Archive for December 2019

Omen Days 5 and 6: Stars and Ice

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

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

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

Tagged with ,

Omen Days 4: Marmota Monax

[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.

burrow

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

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

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

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.

waspnest

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”

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?”

jet-trail2

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

[Part 1 | 2 | 3 ]

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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Gifts of Solstice, Part II

[Part 1 | 2 | 3 ]

Solstice — sometimes called the “world’s oldest holiday” …

Arthur, the “Christmas King”, because according to some traditions like those established by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his “Medieval bestseller” Historia Regum Britanniae, (History of the Kings of Britain) and Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Arthur’s birth (or death) takes place on Christmas, just as his coronation (and wedding to Guinevere) take place at Pentecost. Alban Arthan, one name for the winter solstice — the “Light of Arthur”, as it’s sometimes translated.

A multitude of holiday carols, because there are plenty, whether or not you’re Christian, to sing and celebrate the season. Like some kind of hemispheric fanboy, I can never resist the Australian adaptation of Christmas to summertime temperatures and kangaroos (“boomers”) rather than reindeer, in the form of Rolf Harris’s 1960 holiday song “Six White Boomers“, with its chorus (according to some versions):

Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun.
Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
on his Australian run.

(This gives the silly, snarky meme “OK, boomer” a whole new feel.)

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time of the Oak and Holly kings/image courtesy learnreligions.com

The battle between Holly King and Oak King. (Brothers, enemies, both needed for balance. According to some accounts, they’re servants of the goddess Arianrhod, with the vanquished king retiring to the astral plane until his opposite, victorious solstice.)

Blended traditions that tell how the crown of thorns Christ wore to his crucifixion, and the Cross itself, were both made from the holly. The “rising of the sun” and the “running of the deer” in the ancient carol, “The Holly and the Ivy”:

 

Antiphony’s gorgeous and light-hearted version of Kim Baryluk’s “Solstice Carol” (and the Wyrd Sisters’ meditative version):

 

Contrasts. Nowhere in the year is there such a contrast between light and dark, hot and cold — whether you’re on the eve of Summer Solstice and the Long Light, or the Winter, and the Long Dark.

Solstice gifts, all of these.

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Gifts of Solstice, Part 1

[Updated 1 July 2020]

[Part 1 | 2 | 3 ]

If we change just one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words (“longest”) in The Great Gatsby, he has Daisy Buchanan, that quintessential summer person, exclaim, “Do you always watch for the shortest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the shortest day of the year and then miss it”. (Those of you in the southern hemisphere can take your Gatsby solstice straight up, summery, and un-revised.)

Because the “Great Eight” festivals of the calendar are worth remembering, let’s not “miss it”, but watch and celebrate the shortest day.

A day the whole planet shapes is one of the gifts of solstice.

Older festivals, and revived ones, acknowledge the otherworldly aspect of the season. The central European tradition of Krampus as the alter ego and companion of St. Nicholas balances the season with a parade of gruesome and frightening figures.

 

Likewise, the Welsh custom of wassailing with Mari Lwyd, the “Grey Mare”, is equal parts festive and otherworldly. Here’s one of the traditional Welsh songs, “Mari Lwyd”, by Carreg Lafar:

 

The first lines announce the wassailers:

Here we come
Dear friends
To ask permission to sing …

And here’s a very impromptu and lively short clip of outdoor singers and answering singers indoors:

 

We can say that such human responses to the seasonal change are another gift of the solstice.

The third gift is the monuments that cultures and civilizations have built worldwide to mark and commemorate the seasons — especially the solstices and equinoxes. Standing stone complexes like Stonehenge, menhirs, passage tombs like Newgrange, earthworks like Serpent Mound, and so on all celebrate and commemorate a planetary event many have long recognized as significant.

Here’s a 2013 video of the creation and lighting of a labyrinth made from 2500 tea-lights at the Holy Cross Church in Frankfurt am Main, Germany:

 

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Winning the Dream

[Updated 8:46 am EST 12 Dec 2019]

I’ve found there’s so often a link between “finding something to write about” and paying attention to whatever might be my spiritual “work of the day”. Start with one, and the other follows you like a stray, till you take it home and make it a member of your household.

