Archive for April 2018

Tracing the Divine   2 comments

serpentmound-ohio

Serpent Mound, OH — learning and growth, like insight and practice, often curve

MINING for INSIGHT

I’m reading and re-reading an obviously older poem I found in my parents’ papers, hand-copied into a notebook in my mother’s careful but aging secretarial script, with no title or author. (If you know anything about it, I’d appreciate a reference or citation!)

Of the poem’s two stanzas, this couplet in particular caught my attention:

Through worlds unnumber’d though the god be known,
‘Tis ours to trace him only in our own.

The times don’t stand still, and neither do our habits of speech. Older poetic diction can throw us off. So, for that matter, can the assumption of a male deity — or deity of any kind. But if I work with it, squeeze it for what I can get out of it, I can often find useful material for contemplation in older literature. Springs of Druidry flow in the most remarkable places.

Of course such literature and writings may run rife with sexism, racism, other isms — take your pick. That’s almost a given. Our words today are no less weighted with assumptions that will no doubt seem quaint, distracting, or deeply objectionable in a few decades or centuries. Our wise descendants will know how to sift and choose the silver from our dross. If I’m to rank their equal, I can learn to do the same today with the small portion of our ancestral planetary inheritance that comes within my purview.

MULTIPLE WORLDS

We’ve known we dwell in a poly-verse for some time. Include our inner worlds and the number of realms increases exponentially. Whatever anybody else says, our lives hand us each a unique set of specifics. So many deities ready for discovery, service, respectful exclusion, whether they’re given name and form through a tradition by the experiences and insights of many, or called by other names and shaped by the imperatives of hunger, sex, fear, desire, or drives for wealth and power nearly as strong.

Part of our challenge is that we’re such fluid and supple movers-between-realms, so that in any one moment we can forget where we’ve been and where we’re headed, even in just a single 24-hour cycle.

Dream, waking, trance, listening-to-music, buzzing on caffeine, focused on a computer game or craft or sport, praying, daydreaming, balancing our checkbooks — every day we slip in and out of a dozen or more states of consciousness — worlds all their own — and, most days, never pay it much mind at all.

I needn’t attempt to track down such a force, power, god or instinct in every world, or insist that because I find it in my world that it must exist in yours, too. Ideally, many-ness can induce in me an endless wonder at variety, along with a humility to learn from yet another manifestation of this immense cosmos we inhabit.

Through a paradox that seems to root quite deeply in our cosmos, in at least this world and a few others I know of, if I tend to my own truth deeply enough, it awakens echoes for others. And the same holds true for them. We know this when we’re open enough to recognize in another’s experience an analog of our own. The god, the cosmos, our individuality, the Singularity, intelligent protoplasm, whatever your current favorite label, finds itself in sameness-within-difference, much as my breakfast eggs each contain a yolk, but each egg is different. The Cosmos seems to adore individuality.

We know the dangers of inbreeding. First the thoroughbred, refined for a specific trait (or whole basketful of them), but the ideal pursued too far runs toward the genetic multiplication of undesirable traits.

Cosmos seems to say, OK, you exist, mostly the same as others of your kind. Now — get different!

Or to put it in terms of finding ourselves, clone not, lest thou be owned. It’s that quest to find the happy medium between copycat-dom and a Frank Sinatra-insistence on doing it “your way” in all things.

INHERITANCE and MISSION

‘Tis ours to trace him only in our own.

Dropped squarely in our individuality are both legacy and goal. We look backward and forward, too. Those two form the third thing of a self. I keep noticing that the most creatively alive and spiritually limber people aren’t those who cherish the mantra What’s the point? or How can I even ___ ? They manage to find something interesting enough to them that, at least while we’re in their orbit, they often infect us with that same enthusiasm and delight.

That’s simply more fun that judging and condemning others. It just takes a while to wean our human selves from the high of fear and substitute other and healthier highs. Or to put it in other words, reptile brain is useful, but needn’t call all the shots.

Like you, I’m the sum total of everything I’ve been, regardless of whether you count just this life or a thousand previous ones. Looking just genetically, I’m the end result of all my ancestral DNA, and if those mitochondrial strands hold nothing more of the genetically marvelous than we’ve so far discovered, I can make the most of my present here and now because all my ancestors did the same in theirs. Otherwise I simply wouldn’t be here. I’m their evidence, if they need it. Just a little late for use during their lifetime, or explanation or defense for what they were up to.

