Archive for April 2016

Thirty Days of Druidry 23: “Pray Like a Fire”

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Beltane’s nearly upon us, and Alison Lilly’s most recent blogpost “Holy Adoration: Fire as Prayer” catches the energy behind this fire festival. For it is after all the day of the Fires of the Celtic solar god Bel, as even a traditional source like the BBC calmly informs us on their website. Some seasons you’ve just had enough of the world, and most of all yourself as a tame fire, to paraphrase Alison. Do check out her blog. She evokes and invokes Beltane in a personal and poetic meditation.

You too may long to spark, flare, burn and roar. Heap the kindling of my life and ignite, you whisper — or shout. Beltane is here for you.

Part of the Bardic training of Druid groups like OBOD and others, and much of the initial work in the outer grades of the magical Order of the Golden Dawn focuses on exploring and balancing the elemental energies flowing in and around us. We don’t — normally — want to burn up or out. But a healthy conflagration may burn off the wintry torpor that clings to our mood and outlook. Beltane is tonic, purgative, exhiliration, ignition.

The symbolism of the four physical elements of earth, water, air and fire persists in the cultural and magical imagination of the West because they express important truths about human life. They serve as a powerful shorthand for a whole cluster of ideas, images, experiences and memories, and their presence in ritual and story, song and myth will endure as long as we inhabit the same worlds where they manifest.

Their existence as physical entities endows them with the further potential to serve as sacraments. As always, though we keep forgetting, reverence and engagement are our choice, an opportunity like any other that we may welcome or reject. Here, too, fire can kindle us to possibility and change.

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Fire Temple, Chennai, India

Further afield from Celtic-flavored European Druidry, fire is also central to the religious practice of Zoroastrians, the people popularly known as Parsis. Their Fire Temples offer just one more illustration of why reducing fire to an explanation like “rapid oxidation in an oxygen-rich environment like earth’s atmosphere” says nothing about our actual experience of fire, its light and warmth and flickering presence, and its long association in human consciousness with spiritual reality, energy and life. Anyone who’s experienced a good bonfire knows this to some degree. It’s our human art to extend these experiences and celebrate their effect as spiritual opportunities for transformation and joy.

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Zoroastrian Sadeh Festival

Fire calls to ancestral human memory. Cultural practices and beliefs that center on it only endow it with additional significance and power. Druids may say as part of ritual “Let us pray with a good fire,” an invocation traceable to the worship of the Hindu Agni and a hymn in the Rig Veda (Bk. 1, 26). And Wendy Doniger in her translation* notes that “When Agni becomes the priest, his robes are both the flames and prayers.” Thousands of years of human experience with fire has not dulled its power.

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Whether you’re part of an OBOD Beltane gathering that follows the traditional ritual, or some other group and ceremony, or you’re a solitary celebrating alone in your own way, may you too share that shiver of anticipation and delight as the day and the rite opens for you at the birth of summer. May you and the Sun both grow in strength. “By the power of star and stone, by the power of the land within and without, by all that is fair and free, we welcome you to this rite of Beltane …”

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IMAGES: Fire Temple in Chennai, India; Sadeh Festival;

*Doniger, Wendy. The Rig Veda: An Anthology. One Hundred Eight Hymns, Selected, Translated and Annotated. Penguin Books, 1981, pg. 100.

 

Thirty Days of Druidry 22: “Seeking Beyond the Skyline”

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In her comment on # 16 in this series, Lorna Smithers writes:

Yes, I’d agree the ‘greater wisdom’ does come from walking through uncharted wildernesses. Often the signposts left by other folk help but it’s rare to find them in the books on how to [do] Druidry/Paganism or of self-professed gurus but more often from poets, philosophers, bloggers, often those who don’t know too much about Druid/Pagan religion but do know about the journey, getting lost, plumbing the deep … Anybody teaching basic writing will share the rule ‘show not tell’. And it’s always showings rather than tellings that have guided me.

I’ll venture some tellings here, if only because I’m re-reading Dion Fortune’s The Training and Work of an Initiate*, and Fortune addresses this topic. (Don’t we all read things to confirm what we already suspect? The awen stalks and finds us in spite of our circumstances and resistances.) Like many of us, Lorna’s learned her path largely by walking it herself, not always an easy or comfortable journey. For her as Bard and awenydd, showings are a kind of native territory.

Fortune tackles the “default setting” of human consciousness (allow for 1930s pronouns and gender reference):

The great majority of our fellow-men are willing to take the world as they find it, and so long as it does not treat them too hardly, they are content.

Given current world events and the growing sense of dis-ease issuing from so many directions, you’d not be wrong if you conclude that fewer people today remain content to “take the world as they find it.”

Fortune continues:

Others, however, question what lies beyond the world as they see it, and until they learnt the answer to this question, suffer from the divine discontent which has for ever urged men to “seek beyond the skyline, where the strange roads go down.”

This is our given: the itch, the pain, the hunger that won’t go away merely because parents, partners, politicians or our own painful (un)common sense tells us to ignore the raw nerve of our discontent. “Times like these” can indeed serve as a fine prod to awakening that discontent in  more of us. All this we know — too well.

Most men are also inclined to take for granted the inevitableness of suffering, and unless they are brought into personal contact with some flagrant case, or are themselves victims, they offer no protest.

We also know, or suspect, that we’ve been able to afford such complacency thus far because for so many, comparative physical prosperity, ease and stability in the West have sheltered us from many the worst forms of suffering commonplace elsewhere in the world. (As compensation, we may corner the market on psychic suffering and all the secondary physical fallout it can generate.)

