Archive for September 2015

Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”   2 comments

[This Related Post: Arthur]  [Sex, Death, Etc.: Part One | Part Two| Part Three]

Like their kindred words in the other Celtic tongues, the syllables* of this Cornish saying still echo, telling of the “Once and Future King.” They assert a living archetype of a king born in fulfillment of prophecy, a ruler recognized and granted kingship by the Lady of the Lake, a leader who struggles, fights and dies for his people. The king is the land.

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Arthur from the Matthews’ deck

Nyns yu marow Arthur myghtern. “He is not dead, king Arthur,” the story continues, but sleeps, and will wake at his country’s direst need, and return. The king is the land.

Arthurian tarot decks like John and Caitlin Matthews’ Hallowquest, Anna-Marie Ferguson’s Legend and Stephanie and Philip Carr-Gomm’s Druidcraft packs often depict the archetypal king as card 4, the Emperor. This is Arthur as anointed ruler, secure in his kingship, enthroned, crowned and robed in power.

But surely what moves us more is not merely this static image, forceful though it can be. The young Arthur, ignorant of his destiny, is also the seeker, the Fool, the first card in the deck, a numerical 0. In Ferguson’s Legend deck he is Percivale, the callow and naive youth. With both Guinevere (Welsh Gwenhwyfar, “White Shadow”) and his own sister Morgan (with several other variants of her name) he is one half of the Lovers. And at least in the Matthews’ conception, he is the Wounded King, and also the Sleeping Lord.

The progression, as in most tarot decks, is the journey of the self toward fulfillment, wisdom, self-awareness.

As a tool for Druidic meditation and ritual, the Arthurian mythos offers rich and profound material. Map our lives onto such a mythic pattern, and we can animate energies to manifest the next step on our spiritual journey. At every point we spiral. We can look at all the steps, all the places on the curves and whorls of the spiral, as potentials for us — right now. Not later. Not after we do or learn or master or win X. Now. The king who will be, but sleeps, is a potential which can guide the questing boy who will be — and who also already has been — king. What might the king say to his younger self? What gift might our older selves pass to us right now, insight or wisdom or counsel we need as we grapple with problems, as it can often feel, in the dark?

So many traditions around our planet speak in their own ways of time and space as illusions. This need not mean they are not real, but rather that we need not accept our agreement with an illusion as the last and defining word about our lives. They don’t have to be the only reality. By playing a game with time, we can slip into past or future through memory and daydream, to the point of no longer “being here” but “someplace else” instead. And we’ve all experienced this.

For we do this effortlessly, ever since childhood, a natural talent, a birthright, a skill we keep all our lives, unless it’s been largely chased away and beaten out of us by our culture, teachers, parents, our own self-limitation, habits of thought, and so on. “Head in the clouds, dreamer, impractical, unfocused”: words so many of us may have seen in school reports, job assessments, personal evaluations. Or maybe we suffer from the opposite pole, and more and more of the lightness and joy has been leached from our days through routine, day to day cares, deadlines and installments and bills and mortgages and the nightmarish hope of someday “catching up” or “getting ahead” or “arriving.” Always, it can seem, one pole or the other. But polarized things gather power. That’s why an illusion can grab and hold us. But that’s also why change and growth and exploration are also — always — possibilities. Poles hold the energy for entrapment, but also for transformation.

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The Sleeping Lord (form outlined in the hillside under the hawk)

These images and this millennium-old mythos provide a wealth of meditation seeds, portals to discovery, and material for ritual that Arthurian orders of ritual and magic explore, but which are also perfect for solitary work, too.

Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth can be a contemplation seed (it’s one of mine), a cue to open the imagination to possibility. (I use it as a tool, a charm, a spell, a mantra of magical power. Pair it with an image, an object, an intention — intention being the flame which, I find, lights everything up.)

