Archive for December 2019

Omen Days 5 and 6: Stars and Ice   2 comments

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Two nights ago, I turned to look at the clock on my nightstand, the pale phosphorescent numbers showing almost 2:00 am. Then I heard my wife moving in the hall outside the bedroom.

What is it? I asked.

The stars woke me up, she said.

A little shiver, of awe and pleasure both, at those words. And yes, with a few steps across the kitchen toward our boots, and quiet laughter as we stumbled out the front door to look, the clear night sky above us flamed with stars. So many cities now glow with light pollution at night that you can no longer look up and see the stars. How helpful the present darkness, for seeing the splendor of the light.

(Here for my daily augury I take up a typo from an earlier draft of this post — I’d quoted Aleister Crowley’s famous line from his Book of the Law (1), but with one additional letter at the end: “Every man and woman is a start”. I laughed a good while over that one. Yes, I’m a beginning, a work in progress, raw materials like all of us are. So just keep going, says Spirit.)

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Year-end storms brush much of the U.S. this week. The northeast is seeing sleet and ice, rain and snow for a couple of days, leaving roads treacherous. Some New Hampshire friends have taken to heart the Icelandic tradition of  Jólabókaflóð — literally, “Yule-book-flood”, and have provided themselves with ample reading material for whatever the weather brings.

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outside our front door this morning

“Wind and ice are the only deciders of symmetry”, writes upstate New York poet Linda Allardt (2). “Survival makes do for grace”. Some winter days, especially in a northern climate, you can feel the truth of that right down into your bones.

The Galilean Master tried to teach “spiritual meteorology” to his followers: “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?” (3). I religiously check “the weather” each morning, but too often ignore my “spiritual climate”, which includes our physical one. The analogy hits home: weather is to climate, as mood is to spiritual climate. The former changes day by day, while the latter’s a long-term trend.

[For what I’ve come to understand, over a decade of study, is a fairly accurate projection of our climate future, take a look at articles like this one in The Guardian: “The Climate Crisis in 2050: What Happens if Cities Act but Nations Don’t” . Rather than pure depressing statistics, it reflects and extrapolates from the present reality, as the subheading names it, that “It is cities, not national governments, that are most aggressively fighting the climate crisis”. And if you’re still too optimistic, this second article can really help cure that.

I don’t know about you, but for me clear vision is preferable to hysteria and paranoia any day. This one possible future may indeed be grim, but there’s room for human hands and hearts to shape its form and direction, and avert its worst features, as we’re beginning to do, albeit in fits and starts. And as a strong believer in reincarnation, I suspect I’ll likely be back again in the middle of it, dealing with it as best I can, along with a good number of others alive today. From this perspective, it’s good to start equipping myself now with the spiritual tools I’ll need to work with then.]

So there you have it. I’ve written a post that has Jesus, Aleister Crowley, and climate change in it, and it sorta kinda maybe even coheres.

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(1) Book of the Law, Ch. 1, verse 3.

(2) The Names of the Survivors (Ithaca House, 1979). Cursory info on Allardt here.

(3) Matthew 16:3.

A Druid Way’s Top 10 Posts of 2019   Leave a comment

This “Top 10” list draws together posts from 2019 only. Statistics come from the analytic tools WordPress provides. The list includes the first posts of four different series.

ADW 2019-2

10. Seven Signposts Along Our Journeys (21 February 2019)

This post derives its inspiration and seven “signposts” from a reader comment. As the reader beautifully describes it, we’re at our best when we’re “magical, connected, generously giving …”

9. Working the Tool-kit: Part 1 (30 July 2019)

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.

8. Listening to Inwardness–1 (21 November 2019)

If one mythic image for the Summer Solstice is Stonehenge on Salisbury plain — “in the eye of the sun” — a corresponding image for Winter Solstice is the passage tomb of Newgrange, deep in the earth. Till time moves us back into the light. At both summer and winter turning points, the Light still shines. We just see it differently, one in plain day, the other in hidden night, the waking and sleeping of the awen-self, creative always, but often in different modes. You can feel the winter-you drowsing, while the summer-you longs to be up and doing. Sometimes you sense the tug between the two right down in your sinews and bones.

7. Old Druids, and New (19 September 2019)

Featuring a short video on what we know about ancient Druids, this post goes on to talk about what Druidry offers to anyone today:

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.

