The Work of an Order   Leave a comment

Finding out about how we ourselves “do Druidry” — or other path we’re on — is a key step that all of us, it seems, keep taking. From that personal connection and insight, renewed over time and through our own experiences, comes a growing confidence in our own strengths and uniqueness that others can’t easily shake. It’s no longer just faith, but communion. It’s bone-knowledge, gut-wisdom, skin-sense. We know things, in that lovely old expression, by heart.

The more our practice, whatever it is, rests as much in doing as in believing, the more we draw strength from it in ways that can feel surprisingly like physical exercise. Our bodies learn to know our practice as well as our brains. Oak or rowan or beech become friends — our community has grown through knowing individuals, no longer just abstractions in a listing of trees in an ogham-book. The welcome of oak differs from the subtler touch that rowan extends. And these two differ from maple or hemlock. And so on through all the other furry, winged and finned kindred we encounter in the land where we find ourselves.

The work of any Order worth my energy and dedication will contain material that speaks clearly to me and seems just right. There will also be exercises and insights that I can adapt, and still others that are right to set aside for a time until they align with what I’m doing and needing to do. One of the signal advantages of an Order is its span: many hands and hearts have sifted material I might never encounter on my own, and wiser heads than mine have added insights, caveats and encouragements that I might otherwise miss. The work of an Order is more compact, in valuable ways, than the work of a Solitary. It’s denser, richer in certain ways, brewed and spiced, aged and tempered, refined and mellowed, sharpened and lit.

It also vibrates on a harmonic that reaches others attuned to it. Doing the rituals, passing through the initiations, studying and reflecting on and trying out the coursework, meeting others doing the same things, all bring me into a greater circle I discover I need, no matter how solitary I am — and need to be — most of the time. The choice, as it so often does, arises from the richness of both-and, not either-or. I find that I come not to a fork in the path, but the path itself opening out, for a time, into a meadow. Beyond is vista: mountains, maybe, or valleys shining with silver rivers, towns bright with banners and laughter. Quests beckon, mysteries abound. It’s no surprise that a medieval landscape features in so many modern dreams and deeds, with both real danger and jewelled possibility a heartbeat or horse-ride away. Just over the next hill, or back at the castle, down a corridor we never knew was there.

In the West we pursue ever more isolated and internal lives, busy too often with busy-ness itself, all the while crying out for the gifts of community we simultaneously keep turning away from: connection, fellowship, camaraderie, friendship, shared interests and inspirations, shared suffering and joy. Well-founded community sees that spark of individuality restored to a healthy place, one that does not render me less able to connect, but more; one that honors my need to withdraw at times, even as I also need to open to others; one that sweeps me out of indifference toward engagement with the struggles of others anywhere, who turn out to be surprisingly like me after all. We be of one blood, ye and I.

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first fire, a few days ago

Along with Groucho Marx, many of us may have grumbled some version of I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as members. And knowing ourselves as we do, maybe we’re right to say that. On our off days, we’re off on ourselves as much as anyone else. Hamlet’s our doppelganger, midwife to angst and depression and self-accusation: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do, crawling between earth and heaven?

Somehow “joining an Order” just doesn’t seem like any kind of sane response to that question, but more like the absolute last thing I would choose. Isn’t there a twilit bar or pub nearby where I can hide and drown my sorrows?

And certainly Orders aren’t any kind of cure-all or panacea. As human institutions, they’re potentially beset with all the human foibles we know so well in ourselves. Personalities clash, dreams backfire and scorch, visions implode, egos lunge and stab. We peer around at the wreckage, bandage the worst of our wounds, and vow: never again.

But Orders can also launch us toward the heights that we know or dream of, or — if we’re particularly cynical right now — doubt are possible at all: they focus and help to nourish the deepest hungers in us, beyond food or sex. In the connections they aid us in making, we touch on something that lifts us out of ourselves, we’re part of that never-ending story our best dreamers keep singing about to us, and painting, and weaving, and nudging us to explore.

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