Archive for August 2013

Seamus Heaney and Me   3 comments

Irish poet, Nobel Prize winner, essayist and translator Seamus Heaney died earlier today in Dublin at 74.  More than once I’ve quoted Heaney on this blog, not least because his work is accessible without being Hallmark-y, literate but not stuffy, and redolent of earth and earthy intelligence.  In other words, delightfully Druidical.  Rather than go all lit-critic here, I’ll give a tribute in the form of a modest personal anecdote. If I need any justification, we’re both farmers’ sons.

heaney2In January 1984 Heaney offered a 7:00 pm reading and book-signing as part of the long-running Brockport Writers Forum at the College of Brockport, a school that’s part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system.  I mention this because at the time I held an unhealthy disdain for the SUNY schools.  They weren’t Ivies, and though a farmer’s son, I cultivated a decided snobbery that looks simply ludicrous now.  I also didn’t know then about the caliber of writers who read at the Forum.  Nevertheless a SUNY school reading series was sponsoring a poet I greatly admired, so there was nothing for it but to sidestep my arrogance if I wanted to hear him.  (Picture him nearly three decades younger, with graying rather than white hair.)

I recall the date in part because that winter I was in my mid-20s, between schools, waiting to hear on college applications, and back to working on my dad’s dairy farm, a hard though sane life I’d largely escaped during my undergrad years.  Our herd of some fifty Holsteins meant we were a “family farm” which only signifies that everyone in the family has to chip in for the farmer to make a go of it at all.  That winter day was typical Western New York January:  cold, blustery, with a spatter of snow gusting through a short gray Wednesday a scant month past the solstice and the shortest day.  I’d have to leave after evening milking if I wanted to attend at all.  The drive sounds easy enough, some 40 miles almost due north of us, and all on decent paved roads, but what with winter, night and traffic, that meant over an hour, if I was lucky.

Southern Wisconsin Hit By Major BlizzardIn spite of a late start milking, and the worsening weather, I determined to go, cursing slow drivers most of the way.  By the time I arrived, found campus parking and located the venue, the reading had ended.  It was standing room only in the auditorium, so I leaned against the wall at the back.  The moderator was thanking Heaney, who had moved to a cafeteria lunch table set up down front for the signing.  With no time to change before I left home, I was still dressed in work pants, steel-toed boots (anyone casually stepped on by a half-ton cow gets the why), stained winter jacket and stocking hat — still fragrant of cows, corn silage and manure.

I debated whether it would be worth staying.  I’d brought with me a worn paperback of Heaney’s Selected Poems, though I’m not usually one to collect author signatures.  But the crowd was thinning rapidly because of the deteriorating weather, so I made up my mind to salvage something from the trip.  By the time I joined the signing line against the mostly departing crowd, I held a spot near the end.  From what I could see of him as we slowly inched forward, Heaney looked tired, a half-finished bottle of whiskey at his elbow.  When I finally stood before him, though, he must have caught a whiff of barn on me.  He raised his head, took my measure, his gaze sharpening, and grinned at me, then wordlessly signed with a flourish.  At that moment and after, the trip was worth it, not because I got his signature, but because we had connected, however briefly.  It was worth it because it forms part of my own vocation as poet.  Many are called, but few are chosen.  But still, many are called.

I like to think he took my presence as a compliment, a plowboy poetry-reader come to hear the poet-speaker for our human tribe, the stamp of farm still on my clothes.  I like to think of him doing something similar as a boy or young man.  I like to think in a small way my presence mirrored what he wrote with and about: words as part of this world of darkness and light, of sky and soil and storms and time, of blood stirring at these things as we walk through them all our days.

And that’s it, except of course it’s never finished till breath is.  The story is more about me than Heaney, but I remember the day and the details because of Heaney, so they belong at least a little to him too, to his memory, now.  I’ll atone for the self-indulgence here; Heaney deserves the last words — these, from his poem “Postscript,” cited in full:

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

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Images:  Heaney; barn in winter.

Updated 1:31 pm 30 Aug 13

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Posted 30 August 2013 by adruidway in Druidry, poetry, Seamus Heaney, writing

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The Four Powers: Know, Dare, Will, Keep Silent–Part 5: Silence and Self-Transformation   2 comments

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4]

Butterfly-TransformationOne of the great benefits of silence, at least about one’s inner work or “self-work,” is that no one will dump their opinions and energies onto what you are doing, and distract you, or load you with their attitudes and claims, weaknesses and dreams, if you limit their access to your work of changes.  (Let them see the results instead.) Choose your audience wisely if you feel you must talk about such experiences and insights.  American culture in particular suffers at this time from a compulsive confessional mode.  Purge, share, spill, vent! it says.  But keep silent by default, at least at first, and you will have many fewer obstacles to deal with.  Ignore this ancient counsel to keep silent, and you’ll find out from experience why it’s an integral part of magical training, and one of the four powers.