6. Four Bad Ideas, and Some Alternatives (13 August 2019)

James Lovelock of “Gaia Hypothesis” fame celebrated his 100th birthday and published a book outlining his ideas for addressing climate change. Because I prefer to offer alternatives along with critiques, after a short video presenting Lovelock’s proposals, I attempt to do just that.

5. Druids and Death (11 May 2019)

I’ll let the article, a collection of impressions and insights, do its work.

4. Towards a Full Moon Ritual (19 May 2019)

After a kind of prose love-song to the moon, I offer twelve points to consider in ritual design — for a moon ritual, or any other kind. I also link to John Beckett’s blogpost on a similar topic.

3. Drafting a Druid-Christian Rite (12 February 2019)

Judging by the continuing readership for a group of posts here on Druidry and Christianity, the vital possibilities of such a concord live still for you as much as they do for me. They branch and grow, and rich fruit hangs from their boughs.

Our instincts aren’t wrong. The two traditions are twinned in ways we may never untangle, but we can explore what they can contribute to each other right now. One way to do that — certainly not the only way — is through ritual.

Already we hold hints and fragments in our hands.

2. Walking the Major Arcana, Part 1 (27 February 2019)

In another series of seven posts, I follow a classic Tarot interpretation of the Fool as the querent or seeker who journeys through the aspects and archetypes of the Major Arcana. And I’ll be writing from some perspectives I hope will be useful to Druid-Christian travelers along the Green Ways of Spirit.

1. Grail 1: Exploring the “Cauldron Sound” of Awen (19 January 2019)

To participate in even an echo of the cosmic sound is to begin to manifest some of its properties. Put myself in sympathetic vibration with it, and I discover its powers of transformation. It accomplishes change through vibration — no surprise, when we know that every atom of the cosmos vibrates at its own particular frequency. That’s also part of why every major spiritual tradition on the planet includes chant, song, mantra, spoken prayer. The whole thing sings. When the bard Taliesin exclaims in one of his poems, “The awen I sing, from the deep I bring it”, he points us toward the pervasiveness of awen, its habitation in the heart of things, its flow through us, both lesser and greater, as we sing, and bring.

As blogger and OBOD Druid Dana observes, “One of the most simple things to do is to invoke Awen regularly as part of your practice.”

“Strange Bloggeries”

The most “popular” post of all time on this blog  (on the basis of total reader views) has just one “like”.

The second most “popular” post of all time, again by reader views, received twice as many views (703) this year as it did last year, and more than five times as many as when I first posted it two years ago (131 views). But strangely, not a single reader has ever left a comment, in spite of my requests in subsequent posts, so I continue to have scant idea why it’s engaged so many of you! The post runs all over the place, so it could be almost anything …

The last three years have seen a steady upward climb in readership, with this year the best yet. Thank you!

Once again I ask: please do let me know about any topics or angles you’d like me to tackle — or return to!

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Posted 29 December 2019 by adruidway in Druidry, Top 10 Posts

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Omen Days 4: Marmota Monax   2 comments

[Updated 30-Dec 2019]

Omen Days [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5-6 | 7-9 | 10-11 | 12-13 ]

Groundhog, whistle-pig, moonack (derived from a Native American name), or French Canadian siffleux (“whistler”) — as I take more firewood from the stack, I’ve found our backyard woodchuck has again taken shelter for the winter in a burrow between our woodpile rows. It makes good animal sense: until I started taking the wood away for fires, the burrow mouth was protected, and tin sheets still partially shield both wood and burrow from snow and rain.

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woodchuck — marmota monax — Wikipedia

The woodchuck enjoys a regional claim-to-fame in the U.S. as “Punxsatawney Phil” and indeed has a brief cameo in the ’93 Bill Murray/Andie MacDowell comedy, Groundhog Day.

(We can detect in the February 2 Groundhog Day — no surprise — echoes of older celebrations like Imbolc. The harsher winters in North America merely postpone the coming of spring that the European holiday anticipates, until late March at the earliest, at least in New England. Animal divination!! The groundhog’s “prediction” of early spring or more winter depends, after all, on sunlight: if it’s sunny and he sees his shadow — only his “priests” know for sure — that means, paradoxically, six more weeks of winter.)

