Archive for July 2019

Working the Tool-kit: Part 1   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

I mention “spiritual tools” a lot here, and since my wife recently organized, according to her own criteria, my basement hand-tools as she searched for the particular item she needed in the disarray that table-top had become, I’m minded to do the same here. Every tool-kit accumulates items seldom-used, well-worn, taking up space, or simply unidentifiable. Even more so, if it’s a spiritual tool-kit. Add to that the spare parts, left-over washers, bolts, rods, screws, assembly wrenches and bent nails, broken drill-bits and reminders-to-replace-by-holding-on-to-the-old-item-until-you-do.

Tool-kits are often idiosyncratic, at least partly inherited, and with at least some overlap and mismatch, similar to metric-imperial conversion. Beliefs about a tool’s suitability, applicability or even legitimacy can dog the tool-kit user. And each of us makes use of some things no one else might consider — or be able to use as — a tool.

What do I mean by, and what do I include among, my “spiritual tools”? Why do they belong in my kit? How do I know which ones to use, and when? Wow, you’re asking some good questions today! (That’s how it can feel, when you’ve been blogging a while.)

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pine slope, Mt. Ascutney State Park

Divination, prayer, fasting, trance and other non-ordinary consciousness work, ritual, magic, chant, sacred names and words, writing/recording/journaling, drumming and rhythmic inputs. Dreamwork, visualization, herbs, yoga and similar practices, meditation and contemplation, dance and sacred movement, mandala and sacred images. But also rehearsal, repetition, expectation, staging, music, group consciousness, affirmations, pilgrimage, non-human allies, earth energies and power sites, crystals and other helpers. Quite an assemblage of items. And probably still a few missing from the list.

Though some tools have gone in and out of fashion over time and in different cultures, and some have been intermittently mocked, proscribed, and even feared as the domain and practice of “evil forces”, however understood, by some religious and spiritual groups, nearly all of them have also been in use at some point in virtually every spiritual tradition on the planet. And rightly so — they’ve proven their value and efficacy countless times over millennia. Some even have “approved” and “non-approved” versions in particular traditions, depending on their perceived origins or source of their energies. It can be useful here to contemplate a powerful question old enough it has an ancient Latin version: cui bono? — who benefits from such official approval, and disapproval? Who may use which tools, when, and why?

Because spiritual tools reflect the complexities and blending of states of human consciousness and awareness — that we shift from one state of consciousness to others all day long, generally without being aware of it, or doing so consciously; that we have often unconscious, preferred states; and that we often confuse states with each other, and insist we’re in one even as we’re in another — it can be helpful to examine spiritual tools according to the part that each of the Elements plays in their make-up and use.

Consider this, then, a first approach to a very large topic!

EARTH

Tools which have an Earth component don’t forget the body. Many of the great world religions attempt to leave the body behind: forms of yoga and prayer which aim at stilling the body so one can attend to inner worlds; ascetic practices to dull or smother physical demands for food, sex and sensual stimulation; social rules to curtail sexual activity outside prescribed forms and relationships in order to maximize closely-defined forms of purity or dedication, and so on.

One of the potential strengths of Pagan practice is its acknowledgment of what the body can contribute to a spiritual path: we’ve barely begun to plumb our instincts, inherited DNA and animal wisdom. Even more, we sometimes resent the physical limitations that this “too too solid flesh” imposes on our lives, forgetting that part of the great magic of Earth is to hold results in one form long enough for us to understand what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Unlike the Astral plane, where things can quickly shift and dissolve again, Earth brings consequences back for us to look at over time — a superlative teacher, when this is the kind of training we need (and it is). Children start with wooden blocks, before they’re given the keys to the family car. As Shakespeare has Hamlet say about the theater, Earth is also vast stage that “holds the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure”.

Earth, in short, gives great feedback.

The body-as-Earth can be a wonderful ally, a base of operations, a means of connecting and offering and receiving animal comfort from others when no other connection is open to us. Our senses are exquisitely tuned to the vibrations of this planet, and Earth magic abounds every moment of our lives.

The body also needs care — it’s one of the first places we can learn and show responsibility. The body-as-Earth teaches us both how important and also how transient the physical world is, and through its pains and pleasures, it youth and aging, its limits and its possibilities, helps us distinguish between what the Anglo-Saxons called this “bone-house” (banhus) and the tenant who lives for a time in this bone-house. Lif is læne — earthly life is transitory, on loan. The body isn’t all of what we are by any means, though the apparent world may urge on us that limited perspective — because of the very groundedness of Earth.

But solidity and inertia also make of the body a ready shelter when we haven’t yet mastered the potent energies of emotion and thought. Wake from a nightmare, and it’s deeply comforting to re-enter this safe, solid physical body, feel your pounding heart slowly ease, and sense your adrenalin step down, step down, back to normal. Sleep, rest, relaxation or vigorous exercise can all ground us quite effectively, as does a heavy meal — they give the body its due. That it has a due, that the body makes claims we might wisely acknowledge among other Elemental claims, leads to Part 2 — Air.

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The Feasts of Lugh   Leave a comment

Our Vermont seed group, the Well of Segais, met for Lunasa yesterday at Mt. Ascutney State Park. And Down Under, it’s Imbolc, the feast of Brighid — a parallel deserving meditation on its linkages and subtle connections.

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Ascutney summit parking lot — looking south

The haze of August already lies on our hills. Here’s a shot from the car as I drove north along Rt. 91 toward the park. In a state of so many hills and higher peaks, Ascutney doesn’t immediately claim particular status. (At 3130 feet/954 meters, it’s the second-highest peak in our county.) But begin the ascent to the summit, and if the pitch of the climb doesn’t clue you in, you pass into cooler air about halfway up — a most welcome change in the heat of the last several weeks.

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We held a quiet, meditative ritual in what has become our favorite location, in a grove next to a pavilion overlooking a valley to the north. A couple arrived midway through our ritual, and settled into the pavilion to talk quietly, just as we were saying “each person here is a blessing”.

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Lugh swims into my awareness this time of year, around his harvest festival — I honor him as I would a majestic tree. “Believe” in Lugh? Standing under the branches of a tree, belief in that tree is a strange thing to concern oneself with. Instead, I prefer to inhale the scents of the grove around me, noting the evergreen cones on the ground, feeling the shade against the summer sun, hearing the birds in the branches.

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A sometimes-frantic concern with what one believes, or should believe, belongs to other paths — it needn’t trouble Druids, unless they find value in it. There is much more to explore that meets us halfway, rather than folding our thought into shapes that may or may not have any connection to what is already all around us, shapes prescribed by those who came before us, because they arose from their lives, experiences which need to be tested, along with other such legacies, for their applicability to us today.

The “apparent world fades”, whispers the ritual. “With the blessings of earth, sea and sky”,  we “cast aside all disturbing thoughts” and attend more carefully and lovingly to what is going on all around us. (Billboards proclaim, “God is still speaking”. Druids strive to keep listening.)

Belief can be a useful tool, and indeed it does shape our experiences, along with much else. But it is so often subject to change, to distortion, and to incomplete knowledge — as exhibit A, witness the political landscapes these days in so many nations. Wisdom, though harder to gain, has proven more trustworthy as an aid to living my life. (Discerning the difference between them, and living from it — ah, there’s a journey worth anyone’s dedication. Let’s meet there!)

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What Lugh has to say to me, or I to him, may manifest in ritual, or before, or afterward, in my interactions with those I celebrate with, meet at the park entrance, on the road, at the gas station on the way home. Meanwhile, festival communion is our ritual, a priming for honing the attention, for honoring the day and its gifts and our lives.

