Archive for June 2016

Tools for “Thrival”   2 comments

— not just survival. That’s much of what I aim for with this blog. (You know almost as well as I do how I don’t always hit the target.)

Not tools for “social transformation” or “regime change” or advocating for somebody else’s large-scale fixes that may or may not ever reach me (or you) in anything like helpful ways. In U.S. terms, that means neither Trump nor Hillary will help more than they will hurt. (Only differently.) In U.K. terms, that means “to Brexit or not to Brexit” isn’t the question. Generally, that means binary choices often aren’t very useful ones.

Whoever “wins” won’t change what needs changing. (That ultimately lies with me. I win as I listen to what yearns to be heard most deeply.) Forces in motion that we launched decades ago, larger than politicians or parties or even empires, will see to changes. A wiser course, for me at least, is to work with forces that build, and learn to ride the ones that don’t, as skilfully as I can. Those aren’t up to a vote. They’re not democratic. If I want, I can put myself in agreement with their effects through anger or ignorance or blind acceptance. But I keep learning the hard way that none of those are profitable responses.

What’s the third — or at least a third — option? (There are always more than two options. If I don’t see them yet, right there is a place for me to work at listening and paying attention.)

Do the necessary work on myself and, as much as possible, avoid feeding energy to the rising political hysteria — of any flavor. “Chop wood, carry water” is a beginning. Yes, but also honor the trees as I do so. Bless the waters, waste less, thank more. In-form the heart, not out-form it. Love works better as a fountain, ever-flowing, than as a reservoir of “hold on to what you’ve got.” Turn down the volume on the shouting. Duck when necessary. Plant seeds for the long view. Share even modest harvests. Stay mindful of the Dao De Jing’s counsel: “Extremes do not last long.” And also: “This world is a spiritual vessel. It cannot be ‘improved.'” Or if you prefer, as humble recipes say, leaving it up to us in the end: flavor to taste.

So I keep bringing back my monkey-mind to focus here on what I can create and transform through awareness and co-operation, hoping to model in my limited way a version of what I see others I respect trying out in their lives and succeeding at.

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When building, start small.

Start small, because in the end that’s the only place anything starts anyway. But watch for when I touch infinities in those grains of sand I garden in. Revel in eternities that spring from my hours.

Have you ever reached a limit to joy? Not happiness which — often — is superficial, and — often — not worth pursuing:  peace to that old Declaration we claim to fancy and which offers such pursuit as one leg of a Founding-Fathers triad that provoked a 240-year-old Exit of our own.

No, I mean joy, a stranger to many, it seems. What Tolkien’s hobbit Pippin could perceive, in the middle of all-out war, in the Maia Gandalf:

Pippin glanced in some wonder at the face now close beside his own, for the sound of that laugh had been gay and merry. Yet in the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.*

True kingdoms to you.

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Tolkien, J. R. R. The Return of the King, Chapter 1, “Minas Tirith.”

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Personal Holy Days   Leave a comment

In addition to whatever religious, ritual or secular calendars you may follow, you’ve probably begun to recognize and honor your own holy days. You know, the ones that fall between the official dates on the calendar that hangs on your wall or scrolls from your desktop. Some difficult, some joyful. It may be that you count your birthday or some other similar day among them. Hobbit-like, you may have come to enjoy gifting others rather than yourself on those days, with a feast, or outing, a picnic, perhaps in a back yard, garden, or favorite annual reunion campsite that has begun to take on numinous qualities, because your love has helped to make it so.

A valuable piece of wisdom there, in the transformation our love and our repeated attention can make of almost anything.

For me, my parents’ anniversary on the 26th of June plays that role. Long ago my father and mother set the tone, because they almost always made it a larger family event. A month later in July, my father’s sister celebrated her anniversary, and with a number of May family birthdays preceding it, the late June date falls squarely in the middle. The typically good weather here in New England, together with the first early garden produce (strawberries! asparagus!), make it a perfect candidate for a holiday gathering, a cookout or garden party. This year would have marked my parents’ 60th anniversary (they made it to 46), and for me the date’s taken on a “second solstice” quality. Cherish such days in your year. If you’re like me, such personal calendars subtly shift and re-form over time.

So yesterday a libation and some quiet reflection, a walk through my new Druid grove awaiting its formal consecration, and the working out of some light physical karma that has come to flag for me a potential shift in consciousness. “Pain is often the creator of awareness,” one of my teachers like to say, rather ruefully, and it’s proven true for me. When I wake up enough to know once again I’m in the hands of Spirit, minor pain and discomfort can open a chance for sharpening awareness quite effectively.

Outwardly, builders recently finished repairing the foundation and rear wall of our garage, a necessary dedication of resources if it wasn’t to fall down our sloping back yard.

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And just as true as the seemingly mystico-magical but quite practical saying “if you build it they will come,” if you’ve already come to a place, sometimes you have to (re)build it in some way to flourish there. And when you do, everything else re-equilibrates to the new harmonic you’ve established. Energy will flow first along the easiest channels it finds, and I’ve learned that often means right through the middle of any weakness, hole, or gap in my being and circumstances. I perform that service, I’m that easiest channel, a part of any dynamic I seek to transform, and the sooner I get that, the less wear and tear on the earth, water, air, and fire bodies that Spirit wears locally, in what I am pleased to call me, my life. No distinction, really, as I keep relearning. Jiji muge, the Zen Buddhists say. Between one thing and another is no separation.

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Tamias Minimus, aka chipmunk

So we must act mindfully and vigilantly at all times, they tell us. Nope. Not at all. Fat chance of that happening! snarks my inner brat. I don’t know about you, but I mess up all the time. That’s where the learning and growth is, the crack in the sidewalk where weeds finally push through, the shell the chick pecks open to move to the next stage, the new home the hermit crab must seek when it outgrows the old one.

Life’s what happens when you’re busy making other plans, John Lennon reminds us.  Well, yes, and that’s a very good thing indeed, whispers the chipmunk, my inner guide for the month. (A mated pair lives beneath the roots of the evergreens that line our driveway.) Keep learning to listen, and you’ll plan wider.

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Image: chipmunk  (tamias minimus)

Grove Divination   2 comments

Over the past several days I’ve assembled the results of three forms of divination into what may seem a hodgepodge of craft but which serves the purposes I’ve felt called to work with. More about them in a minute. When even our choice of the means of divination we’ll use is itself potentially a matter for divination, we can quickly get lost in a hall of mirrors and never get out and actually do something. Turtles all the way down.

We’ll continue to make mistakes anyway, even with the best of divinatory insights. There’s small advantage in refraining from acting simply because our guidance is incomplete. It’s incomplete at the best of times. That’s not a weakness but the definition of the proper field for human action. The gods don’t want, need, or make puppets, after all. (Not most of ’em, anyway. Those that do, flee as fast as you can.) Deprive us humans of initiative and will and vision, and neither human nor divine sovereignty means much.

The first divination I already mentioned in the previous post: the turtle in our yard, crawling north. Near midsummer, a reminder of the North, of earth, of manifestation, of the vessel for all this heat and light — the realm of form. After I completed my work of mowing for the day, I spotted a fellow being on its own journey. End of story? No. Whatever we do individually, we’re also companions on the way all creatures follow, alive here in time and space. All things are themselves and signs. We, too, endlessly offer our existences as tokens, pointers, guides to others. Meaning is what we do. Our presences always carry a specific weight and effect.

One thing imprinted itself clearly in my awareness, a laugh at self. I’ve been turtle-slow to acknowledge this inner tug, this call for a grove, and to work with it. The turtle, blood warmed in solstice heat, vigorously crawled some five meters without pausing. Even I am faster than you these days, human.

The turtle or tortoise is absent from the Celtic-inspired Druid Animal Oracle, but it’s a living symbol among native peoples of North America. Turtle Island. Many tribal stories recount how turtle does its thing, swimming to the bottom and resurfacing. A guide, an opener of possibility. In the efforts of many spirit beings to create land for plant and animal life to dwell on, turtle carries on its back the earth that muskrat or duck or some other bearer brings up from the bottom. Carry the earth to us, for us, under us. Turtle carrier, guide, creature yourself, alive in this place, complete in your own being and purposes.

We could work out a new divination system following the shell markings of the turtle. The idea certainly isn’t new with me — it exists in various forms already. Anciently the Chinese oracle bones derived from turtle shells. But even as new tarot versions and re-workings of the runes and ogham make their ways into our awareness, so too does the power of all things to serve a dual potential as themselves and as symbols. We’re always ourselves, but linked as we are, we’re also more. We live and we signify.

A second divination: obstacles, multiple reversed runes, blocked energy. Taking the three divinations I performed as past, present and future, this second divination certainly outlines an accurate picture of the present. After-the-fact interpretative retrofitting of a divination? Sure … why not? Or take it as 1) existing causes, 2) materials, circumstances, contributing influences, and 3) consequences, results, practices to assist coming manifestations. Either way.

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Entering my potential grove from the northwest, and facing east. What have I let grow to block my way?

I’ve worked most with the Arthurian Tarot, so it seemed prudent to turn to this for the third divination, because I seek insight into constructing a Druid grove.

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Sovereignty

I enter my potential grove space from the northwest, improvising an invocation and pausing at each of the quarters and then the spirit center to lay face down a card I chose by touch and guidance from the deck. I circle a second time to each quarter and pick them up and view them. Here are my cards: North — the grail king; East — Arthur; South — the Spear Maiden; West — 2 of Spears; Spirit center — Taliesin.

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Blending my two paths, dedicating each direction respectively, starting with the North, to word, thought, deed and feeling, all in the circle and presence of Sovereignty, of Spirit, I take the following reading:

 

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Grail King

The Grail King, associated with the West, guards hidden mysteries, approachable through imagination, dream, feeling. Yet he shows up in the north, and also paired with words. He offers guidance to negotiate the path if I am alert. If I abandon a stubborn fixity and pay fluid attention to the earth, to my body, to our shared physicality, then needed energies will come for manifestation. I can help myself by writing the way, by wording my passage as I go, by welcoming, shaping, and passing along my share in the voice of awen.

Arthur, from the major arcana, occupies the traditional fourth Emperor position. The Matthews’ handbook* notes, “The primary feature of Arthur’s role is guardianship and defence of the land … His creative energy is fuelled by close Otherworld contact through the mediation of Sovereignty” (Matthews, pp. 29-30).

arthurIn the realm of thought, Air and the East, he offers a gift of dynamic strength, along with a clear reminder of where strength derives. The Matthews further observe, “Whenever he attempts to depart from his kingly responsibilities … or live a life of his own, he comes to grief” (p. 30). Once we walk a certain distance along the path, we can no longer validly make a permanent retreat from human life, much as a hermit-like withdrawal still appeals to me — has, for much of this lifetime.

The Spear Maiden, signifier for the South, “shows the way through impossible situations by her daring, often by disguise or by shape-shifting” (Matthews, pg. 78). Again, I need not insist on a particular form, but allow it to remain supple, fluid. And take boldness for my approach, not this listless, hesitant, intermittently indulgent and slothlike state that’s dogged me for over a year. Boldness fuelled by Otherworld/Innerworld contact. The work of the OBOD Ovate grade, which I entered formally at the equinox last fall with initiation, but haven’t really yet engaged.

Spears again for the West, this time the 2 of Spears. A theme’s emerging. Matthews’ text says, “The skilled organization of resources leads to the achievement of desire; intuitive synthesis; dynamic drive” (Matthews, pg. 74). South in the West: intuition, yes, but propelled by the fires of the South.

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2nd image of Sovereignty as a major arcanum

Finally, the Spirit-center, under Sovereignty. A fitting place for Taliesin to appear, chief of Bards, initiatory model for Druids. He represents transformation “of the mundane into the spiritual,” a worthy goal for the making and purpose of a Druid’s grove. He is ready to aid the seeker in contacting “the living wisdom of the Otherworld … [B]y prophecy and far memory, he can instruct and guide … well able to represent images to the receptive mind and forge connections in the waiting heart” (Matthews, pg. 32).

 

 

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Images: Sovereignty; Grail King; Arthur; 2nd image of Sovereignty; Taliesin.

Matthews, John and Caitlin. The Arthurian Tarot: A Hallowquest Handbook. London: Thorsons, 1995.

Flame at the Solstice   Leave a comment

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Solstice light, blessings and inspiration to you all! And to everyone Down Under at the official start of winter, may the Light grow within and without!

Yin_yang.svgWith this post I finally complete the “Thirty Days of Druidry” series I began back in April. And ever as one cycle ends, another begins. We enter the dark half of the year with the greatest light and energy, a lesson in itself that things are never wholly as they appear, that each thing bears its apparent opposite in its bosom, as the Dao De Jing gently urges us to realize.

Beyond the binary surface of the polarities all around us lie multitudes of other relationships to explore. Water offers itself as a teacher: we’re either above or below the surface. But what about right at the face of the water? There we encounter surface tension, the point of contact, where air and water meet and the silver mirror may open in either direction to allow us entry. Or dancing. Water striders live at the boundary and let it support and sustain them. Air and water together allow for dancing as well as power. What other such natural meetings may we attend?

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Texas Falls, Hancock, Addison County, Vermont

VTmapHere in Vermont in the NE part of the U.S., summer moved in weeks ago, with days in the high 80s and low 90s (27-31 C), and blessed nights in the 50s and 60s (13-17 C), perfect for sleeping. With open windows, birds wake us between 4:30 and 5:00 am, sometimes, it seems, just because they can. They’re out and about, so why shouldn’t the rest of the world be? Or in the middle of the night, the pair of owls that nest nearby rouse us with hunting calls under a moon full last night.

Sometimes life consists of what you can sleep through, and what grabs you drowsing and drags you back to consciousness. War, pestilence, earthquake, songbirds, rain on a standing-seam roof, gentle breathing of your bed-mate. De-crescendo. Wake, or sleep on?

The chimney sweep came this last Friday to brush and vacuum. Even with filters and professional care, for an hour after he left, a trace of ash and soot perfumed the air indoors. And we await delivery next week of the three cords of wood that will see us through to next summer. Bars of gold, sunlight stacked in tree-form. Solstice days.

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I ask for divination. Over the last weeks the nudge has come to build a small Druid circle in our back yard. It’s another liminal place. Leave it unmowed, and blackthorn and milkweed eagerly launch a takeover. Not sunny enough for a garden, though it gets about two hours of light mid-morning. But here, by 11:50 am at midsummer, it’s already mostly in shade. Here’s the space, looking north, our small pond to the left beyond the uncut grass.

The first divination came a few days past, as I was finishing mowing. A box turtle animated by the day’s heat, crawling north across our yard. As quick as I was to grab my camera, here it is at the treeline. Unhappy with  my attempts to stage it in order to get a better picture, it’s nosed its way under leaves. A foot-long paint-stick lies next to it, to give a sense of scale.

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What does it “mean”? Divination benefits from context, and I’m going for three readings, a small but proven sampling of the currents of awen afoot.

Stay tuned.

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Images: Texas Falls; Vermont;

Seven Things: How I’m Doing   Leave a comment

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Rhododendron in bloom in our front yard, loud with bees

Since I laid out “Seven Shoulds” for Druids in the previous post, it’s only fair that I should account for how, and how well, I myself manage to do them. Here goes …

1–”Druids should have a practice.”

Ha! I laugh ruefully, because I follow two paths. Sometimes that seems double the challenge. Who needs it? I sometimes think.

But I find that if each day I can manage a practice from even one path, it “spills over” to the other path. They link — a topic for a whole book, I’m beginning to suspect.

I “get credit” on both paths, to put it crassly. Yes, practicing for “credit” means I’m pretty much scraping the bottom of the awen (inspiration) barrel, but sometimes ya gotta go with what you get. Not every day is Lucas Industrial Light and Magic. (If it was, I’d fry and blow away.)

Having a practice also means keeping the ball rolling, the flame burning, even and especially when you don’t feel like it. Then the gift comes, luck turns things around, chance plays things our way, and a god or two peers at me directly for a moment. Because of our efforts? Not always directly, like calculating a sum in math. The universe is more than a spreadsheet. But without the practice, it’s funny how whatever luck and chance and grace and gift I experience will begin to dwindle, dissipate and drain away.

The Galilean Teacher observed, “Those who have will be given more, and those who have little will lose the little they have.” At first encounter, this piece of gnomic wisdom sounded to me like some kind of nightmare economics. Punish the poor, reward the 1%, and all that. But when I look at it as an insight about gratitude — a practice all its own — it starts making a lot more sense. Unless we make room, there’s no space left in us for more. We have to give away to receive. It’s neither more blessed to receive or to give. Both are necessary for the cycle to operate at all.

If I blog or compose verse or do ritual, if I chant or contemplate or visualize, if I love one thing freely without reservation or thought of what’s in it for me, I’ve reached out to shake hands with Spirit. I find that “energy hand” is always held out to us, but unless I offer my half of the handshake and complete the circuit, nothing happens. “What’s the sound of one hand clapping?” goes the Zen koan. More often for me it’s “What’s the greeting of one hand offered?” Pure potential, till I do my part.

2–”Druids should be able to talk about Druidry.”

If inspiration fails, I fall back on John Michael Greer’s fine lines to prompt me into my own “elevator speech”: “Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth.  It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit” (1).

Of course, trot that out verbatim in reply to most casual inquiries, and you’ll probably shut people down rather than open up a conversation. I’m a book addict myself, but I don’t need to talk like one.

So here’s a more conversational version. “For me, Druidry means walking a spiritual path that’s based in the earth’s own rhythms. I try to take an experiential approach to questions big and small. That means I value inner growth and personal contact with nature and spirit.” I find something like that offers plenty of handles if anyone wants something to grab onto. It also has the Druidic virtue of consisting of three sentences.

3–”Druids should show their love of the earth.”

Sometimes this can be more far reaching than just what we ourselves do. Our choices reach more widely than that. Who we interact with also has consequences. We had a builder in recently to rescue our garage, which for every one of the eight years we’ve lived here has been sliding another half-inch down the slope of our back yard.

It took us a fair while to find him. Referrals and ads and word-of-mouth turned up people we eventually chose not to work with. But this fellow was different. Just one proof among several: his attention to reseeding the lawn and cleaning up construction waste after he’d completed the repairs helped us show our love of the earth through our choices of our interactions with others. We didn’t see or know this fully until after the fact, of course. But it was confirmation — the sign we needed. Some days it’s all we get to urge us to keep on keeping on.

I chose this example rather than any other because it was subtle in coming, though just as important as recycling or using less or any of the other things we try to do to “live lightly.” Druidry need not always “speak aloud” to have effects and consequences. Ripples spread outward, hit the far shore, and return. “What you do comes back to you.”

4–”Druids should keep learning.”

Many Druids made this a habit long ago. They have another book or five ready when they’re done with the current one. That’s me. It’s a competition, I’ve come to believe, who will win, my wife or me. She’s a weaver and has baskets and boxes of thread, heddles, wrenches, loom-parts, table-looms, tapestry manuals, and two car-sized looms, all striving for space with my shelves of language books, histories, Druidry and magic texts, boxes of novel and poem drafts, newspaper clippings, letters, and more.