When our next-door neighbor dug a new in-ground septic tank over a year ago, things reached a tipping point that made “his” marmota monax leave home in search of a better life. The journey didn’t demand much — no long treks for the plucky immigrant who would ultimately set down roots in a strange new land. Instead, just a quick run under the property line fence, and voila! Our handy clover patch no doubt also played a savory role — we saw him — them? — off and on this past summer in the thick of it, grazing quite contentedly, bees humming all around in the clover flowers.

Last winter I discovered him burrowed in under the first row of the woodpile. By the time spring came, and I’d cleared away the logs and knew he was out, I drove a log firmly into the mouth of the burrow. (I absolutely refuse to use the smoke bombs that poison both animal and soil. Have-a-heart traps may be the next option.) Sure enough, un-dissuaded, he dug a new hole in June, this time right along the east-facing foundation of our house. When I stuffed a log into the mouth of that hole, he dug around it. I added another log. Then when I didn’t see him for a while, I thought my harassment campaign had paid off, and maybe he’d finally crossed the road, where there’s some prime woodchuck real estate that could be his for the taking. A neighboring farmer mows the open, level 5-acre meadow bordered by woods just once a summer, and otherwise it lies fallow, undisturbed.

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Hard to see, but dirt between the log rows comes from the enlarged burrow

But there’s the roof of his winter burrow, with its mouth one row deeper into the woodpile. Part of me rejoices at his resilience, even as I plan anew how to see him off, once warmer weather arrives. All this, of course, while another part of me ponders whether this is indeed the unsubtle arrival of a new animal guide, upping his campaign to grab the attention of this torpid and obtuse human.

In the guise of a woodchuck, a delightful link exists between Frost and Thoreau, those two quintessential New England bards. A wry Colby Quarterly article, “Two Woodchucks, or Frost and Thoreau and the Art of the Burrow” , exhibits good Druidic sensibility in exploring that link. Regardless of whether the article author actually follows through on his own insights, they remain for readers. To make a cellar for his cabin at Walden Pond, Thoreau enlarged a woodchuck’s burrow, trusting the beast had dug deep enough, beneath the frost line. Here the “Two Woodchucks” author cites Thoreau’s sense of the need to dig down both literally and metaphorically to find out the truth of things:

In order to find this reality, we must first “settle ourselves,” establish a sense of place, a living connection with the landscape. Then we must “work and wedge our feet downward,” in woodchuck fashion, “through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion [alluvium] which covers the globe”.

I read as I draft this post that the woodchuck can nearly double its weight as it gorges each autumn to store up fat for hibernation. The average burrow, with between two and eight mouths, requires the removal of 500 lbs / 225 kilos of dirt. Sure enough, it often digs a separate winter burrow, much deeper than its summer quarters. Though at need the woodchuck can climb trees to escape predators, and typically retreats to its burrow rather than fight, when cornered, the sturdy beast has claws and sharp incisors to defend itself. Their range spans from Georgia to Minnesota and New England, north as far as Newfoundland, and west across the Canadian plains into Alaska. Study almost any creature, and you begin to see its adaptations to its specific life-path emerging as something quite remarkable.

Boar, pillbug, woodchuck — the teachings of animal encounters to guide this Druid, if he only listens, through his days.

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Omen Days 3: Fog, and Screening   Leave a comment

Omen Days [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5-6 | 7-9 | 10-11 | 12-13 ]

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No need this morning to look far for what first strikes the eye: fog outside, and a window-screen in the foreground. As with our own human consciousness, what’s up front and in our faces draws the camera’s auto-focus to the screen, in spite of one shot (in a series of attempts) where I thought I’d finally gotten the camera to focus on distance. Probably could have, too, if I knew my camera better. When the human eye focuses on distance, the screen blurs and fades. Right there is a whole chapter of spiritual practice, attention and mechanical behaviors. Where’s my focus? What am I looking at? I decided the indoors version with the foregrounded window screen should stay — it was still offering something to think about further.

Fog-weaving, and awareness. With temps well above freezing, and enough snow to melt and turn to low-hanging mist, it was a perfect day to drive in and out of banks of fog as the elevation changes in our Vermont hills. Often it’s easy to slip into altered states of consciousness, walking a fogged-in landscape. Driving through one, it’s much less safe to try!

About a year and a half back, I wrote about fogweaving with Lugh while climbing our local Mt. Ascutney:

Fog-weaving at such times needs so little effort. The climb quickens the breath, and the cool air is lush with oxygen. Without the chatter of any human companion as a distraction, and with the fog collapsing the field of vision to just a few dozen yards in any direction, your attention narrows in on step after deliberate step. Light trance comes on like cloud itself. Without thought you can slip through to the “realm next door” between one step and the next, and you may sense the god dreaming on the peak. And rather than needing human action or imagination to weave or conjure vision, the fog itself curtains or reveals what is already there.

Awareness is a tricky thing: we move each day into and out of so many different kinds of awareness that we often don’t notice they’re best for different purposes — they’re most definitely not interchangeable. Or as I try to explain this phenomenon in the page on Magic:

… 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 — so effortlessly we usually do not notice or comment on them. But they serve different purposes: 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. And further, what we ordinarily do quite mechanically and often without awareness, we can learn to do consciously.

With the tickle of a dream the previous night to set the tone, I woke with another dream in my head early this morning: I have a son who’s seeking me out.

(In the category of “too much info” but helpful context: it’s even possible such a child exists. My graduate school girlfriend turned down my marriage proposal, warned me she’d never tell me even if it turned out she was pregnant, and on that note I opted to leave the U.S. and the whole intolerable situation in the fall of 1987 to teach in China. We haven’t been in contact since. So — to cut short any further confessions — I woke this morning wondering, yet again, what the dream could be saying.)

Looking up close, I see screen. Focusing on the distance, I see fog. Where’s my focus? What am I looking at?

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Omen Days 2   Leave a comment

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A dream this morning. I haven’t been sleeping well for the past several days, but with that wakefulness, it’s been easier to catch and record dreams before they fade into the next sleep cycle of the night. In the dream I’m trying to cross a stream flowing through a forest, but it takes me a bit until I find stepping stones, and even then, the first one’s half-submerged. The stream’s neither wide nor deep, but for some reason in the dream I don’t want to get my feet wet. The water runs very clear, and I know in the dream there’s something — what it is I can’t tell — something unusual about the forest.

Then this morning as I’m going out to fetch wood for the two fires, house and studio, I need to start: hornet’s nest on the eaves of the woodshed. I wasn’t thinking about this Omen Days practice until almost the moment I looked up, and then there it was. A nest of gray paper, empty now, but mostly intact, a season’s work to build a growing house that entomologists say the hornets almost never return to for the following year. In the photo everything’s  shades of gray, though it’s a color shot: even the evergreen in the background comes across in black and white, rather than green.

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Now it’s certainly easy enough to argue yourself out of as well as into a divination. There’s a kind of trust involved, that the universe really does talk to us, and not just through such crabbed and sometimes tortuous means as a divination can be, or as we can make it with all our second-guessing — the cosmos talking constantly, ceaselessly — wind in the trees, birds, beasts, clouds, our own skins, those touch-points where we seem to end and Everything Else begins, though we intermingle like high school students at a formal dance, awkwardly sometimes, though sometimes with heat in our blood. “How can we tell the dancer from the dance?”

Crossing a stream, leaving a house: like most signs and symbols, they mean best when they “mean personal”. You could, I suppose, go look them up in a symbol dictionary, the kind that sells for a couple of bucks in the checkout line at the grocery, or a pricier version summoned from deep in the bowels of Amazon. But why would I want somebody else’s take on what is, after all, my life? I’m not mocking the impulse, only reining it in. Live a few decades, and your own hand-made symbol dictionary is better, for you, than anyone’s.

Like any good mount, a dream-interpretation horse, or a symbol-horse, needs a sensible rider, or what use is riding at all? I might as well walk. I can, it’s true, just let the animal-self roam free, and there are excellent times and places for that, too. (Take your animal guide for a run, if you haven’t done so recently. Mine’s sure eager for it.) But right now the journey asks the best of both of us, and so I ride my symbol-horse, and my horse carries me. Leaving a house can signify death, but just as important, transformation, and growth: the hermit-crab outgrowing the old shell and moving into a newer one — vulnerable during the change, true, but doing what it does, what it needs to do to live at all. And where is it, specifically, that I don’t want to “get my feet wet”? That’s sure kindling for another dream, another divination, a prayer, especially when I don’t usually pray.

Finding stepping-stones to cross a stream: earlier in the day yesterday, I’d done a tarot divination as a way to gain insight into a character for a novel I’m working on. The significator was the Wheel of Fortune — apt for the antagonist, who’s experimenting outright on his life — as we all are. And for such symbols and signs and communications — since I mentioned Dickens in the previous post, then I’ll invite him, since it looks like he’s along for the ride anyway — we can ask Scrooge’s question in A Christmas Carol: “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of the things that May be only?”

As with most divinations, if we think we’re asking a question of the future, then we get what we understand to be the future’s answer, which may be useful or not, or hard to read, or no answer at all. Scrooge has met with “ghosts” or spirits of Past, Present and Future, and not one of this Temporal Triad is the sole determining factor. Scrooge himself is. In his experience, the future gives no “answers”, but shows the shadows of things that are even now taking shape. These, in turn, interact with all the Ancestors have left us, and set in our hands for an inheritance.

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snowsparkle

This picture from a couple of days ago, looking out across the stone in our yard, reveals ice-sparkle I couldn’t see without the zoom that focuses this image. To the naked eye it’s a general glow. But this is hawk’s view, more sharp-eyed than I am unaided, without the help of lenses and devices — our human-craft. A different kind of divination, like the signs and symbols available when we look with a microscope, or telescope, or listen with a telephone, or stand in ritual and attend to those without skin on who just might have something to say to those of us wearing it for the moment. Look differently, and see anew. Every sense whispers “Try this”.

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Omen Days 1: Going “Dvoverian”   Leave a comment

Omen Days [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5-6 | 7-9 | 10-11 | 12-13 ]

Earlier today my co-admin Steve on the Druid and Christianity Facebook group posted this link to one of Caitlin Matthews’ blogposts from several years back about “Omen Days” — the southern Celtic (Wales and Brittany) tradition of using the Twelve Days of Christmas for divination. As an intercalary period, one literally “between the calendar(s)”, from Christmas to Twelfth Night or Epiphany on January 6, the days have long been considered “time out of time”, and therefore especially apt for such practices. Like the holy space of a ritual, set aside from ordinary time, the Twelve Days are — or can be — magical.

In some versions of the divination, each day aligns with one month of the year: December 26th with January, December 27th with February, and so on, offering a particular flavor to the practice.

Looking, too, for a link between solar and lunar calendars, it seemed fitting to me to make it 13 days, starting on Christmas Day, rather than just 12 by starting the day-count after, on the 26th. But there is a new moon on the 26th this year, and that can play into any decision.

And when we consider that this period after the solstice is a liminal one, open as at Samhain to the Ancestors and the spiritual realm, it’s worth reflecting on Dickens’ choice to set his “sacred holiday ghost story” of A Christmas Carol during this interval, with its Druidic as well as Christian series of three spirits, and we can enjoy as well such a context for other stories, like those of the Wild Hunt, active in the winter and so around Yule, and the Medieval “Day of Misrule”, the inversion of “normal” order, on Twelfth Night itself.

In the same post, Matthews mentions dvoverie, a Russian word meaning dvo “two” verie “faiths”  — or holding “two beliefs”, a word to describe the persistence of an old worldview after the arrival of a new one. (The Russian ver– is cognate with our Latin-derived verity — “truth”. Two truths for one.)

For a while this cultural expression was thought to characterize or be unique to Russia, especially prevalent among folk practices. Think of our ongoing custom of treating the sun as if it rises and sets each day, in spite of astronomical awareness that it’s the earth that moves, not the sun. Though this source go so far as to call dvoverie “an academic myth”, as if dismissing something as a “myth” makes it untrue, rather than simply ahistorical, I’d argue we’re all quite “dvoverian”, and in more ways than we might imagine.

In some Christian circles, it’s true, the lament persists that certain symbols, practices and beliefs are “Pagan”, “not Biblical”, etc. Pagans sometimes return the favor. (Personally, I find such “purity tests” too often lead to sub-optimal results, just like they do for many women today in only slightly different circumstances, and for often similar reasons.) I’d prefer to ask those symbols, practices and beliefs: “Are you worthwhile? Do you grant insight, increase our understanding, grow our capacity for gratitude and love?”

(And lest we too quickly conclude that divination is never a Christian practice, we have only to look at the Apostles drawing lots in order to identify Matthias as a replacement for Judas Iscariot in the Book of Acts, or at ancient practices in Israel. St. Thomas Aquinas among many others exercised himself on the topic in his Summa Theologica.)

Let’s make Omen Days a “dvoverian” experiment.