And if I’m willing to step across one more boundary, ritually priming myself with a “For behold: now am I ____ !” I can explore all the characters in the Arthurian realm. Taliesin-like, I can be the Green Knight, invulnerable to mortal blows, and Morgan and Merlin, Nimue and Mordred, too. What does it feel like to die as you kill your uncle-father (Shakespeare’s Hamlet knows!) in fulfillment of a prophecy from a time before your birth? What does it mean to lie asleep, waiting to fulfill a royal destiny? What part of me sleeps right now, that I can rouse if I choose? Or like Ygraine, Arthur’s mother, to carry an unborn child in my belly, a king, gestating and brooding and nourishing new and royal life from within? Or what can I see as Merlin in his cave or tower, looking up and down time itself, living backward as in T. H White’s version of the Arthurian boyhood story, The Sword in The Stone?

Then to close the rite, the meditation: “And now have I returned.” A simple formula, but helpful, to ground the meditation, to signal a shift of reality. (Return is as important as departure.) Open your eyes, and record what you experienced. In this way, over days and weeks, you build an increasingly persuasive document that can help loosen the hold of the illusion of this time, this place. Each time I sit to meditate, the pages telling of my previous journeys in front of me, the grip of illusion eases. For these two things, time and space, can be potential gifts, or they can remain prison walls. They’re a choice, if I choose them, rather than a given, if I merely accept them.

The Seeker from Matthews' deck. The Rainbow Path we're all on ...

The Seeker from Matthews’ deck. Before us all lies the Rainbow Path.

Figures as diverse as Henry Ford and physicist John Wheeler get credit for versions of the saying “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” It’s a way of ordering experience, making it intelligible to human consciousness. And so is space, which — to follow through on the whimsically powerful definition and construct its corollary — “keeps everything from happening here.”

Starting small, with the trick, if you will, of imaginative magic, will begin to unfasten the iron clasps around consciousness. It’s just one way, of course. Traditions in and outside of a whole range of religions and spiritual paths offer many tools and strategies for accomplishing this change, if we wish it. But these particular images and this story have spoken for a thousand years to many people, and the Arthurian drama that can be a mirror and key to our mortal and spiritual lives shows little sign of a diminishment of its power to move and inspire — and transform. Sleeper, whispers a whole nation of people inside each of us that we have been and are being today and will be someday, a multitude of selves. Sleeper, awaken to your crown and to your destiny.

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Images: Matthews’ Arthur, card 4; Matthews Sleeping Lord; Matthews’ Seeker (Fool in other decks) with three choughs (a raven-like bird) overhead.

*Note on pronunciation: The -gh- of the Cornish word myghtern “king” is essentially the same sound as in German “Bach” and close to English “h” in “aha!”: mikh-tayrn comes reasonably close for ritual purposes: AHR-thoor MIKH-tayrn ah VEH hahg ah VEETH.

East Coast Gathering 2015   5 comments

This last weekend marks the 5th East Coast Gathering I’ve attended, the 6th since its launch in 2010, and another gift of Spirit and mortal effort.

You can read my accounts of three of the previous years: 2012 | 2013 | 2014. A special thank-you to John Beckett, several of whose professional photographs illustrate this post. You can visit John’s own articulate and insightful blog “Under the Ancient Oaks: Musings of a Pagan Druid and Unitarian Universalist” over at Patheos here.

Camp Netimus -- photo courtesy Krista Carter

Camp Netimus — site of the ECG. Photo courtesy Krista Carter

 

Registration for the weekend filled within 20 hours of opening this last spring. Gatherings like this answer an obvious need in the Druid and Pagan community, and more are in the works in other locations. It’s on us to help make them happen. A dedicated team can bring the same joy, support, inspiration and community to other regions.

Yes, we’re all solitaries some or much of the time, but every solitary benefits from celebrating and learning in the company of others. That chance conversation, ritual insight, day- or night-dream, word or phrase that lights up just for you, the hugs you give and receive, the opportunities to serve the community through offering a workshop, cooking, cleaning, organizing, driving — these make Gatherings like this such richly rewarding experiences. The dark and light halves of each year are real, and we need all the help and laughter we can find to thread our way through the labyrinth of time.

 

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I arrived Thursday afternoon early enough to check in and unpack before the opening ritual. My cabin mates had already hoisted a banner, which also made the building easier to distinguish from the others in the dark, when the “9” on the door was no longer readily visible.