In many ways, the divine is at its most alive in the physical world. Make of my existence an object for contemplation, a laboratory for experiment and discovery, and an opportunity to participate in what the universe is doing all around us — transforming — and I never again need to wonder or worry What’s the point?

So among my strategies are mining our cultural wisdom for its value and insight, granting older assumptions and states of consciousness the same respect I try to grant my parents and grandparents, even if my way is different, has shifted from theirs. It’s the same freedom from criticism and censure I try to grant myself. Not out of any softness or over-generous assessment or misplaced loyalty, but simply because it accomplishes nothing. It’s an energy sink, a pothole on the way. Here is wisdom; take from the hoard what you can use and put it to work.

(If it needs a new handle, or the edge needs sharpening, well, what tool doesn’t benefit from loving care?)

The form of things is part of their value and identity. A limit is a tool like anything else. To the extent I see the facets of my personality, my partner, my situation, my perspective, even my “problems” in this liberating light, I make good use of my inheritance, and begin to fulfill my mission in ways that delight and build and expand.

As Greer observes in his Mystery Teachings from the Sacred Earth,

Everything in existence exists and functions on one of several planes of being or is composed of things from more than one plane acting together as a whole system.  These planes are discrete, not continuous, and the passage of influence from one plane to another can take place only under conditions defined by the relationship of the planes involved.

These conditions are part of our learning, practice and mastery.

To be continued.

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Greer, J. M. Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. Weiser Books, 2012.

Image: Serpent Mound, Ohio, USA.

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Posted 29 April 2018 by adruidway in Druidry, earth spirituality

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Fire, and All That Beltane Stuff   Leave a comment

One of the pleasures of OBOD Gatherings is taking part in the group initiations with those who opt for them.

Many don’t. An initiation is always personal, and many wish to honor that by outward solitude. It’s no surprise that the two initiation experiences, solitary and group, can each have a very different feel. As they should.

With a solitary initiation, at a time of your own choosing, you dedicate or consecrate your work, your attention, your energies to a task in ways personal and unique to you.

Of course, no initiation is wholly solitary. What you say, think, and feel are all between you and those present, with and without their skins on. In fact, in one of the paradoxes of spirituality, those others can help make the initiation more personal and solitary. My first Ovate initiation — I won’t say “self-initiation”, because in my experience all true initiations come about the same way, whether like my first you do them in your living room, or with a group, as with my second OBOD Ovate initiation — my first initiation packed a punch significant enough that I wrote about it to my Ovate tutor.

Recording it, shaping it for telling, if only for a journal entry, is an important facet of the experience, and communicating something of that to one’s tutor is recommended in OBOD, and wholly appropriate. The deepest experience can’t really be written about anyway. In this way we learn to honor the Law of Silence, one fourth of the old occult dicta, to know, to dare, to will and to be silent. Mix ’em and match ’em: know your will, and dare to be silent, rather than casting your pearls before swine. (Jesus knew more than a thing or two about magic.) As with telling dreams, others often cannot experience the most meaningful part of what we’re trying to communicate anyway.

As you’ve doubtless heard: “Guard the Mysteries! Constantly reveal them!”

It’s one of the delights of OBOD that it recognizes, and encourages, either or both forms of initiation. After all, fire is fire.

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front yard this morning — fire in the rain: last of the snow, first hint of the green

At MAGUS 2018, in a week and a day, we’ll be initiating Bards, Ovates and Druids in separate rituals. A good half of ritual is theater, and there one can experience the truth of the lines from the “Charge of the Goddess“: “Therefore, let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you”. If we don’t let them, how will they manifest? Learning how is the practice of our path.

As a Wise One has said, “At birth we’re fitted with a consciousness that allows us to go to school, get a job, and make our way through life. But we owe it to ourselves to reach higher, deeper, beyond. These don’t come with being born — we have to reach for them”. For me at least that rings true. Hence, among other things, this blog. Maybe I should rename it “A Druid’s Reach”.

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awen-sample

awen pendant

As I write this it’s drizzling outside. I’m adding one more awen pendant to the set I’ve made as Bardic gifts for the initiates — a last-minute addition has appeared on our roster of initiates. As a participant in the ritual I also get to say some of the most wonderful lines — a privilege, to assist in the shaping of others’ initiation experiences.

Beith — birch (genus Betula) — is a tree associated with the Bard. The first letter of the ogham alphabet, beith/birch is a pioneer tree, one of the first to take root in an open area. As a tree of beginnings, it’s an apt reminder of the focus of stepping onto a Druidic path: song, voice, word, music, poetry, imagination — all prime tools of the Bard, and never abandoned as one proceeds to deepen one’s practice of Druidry.

I’ve written elsewhere here of MAGUS and Beltane (MAGUS ’17 | the series Touching the Sacred | Triad for Rekindling Sacred Fire | Beltane 2016). In the latter post, I wrote:

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 group to celebrate with, or if you prefer 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 with something that’s come into your world through you?

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Posted 25 April 2018 by adruidway in awen, Beltane, Druidry, fire, initiation, MAGUS

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Hot Mic Druidry   Leave a comment

It’s Unverified Personal Gnosis, of course, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the mic is always hot. The universe — intelligent Web that it is (after all, it gave birth to you and me, right?) — is always listening, manifesting and responding to us.

Often it can feel like we pray and get no response. For that reason, some — many — may have sensibly dispensed with prayer. No surprise there, since asking has never done much in isolation. Oh, it does a little. It opens a few windows and doors, but if we don’t look out or walk through, they soon close again. Follow-through, follow-through, I say to myself.

Edinburgh Fire Festival bonfire

What about the prayers the universe prays to us? Do I really think it only goes one way?! How many prayers have I left unanswered? What is my part in manifesting? If I’m god-like, then what’s god like?

Part of the magic (it’s all “mostly magic”) is a matter of scale. Hot mic Druidry, just like hot mic Christianity (and hot mic atheism, for that matter) is partly a responsiveness to being alive, a sensitivity to here and now, this moment. So much of the time I’m anywhere but here. We use the future as a substitute for a larger present.

I shrink the present into the longest I can pay attention before something better takes its place. But (one of the handful of truly powerful and magical words in English, along with yes and if, why? and thanks! and even our own names, magical or mundane, chanted with intention, until the potential of what we are starts to resonate and I gasp at large we all really are) — but with loving attention, the present can expand to contain everything else. And I know that’s when the magic happens.

Most of us experience this intermittently, in “flow” moments. To taste this is to experience the “kingdom within”, as José the Carpenter put it. The old Hermeticists and Qabbalists spoke of Malkuth, kingdom, just below Yesod, foundation. The kingdom is just that close, and once the windows and doors open, we have the Foundation for everything else. And the “eye of the needle”, so easy or hard to pass through, depending? Well, that’s the eye of our own perception, clenched tight from disuse, or opening to let in the Light and Voice of the Silence. We don’t need any more teaching at this point. We need prods and reminders to put into practice what we already know.

What metaphor will catch my attention this time? Which one will work for me and aid me in taking that next step? Truth-of-this-Moment, enough to jump start the next one.

So I keep catching pieces, fragments, glimpses, echoes. Sometimes it’s downright embarrassing how much of my time here I squander, until I recall that this too is mission. There’s no hurry along the spiral. Only the Fire burning in each of us. Sit still warming myself a little too long, and that part gets scorched. On to the next, in turn. (The “best” among us just get basted more evenly.)

In this season of the approaching fire festival of Beltane, it’s no surprise our images and metaphors are fire. Cold can burn, too. If we can fight fire with fire, can we not welcome fire with fire?

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Images: Edinburgh Fire Festival bonfire.

1851, 2018? Still the Quest   Leave a comment

The Summer 1973 issue of “Vermont History, Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society”, preserves a letter from a young Vermont woman who went to Clinton, MA to labor as mill-worker. She was determined to enter Oberlin College, and mill-work was one path she could take to advance towards that goal.

Dated June 29, 1851, the letter from Lucy Ann (no family name known) to her cousin Charlotte derives from a period where people wrote each other frequently, and this surviving letter clearly stems from a history of lively exchanges between the cousins.

Cousin Charlotte–,

Your letter was joyfully received last Thursday evening, and this morning I take my pen with a right good will to answer you. This is Sabbath morning, and can I spend it better than writing to you?

After some light social gossip about her roommates in the mill-town, she continues:

Perhaps I am offending you to write such things on the Sabbath, so I will change the subject. — You say, “I am afraid you do not love the house of God”. The house of God, what do you mean? Our churches? And can you call such a place of desecration a house of God? If you can ’tis a place I cannot worship. I can only listen to truths or untruths, as the case may be, and ponder on their importance or unimportance, but to worship there, there is no feeling of devotion–no it would seem mockery to worship there amidst that crowd of well dressed idle gazers. Once perhaps the house of God was a place of worship, but it has degenerated into a place of vain idle show …

When Hemingway was asked if there was one thing essential to being a good writer (and, I would add, a free human being), he remarked, “Yes, a built-in, shock-proof crap detector”. Lacking that, we get scammed, conned, taken, had, bamboozled, misled, tricked, fleeced, robbed, used. And we give it up voluntarily, because as another writer — this one Roman — said, Mundus vult decipi — “the world wants to be deceived”. Yet our inner integrity will not relinquish our best interests so easily. It does not surrender the innermost citadel of the self, and our personalities will feel the unavoidable conflict till we resolve it — however long that takes. The longer we resist, the more the inner disharmony flails about to express itself in bad temper, illness, dysfunction, hypocrisy, projection on others, etc.

Lucy Ann perseveres:

There are places where even I feel devotional. Wherever this feeling steals over us there is our church. Mine is in the wild-woods. I never walk alone amidst nature’s solitudes without that same indescribable sensation of awe & devotion, & how inexpressably holy, calm and happy are such feelings. Then our thoughts are raised to something higher & nobler than the days dull routine, then do we feel that we have a Soul-immortal, & shall I say only then?

And so we see the Forest Church movement, one among its many more positive contemporary forms, arising from the middle of the Christian neglect of and even paranoid suspicion toward (see “Resisting the Green Dragon” and one useful counter-view from the UK’s Guardian) the physical world and ecological awareness. The sweetly saccharine song “I know a green cathedral” (lyrics by Gordon Johnstone, music by Carl Hahn).

Having forsaken so many keys, paths, practices and perspectives that for long helped keep humans in harmony with their planet, many seek to rediscover them anywhere and everywhere but where they have long existed — in earth-religion and earth-centered spirituality.

The Druid and Pagan sensibility doesn’t go away merely because the dominant culture disapproves of it, punishes it, mocks its deep hunger for true devotion and its proper place, or misunderstands it and offers in its stead a mad grab for a host of poor substitutes that con us into thinking they’ll answer our need, and which only enrich the pockets and egos of others.

How very many have felt this but struggled to ignore it? “There are places where even I feel devotional. Wherever this feeling steals over us there is our church. Mine is in the wild-woods”.

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Spring Teachers — Wand and Cauldron 2   Leave a comment

As I write, the sleet and rain of a mid-April winter storm blanket southern Vermont, patter on the roof, and coat our driveway and solar panels.

Dana Driscoll in her wonderful Druidgarden blog writes:

This unseasonably cold spring offers a number of powerful lessons. The first is in studying people’s reactions to the cold vs. the land’s reactions to the cold. Humans have grown to expect predictable certainty; the certainty of the seasons coming on a schedule that we could depend on, the certainty of USDA* zones and last frost dates. But that’s not what this planet can offer us anymore. Predictable certainty says that by mid April, we “should be” firmly in the spring months. There “should be” buds and flowers. There “should be” warmth. But climate change prediction models say otherwise–-the East Coast of the USA, where I live, is likely to see shorter springs and longer winters, particularly as the jet stream continues to shift. The truth is that spring will come, but it may take longer than any of us would like. Spring will come and frost will come, and summer and fall will also come-–but no longer on predictable schedules. The daffodils understand this-–they simply wait.  The animals and insects understand this–-they wait. The flowers and seeds understand this–-they, too, wait.

[*United States Department of Agriculture zones for estimating growing seasons, planting dates, plant hardiness, etc.]

Such patience is cauldron and wand working together.

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I recently obtained a copy of Hewson’s Dictionary of Proto-Algonquian (Canadian Ethnology Service Mercury Series Paper 125). If we’re serious about wanting to talk with the spirits and land-wights in North America, and we also want to avoid cultural appropriation of living languages and practices, why not go to the source?! Just like with Proto-Indo-European for Europe, we can learn Proto-Algonquian! (Right now I’m looking at how place-names are constructed.)

Except.

One of the fallacies we cherish involves continuity and change. In our search for authenticity we often grant an unconscious, and sometimes conscious, primacy and superiority to “languages-spoken-when”: we study Old English or Old Icelandic if we’re Heathens or Asatruar, we turn to Irish or Welsh or Gaelic to be truer to the Celtic tradition, just as Catholics may pick up some Latin if they attend Catholic schools or regularly attend a traditional Mass, and more conservative Jews acquire some Hebrew as a language of their heritage and tradition for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and Seders and Synagogue prayer and ritual. Languages of lore and wisdom are valuable gifts from the past, from the ancestors.

But just as speakers of English no longer speak Old English as a native tongue to greet the dawn and the land, or pass the bread and butter, the spirits and land wights can connect through our modern tongues just as well with us, and we with them, as we ever could in the past.

Robert Frost, old bard of the land, like any true bard, had access to Otherworld wisdom. You can hear it in “The Gift Outright” (which I often return to when this topic comes up), through the views and stances and limits of his time — as through ours, limits which we cannot yet wholly see — when he peers into that deeper well for vision and understanding:

The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living …

Possession, possessed by, withholding — we carry deep attitudes and archetypes not lightly to be dismissed. Indeed, they are part of our work. But for all that, the Land where I live here in New England doesn’t “withhold” itself from me because I say Lake Champlain rather than Bitawbakw, or Burlington rather than Winooski. Rather I withhold myself through heedlessness. It’s my intent and practice that make up any difference.

Nubanusit_Lake

view of Nubanusit from Hancock, NH

Every land has seen many people on it come and go. The language — any language — is for my comfort and focus — for any act of consciousness. If out of respect I devote energy to learning old ways of address, the Otherworld (and this world) accepts that gift in the spirit it is given. Let it outweigh other considerations, though, and I’ve stepped out of balance. To use the terms of the previous post, my speech and ritual are my cauldron and wand.

Yes, it’s still a pleasure to say the New Hampshire Abenaki lake names Skatutakee [skah-TOO-tah-kee], Nubanusit [noo-bah-NOO-sit] and Winnepesaukee [win-neh-peh-SAH-kee], even if they’re poorly Anglicized.

Names matter. Echoes remain. That’s how we fashioned a modern Druidry. Trust the echoes, if they’re all I have at the moment, follow them, and they lead to the originals.

Wiccan ritual often demonstrates an instinctive understanding of the power and wealth of names and naming. The Charge of the Goddess reminds us to attend to echoes and inner music:

Listen to the words of the Great Mother; she who of old was also called among men Artemis, Astarte, Athene, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Cybele, Arianrhod, Isis, Dana, Bride and by many other names …

Here we’re close to the Jewish Psalm 137, a song of exile sung in Babylon:

How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

If I do not recall and recite the old names, may I lose the power of speech as proper penalty. A curse, just as with a blessing, is not a thing to be summoned lightly.

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To paraphrase the old adage of the Hermetic Mysteries: “Pilgrim on earth, thy home lies in all the worlds; stranger, thou are the guest of gods”.

MacLir (cited below and in the previous post) notes:

We find other wands in myths that are the sources for our modern wands. One wand user, the Greek god Hermes (Roman Mercury), has long been linked to passage between earth and the higher realms. The staff or rod … the caduceus of Hermes-Mercury has come to be associated with healing and the medical profession due to its similarity to the rod topped with a brazen serpent employed in the Bible by Moses to work healing magic. It has also been mixed up with the wand of Asklepios, a Greek demigod closely associated with medicine and healing. Asklepios used a wand that is usually depicted as a rough branch with a single snake spiraling around it (Wandlore, pg. 7).

Wand, staff, ogham stave, intention to plant, to sow and to manifest, I honor you.

Spring, east, dawn, wind, intelligence, will, knowledge, wand-realm — cauldron has called you forth, evoked and invoked you. Kundalini, serpent power always coiled, wand and cauldron, now I will work with you both, doing the work humans are uniquely called to do, standing between earth and heaven, foot and hand in so many worlds.

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Images: Lake Nubanusit.

Hewson, John. 1993. A computer-generated dictionary of proto-Algonquian. Gatineau – Quebec : National Museums of Canada. 281 p. ISBN : 0-660-14011-X.

MacLir, Alferian Gwydion. Wandlore: The Art of Crafting the Ultimate Magical Tool. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Books, 2011.

“Both Cauldron and Wand”   Leave a comment

Devotees of Brighid, fans, and the simply “Brighid-curious” may enjoy John Beckett’s post “Solas Bhride: A Goddess Speaks Softly in Many Forms”, a reflection on his recent pilgrimage to Ireland.

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In 2015, I posted the still-popular “Beltane and Touching the Sacred.” In it I said (updated for the current next Full Moon at the end of April 2018):

Here we are, about two weeks out from Beltane/May Day — or Samhuinn if you live Down Under in the Southern Hemisphere. And with a Full Moon on April 29 (0058 GMT April 30) there’s a excellent gathering of “earth events” to work with, if you choose. Thanks to the annual Edinburgh Fire Festival, we once again have Beltane-ish images of the fire energy of this ancient Festival marking the start of Summer.

You may find like I do that Festival energies of the “Great Eight”* kick in at about this range — half a month or so in advance. A nudge, a hint, a restlessness that eases, a tickle that subsides, or shifts toward knowing, with a glance at the calendar. Ah! Here we are again!

I’m off again in a few weeks for the 2nd Mid-Atlantic Gathering — MAGUS 2018, with the theme “Sacred Time, Sacred Space”. Looking for a fore-/after-taste? Here’s last year’s post.

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Effective people, says Philip Carr-Gomm in his little book Lessons in Magic, “use both their cauldrons and their wands”.

Often a short quote like that is enough to launch me, set me off on reflection and contemplation and experimentation. (Echoing the near-endless spate of how-to books and guides to personal transformation, the idea of being “more effective” underlies the Protestant work ethic, its distortions in the American disdain for the poor as deserving their struggle, and much besides of bad and good.)

Put “effective” into the most crass terms: how to get what you want.

We often assume creativity — inspiration — comes first, and any manifestation second. But just as with so many things, it can be illuminating to examine assumptions as much for what they leave out as in. What can we learn, I ask, from both its truths and falsehoods?

The most famous creation story portrays both a creator and an “earth without form and void, and darkness … on the face of the deep”. Some translations suggest we can reasonably render the first few lines like this: “When God was creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and empty, and darkness hovered over the waters”. In other words, creativity needs material to work on. And the material in this version of the story is already present. Creation in such a case is a forming and shaping of cosmic substance already in existence.

You could say the cauldron is the scene — the stage for creation, the setting. Without it, no workshop, no lab, no tubes of paint and brushes and palettes. No place for anything to “take place” — an idiom itself full of significance and teaching. Everything hovering, like the spirit of the god over the waters in the Genesis account, but no entry-point into manifestation. Waiting in creative tension, but with no results. Brooding on the nest, but no eggs to sit and warm and hatch.

And here’s the wand — or a compass in this case. Some kind of magical tool or instrument helps focus our creative energy.

jesus=compass

French — ca. 1250

But Carr-Gomm rightly lists the cauldron first. Cauldron — Grail — womb of Mary in the Christian story — these precede creation. And they’re not passive, either, Mary is invited — not compelled — to nurture and carry the divine child. Her assent isn’t automatic, or pro-forma. Blessing our materials — inviting their participation — helps our creative process. Indeed, some kind of blessing is the key that makes creativity possible. We just often do it unconsciously. Ritual can help prod us to greater awareness. (As with all careless acts, ritual done badly can send us deeper asleep.)

For the Grail in the Arthurian mythos truly “has a mind of its own”. Though it may seem to be “just an object” — the goal of male knightly questing — it’s the Grail that chooses who ultimately satisfies its steep requirements, who may catch a glimpse, and when it will materialize and manifest.