That said, the magical journal is a fine outlet for a “space to talk.”  Not surprisingly, many who keep a journal find it useful to write at least some entries in a code or cipher, in another language, etc., to maintain the veil of privacy necessary to maximizing effort and energy put into the work.  As with most paradoxes, “guard the mysteries; constantly reveal them”* illustrates valuable teaching.  Say nothing; get it down in words.  More about the journal later.

Sometimes the strain  of inner work can lead to imbalances; we choose means and modes of change and growth that cost us more than they deliver.  The French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) records his struggles for insight and inspiration and poetic fire through a program of conscious “derangement of the senses” through means both culturally acceptable and unacceptable (his life bears study!). I quote here from his youthful letters**:

I am lousing myself up as much as I can these days.  Why?  I want to be a poet, and I am working to make myself a seer … the point is, to arrive at the unknown by the disordering of all the senses.  The sufferings are enormous, but one has to be strong, to be born a poet, and I have discovered that I am a poet.  It is not my fault at all.  It is a mistake to say: I think.  One ought to say:  I am thought.

I is for somebody else.  So much the worse for the wood if it find itself a violin.

I witness the unfolding of my own thought: I watch it, I listen to it:  I make the stroke of the bow: the symphony begins to stir in the depths, or springs onto the stage …

I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer.

The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses.  Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, and keeps only their quintessences.  This is unspeakable torture during which he needs all his faith and superhuman strength, and during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed — and the great learned one! — among men — For he arrives at the unknown!  Because he has cultivated his own soul — which was rich to begin with — more than any other man.  He reaches the unknown; and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them.  Let him die charging through those unutterable, unnameable things: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where he has succumbed!

So, then, the poet is the thief of fire …

Rimbaud wrote this in 1871, when he was just 16.

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Much to note here — more than I will address in this post.  First, his age:  in fact he composed all of his poetry before he was twenty, when he abandoned further creative work, though he was to live almost two more decades after that.  Some of his furious intensity, drive — and imbalance — stem from the energies loosed in adolescence, which most of us deal with to varying degrees of success as we mature.  The Victorian magician, poet, mountaineer, addict and occultist Aleister Crowley engaged in similar practices, perhaps surviving them better in the short run, and gaining more from them, while still suffering from partly self-cultivated imbalances and excesses along his chosen path.  Many Westerners crave intensity — we struggle with a deep desire to feel powerfully, and sometimes, to feel anything at all — and the broken lives that result from our excesses, binges, addictions and self-destructive choices testify painfully and graphically to that desire, and to a yawning lack in our cultures that cannot answer or satisfy it.  Hence our compulsion to seek such nourishment elsewhere, in productive and unproductive ways.

Rimbaud’s last line quoted above — “the poet is the thief of fire” — also echoes adolescent rebellion, defiance and fascination with one’s own seemingly Promethean forces and capacities that can make teenagers so self-involved and oblivious of others.  The thrill-seeking, the experimentation, the moodiness all mirror tremendous inner changes as the foundations for adult life are laid.  To plumb our inner darkness — we can see it exteriorized in film after film of violence, sex, death and the depths of traumatic emotion — is to encounter the threshold of the unconscious, the lower astral plane, the scraps and debris left over from that initial self-making that we mistake for all of what we “really” are, when it is simply a part, but not the whole.  Why let any one thing define us?  Yes, a certain wisdom can indeed issue from intense and “heavy” experience.  But — and again, how many of us can speak from experience! — it is not conducive to enduring happiness or balance or a capacity to grow and experience as much as possible.  We cannot kick out the walls of our world and then expect any sort of roof to remain preternaturally suspended over our heads (unless we’ve put in the time to build it).  Better to walk out the door and at least for a time to wander in the woods, with just sky above us.

Silence in some cases can of course be destructive.  After every gun-related “incident” in the U.S., the shooter is subjected to endless scrutiny for “signs” of imbalance, paranoia, anomie, psychopathic tendencies, and so on.  Our cultural sense of disconnect repeatedly festers and spawns terrible destruction and suffering.  Or as novelist E. M Forster says in Howard’s End:

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
And human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
Only connect…

In every culture individuals arise who both confront its darkness and lose their way, as well as see a way through.

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The magical journal is a priceless aid in the work of transformation.  Think of it as an alter ego, a second self or at least a second memory.  Occultist Paul Foster Case illustrates its value in the following passage***.  He speaks about learning the significance of the first ten numbers, 0 – 9, but his words apply much more widely:

I have been instructed by a teacher who could not speak my language, wholly by means of numeral and pictorial symbols.  In a few hours I received enough material from that man to last me for years.  Indeed, I don’t suppose I shall ever exhaust the significance of what I learnt from him in a few summer afternoons.  Thus, were there no other reasons, the fact that number symbols are so useful a time-saving device should recommend them to you in this busy age.  When you have fixed the fundamental ideas in memory, you will soon learn that none are arbitrary.  Then you will begin to see the connection between these ideas …

Get a notebook.  Divide it into ten sections.  Head the first page of each section with one of the ten numeral signs.  Then copy the attributions … into your book.  This is important.  To copy anything is to make it more surely yours than if you merely read it.  The act of copying increases the number of remembered sensations connected with that particular item of knowledge … Once you begin the notebook, you will be surprised at the amount of material that will begin to flow in your direction.  It will seem that a mysterious power has begun to send you information about numbers from all sorts of sources.  You will also discover that as soon as you provide a means for recording them, many ideas about numbers which you will recognize as coming from a higher, yet interior, source will enter your field of consciousness.  After a year, the notebook will be an index of your progress … and by that time you will have learned to regard it as one of the most useful works of reference in your library.

As with so many pairs of opposites, balancing silence with its useful counterpart of keeping a written record will reward the effort made.  Duality is an energetic system that can work like a spiritual generator.

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The first post in this series looks at kinds of knowledge.  The second shows how wanting to know leads to discoveries about our real selves.  The third looks at daring and how it is a kind of freedom.  The fourth focuses on the importance and potency of imagination.

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Images: butterfly;

*Beat and Pagan poet Lew Welch: “Theology,” 1969.

The True Rebel never advertises it,
He prefers his joy to Missionary Work.

Church is Bureaucracy,
no more interesting than any Post Office.

Religion is Revelation:
all the Wonder of all the Planets striking
all your Only Mind

Guard the Mysteries!
Constantly reveal Them!

**Arthur Rimbaud, Collected Poems.  (trans. Oliver Bernard). Penguin Classics, 1986, pp. 6-12.

***Paul Foster Case, Occult Fundamentals and Spiritual Unfoldment, Vol. 1: Early Writings. Fraternity of the Hidden Light, 2008.  p. 72.

Lunasa ’13   Leave a comment

lughnasadhcorn“The god Lugh is honored by many at this time, and gentle rain on the day of the festival is seen as his presence and his bestowing of blessings.” — Wikipedia entry for Lunasa (older Irish spelling: Lughnasadh)

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Assembly of Lugh

Rain this afternoon your omen,
your day the spear in me to know my Tribe,
to learn their ways, to choose from them

what holds value: metal of truth, gold of our past
cast into refining fire, cauldron of time,
everything molten. Now, always, for forge:
the mold ready for each life streaming

from its pool of glowing metal,
from its pool of cool water
where my people drink.

I look across time’s circle to where it begins
anew with each life.  You cast the spear:
our Lunasa dancers grasp it, fling it toward the center
where it lands, quivering.  From it lifts and streams
the banner of summer sky:  I will take flame

and run with it:  your August,
moon before dawn this morning
slender as cupped palms,
ready to receive water, quicksilver,
fire in the sky dipping down
on us all.

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colignyplate“[F]rom France we have evidence of a Druid calendrical system in the Coligny calendar, although scholars are divided as to the degree we can consider it purely Druidic, since it is engraved in Roman letters, leading some to believe it represents the product of an attempt to Romanise the native religion.  Dated to the first century AD, it consists of fragments of engraved bronze which have been carefully pieced together to show a system which reckoned the beginning of each month from the full moon … The names of the months are wonderfully evocative of a time when humanity lived closer to nature:

Seed-fall:  October-November

Darkest Depths:  November-December

Cold-time: December-January

Stay-home time:  January-February

Time of Ice: February-March

Time of Winds: March-April

Shoots-show: April-May

Time of Brightness: May-June

Horse-time: June-July

Claim-time: July-August

Arbitration-time: August-September

Song-time: September-October

… Horse-time indicates the month in which people went traveling — in the good weather, and Claim-time indicates the month in which the harvest festival of Lughnasadh falls, and at which time marriages were contracted and disputes presented before judges.  The following month, Arbitration-time in August-September, represents the time when the disputes and claims have been adjudicated and when the reckonings were given. At Song-time in September-October the Bards completed their circuits, and chose where they would settle for the winter season.” — Philip Carr-Gomm, Druid Mysteries. London: Rider Books, 2002, pp. 118-119.

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images: LughnasadhColigny calendar

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