Archive for September 2019

Miscellanea, September 2019   2 comments

1) I’m working my way through Caitlin and John Matthews‘ recent (2019) The Lost Book of the Grail: The Sevenfold Path of the Grail and the Restoration of the Faery Accord. When I’m finished I’ll post a review here.

Perceval_à_la_recluserie

Perceval à la Recluserie/Perceval at the Hermitage, XV century. Wikipedia/public domain

The “lost book” of the title is 484 lines of Old French verse from the 1200s called “The Elucidation”, which has been mostly ignored by scholars, though it serves as prologue to the works of Chrétien de Troyes , the French trouvere or troubador who can be fairly said to have launched the Arthurian tradition. Caitlin Matthews and Gareth Knight include their new joint translation of “The Elucidation” in this book.

2) Pillbug, Part 9427

This section isn’t important. You’ve got better things to do. The content has been generated from statistics caused by a wormhole in social media. OK — you’ve been warned.

Why does a post from March 2017 that’s still received no likes in the more than two and half years since it was posted show a 5-month increase in readership? (Yes, I know such things are circular — some of you will now read it merely because I mention it here. I’m trying to minimize that source of views by making you look via the Search box if you really want to read it.)

Here’s one snapshot of the stats for the post that WordPress supplies to the numbers-obsessed:
Created with GIMP

I conclude one or more the following:

+ The post conceals a vital hidden meaning, or cosmic code, that I myself don’t recognize, but that perceptive readers have detected and are studying scrupulously.

+ The post has become a loathsome example of clickbait and you’re just pranking your friends to get them to visit it, laughing maniacally when another feedback loop like this post confirms your success.

+ You’re deeply bored.

3) Like many of you, I distinctly felt the shift around the Autumn Equinox as we continue to enter more fully into the dark half of the year (the bright half for everyone down under). Now is a time of turning inward and attending to rebalancing, harvest, composting, integration and dreaming. (Or renewal, seeding and taking root, augmenting, blossoming and vision.)

I work with an aging hospice patient who’s dedicated his professional life as a doctor and medical researcher to exploring, understanding and addressing the effects of the shifts in the earth’s magnetic field, daily, monthly and seasonally, on the seasonally-sensitive among us. And that includes a wide number of us, when we assemble changing energy levels, seasonal-affectivity and other mood disorders, people sensitive to electrical storms, neuro-degenerative illness, alcoholism, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, certain cancers, irritable bowel syndrome, residence at high latitudes, etc. One particular prescription he offers is to engage with “the meander” in all its forms: walking labyrinths, doing sacred pilgrimages, and attending to balanced meditative physical rhythms of many kinds (tai chi, etc.) to reset our internal harmonics.

4) Tarot reading this morning: hierophant (5), high priestess (2), moon (18). In the dark of the moon today, with a new moon this evening for the eastern U.S., that feels worth my attention on our sacred identities as mediators of holy energies, and the moon beginning a new cycle.

5) “Patience”, says my lectio divina for today, my holy devotions, “is the greatest discipline along the spiritual journey. By patience you can endure hardships, karmic burdens, slander, the pricks of disease and pain. Keep your focus on the goal, returning every time you swerve away”.

6) Some of my Pagan friends on social media have expressed deep delight in this over-the-top column from 26 Sept. 2019 in The Federalist, a strongly right-leaning publication. Headed by a close-up pic of climate activist Greta Thunberg, the article opens, “Climate Worship Is Nothing More Than Rebranded Paganism. We’re seeing sexualized dances, hallucinogens, worshiping nature, confessing sins in pagan animism, worshiping purified teen saints, all to promote a supposedly greater cause”.

“Where do I sign up?” wrote one of my friends.

“Ah, I’m finally starting to remember the Sixties!” wrote another.

“Aw, sh*t! I’ve been doing it wrong!” exclaimed a third.

7) In his poem “The Spoils of Annwfn” Taliesin writes:

Apart from seven, none came back up from Caer Siddi [an Underworld fortress].
I am one who is splendid in (making) fame: the song was heard
In the four-turreted fort, fully revolving.
It was concerning the cauldron that my first utterance was spoken:
It [i.e. the cauldron] was kindled by the breath of nine maidens.
The cauldron of the Chieftain of Annwfn: what is its faculty?
— Dark (ornament) and pearls around its rim–

One of several translators of the poem for a book published a little over a century ago observed that it is “one of the least intelligible of the mythological poems” (Charles Squire, “The Mythology of the British Islands”. London, 1905).