The Wikipedia entry for “Holy Grail” notes that Chrétien de Troyes, the first to put the story in its Medieval form in the 1100s with Perceval as questing knight,

… refers to this object not as “The Grail” but as “a grail” (un graal), showing the word was used, in its earliest literary context, as a common noun. For Chrétien a grail was a wide, somewhat deep dish or bowl, interesting because it contained not a pike, salmon, or lamprey, as the audience may have expected for such a container, but a single Mass wafer which provided sustenance for the Fisher King’s crippled father. Perceval, who had been warned against talking too much, remains silent through all of this and wakes up the next morning alone. He later learns that if he had asked the appropriate questions about what he saw, he would have healed his maimed host, much to his honour.

So much of value here to note: the importance of a middle way between extremes, applicable to easily perceived tools in hand as well as more subtle tools like language. Don’t talk too much, but don’t shut up entirely..

With the slipperiness inherent in non-physical things and experiences, and the names we give to them, the san graal or “holy grail” becomes in Medieval French also the sang real “royal blood”, launching one of the oldest conspiracy theories still popular today concerning the possible existence of surviving lineal descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Add to this the World War II legends of a struggle between Hitler and “the forces of Light” for possession of the historical Grail and its immense powers, and you set the stage for the flowering of a new generation of Grail myths and legends. Archetypes continually regenerate; indeed, the Grail is among many other things an illustration of just such archetypal power.

And as we know from our own experiences with creativity, there are indeed many grails each time we manifest something — even if you prefer that they’re all subsidiary to a single magical One and Holy Grail. (Which in a certain sense they are.) Another question to ask, practice to experiment with: “What is the grail in this situation?”

Now this is all well and good, you say. Good fun, diverting, the stuff of fat best-sellers and million-dollar movie scripts and much silliness in pop culture and media. What of the wand? And what does any of this have to do with me?

Fear not. The wand gets at least its fair share of star billing before the end.

To take a turn through pop culture, why does Harry Potter take Hagrid’s advice and seek out Ollivander’s, apart from Hagrid’s plug that “there ain’t no place better”? Harry needs a wand. He survived the attack on him as an infant, with the scar as mute but vivid testimony of its potency.

But for any serious and conscious creative-magical work (all creativity is inherently magical), he’ll need a wand. It’s simply a matter of time before we ourselves come to the same conclusion.

“I wondered when I’d be seeing you, Mr. Potter!” says Ollivander.

And as with active Grail, the wand, we learn from Ollivander’s, and elsewhere, “chooses the wizard”. [Note how tall the interior of the shop is in the video clip — the airiness and “head-space” appropriate to a wand. And it’s at Ollivander’s words “I wonder” as he goes for the third wand that we hear again the hallmark and mysterious musical theme.]

And of course, with the tradition of clusters of three long associated with things magical, the third wand’s the charm.

Franz Bardon, no slouch when it comes to personal experience, magic and occult instruction, observes in his fine text Initiation into Hermetics that

Everything that can be found in the universe on a large scale is reflected in a human being on a small scale” (pg. 31) and “A true initiate will never force anyone who has not reached a certain level of maturity to accept his truth” (pg. 55).

Again, as with so many things, truth is better treated as experimental — to be tested through our own direct experience, rather than either swallowed credulously, or rejected out of hand — both falling short of the magical quality inherent in threes. Either-or too often simply misses the point we seek.

A wand extends and sharpens the creative ability — the inspiration and clarity of East, the dawn, air, what a bird sees when it flies, the overview, the big picture, the influx of Light from the sun. Its time is spring — the perfect tool in the hand of a gardener, whose version may take the form of trowel or spade.

Consult the recent and masterly exposition Wandlore and you’ll discover a major key:

The most basic hidden secret of magic is that the wizard must go within … inside the mind, and there, encountering Hermes, lord of communication, be led into the otherworlds.

As Carr-Gomm notes in The Druid Tradition, talking of Iolo Morgannwg, the brilliant creative mind behind much of the Druid Revival, but with important teaching more widely applicable and relevant to today’s headlines,

… when it comes to working with the esoteric, we are to large extent under the influence of Mercury, or Lugh, the god of communication between human and divine worlds … But Mercury is also the god of thieves and of deception — of stage magic, and the manipulation of illusion as well as of high magic — the manipulation of consciousness and the causal world. Those who have not clarified their relationship with Mercury fall prey to both aspects of his influence, and it is then hard for the academic [or anyone! — ADW] to understand how the same person can combine genuine material with the fraudulent, how they can channel both divinely inspired insights into Druidry and complete nonsense, how they can be upright and honest and engage in deception or delusion (pg. 27).