But even in the West  this has never been true for all (our temporary exemption has expired), and it’s no longer true for increasing numbers of people. Glib proverbs like “The world is a school where the sleeping are woken up,” however true they might be, offer little comfort or guidance at such times. “Everything happens for a reason” doesn’t offer squat beyond pop psychology. (I want strategies, techniques, tools to use!) Cracks in the dike are starting to show everywhere — cracks that government spending on physical infrastructure, however necessary, will not alleviate.

But Fortune goes on to describe the experience of those who’ve launched themselves on a spiritual quest. You make a start and immediately you’re no longer in “lands we know.” Your footing yields, the path twists and dips and disappears most disconcertingly. Friends are usually no help. One or two may be on their own quests, but it’s rare that you can travel together — or that a companion can offer much assistance if you do.

At times, just to add to your trouble, you feel the golden chance slipping past, or sense the outlines of an open door that’s still invisible in front of you. Somehow you know, maddeningly, that it stands there waiting for you nevertheless. That it might be slowly closing. That now’s the time to go through — if only you could. But such convictions help not at all. Instead, with each subtle opportunity here — passing — gone — they increase the torment.

Fortune gets her finger on the pulse:

It is true that, although glorious glimpses are caught by the intuition unaided by the intellect, much more is lost from sheer inability on the part of the student to grasp the significance of his opportunity. Infinite things can be perceived by the spiritual intuition, but unless the intellect be fitted to cooperate, these things can seldom be rendered of practical avail for the solution of world-problems. The mystic has his moments of ecstatic emotion during which he reaches great heights, but he is seldom able to bring back water from the wells of life for those he has left behind. It is only when each vehicle of consciousness in man is in perfect correlation that the current of inspiration can flow through him and be translated into manifestation in the physical world in which we are living today; and while a man can learn great things and store them in his subconscious mind, it is only during the life in which he has learnt to correlate his vehicles so that he can bring the spiritual through into manifestation, that he can be of service to his fellow men (Fortune, p. 20).

There’s plenty here to unwrap. I read “only when each vehicle of consciousness is in perfect correlation” and I think, “Well, screw it! That’s never happening! Diagnose the problem but then calmly tell me why the solution will always be out of reach! ‘Perfect correlation’?! Are you f***ing kidding me?!”

But we can cut ourselves some slack. As Lorna notes above, we already receive an immense outpouring of “water from the wells of life” from poets and singers, philosophers and bards who do know about the journey and about getting lost. Many already “serve their fellow men” in ways that may be deeply imperfect but still arrive and feed that hunger, ways just as deeply welcome and needed. Lacking any perfect channel, I’ll take all the blessedly imperfect ones around me as my models. Neither I nor anyone else needs to be “perfect” to make a start, or achieve things of value. False prerequisite number 1!

Our goal is flow, however small the trickle at the outset, so that “the current of inspiration can flow through all of us and be translated into manifestation in the physical world in which we are living today.” And we’re already flowing. Without a flow of life energy through us, we wouldn’t even be here. We’re already flowing. Blood in our veins, breath in our lungs, food and sunlight transforming each day into physical life in us. The challenge isn’t to start, but to open the channels just a little wider as we live each day. As so many sources have urged us, a regular practice — ritual, spiritual exercise, chant, prayer, artistic practice, gardening, cooking — acts done consciously and joyously — is one proven method. Miss a day or two here and there? Don’t beat yourself up about it. Keep at it. My own strategy, as I mentioned in a recent post: fail again and again, fail well, fail confidently, until I no longer notice failure, until I don’t fail any more.

Another method is service: “… it is only during the life in which he has learnt to correlate his vehicles so that he can bring the spiritual through into manifestation, that he can be of service to his fellow men.” Fortune assumes multiples lives here, a process of spiritual evolution as we learn through life after life how to “correlate” or harmonize our modes of awareness and action.

Fortune urges us to service out of compassion:

I would urge them, if they need any spur to this effort, to remember how much it would have meant to them, when they themselves stood upon that self-same step, had the help which it will be in their power to give been available. No effort after development is wasted, even if he who strives seems to lose sight of his goal and turn aside. It is the passage of many feet that widens the path for the multitude; we, in our day, will never have to face such trials as did those initiates who broke the way for us (Fortune, pp. 20-21).

We are always initiates, always beginning a new arm of the spirals of our journeys, even as old cycles come to fruition and close. Remembering may not always come to aid us. To let words from Lorna’s site close this post, here’s wonderfully sage advice, a quotation from poet Charlotte Hussey: “Imagine if you can’t remember.” Dreamers, all of us, imagine next.

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*Fortune, Dion. The Training and Work of an Initiate.  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 2000. [Originally published 1930, Rider and Co.]

Thirty Days of Druidry 21: Beltane 2016

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[Here are some previous posts on Beltane: a 4-part series, Touching the Sacred; and the Fires of May.]

Once again we’re about a week out from the holiday, close enough it tugs pleasantly at awareness. Here in Vermont, in the northeast U.S. where I live, the last few days in the 70s F/20s C confirm that winter’s gone, though nights below freezing are still a possibility. I remind myself from now till June that it snowed on my May birthday the year I was born. Weather, life: stick around long enough and you find anything’s possible.

beltaneOutward from the merely personal to a group I practiced with the longest: students at the boarding school where I worked for 16 years. Our last and best effort was a truly elaborate Beltane. We devoted a lot of time to preparation, reserved a spot on the school’s Great Lawn (associated with the annual graduation picnic for the whole school community and parents), put up attractive color posters (see the image to the right), and even inspired our student president to spring for the cost of a whole roast pig.

