Archive for November 2018

Expanding — and Focusing — Our Magic   Leave a comment

[Part One | Part Two]

In a recent comment, Steve writes:

A broader definition of magic sounds interesting, especially when compared with some of the ideas about it I have encountered over the years.

Do you have a working definition you could share or is this something you have developed in your blog?

I do have a working definition of magic, and I’ve also written about it in various forms fairly frequently, though not always under that label. But it’s good to regularly take out opinions and understandings, dust them off, rattle them, note what shakes free, scrape off the rust, and buff and polish the rest. So with the spur that Steve’s comment provides, that’s what I’ll do in this post.

Yevgeny-zamyatin

Yevgeny Zamyatin / Wikipedia / public domain

Our definitions come, mostly, after experiences. Before that, we don’t have much to attach them to, and if anyone who’s reading this is anything like me, your definitions at that point may not match things that you later DO experience. So then we get mired in the mismatch, rather than referring back to the original experience. Or — even better than looking backward — experiencing more, other, wilder. So I open up once again a page where I can re-read irascible old revolutionary Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937), whose essay “On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters” reminds me: “Dealing with answered questions is the privilege of brains constructed like a cow’s stomach, which, as we know, is built to digest cud”.

“Privilege”? Tired of a too-steady diet of cud, I aim to forage more widely.

So I’ll begin by asserting we all practice magic, and work outward from there, using this as a core assumption and seeing how it holds up. We do much of our magic half-consciously, so that we often don’t perceive the patterns, causes and effects of what we set in motion as clearly as we might. After all, like most of us, I insist on who I am: in my case, straight, white, male, employed, married, healthy, intelligent, rational. But when even one of these breaks down, as every one of them has for at least some of us over a lifetime, my world trembles violently, even if it doesn’t collapse outright, and I scurry and latch on to explanations for what’s going on.

Isn’t such an interval about the least likely time for any of us to notice the patterns, causes and effects of what we’ve set in motion? And even if and when we do, we tend to account for them only with naturalistic explanations (Pagans may add supernatural but not necessarily more accurate ones), including blaming other people, fatigue, stress, illness, the government, conspiracies, the Man, our reptilian overlords, a loveless marriage, plain bad luck, and so on, forgetting how much even of our conscious experience at the very moment of our explaining has been programmed by education, habit, expectation, culture, practice, a “reasonable explanation”, and a simple, overriding human desire not … to … be … weird.

magic

But … magic?!

At the heart of this often-inaccurate accounting is a precept that disturbs and offends Westerners in particular, taught as we are that we are free and independent beings, with wills and choices subject to our conscious attention. We are not so free after all, but if we can’t even examine this assertion in the first place, what are we to do? If we all practice magic, as I claim, we all need to, because as musician and mage R. J. Stewart observes:

With each phase of culture in history, the locks upon our consciousness have changed their form or expression, but in essence remain the same. Certain locks are contrived from willed patterns of suppression, control, propaganda, sexual stereotyping, religious dogma; these combine with and reinforce the old familiar locks restraining individual awareness; laziness, greed, self-interest, and, most pernicious of all, willful ignorance. This last negative quality is the most difficult of all to transform into a positive; if we truly will ourselves to be ignorant, and most of us do in ways ranging from the most trivial to the most appallingly irresponsible and culpable, then the transformation comes only through bitter experience. It may seem to be hardship imposed from without, almost at random, but magical tradition suggests that it flows from our own deepest levels of energy, which, denied valid expression by the locks upon our consciousness, find an outlet through exterior cause and effect (Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 20-21).

“[D]enied valid expression by the locks upon our consciousness”: we might think such a “locked-up” person simply needs re-education, or better training, maybe positive reinforcement, a decent opportunity. (I note here that it’s almost always some other person who’s the problem, or needs the help — never me. After all, I’m awake and in charge of my life.) This is also where we get much of the American program of self-improvement, “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps”, as it used to be called. Those who can afford it try therapy, or weekend retreats and workshops. Those who can’t may rely on pharmaceuticals or liquor or increasingly available weed. As the evidence mounts, as the growing dysfunction, suffering, addiction, unhappiness and all-around misery attest, something’s not working.

So why magic, of all things? Surely any number of other options would be preferable to something so half-baked, superstitious, irrational, etc., etc. — the list of slanders, some of them justified by pernicious snake-oil salesmen, is long.