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Steps on .7 mile/1100 meter footpath to the Ascutney summit

In Vermont, Mt. Ascutney seems a fitting place to honor Lugh and his festival, a place of heights and vistas, a place of green quiet and perspectives, in keeping with his attributes as a storm god and warrior, with links to Mercury and Apollo.

Lugh “has several magical possessions,” notes the Wikipedia entry. “He wields an unstoppable fiery spear, a sling stone, and a hound named Failinis. He is said to have invented fidchell (a Gaelic equivalent of chess), ball games, and horse racing”. His Welsh counterpart is Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the “fair-haired one with the skillful hand”. In Welsh tradition, from his mother Arianrhod he receives a tynged, the Welsh equivalent of a geis, an obligation or prohibition, a taboo linked to one’s destiny. His story, along with Blodeuwedd, comprises the second and third branches of the Mabinogi.

All these details suggest directions for possible Lunasa rituals and activities.

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I arrived early before our ritual gathering, partly to check on locations and partly to re-visit the “sleeping dragon” stone along the footpath to the summit.

dragonstone

True, without that near-horizontal gouge suggesting a closed eye, the stone might not evoke the name I give it. But as far as I can tell, the gouge is natural, a result of the stones tumbling about each other that make up the summit and its paths.

Below is the “slab” indicated by the sign above — the camera foreshortens the dimensions of the sheet of broken stone that extends over 100 feet/30 meters up the mountain.

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Sometimes a place with dimensions of its own, not immediately convenient for humans, is a helpful reminder and subject of meditation. The slab, like the slot, requires effort to navigate successfully.

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I’ll close with this meditation, plain water after the potent mead of ritual. VT poet Charles Butterfield writes in his poem “Matins” of the natural world:

it is enough to know
here is something
that does not require
your presence
but of which nevertheless
your presence is a part.

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Magic, For and Against — A Follow-up   Leave a comment

I’m looking more closely at some spiritual criteria I mentioned in the previous post. First, I’ll repeat the quotation I want to dig into and expand on, from my own experience. J. M. Greer notes:

… 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).

This profound observation, I asserted, rewards extended meditation and experimentation. It lays out its claims in clear terms.

Of course, if I’ve never accessed the Depth, I can’t say much of value about it either way. Fortunately, all of us do access the Depth, and we do so with considerable regularity — in dreams, if in no other way.

I capitalize Depth, because my working hypothesis, shaped over decades of creative writing, teaching, and sometimes humbling spiritual experience, is that the “Depth” Greer’s talking about is the same “Deep” that Taliesin names when he chants “The Awen I sing, from the Deep I bring it”.

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Northampton, MA weaving show, July ’19

[T]he depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough. The creativity all of us have accessed at some point in our lives — the hunch that pays off, the gut instinct, the inner voice, the Song that will not let us go till we bring more of it into our lives — is evidence, to me anyway, that the Deep is also striving to make contact with us. Or to put it in the 60s terms of Leonard Cohen’s poem, God(dess) is alive, magic is afoot. Magic is alive, god(dess) is afoot.

And here are the four questions I asked myself, also from the previous post:

(1) Is this true in my life right now?

Absolutely. Every time I sit for contemplation, every time the “apparent world” recedes even a little, I sense and rediscover yet again the difference between the surface and the depth. I may not always be able to “bring from the Deep” what I need in the moment, at least consciously, but the effort to approach the shore, stand at the water’s edge, even just to get my toes wet, adds to the reservoir, strengthens the links I’ve been building to the Deep. It also increases the number of access points available to me to experience such things again.

But skip a period of contemplation and I’m subtly off my game for that day. I tense up driving on the interstate, I’m less patient with other drivers as well as myself — I “drive stupid” — and options also start closing off when I face any kind of obstacle, challenge, delay, barrier, whether it’s a stretch of road work slow-down, and I’m already late for an appointment, or it’s a project where listening is the largest part of my task, tuning in to what matters, being my best self, catching the wave.

But even the act of regaining lost ground, after eventually catching myself in such situations, can be a blessing. The return just feels so damn good. It keeps me alert, widens the path a little more, restores me to gratitude again. (Will I forget, ignore, deny the need, the hints, to stay open and connected? Probably, though that feels unutterably foolish right then.)

To say it another way, it re-opens magical doors I shut myself.

In Greer’s words, you cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others. You can, if it clarifies things for you, replace “magical” with “positive”. And if you think positive changes in others don’t have ripple effects on everyone they come in contact with, you just haven’t been paying attention. Sometimes you have been that person for others. And sometimes they’ve told you so.

We’re each a tributary to the Deep for others.

(2) In what ways?

That’s such a curious question to answer. Over time, I begin to wonder in what ways not?

To give a kind of answer advertisers would hone in on, If I’m balanced, positive, listening to my partner, sex is often better. More widely, I find I more often choose foods I need, rather than merely what tastes good. I sleep better. With more energy, I feel more like exercising, which feeds into the whole loop. I’m more fun to be around. I dream more interestingly, I create more magically. More little things go right. (I don’t have to mash a finger while hammering nails, or gash myself slicing vegetables.) The world doesn’t have to knock at a closed consciousness to bring (shock?) me back to harmony with it.

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Northampton, MA weaving show, July ’19

(3) How often have I reached any kind of depth in my own consciousness? How did I do that?

I stepped away to listen to a phone message that turned out to be from a telemarketer, deleted it, and came back, thinking for about half an hour as I try to answer this question.

We love to label — it’s a prime way to make sense of a crazy world — though we also resent others’ haphazard labels applied to us. If I label, and count up the “most memorable” experiences of depth — which aren’t always the most profound, sometimes just the most flashy and attention-grabbing — how many more worthy instances have faded from memory? — I’d certainly include these from the first half of my life, ones I still recall:

I’m 6, and I realize I have a recurring dream of falling into water and drowning. The dream doesn’t come every night, but it’s certainly familiar. I can only relax, and finally fall asleep, if I let myself stop struggling. I’m both dying, and watching myself die. It was so strange. I never told anyone till decades later.

I’m 8, and see a wind-spirit in a field. I have almost no reaction at the time, only later. It is so outside my experience till then that I have no way to understand it. Only to remember it.

At 11, in late November, I’m crying beside my father’s unconscious body by the side of our farm road, after a speeding car had struck him. The walls of my world shift.

At 15, bringing in our herd of cows for evening milking, I have a vision of a girl I know, and yearn to reconnect with somehow, though I’ve never met her in this life. What does that even mean? I didn’t know.

I’m 19, and I’ve just receive the letter that alerts me to prepare for initiation onto the other spiritual path I practice. I sit alone for hours, hearing … what is it? I’m so lifted out of myself.

I’m 20, and one weekend a late-night discussion with a dorm-mate who is psychic leads to him bringing me with him onto the lower astral plane. I still don’t know how, though suggestion and night-time consciousness play their parts, surely. I see beings that normally inhabit only nightmares. I am fully awake, and can’t sleep for hours after that.

At 21, when I have an out-of-body experience while dancing with an order of Helveti-Jerrahi dervishes visiting the University of Rochester campus.

At 24, when I encounter a goddess in a grove near my father’s new farm in western New York state. She towers over me. What does she want — if anything? I’ve been wandering outdoors all day.

I’m struck as I excavate memory that while some of these experiences of non-ordinary consciousness are in some senses unsolicited, in that I wasn’t specifically working to enter them, each nevertheless has a setting, a stage for the experience, a state of consciousness prepared for wider possibilities than are customary with us. And that, from the perspective of today, seems in large part their purpose, or their impact, anyway: to signal that “wider possibilities than are customary with us” are possible.

The “hows” of many of my later experiences are more conscious. I’d taken on a spiritual practice by then. They are, as far as I can determine, also more shaped or comprehensible in terms of those practices — the practices themselves provide a frame or context to understand what the practices have catalyzed in consciousness.

(4) And what lasting changes have I brought about when I did so?

This is another question that really deserves my extended reflection over time. One of the most interesting changes I’ll note right now is increased elasticity: what this universe can do seems limitless, or at least my consciousness of that is greatly broadened, which is much the same thing. The context, the intent, the need and the available imaginative or magical reservoir make all the difference in what actually happens.

Another change is a sense of profound spiritual purpose. I know I got stuff to do, but I’m also being used for tasks and larger goals I often don’t know about until later, if at all. In Druid-Christian terms, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). This insight and the purposes, I’d assert, are both larger, and simply apply far more comprehensively, than most of us are prepared to accept.

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Magic, For and Against (D.F.B.V.R.)   Leave a comment

[A Follow-up]

If you happened to notice a couple of recent comments (or not), you know that people are looking for help of all kinds, and sometimes reach out for specifically magical aid.

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In this post I want look again at how I view and use magic, because such scrutiny is useful most of all to me, in order to clarify for myself what in the world it is I think I’m doing. And maybe secondarily such introspection will be useful to you, too, if you’re looking at your own practices and beliefs. It’s useful to have something to push against.

I’ve written about magic in numerous posts (for instance, here), and also on a main page. Much of my practice rests on whatever builds up spiritual stamina and a positive vibration over time, which I’ve found is one of the best uses of magic as a long-term “tool for living”. Such a practice lends itself to uncovering creative solutions, keeping the awareness open and flexible and curious (which is a major reason I urge a regular practice on you, my readers).

It’s also a radical act in this time of fear and emotional manipulation on all sides.

As a fix for specific trouble, without that accumulating magical pool to draw from, I find magic less helpful. Or to change metaphors, if I keep the battery charged, its energy stands ready at need. Without that reserve, though, I’m often better off with other tools. If I’ve neglected to maintain my reservoir as best I can, I don’t need to beat myself up about it. I do need to turn to other strategies, however, to deal with the matter at hand. Then perhaps I can take the broad hint of my life experience and attend to replenishing my spiritual account. This goes double if I’m helping others.

Some practitioners are skilled at assisting others through magical means without both taking on karma and also not accomplishing what they originally set out to do, which is offering assistance. As the person making the request notes, the issue is sensitive. So carelessly-handled energy, however abundant, isn’t what’s called for. Who pours water on an oil fire?

As J. M. Greer notes, with the wisdom of earned experience:

… 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).

This profound observation rewards extended meditation and experimentation. It lays out its claims in clear terms. Is it true in my life right now? In what ways? How often have I reached any kind of depth in my own consciousness? How did I do that? And what lasting changes have I brought about when I did so? The terms Greer sets forth aren’t merely subjects for debate or argumentation, but of demonstration and proof. Ultimately they aren’t merely matters of opinion, however much we may think everything is these days.

(What good is my opinion, if it’s ill-founded or useless? But it’s mine! counts for very little, when trouble has laid waste to my life. Come the earthquake, flood, conflagration or tornado, inward or outward, and I have bigger things to worry about than my opinion.)

Until I can answer those questions to my own satisfaction, and also give an account of them to anyone who may ask me for help, I have no right to pretend I can help. (Your mileage, as they say, may differ.)

So what good is your “magic”, if it can’t help others? I can hear some of you asking.

It can help others. But it’s decidedly not M.O.D., “Magic On Demand”.

I need to meet the other person, to sound out their concerns and situation, before I barge into it, waving my possibly awesome magical tools. A second or even third sounding isn’t out of order. True, the law of love trumps all other spiritual laws. If I’m acting out of love, for the good of the whole, most of my actions will be right.

Most?! I now hear some of you say. Well, there are no guarantees. At least, not in the cosmos as I know it. You may live in a different one.

One of the most powerful magical tools in such situations is the use of blessing. Before I rally vast forces, brandish my mighty arsenal, and strike down imagined enemies, my own or someone else’s, let me bless the situation first. More than the elemental weapons at my command (and they are real, though they mostly operate on non-physical planes), let me begin — and end — in love.

(There’s possibly even a good reason why a certain well-known god recommends this spiritual tool above all: it’s simply the best — the most potent, and with the least blowback. The Galilean Master says, “But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone takes your cloak, do not withhold your tunic as well” (Luke 6:27-29, Berean Study Bible). Hint: he’s not taking a passivist approach. He’s not even necessarily indulging in the hyperbole he frequently deploys to underline his point. He’s offering a powerful spiritual technique. Not the sole technique, but a very good place to start. “Love casts out fear”, the most potent magic worked against us — today as much as ever.)

Blessing is one way to fast from ego. Bingo!! says my spiritual crap detector. A truth I can use right now.

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Warning — SPOILER ALERT!! — the season-finale fan-made clip below from the Netflix series A Discovery of Witches shows the heroine Diana turning to elemental weapons at need. We may well use them on the astral plane, and the results may indeed be as pyrotechnic there as CGI renders them here.

But they also come with CAUTION labels. And we need to know these first, if we want to come out of the situation whole, and in a better position than when we started. If you don’t believe me, well, go find out for yourself. Then you’ll know. As I’ve said, it’s not a matter of opinion but of demonstration. Get proof — accept no substitutes.

(If you want to see Diana’s fire-bow and arrow in action, fast forward to around the 2:20 mark.)

One of my take-aways: what a powerful visualization Diana’s firebow is for dispelling limiting mental constructs! Try it out, especially if you’re a visual person!

To sum up, here’s my magical process in such situations. Discern. Fast. Bless. Visualize. Repeat as needed. D.F.B.V.R.

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IMAGE: Clouds https://www.pexels.com/photo/down-angle-photography-of-red-clouds-and-blue-sky-844297.

Leaning Towards Lunasa   Leave a comment

hostlil

colors of Lunasa

In New England after the Solstice you feel the change: summer has — finally — settled in. No more chance of frost, it’s safe to leave the screened windows open at night for a breeze, and the fireflies are wrapping up their brilliant night-time light-shows.

We’re about three weeks away from the next of the “Great Eight” seasonal festivals. Even the name Lu(gh)nasa(sh) can feel like high summer — it drops the unnecessary weight of extra clothing (or letters in this case, with the Irish spelling reform around the middle of the last century). One advantage of the older spelling, of course, is its reminder of the god Lugh associated with the day — the name means the Assembly of Lugh.

The Celtic group Lunasa gains from its name as a celebration, a demonstration of excellence that was part of the original festival’s funeral games and competitions. The god Lugh mourned the death of his mother Tailtiu, and so established the Tailteann Games in her honor and memory. Historically the festival also celebrated the first fruits of the harvest — it’s the first of three harvest events, moving through the Autumn Equinox and concluding at Samhain.

You can find some of my previous posts on Lunasa here: 26 July ’18 “Fog-weaving with Lugh”| 23 Aug. ’17 including Dennis King’s Poem “Grace”| 5 Aug. ’17 on a small rite for Lunasa | 1 Aug ’13 including my poem “Assembly of Lugh”.

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Tree Prayer   4 comments

Tree Prayer

Oak, shade my path. I welcome your wisdom.
Birch, green my way. I call on your courage.
Hemlock, heal my heart. I fast under your foliage.
Pine, scent my dreaming. I gather your gifts.

Tree companions all, I seek the shelter of your boughs.
May my days make return for your abundance.

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I’m still working on and tweaking and listening to this prayer, as I say it out under the trees. I suspect we’re composing it together.

I invite you to try out this prayer — really out — outdoors, and to post your experiences, revisions, smoother versions, and so on.

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