Beyond our small group of eight, just three other people came.

We’d even begun forming a magic study group, devising our own sigil with input from each member, and generally carrying on in magically appropriate ways: sharing and describing our imaginative/astral visions until they took on a life of their own, balancing our elemental energies, ascertaining each member’s strengths and limits for later ritual work, and so on. To those who exclaim “What?! Are you insane?! Working magic with adolescents?! Nutter! Whackjob! Fool!” I reply only that we had multiple safeguards in place.

momTo the left is one version of our sigil, drawn with magic marker on a student’s sketchpad, which I share here — “Guard the Mysteries! Constantly reveal them!” — for the benefit of those curious about the lineage and origins of such things.

Some readers may cluck their tongues knowingly and go on to detect “influences.” To which I say only: That’s fine. But these kids didn’t “know” anything about the Golden Dawn or Euro-alchemy or similar things. Spend time in ritual and you too will find that valid images continually reconstitute themselves in the imagination. If I had the sketches each of them made to include here, the connections pointed to a shared experience out of which they crafted the sigil. The Cross, the Cup, the infinity symbol, an upsilon, the axial symmetry — as far as we were concerned, we were onto an experience and a realm worth exploring. Our truth against the world’s.

As for the sparse attendance at Beltane: each group forms around and operates on its own harmonic. We ate well, sent leftovers home with everyone, and chalked up our rather large budget shortfall to the frequent mismatch between inner and outer worlds. Our next fundraiser only just recouped the outlay; balance restored.

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Beltane, like the other “Great Eight” festivals* of contemporary Druidry and Paganism generally, draws on a swirl of energies as democratic and mongrel and vital as you could wish for. Find a circle to celebrate with, or if you prefer or are gifted with solitary practice, get outdoors, invite the season, contemplate on images and energies alive and at work in your awareness. Bring them into some physical form to ground and manifest them in your world. We all need reminders to help us through those “difficult” days with humor and grace and even, spirits friendly and stars favorable, with gratitude. What better than something that’s come into your world through you?

 

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*The “Great Eight” festivals of the Wheel of the Year

October 31 – November 2: Hallowe’en, Samhain/Samhuinn, All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Todos Santos, Day of the Dead, Dia de Muertos.

December 20-22: Yule, Winter Solstice, Alban Arthan.

February 1-2: Imbolc, Oimelc, St. Brigid’s Day, Groundhog Day, Candlemas.

March 20-22: Spring Equinox, Ostara, Alban Eilir.

May 1: May Day, Beltane, Bealtainne, Walpurgis Night.

June 20-22: Summer Solstice, Midsummer, St. John’s Day, Litha, Alban Hefin.

August 1: Lughnasad/Lunasa, Lammas(tide).

September 20-22: Autumn Equinox, Alban Elfed, Mabon.

 

Thirty Days of Druidry 20: Awen Dark and Light

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[Some days, about all I can muster is a good gray awen.]

[Gray, grey. “If it’s good enough for Gandalf, then it’s good enough for me.”]

[Gra/ey magic(k). 1) a hair coloring product. 2a) Magic not performed for specifically beneficial purposes. 2b) (derogatory) Magic which avoids annoying ethical considerations. 2c) Magic practiced to confuse, mislead or perplex others. Roy Bowers’ version (link to article): “your opponent should never be allowed to confirm an opinion about you but should always remain undecided. This gives you a greater power over him, because the undecided is always the weaker.”]

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“Light is the left hand of Darkness.”

Finally the Chief of the Urdd Awen Ddu rose and called for silence with a curious circular gesture. He was a slim, short man who nevertheless had a commanding presence. His simple black robe accentuated his dark eyes. Power spoke in his voice.

“Opposition strengthens us, like a good resistance training exercise. Contrary to the fears of our opponents, it’s not our intention to ‘cover all the lands in a second darkness.’ Our opponents grow stronger as well. But we have a secret they do not know.”

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Almost no shadow

He paused to scan the room and gather eyes. “In the darkness we cast almost no shadow at all. With this energy freed, this psychic weight lifted, we may work our will with advantage. We read in the Hebrew scriptures how even God says, ‘I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places.’* And we have learned together how to recognize and gather these treasures that those who work in light never see, nor ever know. They cannot, not as long as they resist polarity, or think to vanquish one half of the universe.”

IMG_1332A good speaker weaves enchantment over an audience, and the Chief did so now. “Others may fear the Dark. But we have learned, my brothers and sisters, to know and respect its nature and its extent. Identifying with it, its reach becomes our own, and from the concealment darkness offers, we may extend our grasp to life in a way that light cannot. Anciently the Wise have declared, ‘Light is the left hand of Dark.’ Once prepared, as we have prepared ourselves, we can welcome it and grow from it — from the Dark.”

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“Moreover it doth not yet appear that these arts are fables: for unless there were such indeed, and by them many wonderful and hurtful things done, there would not be such strict divine, and human laws made concerning them …” (Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy. First published 1531. This edition translated by James Freake, edited and annotated by Donald Tyson, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul MN, 8th printing, 2005).

Of course, this and the previous two posts on the hypothetical Order of the Black Awen are hardly the last word to be said on the subject, nor infallibly workable truths about either the Dark or the Light such as the unwary might conclude, but they are nonetheless one entry, one doorway, one path in themselves.