These things circle back on themselves, or more accurately — like so much else — they spiral. They’re not exactly the same each time they reappear, because we’re not the same.  No point in a lesson about something I’ve mastered, when there’s so much else a dream could tackle. (Yes, I’m a big believer that our dreams are intelligent and insightful, in spite of our best efforts to ignore them — maybe because we try to ignore them.)

I had a recurring dream throughout my 20s of being back in high school. This kind of thing — a dream-revisiting of a supposedly finished part of our lives — isn’t uncommon. (The worlds interweave much more than we often understand.) Even in the dreams, I often felt blocked, frustrated, sometimes knowing I’d already graduated, but was back because of unfinished business. Sometimes I recognized other people in the dreams, sometimes not.

I kept asking for clarity and resolution, and eventually I did “go back to high school”: I taught in one for a decade and a half. The dreams stopped shortly before the job offer came through: I finally graduated in one dream, years older than my dream classmates. Even in the dream I felt a vast sense of relief.

I’ve come to see that the past wasn’t the only thing I had to deal with. The dreams were offering preparation for the future, too. But it took re-reading of my dream journals from that period to make these connections, the shifting patterns of dozens of high school dreams, to understand part at least of what was happening.

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The title of this post, “Winning the Dream”, is partly to point out (to myself, as much as anybody) how badly “winning” fits either our dreaming or waking selves. We dream the same way we live, not to beat off all competitors (though up to a point anyone can pursue this interesting but ultimately exhausting set of life choices), but because we’re here, and this is what we do. To live, to dream, with the awen thrumming in your blood is an amazing, daunting, humbling, unmissable thing.

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Sometimes, the best transition is no transition at all. One minute you’re asleep, the next you’re awake. My dream, and my life, both leave it to me to figure out.

I suspect — one of my favorite words (rather than “believe”) — that awen is the link here — awen and genius. To work with these two (the same thing?) is to be what the Welsh call an awenydd (ah-WEHN-eeth) — one in touch with spirit: “Spirit energy in flow is the essence of life”, as Emma Restall Orr puts it in Living Druidry (Piatkus Books, 2004).

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Genius. Funny word, much changed from its early sense compared to how we commonly use it these days.

Here’s a sample of the older usage, from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is walking home in the evening shortly before Christmas:

The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who knew its every stone, was fain to grope with his hands. The fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold.

In such older usage we hear something of the Latin origin of the word — genius as “spirit”, as in genius loci, or “spirit of place”. Places, families, individuals each had their associated genius or spirit. (Nowadays we might be more likely to say “atmosphere”, or “vibe”.) From there the meaning of genius grew to include a person connected to an especially impressive spirit — one way others could explain a person of exceptional talents, gifts, virtuosity, or unusual ability. Genius came to mean “great talent”: She’s a genius in the lab. And now it’s also an adjective, common in memes and advertising: Try this genius solution to all your storage challenges!

But if you and I and everybody else enjoys an associated genius, we might be wise to check in first with the genius each of us has, rather than chasing after ones that aren’t native to us. (In fact, as I look at my life, I could well characterize most of its events as a study in either chasing non-native genius, or checking in with native genius.)

Different traditions give the genius a frequently confusing range of names — guardian angels, daemons, jinn, and so on. Some of the more polarized traditions may label the spirits of other traditions as unequivocably evil, though they often viewed their own entities as a much more mixed bag. Acceptable former gods become saints, and vice-versa, while others get tarred with the label devils. (A god or goddess survives if they can ride such changes over centuries and millennia, and work creatively with openings when they arrive.)

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Yesterday morning the hospice client I work with (scroll down to section 4 at the link, if you’re interested) was talking again about labyrinths as spiritual tools, and remarked, “You can only access the wisdom of place if you know the place you’re in”. Everything we experience is real, you might say, putting it another way. We just need to determine which world it’s real in. It doesn’t fit here? Change the this-here to other-here and it just might snap into place, complete the puzzle, fill in the mozaic, carry the melody to its close.

Know the place, know the person, and you know a great deal about the genius, or governing spirit.

In many ways, then, “winning the dream” means know the genius of whatever you’re doing, where you’re at, what you’re into.

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Five questions for sussing out genius:

1) What spirit is driving it? Is it something familiar, something I’ve worked with before? Or something new? A song came through last fall, and I don’t do songs. But maybe that’s the point: it’s time to start singing. A new way spirit is striving to get through, to express what it is, what I am. Or I’m thrown in with people I normally wouldn’t talk with, because we don’t seem to have anything in common. Well, you’re both breathing, right? You share 95% of what’s happened ever since you both started with that in-breath, out-breath thing you’re both doing. The rest, as they say, is mere details.

I stopped off this last Monday for a one-time hospice volunteer respite-visit for the family of a neighborhood 92-year old. They had medical appointments themselves, and volunteers give them precious time away, knowing someone is staying with the family member.

His hearing is still pretty good, though his eyesight means he himself can’t read any more. But nine decades means you’ve seen a good deal. I read a little to him, and we talked. What you “read” at 92 is different than at 20 — but no less valid. As the body wears down, you’re already prepping for the transition, the next rung of the spiral. You can see it in his eyes, sharp and bright as any bird’s. He’s still taking it all in, alert to the surprise of the ordinary, as much as anything else: the taste of his lunch, the warmth of the nearby woodstove (they set his bed just a few feet away), the fall of clumps of snow melting from the roof as the temperature climbed well above freezing — to be here at all, to wear this body, even with its aches and pains, defeats and deficits. Sitting and talking with him, it feels like he’s mastered the skill of being present.

2. What apparent opposites are in play? Spirit so often manifests this way. Polarities set the stage, define the players of the game, map out a particular curve on the spiral, mediate energies at work in the situation. Identify with one or the other, and I may lose sight of the overall dynamic, where it’s actually going, and define myself solely by opposition or resistance. Which may well be the point, or it may completely miss it, depending … But do I know? Have I seen what’s in play, at play, what the drama is today?

3. What’s the flow? Polarities may set the charge moving, but it’s our presence that mediates spirit, that determines what flows toward and away from us. Taoism is a wise study of this particular aspect of being alive, and has much to teach about riding the currents, sailing where we need to go, surfing the waves of the cosmos as they manifest in the weather, the Others in our lives, the kiss of a dog’s nose, the aroma of cooking, the punch of cold air when I open the door to December.

4. What’s the form? The flow arrives into forms and beings, walls and doorways, shaped by awen and wyrd and choice and momentum. Form is a becoming, rather than anything like an endpoint. In worlds of time and space, form is “re-forming” constantly, whether on a slow scale of millennia, like a mountain, or much more rapidly, as in the stages of the life of a mayfly. Do I recognize the forms with and around me, and what energies are arriving through them? Have I included myself as one of those forms? (Exempt myself and I miss a good half of whatever’s going on, what it’s saying to me.)

5. What’s the alignment? What things are being adjusted, modified, “edited”, re-formed, and then opened up again to Spirit? (The cycle begins again, the spiral reforms on a different harmonic.) Where and how — and when? — can I join in, do my part, make a play, run with it?

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Review of “Paganism in Depth: A Polytheist Approach”

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Amazon.com pic

Beckett, John. Paganism in Depth: A Polytheist Approach. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2019.

If you’re “new-ish” to Druidry, Paganism, etc., and you’re looking for a pocket definition of what all this stuff is, what it entails, what at heart it’s doing on the scene, here’s another Pagan and Druid writer, J. M. Greer, with a definition that works for many:

Above all else, Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth … It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit (Druidry – A Green Way of Wisdom).

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Like his first book, The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice (Llewellyn, 2017), this second book by John Beckett delivers on its title. I’m repeating here my preface to that review:

John is a fellow OBOD Druid. We’ve met at several OBOD Gatherings, and I’ve gratefully used and credited his excellent photos in several previous posts here. We’ve talked on occasion, but I don’t know him well, except as a reader of his excellent blog. I participated in his moving Cernunnos rite at East Coast Gathering several years ago.

Usually I only review books I feel I can discuss insightfully and enthusiastically: The Path of Paganism certainly qualifies. I’m adding this personal note as brief background and for completeness.

John’s Dedication page to this new book makes subtle and far-reaching points:

For those who serve their gods and communities when it’s easy and when it’s hard, who take their Paganism ever deeper even when there’s no map, and who trust their own senses when encountering things that some say cannot be: you are building something sacred and beautiful. This book is dedicated to you.

I don’t “do Druidry” primarily as a polytheist — in spite of what you might conclude, at least on the basis of my previous post about Thecu, and intermittent posts over time about Brighid, whom I listen to most closely, as triple goddess of healing, smithcraft and poetry. But I find much of value in this book, just as I did in John’s previous one. As John remarks about the “big tent” of Paganism, there’s room for a wide range of belief, because it’s practice that binds us together, and a well of common experiences.

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“dragon-stone”, Mt. Ascutney, August ’19

Go deeper, “where there are no maps”, and you learn even more deeply to trust what’s true — that is, what bears out that initial quality in your subsequent lived experience. Inner guidance proves valid, insights bear fruit, spiritual help clears the way to good things. There’s “troth” there — all those lovely older English words are clearly linked (and likely sprung from the same root as Druid, the initial d- regularly softened to t- in Germanic languages like English*) — something we can trust, solid as a tree, because of its inherent truth, so that we can form abiding relationships — multiple troths (as in betrothed) — with other beings and places where it manifests. These things quite literally “come true” — they arrive with a particular quality or atmosphere we learn to greet with joy, and to cherish, out of previous experiences with them.

As John perceptively notes:

Our mainstream culture talks about “having faith” that everything will work out OK even if we have no reason to expect it will. Pagans aren’t big on that kind of faith … There is a very utilitarian ethic to spiritual practice: do the work and you get the benefits. Don’t do the work and you won’t. Oftentimes the gods are gracious and give us things we have not earned. Their generosity is a virtue we would do well to emulate. But some things cannot be given, only obtained through sustained effort. No one could give me the experience of running a marathon or the wisdom I gained in doing it. I cannot command the presence of the gods in my life, but without years of devotional practice I would rarely hear them, much less understand what they’re telling me. Whether you want to be a marathon runner or a magician, a concert pianist or a priest, there is a high cost to being the best you can be. The down payment is due in advance and the ongoing payments never end. I’ve found them to be the best investments I’ve ever made (pgs. 206-207).

These comments come late in John’s book. If they showed up in the first paragraph, they might well bewilder or scare off many readers, and perhaps rightly so. His Introduction puts the book’s sections in helpful context. Here I’ll cite one in particular:

The Interlude of this book is titled “I like It Here — Why Do I Have To Leave?” Sometimes we find a certain level of skill and commitment and think we’ve found where we need to be for the rest of our lives. But in a year or two or ten, we start hearing a call to move on again. This section explores what that call looks, sounds, and feels like, why we might want to leave a place where we’re comfortable, and how we can begin the journey (pg. 4).

Finding our own pace, and place, is a lifetime’s quest that no one else can do for us (in spite of holy hucksters and Gucci gurus to the contrary). Nor does John claim “his” Paganism is for everyone. He writes, as he makes clear, as an “Ancestral, Devotional, Ecstatic, Oracular, Magical, Public, Pagan Polytheist” — and after he explains each adjective, he observes:

This is the religion I practice. Your journey will likely take you somewhere different — perhaps somewhat different, perhaps very different. But the methods and practices presented in this book will help you find your way regardless of the direction you take and what your deep Paganism does or doesn’t include (pg. 6).

What strikes me as a practitioner of two different spiritual paths is how much and how well the guidance in this book applies to any path. Of course its explicit polytheist and Pagan assumptions will not serve everyone, but the sections on examining our foundational assumptions, on regular spiritual practice, devotion, study, inclusion, ecstasy, communication with deity, community building, the risks and costs of deep dedication all bear the marks of thoroughly lived spirituality that anyone who has done similar work can attest to and recommend to others. The counsel can seem at times deceptively simple, because 99% of any glitter, hype and buzz has been scoured away by the inward work required.

And not everyone needs to do such work:

In the hyper-individualistic twenty-first century … everyone expects a church to cater to them. And many churches do … They’re struggling to “remain relevant” and they’re desperate to attract members no matter what it takes. My Facebook feed includes some Christians searching for “what meets my needs” and other Christians complaining about entertainment replacing worship. Given these two cultural forces, it’s no surprise many people in our wider society  (from which Paganism and polytheism largely draw their members) don’t know what to make of religions that 1) don’t claim to be for everyone, and 2) don’t attempt to cater to everyone …

So what are you going to do when you go looking for a group to practice with and a community to be a part of? You don’t want to change your identity to satisfy them, and they aren’t going to change their identity to satisfy you. Is there really no room for you in any religion? That can’t be right, or we wouldn’t have covens and orders and churches and such. You can’t get 100 percent of what you want in a group or a tradition. But you can probably get 70 percent, or 80 or maybe even 98 (pgs. 65-67).