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Cabin banner. Photo by A Druid Way

 

Equinox marks the shifting energies of days and nights, rebalancing the world. A lovely moon bore witness, waxing each evening through wonderfully clear skies, lighting the path to evening events like the Ovate initiation ritual and illuminating the short uphill walk from the cafeteria to the nightly fire circle.

The crescent moon. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Crescent moon in a twilit sky. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

The theme this year was ritual, and the whole weekend focused our attention on its magical possibilities through a dozen workshops, demonstrations and ceremonies. You can get a sense of the range of approaches from the list of workshops here. We also welcomed returning U. K. guests Damh the Bard, Cerri Lee, and Kristoffer Hughes.

Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard and Kris Hughes. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard and Kris Hughes. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

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Damh’s workshop on “The Bardic Voice” underscored the centrality of the Bard in Druidry. Like many Druid groups, OBOD orders its teaching in the sequence of Bard, Ovate and Druid. But they do not form a linear progress or erect a hierarchy of achievement. They spiral. In an Ovate breakout group a day later, several people mentioned how they often return to the Bardic coursework, its insights deepening through their Ovate practice. And likewise with the work of the Druid grade.

Damh is a fine teacher, an animated storyteller and ritualist of deep experience. With his wife Cerri he leads Anderida Grove. [For an audio inspiration, listen to his hour-long recording for inner journeying here.]

Damh in teaching mode. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Damh in teaching mode. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

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Reminders of ritual possibility filled the weekend. Below is a picture of a labyrinth, another gift of the weekend, lovingly constructed by Cat Hughes and friends.

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Labyrinth by day — entrance. Photo by A Druid Way.

 

Volunteers switched on each light every evening, then turned them off again when everyone else had gone to bed.

Labyrinth by night. Photo courtesy Damh the Bard.

Labyrinth by night. Photo courtesy Damh the Bard.

 

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Kris’s workshop, “Laudanum, Literature and Liturgy — the Ritual Legacy of Iolo Morganwg,” featured the ritual — in Welsh — that Morganwg first performed on the Summer Solstice on Primrose Hill (London) in 1792, launching the Druid Revival and establishing the Welsh Gorsedd of Bards. Morganwg is also the author of the Druid’s Prayer, still used in many modern Druid groups including OBOD, and a major influence on generations of Druids from his time to the present. Kris’s Celtic eloquence in praise of Morganwg and his passion for Druidry took him off script and left many of us with tears in our eyes.

Kris during his workshop on Iolo Morganwg. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

Kris during his workshop on Iolo Morganwg. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

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Bill Streeter from the Delaware Valley Raptor Center, the charity designated for this year’s Gathering donation, brought six birds and made a fine presentation on raptors, their abilities, the dangers (mostly human) facing them, and the challenges of rehabilitating injured birds.

Bill Streeter of the DVRC with a golden eagle. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Bill Streeter of the DVRC with a golden eagle. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

These magnificent birds have often suffered neurological injuries that worsen over time. Though both the eagle above and the owl below look normal, both are blind in one or both eyes, or suffer other injuries like crippled wings, and thus could not survive in the wild. But the birds help save the lives of their kin through their appearances in info sessions like this one.

Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

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The Alban Elfed ritual celebrating the Equinox includes gifts from children, guests and each of the three grades of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Here are Chris and I holding bowls of acorns, part of the Ovates’ ritual gift, just before the ritual procession into the Circle.

Chris and I just before Alban Elfed ritual. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Chris (r) and I (l) just before Alban Elfed ritual. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

The evening eisteddfod (music and poetry circle) one night featured a splendid duet from Kris and Damh — see the image below.

Kris and Damh singing at the fire circle.

Kris and Damh singing at the fire circle. Photo courtesy Hex Nottingham.

Below is another pic of the fire circle one night. Our enthusiastic and skilful fire-makers Derek and Brom love large, carefully-constructed bonfires.

Fire. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Evening bonfire. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Once again Dana set up her meditation tent on the campground for all to visit and enjoy.