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*Isaiah 45:3.

 

Thirty Days of Druidry 19: What’s So Dark About Your Awen?

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“Well, Druid, you need to work on manifesting your intention. Lots of missing posts in your ‘Thirty Days of Druidry.'”

“I know. I’m doing the best I can. Really. Remember what it is that ‘happens when you’re making other plans’? Got some of that going on. Hey, look at that bird over there!”

I’m finding that occasionally setting an intention publicly, however modest it is, is good training. In my universe, the secret to success is to keep failing until I don’t anymore. They’re inevitable, really, both the failure and the eventual not-failing. And I find that remarkably comforting. All I have to do is to ‘keep on keeping on.’ I can even ‘give up,’ until I weary of that, too, and I start again. Of course failure is always an option — I’ve come to know this intimately. Don’t we all? Otherwise, what would success even mean?

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One of the listeners who had joined us a short while ago around the fire now spoke up. A small silver brooch on her robe at the left shoulder caught the firelight and flashed briefly, transmuted to gold in the flickering orange glow.

“Morgrugyn,” she said, and now I knew the old woman’s Druid name, though not yet its meaning. “You said earlier this evening that the Dark, like the Light, seeks a particular consciousness to manifest through. But doesn’t the world around us manifest both light and dark all the time, already? Why the need for specific individuals — people, or spirits, gods, other beings? Why does there have to be a designated ‘Order’ at all for this to happen? Isn’t this just already a part of the weave of things?”

“Daughter, the dark and light halves spiral up through consciousness like two vines that curl and climb round a support. They flower most vividly and distinctly through consciousness. It’s true they often seek the easiest channel to flow through, and they pervade all things, as you said, working through all those many channels. But what is ‘easy’? A developed consciousness in a manifest being that is active on all the planes affords an unusually vital and, I will say, attractive channel.”

Morgrugyn paused for a sip from her water bottle, then continued. “A paradox — the Dark is as bright as the Bright is dark. For there is a kind of brightness in the Dark, focused through consciousness, that draws the awen in and gives it life. Charisma, to give another example, chooses its favourites from both halves. There is a ‘sinister appeal,’ as it’s been called, to certain persons and things. It’s the intention of a consciousness that makes the Dark or Bright so intense, so polarizing and forceful. Energy all around us still continuously gathers and diffuses, always dancing, here in a growing forest, there in an earthquake or volcano, one slower, the other faster. The Dance rises and subsides, subsides and rises again, which is why the tide, the moon, the seasons, the ritual Wheel of the Year, the give and take of bodies in lovemaking, the cycles of death and rebirth, are all such splendid teachers of this rhythm.”

“You seem to be arguing against your earlier point,” the younger woman said. “Doesn’t everything move toward equilibrium? And it’s been doing so for a really long time, long before humans appeared. Any Order, even a ‘dark’ one, is part of that equilibrium, isn’t it? Why do we suddenly need to worry?”

“Not suddenly. Everything does indeed ceaselessly seek out equilibrium. But when humans appeared, so did new opportunities for consciousness and manifestation of the equilibrium in new forms and patterns. Branching or diverging is one of things the universe ‘likes’ to do. And it makes sense to speak in such terms as ‘liking.’ We can see it in patterns as substances crystallize, we see it in snowflakes, in plants growing, in thoughts and ideas unfolding, in the outflung arms of spiral galaxies, in the whorls of seashells, in human groups and institutions which form and split and regroup and dissolve and are reborn. We see it in relationships, and we see it in new stars and planetary systems forming. The word, the idea of equilibrium, can mislead us, because people think ‘changeless.’ But equilibrium in this case is dynamic. It’s a living thing. The addition of consciousness to the local equilibrium — to this planet or solar system, which stretches the sense of ‘local,’ I admit — means that humans get to participate in the equilibrium in powerful ways. And they participate differently to how … how a rock does, for example.”

“So it’s our participation that makes the difference, then?”

“Yes,” said Morgrugyn, with a smile. “And an Order, as a potentially highly focused gathering of energy manifesting through human consciousness, can effect long-lasting changes in the equilibrium, for both ill and good together.”

“But those are human judgments, aren’t they?” asked Dragon, who had been frowning with concentration as he followed the thread of Morgrugyn’s argument. “What we consider good or bad may not be the same thing as what’s good or bad from a non-human standpoint.”

“The loss of branching or diversity, whatever else we think of it, means lives lost, animal and human, and a decline in equilibriating ability. With fewer options, an equilibrium deteriorates in stability. And increasingly violent shifts can shove an equilibrium to a new balance point that is far less conducive to the richness of lives we have known. Yes, that’s a judgment rendered largely from a human standpoint, but it does concern more than human lives. Some Orders and human groups may advocate from non-human standpoints, like those of a god-form. Yes, Lugh or Thor or Isis or Yemaya may perceive and cherish and pursue longer, deeper goals than most humans. However, they never cherish goals against life. But some few Orders work from standpoints that value some specific advantage or benefit at a cost most of us would refuse to pay, or even consider. From what I’ve seen of them, Urdd Awen Ddu is one of those latter Orders. And the nature of their “darkness”? It lies in this: the price they are planning for all of us to pay to achieve their goals — with neither our knowledge nor our consent.”

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Part 3 coming soon

 

 

Thirty Days of Druidry 18: Order of the Black Awen

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“Now, my daughters and sons,” said the old woman, “because all things in this world dance with their opposites, and the Bright is the left hand of the Dark, it is meet that I, who am old and may not live to see the end of the next winter, should be the one who tells you of the Order of the Black Awen, Urdd Awen Ddu.”