John then discusses his involvement with several distinct traditions and organizations, including ADF, Unitarian Universalists, and OBOD, concluding:

There is room for me in all these organizations even though none are an exact match with my own beliefs and practices — that is, with my own religious identity … When I’m in one of their services or rituals I respect their boundaries and priorities and participate with them. When I hear UUs speak of “God” in monotheistic or even non-theistic language, I remember that in this context, the singular “God” is not what’s most important. What’s most important is a group of people coming together to form an open, caring, active religious community (pg. 68).

I’ll end with another excerpt from John’s most recent blogpost (link above), because in it he focuses specifically on polytheist practice and experience relevant to this review and how we might read his book:

A calling from a God doesn’t make you special and it certainly doesn’t give you any authority over others. Mainly it gives you more work to do. A fully-formed religion has room for both dedicated religious specialists and for those who simply want to honor the Gods and live ordinary lives.

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*initial d- softened to t- in Germanic languages like English: this is a regular historic sound change in the Germanic languages (but not their “cousins” — see below) as they evolved from Proto-Indo-European. The same change regularly shows up elsewhere, for example:

Latin decem “ten”, Greek deka, Sanskrit dasa, Welsh deg, English ten;

Latin ducere “lead”, English tug (and Old English heretoga “army leader”);

Latin deus “God, god”, Sanskrit dyaus, Old English Tiw (as in Tue’s day);

Latin duo “two”; Sanskrit dva(u), Greek duo, Welsh dau, English two;

Latin dens, dentis “tooth”; Sanskrit dan, dantah, Greek odon, odontos, Welsh dant, English tooth.

 

 

Creativity’s Messy 3: Gods

I’ve written before about Thecu [ 1 (1 Jul ’17) | 2 (10 July ’17)| 3 (11 July ’17)| 4 (18 Feb. ’18)| 5 (2 Aug. ’18) | 6 (16 Aug. ’18)], sometimes rather obliquely, recording the few details I’ve learned about this goddess. I had to look up the dates of the posts — three in close succession from two and half years ago, then three more, six months apart, over a year ago. After that, noting that my first experience with Thecu dates from 2015, it was easy to conclude that divine time just doesn’t flow like mortal human time.

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Early this morning a little more material came through. Always a light sleeper, I tend to wake between 1:00 and 3:00 am most nights, often for just a short time. A few pages of a book usually send me back asleep till dawn.

This time, though, I was doing the writing I was reading:

Thecu Storm-bringer, Storm-rider, Storm-seeker … I needed to listen to her name — these three variations come through.

Thecu-yel “house of Thecu” — is this a temple or shrine? Brief visual impression of a stone vault in a high place, open to the sky.

offering of a cup of plain water

metal sheet incised with a nine-rayed star and the runes she previously showed me

I am her mov — a “house-beam” of Thecu-yel (???)

Here then are some things she’s apparently asking me to do: provide an offering cup or bowl, and prepare a small metal sheet with a nine-rayed star, each ray ending in one of the runes I’ve written about receiving previously. A few glimpses of cultural practice, some more words, names of things. No sense of urgency, and no promise on my part to see these things done. We’re in early stages yet, deity and human feeling out the terrain between us.

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Creativity and gods? you may be thinking. Well, I’m right there with you. We can forget that every relationship is a creation, a set of gestures and responses on both sides, doing and saying this, not bothering with that. Phoning or texting or meeting at least once a week, or every few months, in that charming/ dimly-lit/ busy/ quiet little coffee-shop/ corner pub/ boulevard deli/ open-air market. Or standing in each other’s kitchens after ritual, plate of potluck balanced precariously in one hand as we wave with the other, underscoring a point we’re making.

One of the messy, creative parts is discernment. True, at this point anyway, it’s pretty clear Thecu’s not drumming up followers. Nor am I the sort who’d join them in carrying banners into the streets to announce her advent, transcribing her holy books, doing the talk-show circuit to proclaim her most recent dramatic revelation, and so on.

I am curious about the words and names that came through, even as I wonder how much of that is my conlanging self at play. As with Paganism generally, what matters more — at least to Thecu, apparently — than any belief I may have about all this is my response to it. I’ll either do or not do what she’s shown me.

Of course I could write all this off as over-active imagination. (How many doors of possibility do we not walk through, with just that excuse dangling around our necks?) Or — with only slightly less transparency of process, along with a great deal more ego — I could declare myself her duly appointed priest-on-the-spot, and launch the book-and-workshop thing, inflated with my own stuff to make up for the sharply-limited amount of material the goddess herself has provided up to now. Padding for the sacred …

Instead, my curiosity fired as she probably knew it would be, I’ll do what Thecu has intimated, and we’ll both take it from there.

To close, I’m re-posting the prayer below from the 2nd link above:

How do I pray to you, goddess of storms?
Let this my prayer be a litany of questions.
How may I best honor you?

You gave me a glimpse, no more,
of landscape, cliffs lapped with green,
mist-hung and mournful,

with this foreign name to call you.
What is your service, what
may I do for you? Why

make yourself known to me?
Unlikely am I, no familiar of shrines,
a god’s service, formal prayer.

Then, too, I know so little of you.
Does naming you for others answer
your purposes? How do I answer you,

goddess of storms? Here are words,
intention, listening. Let this litany
of doubts and questions be first prayer.

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“Holy, Wise, Obscene, and Joyous”

Today my adjectives arrive in a four-pack, all waiting, ready as a title. Actually, they sojourned toward me last night, but I was too tired to do more than note them and carry them into sleep. (What more to say with them?)

Not a bad way for a writer to compost.

Let’s start with holy, north, and earth. Each of us has a holy place — a home, city, spiritual retreat, dream, relationship, cause, purpose, goal — a place where we can store our treasures and sacred objects, a place that grounds us. (And if you don’t have one right now, you’re probably on quest to find one, among all the other things you’re doing.)

What’s your Jerusalem, your Mecca, your Well of Brighid? What’s your north star, your soul’s home, your rest and your dreaming?

Each of us is a holy place, a sacred discovery we may have great trouble with, not seeing spirit looking out of eyes looking into our own.

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Spinning, spinning. On to the east and late sunrise, courtesy of these long nights before the Winter Solstice. Wise, the east, realm of thought, of reflection. The hard-earned wisdom of every life, things we’ve learned, things we’ve always known, things we’re still discovering. It was among ferns that I first learned about eternity, sings Robert Bly, because deep-down, the echo, the rhyme, is just as important as the meaning. Ah, bards!

Obscene, the south? Work with me a moment. It’s the fire that gets us into trouble, as often as not. The untamed in us will have its way, in spite of our better judgment. “If I repent of anything”, Thoreau quips in Walden, “it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?” (Can we also ask, what angel directed me, that I behaved so badly?)

Fire will have our way with us, in spite of other wills, all clamoring for us to do their bidding. Depending on how repressed (or connected) you are, obscene can be your modus operandi — when the going gets tough, you get bawdy. As if the universe finally is playing your song — backwards. Trickster emerges from his burrow, from her mountain pass — one glance and you see you’re twins. You wear each other’s skin. Chaos — because fighting fire with fire. In our native element …

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And West — joyous, the playfulness of water cascading, the tide unceasing, the crash of the surf calling us. Where will water float me to, this time? Pilot for my boat, old friend, let’s weigh anchor and be off again! River, stream, blood in my veins, in these earliest rhythms I know it again, eternal journey. I emerge out of it, I merge back into it.

It asks nothing, it asks my all: “Labour is blossoming or dancing”, sings W B Yeats, “where

The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Dancer, dance — holy, wise, obscene and joyous.

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I spin a quarter turn to the right, then start the cycle again. Holy is now the east, from where the day’s first light blesses us all. Wise is the south, that animal fire un-quenched in us, kindling life, kindling each other. Obscene is now the west: how wet and juicy everything is! — being born, eating, bleeding, loving, sweating, dying. We swim through lives. And joyous is the earth: to be here at all, snow and sun, leaf and love and loss, every place it’s happening, solid, rooted, here.

(Turn another quarter turn to start, then — when you’ve finished, another. How do the Four line up this time? Two meditations for you, to continue two more quarter turns, to look and listen, to explore.)

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

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