J. M. Greer, ecologist, blogger, conservationist and mage, puts it this way:

[t]he tools of magic are useful because most of the factors that shape human awareness are not immediately accessible to the conscious mind; they operate at levels below the one where our ordinary thinking, feeling, and willing take place. The mystery schools have long taught that consciousness has a surface and a depth. The surface is accessible to each of us, but the depth is not. To cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others, the depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough (J. M. Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Weiser Books, 2012, pg. 88).

To put it another way, in what is not a particularly poetic magical Druid triad: Magic stems from an experiential fact, an experimental goal, and an endlessly adaptable technique.

The fact is that each day we all experience many differing states of consciousness, moving from deep sleep to REM sleep to dream to waking, to daydream, to focused awareness and back again.  We make these transitions naturally and usually effortlessly. They serve different purposes, and what we cannot do in one state, we can often do easily in another.  The flying dream is not the focus on making a hole in one, nor is it the light trance of daydream, nor the careful math calculation. What we do mechanically and often without awareness, we can learn to do consciously.

The goal of magic is transformation – to enter focused states of awareness at will and through them to achieve insight and change. Often, for me anyway, this is nothing more mysterious than moving out of a negative, depressed or angry headspace at will into a more free, imaginative one, where I can problem-solve much more effectively, and also be much more pleasant to be around. Or so my wife tells me.

“The major premise of magic,” says R. J. Stewart, “is that there are many worlds, and that the transformations which occur within the magician enable him or her to gain access to these worlds” (R. J. Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 7).

The technique — a cluster, really, of practices and techniques — is the training and work of the imagination.  This work typically involves the use of one or more of the following: ritual, meditation, chant, visualization, concentration, props, images and group dynamics to catalyze transformations in awareness. “… [O]ur imagination is our powerhouse …” says Stewart. “… certain images tap into the deeper levels of imaginative force within us; when these are combined with archetypal patterns they may have a permanent transformative effect”.

Ouroboros-benzene.svgEven mundanely, golfers visualize a hole in one, carpenters see the finished design long before it emerges from the blueprint, chemists rely as much on inspiration as any artist for discoveries like that of August Kekule, who dreamt of the structure of the benzene ring via the archetypical image of a snake swallowing its tail.

Furnish the imagination with the food it needs, and it can be a powerful tool and guide. Abandon it to others who do not know us, nor have our best interests at heart, and we cast away our birthright.

PART TWO — Applications — coming soon.

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(Re-)Huttonizing our Sensibilities   3 comments

NOTE: Normally I steer clear of politics, not because current events are insignificant, but because too often they’re already sufficiently chaotic and jangling in themselves to sway us from a focus on things of our own wiser choosing — things we need to hold in our loving attention, if we’re to transform ourselves first. This is indeed the only method I’ve found, over decades of living, to effect lasting and positive change in anything else. Of course, your mileage may vary.

In addition, often we know more down the road from an incident. Immediate commentary is frequently premature: we simply don’t have the overview and detail we need to make an informed assessment. Yes, we have freedom of opinion; no, not all opinions are equal — like everyone else, I’m free to be an idiot, or to act with discipline, love and wisdom. (Most of the time I arrive somewhere in between.) Political and cultural analysis isn’t my forte.

A year from now, it’s guaranteed some other event will have kindled outrage in at least some quarters.

However, silence can be assent. So if I raise an issue, you’ll know what you want to do with it.

With that said, therefore, if you’re seeking upbeat post-Thanksgiving reading, you won’t find it in this post. Instead, save it for some other time, or not all. OK — you’ve been warned.

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British author and religious scholar Ronald Hutton, no stranger in Pagan circles, sets forth an admirable and down-to-earth “mission statement” for Pagan groups. In a December 2016 interview called “Reframing Modern Paganism” with Pagan Dawn magazine, Hutton observes,

For those in traditions which stress group work, training, initiating, supporting and coordinating is vital. The end product should be people who are decent to others in the group, as to humans in general, good communicators and effective ritualists, loyal to their fellow initiates and their tradition. They are the best advertisements for that tradition. Any Pagan who wins the respect of non-Pagan neighbours and fellows in a workplace, as a person, and then informs them of her or his beliefs, is doing invaluable work to gain regard for those beliefs.

While Paganism and Druidry certainly have their share of colorful characters who often seem at least subconsciously to resist any movement towards normalization, Hutton adds:

Pagans don’t squabble as much now as they used to do, at least in Britain. In my opinion Doreen Valiente – with whom I had a very strong mutual respect and affection – got it right at the beginning, in the 1950s, by recommending that Pagans spread knowledge of their tradition by writing attractive books about it (nowadays, we would add websites and social media), avoiding journalists and publicity stunts. Also important is a sustained, effective Pagan presence at interfaith meetings, cultural events and demonstrations concerning environmental issues.

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The wise counsel Hutton gives above unfortunately flatlines in the face of events like the Saturday, October 20 hexing of U.S. Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh in a Brooklyn bookstore. Whatever our politics, we cannot honestly characterize this as a “sustained, effective Pagan presence”.

Event organizer Dakota Bracciale told Newsweek, “If [the hex] causes suffering and harm and trouble and chaos and mayhem for anyone in the GOP, I’m happy”.

The hex, according to another article in the Independent, was “livestreamed on Facebook and Instagram on Saturday” October 20.

Huffington Post notes, “Kavanaugh will apparently be a focal point for the hex, but not the only target. The public hex is meant to exact revenge on ‘all rapists and the patriarchy at large which emboldens, rewards and protects them,’ a Facebook page dedicated to the event states”.

Part of the ritual intent was to provoke and anger those on the right. The brief flurry of sensationalistic reporting from a number of news outlets made this possibly the most successful aspect of the ritual.

Bracciale conceded, “I don’t for a second shelter a hope within me that he [Kavanaugh] would ever have some change of heart and become a human being”.

In  what must be one of the more remarkable assertions of brash naivete and dubious publicity, “If you put it out there, then it’ll happen”, another participant said. “If you watch Oprah, then you know how to do witchcraft”.

Bracciale apparently proclaimed at one point during the ritual, “I will have my justice even if I have to face your jealous God, look Him in his eye and walk backward into Hell”.

The Mercury News recounts how San Jose exorcist and Catholic priest Fr. Gary Thomas offered masses to counter-act the hex. “This is a conjuring of evil — not about free speech”, noted Father Thomas.

Protestors outside the bookstore offered prayers and chants during the ritual. Presumably that also qualifies as “putting it out there” — the fighting of “ritual fire” with fire.

Reuters provided the most nuanced and objective comment:

The planned casting of an anti-Kavanaugh spell, one of the more striking instances of politically disgruntled Americans turning to the supernatural when frustrated by democracy, has drawn backlash from some Christian groups but support from like-minded witch covens.

By the sound of most reports, we can probably call the whole thing a draw. Like two competing cheer squads at an athletic event, whoever offers up more energy may help tip the scales slightly one way or the other, though usually without supplying a defining element of victory or defeat. Strength of intent, however, doesn’t equate to “justice”, or this would be a very different world.

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Bracciale reportedly announced a secondary goal for the event: “If [attendees] come in beat up and leave with a renewed hope and a fire in their belly then I’ll know I did my job”.

Though it mostly got lost in the psychic noise around the event, here is a much more positive ritual goal anyone can set for themselves. Rituals that purge us of unproductive emotion have their place, freeing us for more clearly-defined action that can make a bigger difference. As a small example, after my first serious girlfriend broke up with me when I was in my twenties, I burned her picture — a common ritual many do at some point — and dumped a lot of anger into the flames, because I no longer wanted it. I certainly felt better afterward. With much of my anger out of the way, within a year I was freer to move into a relationship that has become a successful marriage.

If such uplift comes at cost to another, I need to examine my motives and priorities. Given the nature of magic, with dark workings any spear I choose to cast must pass through me first to reach and harm my enemy. That’s a cost few sane people are willing to pay. The mixed motives, ritual targets, sensationalism, scattering of focus, and admission of larger defeat permeating this recent hexing ritual simply do not model either best practices or beneficial outcomes for the greater good. We can understand and stand witness to the anger, bitterness and frustration of the hexing ritual participants without copying their methods.

We can do better.

Mending human relations has become even more challenging, and hence more necessary, at present. Not easy work — I can also testify to that firsthand. Frustrating, but worthwhile. I’ll close by reiterating Hutton’s words from the opening section:

The end product should be people who are decent to others in the group, as to humans in general, good communicators and effective ritualists, loyal to their fellow initiates and their tradition. They are the best advertisements for that tradition. Any Pagan who wins the respect of non-Pagan neighbours and fellows in a workplace, as a person, and then informs them of her or his beliefs, is doing invaluable work to gain regard for those beliefs.