She paused, and seeing her shiver I drew the blanket more closely around her. There was just a handful of us still gathered round the fire. Her words might have seemed overblown or contrived at any other time. But the fire and the evening and the mead had each done their work. We were ready to hear almost anything. The dew had descended a couple of hours ago, but the night chill only now was lapping at our skin. Dragon built up the fire again, and raked the coals together so the new logs would kindle sooner. The old woman smiled at us and continued.

“I give the Order its Welsh name, too, because it offers a valuable lesson. Taken apart from its meaning, the sound of it is lovely: oorth ah-wen thoo.* And so too its birth. All things carry in their breasts a spark of the Imperishable Flame at the heart of the world, the breath of the Formless. Anciently the Wise of the East knew this, and the Sage of the Way wrote in his book, ‘From the One comes Two; from the Two, Three; and from the Three the Ten Thousand Things.’ Without that balance, chaos follows. We might even welcome the appearance of the counterpart, the opposite, in a way, without doubting it will cost us dearly when we face it, as we eventually must. But it is the third of the Three that issue from the One which we will turn to for our way forward.”

She spoke now quite deliberately, not expecting questions as she had earlier, when a lot of good-natured banter enlivened the fire circle, and anyone who held forth and pontificated, never mind the subject, soon had to give it up and relearn if necessary the arts of true conversation, of actual give and take, rather than expecting a reverent silence from the rest of us. That earlier hour also saw the old woman depart for a nap after a brief appearance, so that she would be fresh for later. Which was now. And now we wanted her to hold forth, because she had something of considerable value to share with us, and because what she said was new to us. The singing and drinking carried us here, where we needed to listen. Night had shaped this place and space. So we were quite content mostly to listen and ponder her words.

Questions, however, bothered her not at all, and she sat at her ease when we occasionally asked them. Earlier she asked a good few of her own, though her hearing sometimes played tricks on her. Someone inquired where she had first encountered this Order, and this led to a sad but funny story that must keep for another time. Though she must have been in her late nineties and stooped, and the age-spotted skin of her hands slid loosely over her bones, her thought darted swift and sure, and her gaze out of eyes filmy with cataracts was nonetheless keen.

“Now this Order, dedicated as it is to things we must oppose who cherish the balance, comes into existence because we exist. Each thing calls forth its companion, its counterpart, and Dark is ever the companion and counterpart of Bright. It is a peculiar and perilous folly of these days to suppose we can all ‘just get along.’ We cannot. The world simmers always, and sometimes, as it must, it spills over into open conflict. When a Dark Order forms, the action of the Light has made some advance, yes, but it also stands in peril for that reason. The cause of the Light (or the Dark, for all that) is no mere cliche or child’s fantasy, and such a challenge from the Dark, one that claims and divides the awen, is one that we must answer.”

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*the th of this respelling of the sound dd in Welsh urdd and ddu is voiced, as in English this, them, not as in thick, thin.

Thirty Days of Druidry 17: A Triad to Welcome Possibility

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A brief triad from a weekend workshop on spiritual possibility and growth: “Wait, listen, don’t run away”. The breakout group that came up with this piece of wisdom laughed when it emerged, recognizing themselves in it. My impatience, obliviousness and fear sabotage so many spiritual gifts before I can even receive them. I resist the very opportunity I’ve asked for, or turn — run — away from it. Maybe it arrives decked out in dirty clothes — one whiff and I wrinkle my nose in disgust. Or it slinks in all shifty-eyed and lurky, then lounges at the bar, hitting on attractive patrons of both genders, when I expected elegance, grace, tact, self-restraint. Or — just to reveal how contrary I’ve become — it clearly exudes all those things and I’m bored already, longing for excitement, surprise, mystery. But if I can’t even recognize what I asked for when it lands on my doorstep, how can I receive it and work with it?

“Wait, listen, don’t run away” (WLDRA) counsels me that human time is just a subset of a larger cycle. A different pace might open doors — or let me see those already open before I speed past. Or if I really have to keep moving, let me at least pay attention. Salamander in a vernal pool today, creeping toward a patch of sun. Wait and listen on a day like today “when the world is mud-luscious” as e e cummings describes it in his poem “in Just-.” It gets easier, when the world begins to answer that patience. Not always. Just enough to keep me trying. Enough that surprise can still fill me like sap. I feel it all up and down my nerves and joints and sinews, sticky-sweet.

“Don’t run away (yet).” Sometimes it’s not fear that shoves me off, but a weariness with the same-old that drives me out of doors and away. And one second later, after my back is turned and I’m off to the next new thing, there it stands behind me, a little breathless, waiting — like I could have been — partner, companion, familiar other, element of the universe just my size, carved out of the vast flows of energy by my need and calling. And do I welcome it? Do I even see it at all? Ah, friend of so many missed chances yourself, you know the answer. I do not. But I could. Can, the next time. “Wait, listen, don’t run away.”

(Bard-crazy, I play with that abbreviation WLDRA. Trying to pronounce it, it comes out wooldruh, almost like wuldor, the Old English word for “glory.” Wuldra gehwa “each of (the) glories” — and I’m off in words. Conjure them and they will appear. The word, the thing it names. If I wait, listen, and manage, this time, to stay put long enough to witness and welcome and wonder at what comes.)

Thirty Days of Druidry 16: Gods in the Mist

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Lorna comments on Day 11:

As someone who has been pretty lost traveling off the map and will be lost again, I feel it’s a personal obligation to leave signposts, even if they’re only helpful to a small few people.

As an outsider to the major druid orders I do get a wee bit angry by those in the know only sharing to those who are paid up or part of a clique when perhaps their words could have helped us lost ones.

But perhaps if I’d had their guidance I wouldn’t have found my god in the mist…

As often happens, I’m indebted to a reader for an idea, and sometimes — like this time — a title, too. Thanks, Lorna.

I must say at the outset that I don’t know Lorna’s experience. And, partly, our ignorance of others’ experiences is what this post starts to address. I’m merely thinking with the words and impressions her comment gives me.

The courage to travel off what maps there are comes hard-won. Sometimes we may get dropped there seemingly by chance. Other times we manage to end up there all by our ourselves, out of sheer defiance of the boundary-keepers, or at the bidding of a deity, or through a kind of blessed carelessness that makes us miss the signs that might have saved us a wrong turn off the trail and the adventure before us. The familiar falls away, and like those medieval maps casually warn, the terrain (physical is spiritual, and vice versa) fairly shouts that “here be dragons.” No one returns unchanged, though it can cost a deal of trouble to convey to another person a glimpse of what happened or what the change consists of. We may not yet know ourselves.

Lorna notes she takes it as a personal obligation to leave signposts. Her sense that she’ll be “lost again” may have something to do with it. In a truly trackless realm, one starts to understand how even a little guidance can hearten a traveler more than stumbling on a cache of food, or a chance companion welcoming you to sit by a cheery fire. No, it’s not madness or a curse or some private doom that closes in on you, its breath on your skin, its claws at your neck, though it can feel like it. But traveling where no other has set foot can teach and toughen you, though it may never allow you to take your ease on such journeys.

I wonder, too, whether someone who’s walked off the path more than once has all that much to learn from “those in the know only sharing to those who are paid up or part of a clique when perhaps their words could have helped us lost ones.” Is that sharing over-rated? Does it amount to more than what we ourselves gain by going our own way? We return with the authority of our own experiences, along with perhaps a few more cuts and gashes and scars to show for our boldness. The greater wisdom may well lie with the sojourner in the wilderness, rather than with the elder at the evening circle, the author of a classic holding forth at a reading, the Chief Druid disclosing supposedly advanced teachings in a members-only workshop. Can the most valuable teachings be shared in words?

I suspect each of us encounters such tracklessness in our own ways, and some of the most welcome aid we can offer is the simple encouragement of knowing we’re not alone in being alone. Compassionate travelers signpost as they can. But I’ll quickly concede I may never have been as lost and found as others who journey there, survive and return to recount their hardships and discoveries. In the end, perhaps we can’t know such things secondhand, only experience them firsthand. Or to speak personally, perhaps I forfeit knowing as long as I keep to the well-lit trail, the easier ascent, the way clear-cut and signposted by hardy forerunners. But for just such a reason, I can strive to honor all fellow travelers. Then, when I do turn aside from the way where the grass lies flattened from many feet passing, when I enter the cave alone, swim the cold swift river, find foot- and hand-holds on the sheer face of the mountain, I may meet without intermediary what calls to me most deeply. Initiation tracks us when we think we’re tracking something else.

As Lorna concludes, “perhaps if I’d had their guidance I wouldn’t have found my god in the mist.”

Thirty Days of Druidry 15: Dragon Wisdom 2

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[Here’s the second half of a topic begun in the previous post.]

In the way the universe moves, as soon as I focus on health and healing, results come back from blood-work a few weeks past. The naturopath I consult phones me to share the data, and the numbers aren’t altogether positive. We agree to some diet, exercise and supplement changes, and a follow-up blood-draw in three months to see whether some of the more worrisome numbers are a blip or part of a concerning trend.

I mention this not to garner any sort of sympathy — I’ve been vague enough here I hope that’s clear — but to consider for a moment a couple of things. I use my life as material because I’m in it. I trust it’s part of our common experience, and countless experiences of feedback prove to me that, mostly, it is. (I reserve just a few quirks as my own indulgences.) From my perspective, we’re all in this life-lab together, here to try things out. I understand my own experience better than anyone else’s, and every writer can’t help but mine autobiography for material, however coy or deflective they may be about that fact when you ask.

So here goes. First, you may call it the merest coincidence that in post 14 in this series I examine health, and the next day medical tests come through, and I take it as part of a divination. The pending results were on my mind, you say, and naturally enough they emerged in a post. Nothing mysterious about it. Well, I don’t know about mystery. (That’s why they call it mystery.) But I’ve found that strikingly few things are “mere coincidence.” The dangers of over-reading such circumstances as “signs” or “spirit communications” or “meaningful data” pale in comparison to missing the opportunities for discovery, growth and change that such events offer. As an unreconstructed animist, I know that everything’s alive (especially rocks, and even more especially Vermont rocks!), everything’s affected and influenced by everything else, and everything talks constantly about it all. I like to join that conversation.

Second, I get to try out my spiritual toolkit, as soon as I remember I have one. (You shouldn’t be surprised at our capacity for ignoring resources already in our hands. We love sympathy, until it gets boring or annoying, and then we often swat it away. I loathe self-pity, and have been known to turn away well-intentioned compassion at every turn.)

I take hawk-guise and soar over the problem or challenge. Below, on the field of my life, personalities and forces and energies can stand out more clearly. As the seer of my own life, I can regroup quite literally. Who and what shall I pair or separate? What lies off the horizon that touches on this moment? What offers itself to me? Where I can I offer myself to others? If I want this clue, this cure, this healing, where I can be a part of such a cure and healing and solution for others? How can I take without giving? Yes, of course. But how I can give without taking? What circles and cycles wait for me to complete them, ones that only I can? Not because I am “special” or “gifted” or “unique,” but simply because I am. I exist, in this place, in this time. The stubbornness of the particular is a clue to meaning, as well as much else of value.

Yes, I’ll even concede that “every problem has a spiritual solution,” if we can also agree that “spiritual” may sometimes mean a warm bath, a glass of wine or mead, time and space for reflection. Sometimes it’s a bit longer than that. I turn and see it’s a whole life-project: part of the reason I seem to be here at all, one of a small set of Big Kahunas, a major theme for this incarnation. Druidry reminds me constantly that this physical world is a vital resource and a field for discovery. With all its pain and uncertainty and possibility and simple pleasure, it’s a toolkit all its own, one of astounding quality and diversity and energy. Herbs, totems, power objects, shrines, wise trees and beasts, spirits, fatigue, rest, hot and cold, the seasons, human physical contact and presence. I could devote (I feel I have devoted) many lives just to exploring these things, never mind the array of things on other levels of reality.

Salmon, Dragon, Bee, companions on the Way, I thank you for your wisdom, and through the transmutations of identity and experience, I offer some wisdom of my own.

 

Thirty Days of Druidry 14: Dragon Wisdom

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Sometimes divination highlights what is absent. As soon as I started working with the Druid Animal Oracle, I discovered the deck lacked two cards, though two other cards had duplicates. What is the lesson of compensation here? The deck lacks the Salmon and the Water Dragon, but has two each of the Earth Dragon and the Bee. Lack and excess: an imbalance to ponder carefully.

The line that lights up for me from the reading of the missing Water Dragon is this: “It is often best for healing and wholeness to be achieved slowly.” I have been patient, I thought, since my cancer surgery and radiation, working with diet, meditation, supplements and exercise. Still more to do.

I will take the doubled Earth Dragon as a reversal, and the line I focus on here from the reading feels relevant: Somehow I am “relating in an inappropriate way to my inner reserves and potential.” The connection between this imbalance and the delay in healing feels clear.

Likewise, I will take the double Bee as an indication of reversal or imbalance, with the reading’s focus: “I am out of place, unsure of my role in the world.” Ever since leaving my old job, I’ve lacked the same degree of focus, though the move to Vermont and the more sane pace of life here have been gifts.

salmonFinally, the missing Salmon, oldest of creatures in at least one Druid tradition, reveals a message that has been seeking me out this week from other sources: reversed effort. The Salmon returns to the place of its birth; it is “able to jump upstream not by fighting against the current, but by utilizing its knowledge of the reverse current which flows beneath the surface current.”

After sleeping on this divination tonight, I will conclude the work of the reading in tomorrow’s post.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Image: Salmon.

Thirty Days of Druidry 13: But wait — there’s more!

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“But wait! There’s more!” Whenever any cycle ends, it marks the beginning of another larger cycle that contains it. Time, it appears, curls back on itself, or rests inside its own loops and curves like an infinite series of Russian nesting dolls. If there’s indeed any end to cycles, no one’s seen it yet. Dragons may know, but they’re not telling. (Some suspect they may dip in and out of time at will. Dragon wisdom is well worth pursuing, but it can be a difficult teaching, this lore of fire and music at the heart of the world.)

The sweep of energies surrounding cyclical change can be confusing, and to anyone within the radius of a particular cycle, the opening of the next cycle may be obscured in the debris — physical, emotional, psychic, spiritual — of the closing one. Creation, including the destruction of the ends of the old cycle to clear the way for the new, is messy. Even the birth of the new in the midst of the old, not replacing but augmenting it, can be hard. The two things human dread most: change, and the same old thing.

Those of us outside the cycle may nod or smile knowingly, feeling even a little bit superior to it all, if the ends of the cycle don’t happen to lick our ankles or caress the napes of our necks. Ah, but then it’s our turn.

IMG_1321

The Spring-in Winter of April ’16 in VT

The field of energies at work in the physical cosmos looks to be in rough equilibrium. That doesn’t mean stasis. Change still ripples and tears through from time to time. Yes, we face our storms and floods, earthquakes and volcanoes, and occasional meteors. And yes, they can be devastating and destructive. But overall — and life itself’s the best evidence here — the planet’s remarkably stable, and has been over very long periods of time. How else can a world be a home?

I find myself in a chair set down near a soundstage. The floodlights are off, though there’s a rather dim and diffuse glow coming from some back lighting, and there’s a bustle of stagehands as a scene change gets under way. Next to me a Druid sits at his ease in the director’s chair, sunglasses perched atop his head, flipflops dangling from his outstretched feet. In this short break in the filming he looks to be sleeping, but a moment later he opens his eyes and favors me with a wink. He leans toward me and whispers, “Avoid comparing the raw footage of your own life to other people’s highlight reels.”

 

 

Thirty Days of Druidry 12: J3D!

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J3D — “Just Three Drops” — is shorthand for the experience of Gwion Bach, the servant boy in the Welsh story who tends the cauldron of transformation for … how long? Yes, perhaps you’ve already guessed it — a year and a day. The magic brewing in the cauldron is, alas, destined for another, and Gwion is sternly charged to keep the fire carefully. Never let it die out. Always maintain a steady flame. Haul wood, carry water. Be sure the contents continue to simmer and seethe and stew as they slowly wax in power.