But as J M Greer notes, “Druidry isn’t primarily an intellectual path.” Thank goodness! I’m saved from the limits of intellect, however well I’ve trained and domesticated it! Greer continues: “Its core is experiential and best reached through the practice of nature awareness, seasonal celebration, and meditation” (2).

Druids find themselves encountering people to learn from, the aging carpenter or herbalist or gardener who’d love for an apprentice willing to put in the hard work. So then we happen along and appreciate them and “apprentice for a moment” if not a decade. They’re often self-educated, regardless of what level of school they’ve completed. They seek out people to learn from, and recognize and honor the same impulse in others. Druidry, among all the other things it is, proves itself a wisdom path.

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Companion rhododendron in rose, always blooming a week later

5–”Druids should respect their own needs.”

Oh! This is sometimes so large it’s like the air we breathe all our lives, easy to forget. Rather than scold ourselves for lapses, failings and limitations, celebrate what we have done. “More than before” is a goal I take as a mantra. Even two steps backwards gains me some insight, however painfully won, if I look and listen for it. And it gains me compassion for myself and others in our humanness– no small thing. As a Wise One once remarked, who would you rather have around you, someone right or someone loving?

Some six years out from cancer surgery and radiation treatment and I still don’t have the energy I once did. I’m also that much older. But I can rage against and mourn new physical limits, or I can find work-arounds for what I need to do, and set clearer priorities for what really matters, so as not to squander what I do have. Sure, it’s still a work in progress. But I find I can detect small-minded attitudes and deep-seated prejudices in myself more quickly, and do the daily work of limiting their influence and filling their space with more positive thoughts and actions. That’s a gain.

Ever danced your anger? All emotions are energy responses. But I don’t need to sit and stew in them. I can use them to propel myself to new places and spaces and states. It’s an older-person magic, perhaps, or maybe just one I’ve been a long time in realizing and appreciating and practicing.

6–”Druids should serve something greater than themselves.”

Looking back at the list I included — “a person, a spirit or god, a relationship, a practice, a community, a cause, an ideal, an institution, a way of life, a language” — I realize I’ve served all of ’em at some point. Some people stick with one their whole lives. It becomes their practice.

Right now, underemployed as I like to say, I’m more of a homebody than I’ve been, and consequently around the house more. If I find myself sparked to annoyance or anger at my wife for some petty thing, as can happen in the best of relationships, I try to remember to serve her, to serve the relationship. Again, can I use my anger, rather than just seethe? Can I remember to bless my anger, transform its energy and spend it to uncover an underlying issue? What’s the pattern I’ve been feeding? Do I want or need to keep feeding it? Serve myself in this way, in the deepest sense, and I serve others, and vice versa. No difference. To paraphrase, all things work together for good for those who love something that lifts them out of smallness and limitation.

7–”Druids should listen more than they talk — and we talk a lot!”

I’ve certainly demonstrated that here in this post, to say nothing of this whole blog.

Fortunately, one of my go-to practices is listening. Do I do it enough? Wrong question. “Some — any — is more than before.” Both paths I follow commend practices focused on sound as a steady daily method of re-tuning, so that Spirit can reach me through every barrier I may erect against it. Chanting awen, listening to music that opens me, finding literal in-spiration — ways to breathe in what is needed in the moment — letting the song roll through me and back out to others in quiet daily interactions — these are the practices I keep returning to. Listen for the music, whispers my life.

The Great Song keeps singing, blessedly, through my intermittent disregard and obliviousness, till I remember to listen again, and join in.

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  1. Greer, John Michael.  The Druidry Handbook, qtd. in Carr-Gomm, Philip. What Do Druids Believe? London:  Granta Books, 2006, p. 34.
  2. Greer, The Druidry Handbook., p. 4.
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