But sometimes ya just gotta run with what comes. I can always work it out later. Meanwhile, why strive to interrupt the awen as it flows, issuing from the Deep (one of the meanings of Annwfn) within us?

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Gods for the Ungodded — and Vice-versa   Leave a comment

With the pervasive influence of belief-religions like Christianity, Islam and Judaism on many of the readers of this blog, we tend to think of the dividing line between “who’s in” and “who’s out” as something marked by beliefwhen there are numerous other options available. It’s not just “paper or plastic?” There’s canvas bags, and boxes, and carry-it-out-in-my-hands-without-any-container-needed-thank-you, to name a few. And if we look over some of the terms available to describe this range of approaches and objects of our attention and intention — terms like atheist — they often bring way too many non-useful associations with them. Often atheist really isn’t a particularly useful term for many who just don’t bother with deity, as deity has never bothered with them. Hence the term ungodded in the title of this post, an awkward attempt to get at this phenomenon.

After all, orthodox Hindus aren’t normally labelled a-carnists, non-meat-eaters, though most are vegetarian. It’s simply their default setting. If I’ve never paid any particular attention to deity at all, I’m not so much an atheist as an alter-cosmist — I live in a different cosmos, where the question doesn’t arise, or hasn’t done so recently. At least until the door-to-door folks come calling with their pocket sermons and their flyers and leaflets and their “either you’re in or you’re out”-trips. Binarists, every one of ’em, devotees of a binary black-white, either-or world that ignores an immense and uncharted middle ground. Worshipers of Binaria, goddess of absolute distinctions in a world of shaded and subtle continuum inherent in almost everything.

Marduk_and_pet

Marduk and his dragon Mushkhushshu — public domain/Wikipedia

Or to take another tack, I don’t believe in my ancestors so much as understand they exist(ed), from the evidence of my own existence right now, though many of their names and faces are lost in time. (The same happens to gods. Marduk, son of Enki, anyone? Does your non-belief make you an a-Mardukist?! Or can we concur that most of us check the box marked N.A. — “not applicable”?)

Some ancestors contribute to my genes and bloodline directly, while the others subside into the background, distant cousins, every one of them. Imagine — and I mean imagine — that god/desses fill some of those same spaces. Powers that made and are making a difference, even though I never meet them directly. Imagine the cosmos filled with nothing else than cousins. My counterpart in Azerbaijan gets along perfectly well without my knowledge or belief, and he’s a mortal man. What of god/desses? Can’t they do at least as much?

“Oh brave new world, that has such people [deities?] in it!” — Miranda, Shakespeare, The Tempest, 5.1.186-187.

Gravity existed long before anyone believed in it. We could call it a goddess, except that we (mostly) haven’t conceptualized that Power in such a way. And no, I’m not suggesting that we pray to Gravitas at her altars — although doing so would doubtless reveal some world-widening insights we haven’t yet reached. Any scientist worth her training knows that dedication to her field reveals secrets obtainable in no other way. What else is devotion, after all, but a means of contact, a chance to widen the world and make use of the divine gift of our imagination and creativity? What else, you might ask, are we for? (Try that out as a subject for meditation and practice for a month of days, in any way you like, and get back to us with what you discover.)

R. J. Stewart offers an “American Goddesses Meditation” as a way to explore deity that you might connect to quite naturally. (Why not use what’s nearby first?! If you’re not an inhabitant of the States, adapt to your locale — who’s a goddess in your area? There might be rivers, mountains, and so on that deserve attention, if only for experimental devotion. Who gets represented in statues, names, images — even and especially if they don’t at first come across as goddesses? And you can try the same with gods, if you’re so inclined. Many deities are partly or proximally incarnate — they have a physical form you can use to approach them, much as the Orthodox in some traditions have icons, statues, etc. Looked at one way, some of the most seemingly Protestant and Evangelical among Americans are polytheists, also worshiping a hard, metallic and martial war-god, carrying around his talismans and charms in the form of AK-47s, Glocks, etc.)

liberty

Liberty — Wikipedia/public domain

If, on the other hand, you do practice devotion or dedication to some form of deity, it behooves you to try out non-belief, for what it can offer you that nothing else can. By that I mean, among other things, rather than fearing doubt, to harness it as a tool for insight and exploration. One of my teachers exhausted doubt as a factor when he finally pursued it to its deepest ends — ran it to earth, so to speak — and realized that for him it no longer exerted power. Doubt became merely boring, not worth the time (like chewing gum you’ve worked on for hours). Doubt no longer offered an illicit thrill, or troubled his inner worlds. As far as doubt is concerned, then, he’s now an atheist.

Can I be an atheist towards fear, or anger, or some other Power that asks for my worship and energy and attention? Who and what else do I worship that doesn’t deserve it, or that I’ve outgrown? (And to turn the wheel another quarter turn, who and what might I be overlooking or ignoring that merits more attention than I grant today? Chances are great there’s something more I can discover about this endlessly amazing universe.)

[“Why, when God’s world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison, of all places?” — Rumi.]

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Protect, Restore, Fund   Leave a comment

In honour of yesterday’s world-wide climate demonstrations, here’s a short video featuring Greta Thunberg and writer-activist George Monbiot.

Posted 21 September 2019 by adruidway in Druidry, George Monbiot, Greta Thunberg

Tagged with , ,

Old Druids, and New   2 comments

Too often we can still hear and read speakers and writers who proclaim, “We don’t know anything about the ancient Druids, so how can you call yourself Druids today?” Apart from the fact that wearying ourselves with approving and disapproving of whatever it is our neighbors are doing is usually a colossal waste of time, we actually DO know quite a lot about the Druids, from a variety of sources that have existed in many cases for hundreds if not thousands of years. From classical authors to modern archaeologists, our knowledge will always be incomplete, and it will also continue to grow.

The following TED-Ed video is a quick (4 minutes) and fun way to gain an overview of these sources.

[You can read a transcript here: https://www.ted.com/talks/philip_freeman_a_day_in_the_life_of_an_ancient_celtic_druid/transcript?language=en%5D

Virtually every statement in the video has a source in classical authors. Of course modern Druids don’t feel bound by what is, after all, an incomplete knowledge of the past, any more than a modern physicist needs to be concerned with what the ancient Greeks knew about the cosmos. But there is a discernible continuity in contemporary Druid practice of careful observation of the natural world, attention to all the other lives around us, both human and non-human, an awareness of many levels of reality, a sensitivity to intuition and the realms of Spirit, and a desire to live in harmony as far as possible with the natural cycles of life.

Living such a life, beyond its immediate practical wisdom and common sense — and often in the face of the treadmill of many modern lifestyles of excess, unhappiness, strain, discomfort and hollowness — proves deeply rewarding. It offers a deep sense of meaning and value to the lives all around us, as well as our own. It also nourishes and supports our creativity — witness the many old and new arts and crafts that abound in Druid practice and community, and that shine at Druid Gatherings.

Certainly in one sense no one ever needs to be or become a Druid to live such a life. The whole point of Druidry is that it is a set of wise practices and creative approaches anyone can try out and adopt, not a religious belief or doctrine to believe in.

But in another sense, especially as climate change, resource depletion, pollution, overpopulation and ravenous energy consumption will continue to challenge human creativity, we all need to be Druids: to live wisely in accord with the earth, neither tearing off our roof, kicking out the walls, excavating the foundation, or setting fire to the house we all live in.

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Meeting “The Uniqueness of Our Spiritual Need”   Leave a comment

“One of the most striking characteristics of Druidism”, writes Philip Carr-Gomm, “is the degree to which it is free of dogma and any fixed set of beliefs or practices” (What Do Druids Believe? Granta Publications, 2006, pg. 25). “It honours the uniqueness of each individual’s spiritual needs. In this way it manages to offer a spiritual path and a way of being in the world that avoids many of the problems of intolerance and sectarianism that the established religions have encountered”.

So how does such a remarkable characteristic avoid fragmentation and a kind of “everyone for themselves” approach that would seem to end in splintering and a piecemeal practice and a hopeless muddle of “it’s my truth — find your own” subjectivity where no one can agree or discover common ground about anything?

Community and shared practice. That’s one experience that binds us together. This last weekend was the first New England BAM Druid Gather at Camp Middlesex in Ashby, Massachusetts.

BAM Druid Gather.jpg

Photo courtesy Catriona McDonald

With a rainy Thursday a.m. to clear the skies, a full moon on Friday the 13th, and sun all the rest of the weekend, the Gather(ing) of some 70 Druids showed Druidry at its best.

A Camp or Gathering by its nature needs contributions from many to happen at all. It simply can’t be the work of one person. Planning, reservations, cabin cleaning, fires, food purchasing and kitchen crew, scheduling and programs, kids’ activities, accessibility, publicity, registration, transport, fundraising, scholarships, website, site and event insurance, initiations, workshops, materials for activities, emergencies, special guests, first aid  — you begin to get the idea from this still-incomplete list.

Rather than partial either-or labels of “create” or “experience”, a Gathering at its best is both at the same time. We experience what we create together as we create it, as it unfolds while we experience it, because of how we experience it, because of who we are. A Camp or Gathering is a demonstration of what Druidry does, rather than a sometimes-stillborn philosophical statement in words that can be (mis)read, argued with, etc. Participate in a Gathering — preferably, more than just one — help to make it happen in any way that fits your current life and means, and you begin to comprehend the tribal nature of this spiritual practice. As both a unity and a diversity, a Tribe united in experience embodies Druidry. To use a word from another tradition, the Tribe incarnates the Druid experience.

Where does that leave Solitaries? Which, after all, is all of us, when we’re apart from our Tribe, whether by preference or necessity, calendars or the nature of the gods or the exigencies of finances, time and space.

The same thing happens when we’re “alone” in our practice. Because if I practice for any length of time, I begin to sense my connections with the Others, both human and non-human, in all the Worlds around me. Again, this isn’t really a matter of belief but of demonstration — though it’s true belief can often catalyze, as well as limit, such experience.

I suppose it’s even possible, given how flexible and elastic this cosmos often turns out to be, for a resolute materialist to practice Druidry seriously over time, and still experience nothing of these things. But it would take immense resistance to the “Ten Thousand Things”, as Taoism calls them, all asking to be heard, to commune, to express themselves all around us and within our cells and sinews and fibers, to link with us and work at making a world. Ours is a thoroughly-inhabited Cosmos, and it’s ready to let us know it, if we give it even half a chance.

As Robert Frost, one of my Core Bardic Sages For Every Occasion™ puts it, “We dance round in a ring and suppose,/But the Secret sits in the middle and knows”. Ritual, Tribe, spiritual practice — all these contribute to our sitting in the center right along with the Secret, till it is secret no longer, but shared abundantly among us all.

May you know and savor and cherish such communions, wherever you are.

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Crisis, and What Next   1 comment

Or we could call this “(Spi)ritual First Aid”.

John Beckett’s excellent recent post “When you have to be a spiritual emergency room” is a good reference for the angle I’d like to take in this post. My focus will be on the self, rather than helping another. Experience your own crises and refine your strategies more than a few times, and the opportunity will come to serve others in need.

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Yesterday at an open discussion on dreams I had an insightful conversation with a person who was walking his path as consciously as he could. At one point, he said he knew what gave him nightmares, but he wasn’t going to forgo hot wings every once in a while, just because of the fallout they caused. They tasted too damn good.

This is being the knowing effect of a cause, a step along the path of spiritual discipline. It’s using consciousness to help shape what we experience.

But I’m not talking about that here, about such a reasoned weighing of pros and cons before choosing, but about those moments of full-on spiritual (and sometimes physical) ambush — moments we know too well. The world is no longer a friendly place.

Experience a form of combustion, shock, blowback, fallout, karma, inner explosion, cause and effect, consequences, results, crisis — and hearing someone tell you that “you create your own universe” just doesn’t help ease the suffering. True, down the road, once you’ve pulled yourself back together, tracking down possible contributing causes can be a wise course of action, one that can lead to averting, or processing, or seeking more wisely — the same experience in the future. But in urgent situations, we need a compassionate — and effective — first response.

Obviously, deal with any immediate emergency conditions. First aid, or even a visit to an urgent care center or emergency room, may go far to restoring a sense of safety and self-care. Treat the burn, stop the bleeding: deal with intoxication or drug use or poisoning of any kind. A panic attack may have physical causes among others. Get away from whatever is toxic — smoke from the fire, the bottle of mead, the bong or cigarette, the hypnotic drumbeat, other people, the ritual circle, the spiritual practice, or the room you’ve been in too long. If necessary, remove any books, pictures, clothing, or other objects associated with the crisis — or remove yourself from the space, if that’s easier.

As a next step, yes, listening’s enormous in its power to ease many kinds of suffering, though sometimes it may simply not be available — no one I’m in contact with understands, no one gets me. (True, this can be mere destructive egotism — “I’m special. Nobody knows me or my inner world. I can’t be helped”.) But if I have a partner or friend or community, a priestly counselor I trust, then I’m blessed, and partway home. Giving shape to my experience in words helps me see into the situation more clearly, and know it for what it is or might be. Getting it down on paper does the same thing, and sometimes more solidly. The Wise in Ancient Egypt knew that if you can name it, you can begin to tame it — or at least not inflame it further.

As John notes, ground and center. Repeat as needed. This can be a matter of a practice I already do regularly, or something I haven’t yet incorporated into my routine.

One common version: Sit upright, or — better — stand. Stretch, feeling the muscles and tendons of your body. Take three slow deep breaths. Feel the body rooted in the earth, the legs going down like tree roots. Release what holds you back. Know the blood flowing in your veins is an echo of the ocean’s tide, the same salt sea. Feel the air around your skin as you breathe in and out, whether there is a breeze or all is still. With the blessings of earth, sea and sky, you are here and now.

Address other physical symptoms. A bath or shower can help wash away emotional extremes, as well as calm the body, slow the heart, ease tensions, etc. We all know this, but often remember it least at crisis points when we need it most. Accompany the bath or shower with visualizations and meditations, prayers, and any other physical aids like incense, bath oils and salts, etc. Music can also soothe, just as it can raise adrenaline and blood pressure: choose what soothes. Sometimes silence is perfect. Other times, there has to be something playing in the background to help calm the inner and outer turmoil, if silence itself is unnerving.

Watch diet. Carnivores can often benefit from eating a meat meal, which effectively closes down the psychic centers because it demands significant energy to digest. If I dig into a steak, I can feel the doors close and the body center. (Fasting has the opposite effect and is pursued for comparable reasons — conserving and then redirecting energy normally used for digestion to other purposes.) Other non-flesh proteins can have a similar though less immediate effect.

Choose surroundings. The familiar may be immensely comforting — a place, a particular room. Or a change may be indicated. Be outdoors if possible, if this feels good, rather than too much. Lying on the earth can help restore a feeling of security and groundedness. Make sure any people and animals nearby are a comfort, not a source of anxiety.

By itself, focusing on slow, steady breathing can induce calm, charge the body with oxygen, and release tension. Its regularity is meditative, and counting the breaths to ten and then starting again can become a basic practice.

John Beckett mentions shielding exercises, good ones. Here are some techniques I also use.

Visualizations to dump negative thoughts or unwanted experiences can help. One of my favorites is the snowball technique: visualize what you want to drop as something you pack into a tight snowball. When you’ve clumped it thick, throw it into a river, which washes it away and dissolves it.

Another similar visualization: sweep your outer and inner spaces with a broom of light. Collect the sweepings and cast them away — again, into the river, or a hole in the earth you fill, or a dump truck/lorry, or somewhere/something else that takes them away and disposes of them. Some find visualizing a friendly monster with an enormous mouth which consumes them and then obligingly runs away with them can help. Others like to imagine a whole team working to do the same thing — friends, or an army of helpers, cleaning the space. Go with what works — use the inner creativity we all possess.

A third technique — the Three Doors. Visualize — or if visualization doesn’t come easily — feel your way toward — a cave or tunnel entrance into an enormous mountain. Once inside, close the first heavy door behind you. You hear it boom and resound as it shuts, the locks banging home. Do this two more times as you pass down the corridor or tunnel — three doors altogether. At last you are within a chamber of light, with the three immense doors protecting you from all harm.

Other living beings like pets can serve as a comfort — we’re seeing the growth of using companion animals for relieving stress and reducing anxiety. A purring cat in the lap, or a dog enjoying a mellow time of dozing or looking adoringly at you, go far to restoring balance and centering.

Physical objects — rosaries, statues, prayer beads, talismans, rings, stones, etc. — can also help. Specially-crafted items, like talismans, can bring more specific kinds of ease and provide a sense of protection. We’ve seen the popular spread of fidget spinners to help deal with restlessness, anxiety, stress and ADHD.

Physical activity can also help — sometimes the nerve centers, chakras, etc., are already too fired up and any focus on them only exacerbates the situation. Physical movement — walking, swimming, physical training equipment — can provide a focus and an easing of inner imbalance.

Just as there are many spiritual techniques for every other kind of experience in the world, so spiritual first aid can accompany solely physical responses to crisis periods.

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Image: free public domain images at Pexels. com

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