And rather than belabor the benefits of walking a spiritual path, and also to cover a truly immense amount of ground, the end result, recorded in T. S. Eliot’s grand poem The Four Quartets, in the last line of the final section “Little Gidding“, is that “the fire [of wand and purified will] and the rose [of the Grail and the perception of spiritual unity] are one”.

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Image: Christ with compass: “he set a compass upon the face of the depth” (Proverbs 8:27)

Carr-Gomm, Philip. Lessons in Magic. Lewes, East Sussex: Oak Tree Press, 2016.

Bardon, Franz. Initiation into Hermetics. Merkur Publishing, Inc., 2016.

MacLir, Alferian Gwydion. Wandlore: The Art of Crafting the Ultimate Magical Tool. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Books, 2011.

Carr-Gomm, Philip. The Druid Tradition. Rockport, MA: Element Books, Inc. 1991.

For an evocative single-page note of just some of the material behind Eliot’s poem, see here.

 

 

http://blog.sciencemusings.com/2011/07/setting-compass.html

 

 

April Ogham-ing   Leave a comment

For my divination today, I take up the ogham sail(le)/willow, which I mentioned in a recent post — the ogham stave each of us received during Mystic River Grove’s Equinox Ritual two Fridays past.

IMG_1859

perfecting the “garden gnome” look in our back yard, with snow receding, on Thursday, a day before new snowfall

A link from that post to an article on the OBOD site about willow (and here’s Wikipedia’s entry) examines a tree lush with meanings, especially significant to Ovates, the Druid spiral where I’ve been wandering and learning these past few years.

Already I know firsthand of willow’s love of water — ours flourishes by the north-flowing outlet of our pond. And its ability to sprout from fallen branches. (Until an inadequately-supervised landscaper  remove a sapling I’d started a few years ago from a green and fallen branch, we had a second willow rooted and growing, the future left side of a willow arbor I had planned. But given the tree’s predilection for rooting from green windfall and even low-hanging branches, it will be little trouble to replace.)

I went to the back yard this morning for windfall branches after last night’s gusts, made  offerings to both willow and pine, and returned with a suitable length from each tree which will launch a southern Vermont ogham set.

I find I can’t follow the OBOD weekly gwersi/courses for now, though I know I’m doing some of the work regardless. In the OBOD sequence, some gwersi come out of season — autumn work, for example, not right for spring. Some require herbs or trees I don’t have access to, though I can find reasonable substitutes. Some address work I’ve done, sometimes in other modes, so meditative sifting and re-integration are in order.

I make an annotated index of the coursework as I go, even if the gwers matches no opening in me, so I can lay hands on a gwers when I need it, or when it calls for my attention. Like many spiritual paths that depend on initiative and interest rather than simpler attendance at a weekly service, the path of the Ovate at times is trackless. As Antonio Machado writes, “Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again”.

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Ogham of new snowfall yesterday, a reading for early April. How many other readings come to us and remain unread? Flash of temper at some ego-obstacle a clue to new practice, bird-call lifting us momentarily out of ourselves, air redolent of wet earth and rot and renewal. Old Land, you become young again. Wisdom of guides, ancestors, spirits, land wights, all folk of good intent, may we hear you heedfully.

Ciggendra gehwelc wile þæt hine man gehere, runs an Old English proverb: “Everyone who cries out wants to be heard” (Lit., of-criers each wills that him man hears). How do I hear you, criers of the moment? Can I honor your crying and ask that you listen to mine? What is your crying? Not merely lament for worlds lost, species gone, ills still perpetrated, deep suffering. Also crying for attention now, worthy cries, cries of alert and alarm and warning for what is yet to come. No one person can answer all cries. (I don’t expect everyone to answer mine.) Let me honor them all, then choose (be guided to) those I can serve.

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Posted 7 April 2018 by adruidway in divination, Druidry, ogham, Old English, willow

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