifth response:  the natural world calls Druids and Pagans to live consciously in it.  We all die and are born, along with everything else.  We’re compost after just a handful of decades.  When the path of Druidry calls, it says wake up to the world we’re in right now.  Whether or not it’s the only one, it’s this one, and our lives here, as long as we’re still breathing, are our answers every day. Figuring out what the questions are — well, that’s a task for a lifetime.

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updated 22:15 EST 11 Feb 2013

Fake Druidry, Part 2   Leave a comment

Since the topic of “fake Druidry” sparked several hundred page views, I’m including as a post a link from my Ancient Druids page.  Among other ancient writers, Julius Caesar refers at some length to the Druids in his military memoir De Bello Gallico.  Other classical authors provide additional information — you can follow links to the originals from the Ancient Druids page.

Here’s a translation of the relevant passage, followed by the original: you can see that the term Druid definitely existed at the time.  What it referred to seems clear enough to Caesar, by his description.  Whether we would want to resurrect everything he describes I will leave to you to decide.

De Bello Gallico 6.13

Throughout Gaul there are two classes of persons of definite account and dignity. As for the common folk, they are treated almost as slaves, venturing naught of themselves, never taken into counsel. The more part of them, oppressed as they are either by debt, or by the heavy weight of tribute, or by the wrongdoing of the more powerful men, commit themselves in slavery to the nobles, who have, in fact, the same rights over them as masters over slaves. Of the two classes mentioned above, one consists of Druids, the other of knights. The former are concerned with divine worship, the due performance of sacrifices, public and private, and the interpretation of ritual questions: a great number of young men gather about them for the sake of instruction and hold them in great honor. In fact, it is they who decide in almost all disputes, public and private; and if any crime has been committed, or murder done, or there is any dispute about succession or boundaries, they also decide it, determining rewards and penalties: if any person or people does not abide by their decision, they ban such from sacrifice, which is their heaviest penalty. Those that are so banned are reckoned as impious and criminal; all men move out of their path and shun their approach and conversation, for fear that they may get some harm from their contact, and no justice is done if they seek it, no distinction falls to their share. Of all those Druids one is chief, who has the highest authority among them. At his death, either any other that is pre-eminent in position succeeds, or, if there are several of equal standing, they strive for the primacy by the vote of the Druids, or sometimes even with armed force. These Druids, at a certain time of the year, meet within the borders of the Carnutes, whose territory is reckoned as the centre of Gaul, and sit in conclave in a consecrated spot. Thither assemble from every side all that have disputes, and they obey the decisions and judgments of the Druids. It is believed that their discipline was discovered in Britain and transferred thence to Gaul; and today those who would study the subject more accurately journey, as a rule, to Britain to learn it.

In omni Gallia eorum hominum, qui aliquo sunt numero atque honore, genera sunt duo. Nam plebes paene servorum habetur loco, quae nihil audet per se, nullo adhibetur consilio. Plerique, cum aut aere alieno aut magnitudine tributorum aut iniuria potentiorum premuntur, sese in servitutem dicant nobilibus: in hos eadem omnia sunt iura, quae dominis in servos. Sed de his duobus generibus alterum est druidum, alterum equitum. Illi rebus divinis intersunt, sacrificia publica ac privata procurant, religiones interpretantur: ad hos magnus adulescentium numerus disciplinae causa concurrit, magnoque hi sunt apud eos honore. Nam fere de omnibus controversiis publicis privatisque constituunt, et, si quod est admissum facinus, si caedes facta, si de hereditate, de finibus controversia est, idem decernunt, praemia poenasque constituunt; si qui aut privatus aut populus eorum decreto non stetit, sacrificiis interdicunt. Haec poena apud eos est gravissima. Quibus ita est interdictum, hi numero impiorum ac sceleratorum habentur, his omnes decedunt, aditum sermonemque defugiunt, ne quid ex contagione incommodi accipiant, neque his petentibus ius redditur neque honos ullus communicatur. His autem omnibus druidibus praeest unus, qui summam inter eos habet auctoritatem. Hoc mortuo aut si qui ex reliquis excellit dignitate succedit, aut, si sunt plures pares, suffragio druidum, nonnumquam etiam armis de principatu contendunt. Hi certo anni tempore in finibus Carnutum, quae regio totius Galliae media habetur, considunt in loco consecrato. Huc omnes undique, qui controversias habent, conveniunt eorumque decretis iudiciisque parent. Disciplina in Britannia reperta atque inde in Galliam translata esse existimatur, et nunc, qui diligentius eam rem cognoscere volunt, plerumque illo discendi causa proficiscuntur.

Source

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Fake Druidry and Ogreld   10 comments

I’m a fake Druid.  So is everyone else who names Druidry as the path they walk. And I’ve come to love it.

In a guest essay on the ADF website, J. M. Greer notes,

The very last of the ancient Druids went extinct in the ninth century, and the surviving scraps of their teachings and lore are so fragmentary, diffuse, and contradictory that they don’t form anything like a workable system. All modern Druid groups—OBOD, ADF, and everyone else—were invented in the last three centuries by people who used some mix of scholarly writings, personal spiritual insight, speculation, and sheer fantasy as raw material for their concoctions.

Thus if “real Druidry” is defined as the sort that was practiced by Druids in Celtic countries before the arrival of Christianity, all modern Druids practice fake Druidry. That can’t be avoided, since “real Druidry” hasn’t existed anywhere for more than a millennium. What differentiates one modern Druid tradition from another is the particular kind of “fake Druidry” each practices.

Of course, Greer writes here as an outsider might see it, to try on a truth many still feel uncomfortable to admit.  As Archdruid of AODA, he obviously doesn’t habitually dwell on his particular flavor of Druidry as “fake.”  And when I practice my Druidry, it doesn’t feel like a “concoction” at all.  It coheres, because like anything used — steps, coins, dishes, skin, planets — the edges get smoothed, a few chips and dents show up, and everything takes on that “lived-in” look, that patina that makes antiques look antique, that gives worry-stones their shine, and faces their habitual smile or frown lines.  I make an offering at an altar, I join my Druid brothers and sisters at a festival, I sit for an hour in moonlight meditating, and whether a group of people 300 years ago rediscovered things most traditional peoples have long known doesn’t really concern me.  Clearly, the moment itself offers me better things to do.

Greer continues:

The Druid community has on occasion been racked by squabbles between traditions, caused as often as not by simple misunderstandings that could have been quickly cleared up by people familiar with more than their own tradition. Since none of us have any right to claim possession of the One Genuine Real Live Druidry, a willingness to share the world with other Druid traditions, and to participate with them in celebrating the cycles of nature and the miracle of the living Earth, is a virtue that may well be worth cultivating by Druids of all kinds.

Ah, “One Genuine Real Live Druidry” — Ogreld, I’ll call it. My new tradition, founded right now as you’re reading this.  Here we go … unlike every other practice and belief on the planet, Ogreld sprang into existence full-grown and perfect, without parents or kin.  To get that essential temporal edge over other faiths and practices, Ogreld is the original “source faith” of humanity, practiced when people first became human. In fact, to top it off, it was Ogreld that made them human.  Now we’re cooking!  … This is faking with a vengeance.  “I’m faker than you are.  Na-na-na-na-na!”

In the Egyptian afterlife, the human heart is weighed against the feather of Maat, who personifies truth and justice.  The Wise among us understand that whether I acknowledge three elements of earth, water and air, or four elements of earth, air, fire and water, or a god whose elements are bread and wine, my rituals will still work in accordance with the reverence and love I bring to them, and the holy presences that empower them.  Whether I have helped or hurt the earth and its inhabitants will matter a lot more than the color of my robes, the rank I’ve achieved, or the number of gods I pray to.   The only real Druidry is a “path with heart,” a way of walking the earth that wisely honors all paths with heart.  I’m busy faking that wisdom, practicing till I get it “righter” than before.  Insofar as faking is doing something, it’s generally better than not doing anything at all.  So yes, I’m a fake Druid.  Have you met any other kind?!

Notes on Magic   Leave a comment

sunset

What follows are brief notes from a short talk I recently gave on magic.

Dion Fortune’s definition of magic: “the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will.”

“… most of us, most of the time, are content to use the imaginations of others to define the world around us, however poorly these may fit our own experiences and needs; most of us, most of the time, spend our lives reacting to feelings, whims and biological cravings rather than acting on the basis of conscious choice; most of us, most of the time, remember things so poorly that entire industries have come into existence to make up for the failures and inaccuracies of memory” (J. M. Greer, Circles of Power, 52).

We can, however, choose to imagine – & remember – ourselves differently. When we do so with focused attention, changes happen, both subjectively & objectively.

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Magic stems from an experiential fact, an experimental goal, & an endlessly adaptable technique.

The fact is that each day we all experience many differing states of consciousness, moving from deep sleep to REM sleep to dream to waking, to daydream, to focused awareness & back again.  We make these transitions naturally & usually effortlessly.  They serve different purposes, & what we cannot do in one state, we can often do easily in another.  The flying dream is not the focus on making a hole in one, nor is it the light trance of daydream, nor the careful math calculation.

The goal of magic is transformation – to enter focused states of awareness at will & through them to achieve insight & change.

The technique is the training & work of the imagination.  This work typically involves the use of ritual, meditation, chant, visualization, concentration, props, images & group dynamics to catalyze transformations in awareness.

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Magic is also “a set of methods for arranging awareness according to patterns.”

We live our lives according to patterns.  Some patterns are limiting & may be unmasked as restrictive.  Other patterns can help bring about transformation.  “[T]he purpose of magical arts is to enable changes within the individual by which he or she may apprehend further methods [of magic & transformation] inwardly.”

“… [O]ur imagination is our powerhouse … certain images tap into the deeper levels of imaginative force within us; when these are combined with archetypal patterns they may have a permanent transformative effect.”

– R. J. Stewart, Living Magical Arts

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Image source:  sunset.

Imbolc 2013   Leave a comment

windowAll I know is cold, and Imbolc kindles the heart.

All I know is sun too far, and Imbolc reminds me of inner fire still burning.

All I know is winter darkness, and Imbolc pours gold light over it.

Praise for eternal return.

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Image source: unknown.  If you know, please drop me a note and I’ll gladly give credit.

Posted 2 February 2013 by adruidway in Druidry, holiday, Imbolc, theology, Thoreau

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