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Invisible Essentials   Leave a comment

On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

“It’s only with the heart that you can see”, goes one rendering of these lines from St. Exupery’s classic The Little Prince. “Anything essential is invisible to the eyes”.

Still, you have to start somewhere. We all did, what with this being born thing, and with keeping the body together, in spite of maniacal drivers on the road, maniacal partisans in our politics, maniacal gremlins apparently in charge of both private and global destinies. Maybe the best reason for being a Druid is learning how to meet such magic with love, our oldest wizardry of all.

Without love in our lives, we die.

There’s a reason most of our popular songs talk about love. Good, bad, broken, ending, beginning, lost, found again. Sexual, Platonic, sentimental, confused, enduring, patriotic, familial, nostalgic. If it’s a Country song, there’s usually a pickup or whiskey or a gun in it. If it’s folk, there are often seven seas, or siblings, or signs, or at least a chorus everyone learns by the second go-round — the singer often demands we learn it. If it’s opera, there’s disguise and revelation, or an aria about, oh, I don’t know … buttons. But almost always it’s love that drives the story. Our story, after all.

The ways Druidry, like any worthy spiritual path, can lead us to contact love and bring more of it into our lives aren’t always made explicit, or even called “love” by name. But since too much of modern experience seems to focus on un-love between groups of people, and worst of all the un-love we direct towards ourselves, as the perennial experts in dark magic that we all are, it’s worth explicitly devoting a blogpost to this first invisible essential.

As with so many practices, I can only begin where I am. Remember, remember. Grow the love that already exists, and let it take up increasingly more space, till the extra spills over into other parts of my life, and then at length into other people’s lives, too. We all know people who are simply wonderful to be around. They give off love like sunlight. In their presence, there’s not just enough but plenty to spare. There’s a physics of love they’ve mastered, consciously or not: give it away so more can flow in. Like breathing, there’s a rhythm to it. It comes in, it goes out. Without this rhythm, we die. With it, we can inhabit our world and daily meet the possibility of loving someone and something in it better than we did yesterday. I start small because small things need love too. And because with love, there’s no such thing as size.

Romance gives us a glimpse of one kind of love in excess. Lovers often shimmer with it, their romantic love so strong you can feel it — even dense, non-psychic types like me pick up on it. There’s more than enough for them, so it spills over into the space around them, imparting to everything that giddy glamour we know if we’ve been there.

More mature love may not be quite so puppy-like, but that’s fine, too. We know people devoted to a craft or skill, or people who cook with love. They may not all be fabulous cooks, but you can taste the difference nonetheless. We know gardeners, pet-lovers, nature-lovers — the parade of lovers lengthens, with any luck, as you get older and tally up the encounters you’ve had with love of so many kinds. Druidry simply adds love of the green world to the pool of loves, and asks of us a practice to live more closely in harmony with this love and this world. Do what you do, and here are some tools to do it deeper and more powerfully and wondrously.

The particular form a practice takes, whether a daily walk (with or without dog), a morning or evening prayer, time feeling for a touchstone or seashell, piece of driftwood or stave picked up in a special place, that gem or animal fur or loved one’s cheek we caress, all let us bring some love into the physical world and ground it here, completing the circuit so more can flow in and out again.

Song, chant, ritual, poem, blessing, affirmation, or wordless love that kindles in the heart for this strange and marvelous planet, and all the other worlds we in-dwell: let our love come first in our hearts, guide, tool, weapon, defense against the dark, first and last resort, refuge, home, root, soul of every thing we cherish and hold dear. And more marvelous still, these things start to answer back, returning that love, building, if we only let it, the next step in our journeys, so that they may be joyful ones. And I wish this for you all.

IMG_2084

First major snowfall, 16 November 2018. Color photo, garbed in November’s hues.

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New Year, Old Year   Leave a comment

Around a fire into the evening on Tuesday, a delicious and quiet Samhain with three others. Before that, a lovely group Samhain of 40 last Friday in Western MA. And one more Samhain celebration to come, with our Vermont Seed Group on Saturday, in two days’ time.

A fine invocation for Thursday evenings of the Samhain season, in Caitlin Matthews Celtic Devotional:

As the Winter closes about our ears, and the wind blows chill, I call upon my soul’s teacher to show me the progress of the day. In the depths of doubt and uncertainty, may we always be shown the next step of the road.

And we are.

Three years ago on Samhain I wrote:

We stand at the eve of winter in the northern hemisphere, with the change to standard time in the U.S. to underline the shift and bring on darkness an hour earlier in the evening. The change proves useful, I find, to draw me out of private thoughts and back toward awareness of the planet beneath my feet and all around me, awareness too of all the kin who whisper and flap and caw and bark and write blogposts and sit across the table from me.

I’m called to fast, I’m summoned to be born. Ignore the call, and I suffer, goes the divination.

Celtic-Cross-Layout-240x300So I heed my own words and listen.

What does the Tarot say? With the classic 10-card Celtic Cross spread, I ask about the shape of the coming year. Here are the cards I drew, with fairly standard interpretations of the positions first.

1–The present. Also, the self, or the querent’s state of mind: King of Pentacles.

2–The crossing card, placed over the first card; the immediate influence, problem, challenge, etc.: Queen of Swords.

3–Destiny; in some spreads, placed above as the “crown” of past influences: Devil.

4–Distant past; or in some interpretations, the future — to the right: 5 of Swords.

5–Recent past, or conscious focus, above: 7 of Cups.

6–Future influence; or the unconscious, the underlying or the true driving force of a situation — below: 9 of Pentacles.

7–The querent; self-perceptions: 4 of Pentacles.

8–External influences: Knight of Wands.

9–Inner emotions, a tangle of fears and hopes: The Star.

10–Outcome or final result: The Moon.

Detailed Analysis:

kingpentI start with seeing the major arcana as the soul’s journey, and minor arcana as individual human lives. Here, both as my own physical incarnation and as a wider representation of earthly powers and princes, card 1 with the King of Pentacles is dominant. The Court cards may be interpreted as personalities, with the king as an older male, and pentacles concerned with resources. The challenge or immediate influence of card 2 is the Queen of Swords, a feminine influence or figure in thought. As a past influence or tendency toward destiny, card 3 with the Devil is immersion in materiality, often polarized as male and female, or dual in nature. It can also represent dark magic, against and by the self most of all. Numerically his Tarot number 15 reduces to 6, linking this card, and the Devil’s influence, both to the future and to the unconscious — no surprise.

The distant past (or future) of card 4 in the spread is the 5 of Swords, a mental sorting or balancing. This can lead to a crisis or challenge all its own, because — arising from a single element — it is incomplete. It presages the later Star of card 9.

7cupsThe recent past and conscious focus of card 5 is the 7 of Cups,  magic, spirituality, results, completion, mixed with or focused on emotion. The unconscious or true influence of card 6 is the 9 of Pentacles, a fixing, ending or culmination of resources. Card 7, self-perception, is the 4 of Pentacles, stability or security — again, of resources. The external influence of card 8, the Knight of Wands, is a younger personality or presence, more fiery and ambitious. Card 9, the card of hopes and fears, is the Star, deeply important on the other path I practice, and present in our proverbs and idioms as guiding star, north or pole-star, and also as dis-aster, ill-starred-ness. Its Tarot number 17 reduces to 8, and hence influences or pairs with card 8. The final outcome or result of all of this is the Moon, whose Tarot number 18 reduces to 9 and pairs with card 9: a strong linking of the last three cards.

Summation:

RWS_Tarot_18_MoonWith 3 of the 10 cards coming from Pentacles, resources and the physical world will be a prime focus of the year personally and for the planet. Balancing feminine energies to the mature male energies in play are an immediate aspect of the present and near future. Destiny and past influences at work, though not inevitable, are ones we have both initially set in motion and strengthened by our sharp focus on materiality. Our outer fixation on security and stability may feel reasonable, given such destabilizing forces at work. But while our hopes and dreams focused on these things are valid, pursuing them along a still-material path, even with a renewed youthful vigor, will not return us to what is stable and safe. Other directions we have recently begun to explore can prove more beneficial. We’ll see moon-like changes, darkness and light alternating in phases.

I’ll return to this in a year and see how I did.

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1074Once again I’ve set out on the remarkable journey that is Nanowrimo, churning on toward my first day’s word-count goal of 1666 words (50,000 words divided by the 30 days of November). Not too late to join us!

 

IMAGES: The original 1910 Rider-Waite deck is now in public domain in the U.S.; these images from that edition come from Wikipedia.

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