Approaching the tent. Photo courtesy Dana Wiyninger

Approaching the tent. Photo courtesy Dana Wiyninger

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Altar in Dana’s meditation tent on the camping field. Photo courtesy Hex Nottingham.

A small group made a side excursion to nearby Raymondskill Falls. Here’s a view of one of the waterfalls.

Raymondskill Falls. Photo courtesy of Gabby Batz Roberts.

Raymondskill Falls. Photo courtesy Gabby Batz Roberts.

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And for those of us who can’t wait an entire year, the Gulf Coast Gathering will celebrate its second year in March 2016. Blessings of the Equinox to all!

A Prayer, a Gesture, a Star Unseen   2 comments

I cherish my Druid family, but like all our families can, they sometimes drive me crazy. Very often I cringe when I see their online appeals for assistance with jobs, health, relationships — the usual sources of our suffering and joy. Don’t misunderstand: I want to help. But that impulse immediately finds itself in combat with a question: do I really know what even I myself need in a given situation? Not what I want, but what I need? Is it any kindness to send energy to a situation that does not serve a friend’s best interests?

Such appeals typically elicit a round of quick replies from well-meaning readers. A ritual performed, a prayer said, a visualization completed. Done, done, done.

What to pray for? The obvious, the thing the other person is requesting, seems dogged with problems. Divination can help, of course, and dreams, or that conversation with friends when a word or phrase lights up with brighter meaning. There’s an omen or coincidence, a gift of chance, the natural world revealing a clue, or that sudden intuition while I’m doing something truly mystical like … the laundry. You know — the human ways the gods speak to us. And I think — how rarely I know what’s best. Not false modesty here: fact. Often I ask for clarity and wisdom, rarely for a specific outcome. Because prayers do get answered. I’ve prayed myself squarely into disaster more than once.

So when I encountered the following passage recently, near the end of The Last of the Wine, one of Mary Renault‘s splendid evocations of ancient Greece, it jumped out at me. In its intent it resembles how I try to pray for others in difficulty. Also it’s more eloquent than I can usually manage to be.

Here a friend of the main character Alexias is speaking, near the tail end of the suffering that much of Greece experienced during the three brutal decades of the Peloponnesian War:

We have entreated many things of the gods, Alexias. Sometimes they gave and sometimes they saw it otherwise. So today I petitioned them as Sokrates once taught us: ‘All-knowing Zeus, give me what is best for me. Avert evil from me, though it be the thing I prayed for; and give the good which from ignorance I do not ask.’ — Mary Renault. The Last of the Wine. Pantheon Books, 1964, pg. 344.

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In addition to prayer, we have other tools in our kit, of course. Magic, like prayer, is much misunderstood, practiced in all sorts of ways reckless and marvelous, and deserves careful study, like any art.

candle-gazing

I’ve mentioned British author and magician Josephine McCarthy before, and she has down-to-earth and useful insight here, too:

The simple vision or ritual often gets cast to one side in search of something more powerful and interesting, and such action is a dead end that pulls the prospective magician off the tracks. Some of the simplest rituals are the most powerful once the magician has learned the deeper frequency of the ritual and can interact with it. For me the most powerful ritual of all is the lighting of the candle. It opens all worlds, all times and gives me access to focused power that is unfiltered. — Josephine McCarthy. Magical Knowledge  Book 1: Foundations – The Lone Practitioner. Mandrake, 2012, pgs. 51-52.

What? you say. (I can hear the growing outrage in your voice.) Light a candle and just like that, problem solved? No.

One of the keys is deeper frequency. Disciplined practice reveals such insight and will yield results possible in no other way. Thus the question for the Druid is less “What do you believe?” and more “What do you do?” Belief matters, praxis matters more.

All well and good, you say. But what about right now, when I’m hurting?

Friend, I hear and pray the best prayer I can make out of my practice. I promise to keep on practicing. Any one of us can be the channel for Spirit to manifest in this moment. In the meantime, a meal, a listening ear, a hug, a backrub, a good night’s sleep, are some of the best magics we have. Love has found you yet again.

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Image: candle-gazing

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