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My divination today follows the practice of asking my question outdoors, then spinning around eyes closed, opening them to the first thing seen, or asking the question indoors and then going outdoors to observe whatever offers itself. In either case, the sign or omen is what first comes to the attention.

“What can these divinations teach me?”

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For me it was jet-trail and birdsong — the seen and the heard at the same time. I looked up to see the jet-trail, and then I became aware of the song. The trail had no sound, the song no visible bird. A useful reminder that a single sense rarely provides all the evidence, or any kind of “complete picture” (note the bias toward the visual in such expressions!).

If you live in an urban area near an airport, of course, this may prove no omen at all for you. (That’s why omens are not universal signs, in spite of our best attempts to codify the cosmos.) But in southern Vermont, a plane of any size passing over is unusual. Except for June or July, when the nearest airbase sometimes makes training runs for days at a time over Vermont (and usually seems to halt each time the complaints reach a certain threshold), a flyover merits attention.

The birdsong belonged to a song sparrow, a very common bird, a cheery voice for our northern winters. No, it wasn’t a Raven, or some other bird with mythic weight and portent to weigh down an omen till it crumbles under its own gravity. If I want to push it even a little, I might recall the Gospel verse: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care”.

Here’s a Youtube video of a song sparrow in our neighboring state of New York:

The worlds of human (jet) and animal (bird) need not be opposed, and aren’t at heart separate worlds at all, in spite of our unwise attempts to uphold such a false division. The Song all around and within us keeps rising, in spite of our jet-trails, in spite of our restlessness to be somewhere else other than where we are. We hear it. How can we heed it more fully?

2020: jet-trail and birdsong — a divination of our times.

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Gifts of Solstice, Part 3   Leave a comment

Much of what I write here is inward-facing. Writing’s a core component of my spiritual practice. For me it’s a vital means of discovery, of turning over an experience or perspective until — often enough to keep me going — it falls into place, takes on a new aspect once it gets put in words, gains a solidity or heft that lets me examine it more clearly, or links up with daily events, the weather, the experience of wearing skin, conversations, dreams, things Others are communicating as they go about their varied lives. Words through these short days and long nights, words that at least sometimes prove useful to you as well, a solstice gift.

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to the west, across the road from our living room window

Tonight my wife and I included among our celebrations of Solstice one event we’ve attended for several years running. A local church hosts ‘Into the Silence’, inviting a duo called Coracle to play Celtic-themed music and recorded natural soundscapes like whale-calls, birdsong, coyotes, or — like tonight — “owls with sleet falling”. The music alternates with periods of silence. There’s no introduction or closing, no announcements, in fact no human voices at all, beyond a few whispers, and some creaks from the wooden pews, velcro fasteners and zippers opening as participants settle in. The only illumination comes from a score of candles on the altar that a congregant lights at the beginning, and from a solitary Christmas tree trimmed with tiny white bulbs. In some ways it’s ideal “Druid Church”. The possibility of spiritual encounter feels larger without words.

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Now that my wife has finally recovered from a bout of food poisoning, she’s back in her weaving studio. This morning when I went out to start a fire there, the thermometer on the wall read 29 F / -2 C. Considering the last few nights have been below 0 F / -18 C, that’s heartening. It also turned out to be a sunny day, which helped the stove to get indoor temps up to a more comfortable range, so she could work for some hours on her warp.

The pleasure of kindling a fire in the house each day all winter, with a second one in the studio some days, sweeping ash, chopping wood, never diminishes for me. Yes, some mornings like this one, I’m shivering as I begin it, and sometimes the wood takes a while longer than usual to lift the stoves into the most efficient zone where they can burn hot and clean, but the work itself answers the effort.  (If you only let her, Brighid blesses it.) As Thoreau quips in Walden,

Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I love to have mine before my window, and the more chips the better to remind me of my pleasing work. I had an old axe which nobody claimed, with which by spells in winter days, on the sunny side of the house, I played about the stumps which I had got out of my bean-field. As my driver prophesied when I was plowing, they warmed me twice—once while I was splitting them, and again when they were on the fire, so that no fuel could give out more heat.

Warmth, a direct connection between labor and result, recovery from illness, sunlight, outside air and snow both cold and dry enough that the coverlet of white powders off when I bang each log against the pile. Pleasures of solstice — gifts, all of them. And when we returned an hour ago from the solstice celebration of music and silence, a sky dotted with the distant fires of stars.

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