After Gwion faithfully tends the fire for that long, sooty and tedious year of drudgery, at last the mixture nears completion. One day the cauldron boils up, spattering a little, and three drops spill onto Gwion’s hand, burning it. Instinctively he lifts the burn to his mouth to soothe it. Voila! In that moment he imbibes the inspiration, awen, chi, spirit, elemental force meant for another, and so begins the series of transformations that will make him into Taliesin, Bard and initiatory model for many Druids and others who appreciate good wisdom teaching.

An accident? Has Gwion’s year of service led to this? Was it sheer luck, a “simple” case of being in the right place at the right time? Does blind chance govern the universe? (Why hasn’t something like this happened to ME?) Is the experience repeatable? Where’s a decent cauldron when you need one? Can I get those three drops to go? J3D caps, shirts, towels, belt-buckles on sale now! Buy 3 and save.

J3D in some ways can mislead you. “Visit us for your transformational needs. Just three drops, and you too can become a Bard-with-a-capital-B!” The ad seduces with the promise of something for almost nothing. (May the spirits preserve us from clickbait Druidry!) Such glibness leaves out the inconvenient preparation, the lengthy prologue, the awkward context, the unmentioned effort, the details of setting everything depends on. (Doesn’t it always?) It’s true: Just three drops are all you need, AFTER you’ve done everything else. They’re the tipping point, the straw that moved the camel to its next stage of camel-hood. J3D, J3D, J3D! The crowds are chanting, they’re going wild!

Curiously, J3D is a key to getting to the place and time where J3D’s the key. It’s the sine qua non, the “without which not,” the essential component, the one true thing.

Fortunately, the way the universe appears to be constructed, we can locate, if not the ultimate J3D, still very useful versions of it, tucked away in so many nooks and crannies of our lives. If I didn’t know better, I’d even suspect that the universe in its surprising efficiencies has shaped every environment for optimum benefit of the species that have adapted themselves to live there. Which means pure change and perfect intention are pretty much the same thing, depending on the local awen you’re sipping from. Paradox is the lifeblood of thinking about existence. Or as one of the Wise once put it, the opposite of an average truth may well be a falsehood. But the opposite of a profound truth is often enough another profound truth.

When the first glow is gone, the spark has dimmed, the lustre has worn off, you’re probably at the first drop. When any possibility of an end has faded from sight, when you’ve forgotten why you’re doing it and you’re going through the paces out of what feels like misplaced devotion or pure inertia, if you even have enough energy to stop and think at all, you’re likely in the neighborhood of drop 2. When you’ve given up theories, regrets, anger, hope, denial, bargaining, and grief itself, and you simply tend that fire because you’re able to tend that fire, and lost in reverie you feel a sudden burning, the third drop announces itself.

At that point the experience may well appear as three quick drops in succession, erasing any memory of the earlier drops, the practice for the final event, slog to get to that point. Or the long intervals between each drop find themselves renewed, deepened, intensified in the pain the third drop brings. Somehow, though, all that has gone before either falls away, or the pain of change is so intense it fills your whole awareness, crowding out all else, a white and scalding fire from horizon to horizon. Or in a vast hall of silence, the only sound is a whisper of the soft flesh of your hand soothed by tongue and lip. Then you know the transformation is upon you.

J3D.

Thirty Days of Druidry 11: The Further You Go

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As one of my teachers says, “The further you go, the fewer maps are available to chart the path.”

We can start with the literal. Most spiritual teachings have intro books. Why aren’t there more written guides from people who’ve gone beyond the basics? (This is a common Pagan lament about the endless proliferation of “Paganism and Witchcraft 101” books. Along with this glut is a rival dearth of anything beyond a very select handful of titles that address the needs and lives of people who could compose their own 101 guides.)

Partly this because fewer people actually travel there, beyond the harbor, past the breakwaters and out into the open sea, and even fewer talk (or write) about it. Some practice the law of silence. The universe has a way of teaching humility. Others may make a show of invoking silence, too often to build a cloak of marketable mystery around themselves. And many more may be at something of a loss to talk of the increasingly subtle awareness and insight and discovery that comes from long practice. Add to this the passage of time and the changes in jobs, health, family obligations, marital status — “where they’re at in their lives.” But you can often sense something of the lived experience from the atmosphere such folk carry with them. Their silences can be worth more than others’ speech. Their presence can be soothing and healing. They’ve learned to serve, to give back, even if (especially if) it’s not in obvious ways. If they’re not yet recognized elders of the tribe, they’re well on their way to becoming them.

For many, their experiences are singular enough and grow out of sufficiently unique circumstances and backgrounds and preparation that it would also simply take a long time to explain to others why they now do what they do, and how they have shifted their practices and their understanding accordingly. In some sense, any comprehensible account of their paths would amount to a full spiritual biography. The tests they apply now are often different, too, from those of the past: Does it work? Does it build? Does it open rather than close? Does it foster and nourish life? Does it respect necessary cycles of change, death and rebirth? Does it answer what a god or spirit or guide requires? Does it give back?

And really, this is (mostly) as it should be. We make our paths by walking, and the farther we go, the more we walk uncharted ways. The questions themselves change as we go, we learn to turn inward for answers largely because no one stands around handing out pamphlets with anything useful to apply to our own life circumstances and understanding. One question that emerges is this: “Will we leave maps and signposts behind for others?” If someone asks to be our student or apprentice, how do we answer? And do we share what we can?

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