Archive for April 2016

Thirty Days of Druidry 16: Gods in the Mist   1 comment

[ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9101112131415161718 | 19 | 2021222324252627282930]

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   Leave a comment

[ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9101112131415161718 | 19 | 2021222324252627282930]

[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   Leave a comment

[ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9101112131415161718 | 19 | 2021222324252627282930]

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!   Leave a comment

[ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9101112131415161718 | 19 | 2021222324252627282930]

“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!   Leave a comment

[ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9101112131415161718 | 19 | 2021222324252627282930]

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   2 comments

[ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9101112131415161718 | 19 | 2021222324252627282930]

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?

%d bloggers like this: