Archive for February 2020

Ritual, Consciousness, Inclusion

A current article about an autistic boy denied First Communion (link to USA Today) in his family’s church raises interesting questions. The child is “100% non-verbal”, and the family’s priest says that speaking is an essential part of the ritual — participants in a First Communion must be able to say certain words as part of their preparation.

If the form of a rite is all-important, this makes sense: if you can’t access the form, the ritual benefit doesn’t accrue to you, so there’s no point in you participating.

Does Druid ritual work the same way? In many ways, and at first glance, it certainly does. While anyone who can respect a ritual space and other people in it is usually very welcome at any of the “Great Eight” seasonal rituals*, if those people are autistic, it’s true they may not be able to process — through language — all that takes place.

And a Druid group initiation typically relies even more on language: a set of questions and responses, verbal cues and directions to follow, speaking sacramental ritual words, and so on.

moonreach

No words needed to reach for the moon …

But anyone who’s been moved non-verbally by an experience knows language is just one of many means at our disposal to experience and honor each other, access energy, manifest intent, link to spiritual presence, the sacred. People carry babies into both Christian and Pagan ritual spaces, cats and dogs often wander freely in and out of Pagan sacred circles, and small children are welcome as long they’re not disruptive.

If you’re in a sacred space and have silenced your own inner chatter enough to permit yourself some alertness to Others, you may know the presence of entities who don’t “talk” and can still communicate just fine. How many of us have heeded “nudges” and “gut feelings” to our advantage? We don’t “need” ritual to encounter the sacred: we all participate in it all the time. Life is sacrament: ritual helps to sharpen our consciousness of this spiritual fact.

Would a Druid Order or less formal Gathering “ban an autistic person from an initiation”? Instead, let’s reframe the question: how might Druids accommodate those who rely on other modes than language to access the sacred? Could we prepare them with appropriate modes of experience and instruction to participate? Could we then compose a ritual for them both to catalyze an experience and to welcome them into another state of awareness?

These questions begin to suggest their own answers. Creating “appropriate modes of experience and instruction” would most probably ask for close collaboration between a ritual designer and the families and friends of autistic people. After all, they possess crucial insight into means: they know better than anyone that the autistic person particularly likes this animal and has papered her bedroom walls with pictures of it, shows especial connection to X place, connecting to its trees and stones, has always preferred the colour Y, loves that song by Z, and so on.

Out of such things, both instruction and a “capstone” ritual can be drafted. Good ritual design means hallowing such associations, and making much of them. The personal details of our lives are already the rough material that spirit uses to reach us in a myriad of ways, and human differences like autism needn’t “make a difference” in this spiritual truth.

If we take it to heart, using the vehicle of Christian language, that the “Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”, we know that forms are secondary to spiritual purpose. Yes, a legalistic mindset can also quote scripture for its purpose — “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle** shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” — and we’ve seen all too often how the “jot-and-tittlers” of the world tend to latch onto power and lord it over others wherever they can.

But in the middle of where I am right now, rather than worrying over-much about what other people are doing, I can attend to my own life: how am I called today to help spirit flow into this situation, this moment, this time and place? My work is to answer that call, that question, that spiritual summons, with all the love and creativity I can muster.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*The approximate dates of the “Great Eight” seasonal rituals of the “Wheel of the Year” of much Druidry and modern Paganism:

Samhain/Hallowe’en/All Hallows, Oct. 31/Nov. 1

Yule/Winter Solstice/Alban Arthan, December 21

Imbolc/Groundhog Day/Candlemas, February 1/2

Spring Equinox/Alban Eilir/Ostara, March 21

Beltane/May Day, May 1

Summer Solstice/Litha/Alban Hefin, June 21

Lunasa/Lughnasadh/Lammas, August 1

Autumn Equinox/Mabon/Alban Elfed, September 21

**The English equivalent is “dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s”.

Image: Pexels.com

“It is difficult/”

to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

OK, W. C. Williams, I’ll bite. What’s “the news”? What is it that’s “found there” in poems and songs? Is it really different — better — more necessary — than other things, found in other places? If it is, how can you — or I — trust it?

How we answer these questions (any Bards worth their salt pose difficult ones) goes far to showing us for what we are, where we find what we need, and whether any number of us are dying from a lack of it.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could — at last! — track down that skittish, reluctant poem, lasso it, corral it, hog-tie it and get it to give up its … what?

For all its seeming colloquial innocence, the poem fragment threatens to stalk mythic ground. More about that in a bit.

/|\ /|\ /|\

There’s a funny, wry essay (if you’re into actually reading things called “essays”!) called “The Arrogance of Poetry”, by Mark Halliday. (It appeared almost two decades ago now, in the Georgia Review in 2003. Here’s a Jstor link to the first page of it, where you can get a taste, and see if you want to sign in and read the rest of it for free.)

Halliday speaks a common truth: “We are romantics: we keep expecting the marvelous ___ that will change our lives. We try to ___ intelligently, even skeptically, but we are ready to fall in love”.

Fill in the blanks from your own experience. Versions, versions. It’s no surprise that Halliday’s has “poem” and “read”, but I suspect you can do better, because it’s your life we’re talking about, after all.

Right now — Sunday, a sunny afternoon in late February, my belly reasonably full of a very late breakfast of eggs and toast — I’d fill the two blanks with “insight” and “live”: “We keep expecting the marvelous insight that will change our lives. We try to live intelligently, even skeptically …”

Maybe you write “deity” and “worship”. Or perhaps for you it’s “person” and “date”, or “high” and “use”. If you’re flush with cash, it could even be “decorator” and “remodel”, or “designer” and “dress”.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Poem, song, Other, Grail. We storm the castle, only to find it empty and cold. We hold the Grail in our hands, but then fail to recognize it before we set it down and walk away. Perceval, Lancelot, Galahad. Guinevere, Elaine, Isolde. So many stories.

Tennyson writes:

Then move the trees, the copses nod,
Wings flutter, voices hover clear
“O just and faithful knight of God!
Ride on! the prize is near”.

Yes. Always over the next hilltop, around the next curve. A sensible Druid might sit down and stretch out under the trees, instead, and listen to those wings, voices, leaves. Who knows who will get “there” sooner?

/|\ /|\ /|\

The “daily practice” I’m always yammering about is one of the few things I know for sure.

I bring the bowl to the Fountain, hold it out, and once again it fills. It’s not much, just a modest bowl, rough pottery, nothing fancy, carrying enough for a deep drink, or a day’s cooking. Tomorrow I’ll need to refill it. When I bring it inside, I set it by a window. Sometimes the sun glitters on the surface of the water. Then the sparkle flashes across the opposite wall, blinding bright for a moment.

/|\ /|\ /|\

metsno2

I bring in the sheet of metal I’ll use to incise the runes of storm that Thecu asked for. I’d left the gray metal tilted against a stone in the backyard, a landmark in case a storm came and covered it before I’d fetched it in. Across the stone surface, a tracery of lichens — some green from snowmelt — say nothing.

Posted 23 February 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, grail, spiritual practice, spiritual quest

Tagged with , ,

What It’s All For, Part 157

“Why am I dealing with these things now, at 71?” a dear older friend asked recently. “Couldn’t I have tackled it earlier along the way?” After a pause, he answered his own question: “But I didn’t have the necessary perspective any sooner than this to handle what I discovered about myself, and about the work I needed to do”. I spiral like we all do, when I think I’m merely circling. Last year, this year, next year. More of the same old thing, or something new, unexpected, challenging. Often both together. Arms of the spiral.

byard-snow

Silver-white back yard, 11:42 am EST, 10 Feb 2020

Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time knows my focus rests primarily on the inner texture and quality of my journey. Among other things, I’m a Druid, and sometimes I’ll post about a more outer-facing “Druid” subject — a sacred grove, an altar, images from a group ritual I took part in. But mostly I write about aspects of my own spiritual growth, or lack of it; about my questions, doubts, strategies, techniques, discoveries — things I hope are also useful in some degree to anyone who practices a spiritual path over time. Especially after the initial gloss has worn off, the honeymoon is past, the foothills are behind you, and the first outlines of your life’s work present themselves. And usually not in a form you expect, or even recognize right away.

This is the point when I find it’s often fitting to laugh helplessly, laugh so hard you end up gasping for breath. Or maybe it’s not fitting, but I do it anyway. Because you can’t take yourself too seriously. (Well, of course you can, and we all know those who do, but they’re often not the easiest people to be around. By the grace of forbearing friends and family, may I learn to grow out of my own vanity. If you’ve been with this blog long enough, you know most of what we work on falls into two categories, ego project or container issue.)

Enough of you recognize something of your own experience in what I write here that you keep coming back. Or at least you find the spectacle of my journey entertaining, because in fact it’s nothing like yours at all. You’re crafting a wand, planting a sustainable garden, protesting inert government officials to get off their asses, raising children to honour the earth and each other, or you’re single, widowed, newly launched into a different life than you foresaw, but living your path as best you can, in all its singular beauty and strangeness, in churches, temples, bedroom shrines, backyard altars, cathedrals of trees, holy places of the heart. You belong to a god or gods, or you’re non-theistic, you know the signs and songs and pass-words of your beliefs and practices and community, even if they no longer describe you fully, or maybe especially if they do.

Or you’re undergoing your own inner apprenticeship, something near-impossible to talk about, even with dear friends, and especially with family, who are often the last to know, or to come to grips with how dear Sue or Bill or Jimmie has “changed” and grown into something exotic and possibly uncomfortable and maybe more than a little threatening to an old dynamic that no longer works for all the people it used to link and to explain to each other. Or you’re bound firmly, as far as you can tell, in a circle that for whatever reason you need to stay in for now, in order to survive at all.

All you know, to quote that Victorian or maybe Edwardian novel, is that for your family, you are no longer PLU — “People Like Us”. Elvis has left the building. The horses have broken through the fence and gallop, heedless of human cries, across the plain and away.

Or you’re not changing. Everything and everyone else has changed. You’re becoming more of who you’ve always been. Why can’t they see that?!

Right in the midst of such tumult, it can feel like the very last thing that’s happening is “what it’s all for”. Instead it feels the exact opposite of that. Let the dust settle and the rubble stop bouncing, though, and a different outline can begin to emerge.

(Try to map spiritual geography most people will recognize and you miss the mark 50% of the time. Still, in baseball, that’s a mightily impressive record.)

/|\ /|\ /|\

I know now that what it’s really all about is the white rabbit.

hare2

My mother’s elder sister gave me this porcelain hare when I was seven. We’d visit her just once a year, for a long weekend — my mother and I traveled to Iowa most springs to stay with that side of the family. I remember thinking some seven-year-old boy version of “But I can’t play with it — it’s too delicate”. It was a “shelf-sitter” for sure, but even then it carried a charm it’s never lost for me. Its pinkness never bothered me as “girly” or wrong for a boy (I shot the image above on a pink towel to emphasize the painted highlights). For all I know the figure was a commonplace object several decades ago — some of you may have one just like it sitting on a mantle. But all I knew then was that someone had entrusted me with a delicate object, one valuable for its own sake, not for what I could do with it. It arrived, as such gifts sometimes can, at a moment when I could appreciate it.

In all the many moves of my life — at last count, 22, including to and from China, Japan, Korea, and six states in the U.S. — it’s traveled without damage. I thought of it for a long time as an Easter rabbit — not THE Easter Rabbit, but a rabbit associated with springtime. Now it’s an Imbolc hare as well.

Blessings of Imbolc
hare to you, warmth of white fur
soft as dream, close as the dreaming sky
against your skin. Grace of paws
in the snow to you, delicate toes,
each touching with its own print.

Blessings of animal presences to you.
Alertness of hare to you, ears pointed
towards the awen, that whisper
each of us hears, time’s changes tumbling
round us. Fleet foot of the hare
to you, the answering dance of hare,
a dive into a burrow, or a mad dash
(dash of the Mad March hare, a month early)
for the nearby hedge and through,
through to all the bright fields opening beyond.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Posted 10 February 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, hare, Imbolc, magic, spiral

Tagged with , , ,

But What’s It All For?

[edited/updated 10 Feb 2020]

(I’ve posted rants before, and alerted readers up front. What follows is another, lit with caffeine, a dose of the cabin fever of a typical long New England winter, and maybe even some insight.)

snowdrops

What’s a spiritual path for?

We can say, using a mixed bag of traditional language, that its goal is to reconnect us with cosmic law, attune us to deity, re-balance us, align us with the flow of the Ten Thousand Things, show us God’s will, conform us to the ways of Spirit, and so on. (Sometimes it’s to save us. Other times it spends us like the prodigal sons and daughters we are. Either way, value gets exchanged.)

Or we can use the language of modern commerce and say we want to optimize our results, so we can increase efficiency, profits, and customer satisfaction. (Pay particular attention here: do you respond, like I sometimes do, more to this formulation of the goal than to the first? Ask yourself why, and then ask what follows from your response.)

If you’ve read the classic Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (maybe pausing to ask “Why seven?”), you know there’s little new under the sun. The magic of the book isn’t the habits themselves so much as it is its streamlining and re-ordering of principles we’ve always known, which is a magical act: to optimize flow, to organize what we need to understand and feel and do, all in ways our minds and emotions and bodies can recognize and put into motion.

We need and seek out such new re-formulations of old wisdom in every age.

Or if a book’s not your thing, you can find an even more compact form of the Seven Habits at the author’s website. They’re an excellent primer for whatever we intend to achieve.

Memes are another form of magic. If something “goes viral”, that means it’s found the optimal way to spread, to replicate, to make its mark. Using image and word, it shapes itself as a key to locks everywhere. It activates upon arrival. Like an object within range of the motion sensors on the sliding doors of our psyches, it opens us and enters.

Advertisers deploy music, light, voice, color, rhythm, beauty, movement and image — magical techniques, every one of them — and opening us, they implant desires in us for things we never knew we wanted.

Mages look with vast amusement at our materialistic culture that often mocks magic or “doesn’t believe in it”, even as we encounter and often yield to magical influences every single day of our lives. In the process, magical techniques earn billions of dollars for their users, bending our thoughts, emotions, and credit cards to the wills of corporate and political magicians who’ve mastered some of the cruder techniques of glamouring other people. This isn’t paranoia but simple fact: what else is advertising for? What are political campaigns ultimately intended to accomplish? A catchy slogan, a memorable logo, an appealing face and even a dollop of charisma, and you’re halfway there.

You could say that beginning spirituality is nothing other than beginning to (re)build our “defenses against the dark arts” a la Harry Potter. Anyone half-awake (and I don’t mean “woke”) knows the need for such D.A.D.A. is at an all-time high today. Exhibit A: today’s headlines and media feeds any time we choose to look at them.

While carnival- and circus-owners and confidence-men long ago discovered “There’s a sucker born every minute”, we can (to mix a metaphor or two) learn not to suck. The old Hippocratic oath “Do no harm” may not resound in many ears like it used to, but everyone still needs to swear some version of it. We can update it to the jargon of a 21st-century version: Don’t be a jerk. This can be our Silver Rule, since clearly so many of us no longer want to know or practice the Golden version. The Medieval world and its Latin speakers had their own con-men, and their own cynical, world-weary warning: Mundus vult decipi. “The world wants to be deceived”.

Looking for a guide for electing government officials, choosing life partners, spiritual guides, car dealers? If you can’t find anyone who works with the habits of effective people, then “simplify, simplify”. Find one who’s at least trying to practice the new Silver Rule and shows some persistence at it. And with any discernment, and the blessings of even one small god or goddess, we can begin to practice it ourselves. (So I begin again, which is I suspect 9/10 of any spiritual path worth walking.)

/|\ /|\ /|\

Thecu and Brighid, storm goddess and triple goddess, both in their own ways forging, healing and inspiring us:

When storms pound the walls of the world, empower me with wisdom.
When thunder rages, forge my sinews into strength for myself and others.
When human contrivances fail and fall in tempests, illuminate my path forward.
When the bridge breaks, guide me to build a boat to cross with.
When fires blast, fix my will to continue what my ancestors began.
When the shores vanish, show me your compass.
When darkness shrouds my North Star, show me light within.

Now this is a prayer of petitions and visualization. (Adjust the pronouns at need.) But sometimes such forms can feel too demanding. I often like a more meditative version as well, one that encourages me to see these things already in manifestation, not merely waiting to appear. Just a few tweaks — acknowledging the presence of the goddesses already, of spirit at work before I even begin to think the words …

When storms pound the walls of the world, you empower me with wisdom.
When thunder rages, you forge my sinews into strength for myself and others.
You illuminate my forward path, when human contrivances fail and fall in tempests.
When the bridge breaks, you guide me to build a boat to cross with.
When fires blast, you fix my will to continue what my ancestors began.
You show me your compass before the shore has vanished.
When darkness shrouds my North Star, you show me light within.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Image: Pexels.com.

Making the Most of “Magic Sunday”

Here we are, on an excellent day to test our actual as opposed to our rationalized beliefs: It’s “Magic Sunday”. What’s that, you ask (if you haven’t already read the day’s numerological clickbait)?

sugar-shack

A “sugar-shack”, New England Imbolc — the start of maple syrup making

Whether you deploy the European sequence of day-month-year, or the North American one of month-day-year, today is 02-02-2020. A palindrome, the same sequence backwards and forwards. You can read more about it in the middle-market, slightly left-leaning USA Today. (I monitor a range of about a dozen papers spanning the political spectrum. Leftist hysteria balances rightist hysteria, sort of like stomach acid and an antacid, except not.)

After reading the article, ask yourself: do you feel your mood or perspective even slightly altered, knowing the rarity of a palindrome date like today’s 02022020 sequence last occurred some 900 years ago? (See Palindrome Daypalindrome date.) Of course, if you keep reading, other similar dates loom in the next two years. Anticlimactic?

Try doing a task today, specifically focusing on the rarity of the date as a source of empowerment — even, or especially, if you don’t believe in such things.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Now add to this the celebration of today, at least in North America, as Groundhog Day (No shadow! Early Spring! Go, Punxsutawney Phil!). And Imbolc. Does that change anything for you?

The foregoing is an illustration of our varying susceptibility to what’s been called “magical thinking”.

I find the term less than useful, because it’s often disparaging: irrational, superstitious, and so on. Instead, let’s look at all such things simply as inputs. Inputs surround us continuously: the weather, our diet, home, job, nationality, other affiliations, memberships and identities both chosen and inherited. What do we grant access to our mood, attitude, perspective, belief system, emotions? What operates largely below our level of awareness, as a sort of background hum? What do we resolutely shut out so decisively that it can gain little traction with us (even if it impinges subconsciously)? Do we even know?

Take it as a “Druid challenge”, or a bit of research, a holy ritual, a game — whatever makes it useful and engaging to you.

And if so inclined, try a form of alchemical magic most everyone uses — coffee, or a little sugar, in the form of maple products, sweets, cookies, candy — to satisfy that midwinter carbohydrate craving — and give you a “magical” sugar or caffeine buzz. Now that you’ve magicked yourself, explore what comes next.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Image: Wikipedia sugar-shack.

Welcome, Brighid

Often, simple is best.

Mantle of Brighid about me,
Memory of Brighid within me,
Protection of Brighid around me
keeping me from harm,
from ignorance, from heartlessness,
this day and night,
from dawn till dark,
from dark till dawn.

— John O’Donohue (adapted), The Four Elements, Transworld Ireland, 2010, pg. 109. (Also available in Random House editions.)

b-cross

Crafting Brighid’s crosses. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

Outdoor Imbolc, Mystic River Grove:

fhanks-outdoor-imb

Outdoor rite. Photo courtesy F. Hanks.

May you be forged anew, inspired and healed.

/|\ /|\ /|\

 

Posted 1 February 2020 by adruidway in Brighid, Brigid's cross, Druidry, Imbolc

Tagged with , , ,

%d bloggers like this: