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.
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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