Archive for April 2020

A Beltane Solo Rite

[Updated 19:55 EST 30 April 2020]
calendulaThe following is meant merely as a ritual template. With practice, we naturally reshape what we do. There’s no particular advantage to holding on to a tradition, or to any ritual expressions of it, that don’t nourish and sustain us. If the language feels too formal in places, or just isn’t you, change it to fit. Like a new pair of jeans or shoes, you’ll work them in.

[For a contrasting Beltane rite, see John Beckett’s 2015 blogpost.]

Read through your rite aloud at least once. You can begin to approximate the sound and flow of the ritual in this way, visualizing, as you read, the space where you will perform it, the objects and actions you choose to include, any ritual gestures, and the central part, where your intentions, prayers, songs, etc. will come from your circumstances and choices and intention. If you have one or two other people joining you, experiment with ways of dividing up the lines among you. Rehearse that ritual!

Time spent in meditation, or in the space where you’ll hold the rite, as well as time gathering the materials you will need, are all part of the larger ritual we perform. In some senses, ritual is simply an intermittent and concentrated reminder of the greater temple of sacred time and space we inhabit all our days.

Ritual Preparations: bathe beforehand. Alternatively, if you have a ritual fire space, use the ash to mark yourself before your ritual. A particular piece of jewelry, a sash or headband, a musical accompaniment like a bell, chime, drum or rattle, can help make your rite more vivid. Perhaps you have a special incense, or herbal tincture to use.

Materials: flat space, table or rock for altar; container of earth, sand or a pinch of salt for North; a container of water for West, a feather, fan or incense for East; a torch, candle or lamp for South; any gifts, offerings, objects for blessing, poems, songs, etc.; matches or lighter; ritual objects to decorate the space; ritual jewelry or clothing; musical instruments or playback devices.

The Rite

[Choose where you will stand to begin. Many ancient rites position the celebrant in the West, facing East. Your location may suggest other possibilities.]

Earth below me and in my bones,
Sky above me and in my breath,
Seas around me and in my blood,
by the Power of these holy Three,
I proclaim this to be sacred time and space.
[Strike a bell, gong, or drum
or make some other ritual gesture to mark this moment.]

Here the deep dark of Annwn* [AHN-noon],
here the shining of Gwynvid [GWIN-veed],
Here also Abred [AH-bred], middle realm, and mortal —
I stand in all three worlds.

I welcome all of good will,
bird and bug, beast and bough,
friends, teachers, ancestors of blood and spirit,
Guardians of this Land.

[With forefinger and middle finger extended outward
as the wand we always carry, walk (or turn) clockwise and imagine,
or feel, a shining circle appear as you turn, saying these words]
For the good of all beings, I call on your aid
as I cast the Circle of this rite.

[Turning clockwise to face the North]
With this earth [or salt] I bless and hallow this circle.
Be welcome, power of the North.
[Pause and inwardly welcome the North.]

[Turning clockwise to face the South]
With this fire, I bless and hallow this circle.
Be welcome, power of the South.
[Pause and inwardly welcome the South.]

[Turning clockwise to face the East]
With this feather/fan/incense, I bless and hallow this circle.
Be welcome, power of the East.
[Pause and inwardly welcome the East.]

[Turning clockwise to face the West]
With this water I bless and hallow this circle.
Be welcome, power of the West.
[Pause and inwardly welcome the West.]

[Depending on the time of day, turn East (early), South middle part of day), or West (afternoon/evening). Slowly open your arms as you say the words]
With the blessings of all, I open the Beltane Gates of Fire!

[Here belongs the heart of your rite, and so it is fitting to speak and act from the heart: any prayers, offerings, remembrances, songs, poems. You may wish to dedicate yourself, announce an intention, bless an object, burn a symbol of something that no longer sustains you in your life, and so forth. Perhaps it is now that you light your Beltane fire. You may wish to thank ancestors, teachers, mentors. You may want to make offerings in gratitude, to share in good things you have received. You can include the Druids’ Prayer, the Peace Prayer, the Druid Vow**, or some other formal recitation, as it feels right to do.]

[The close of the rite reverses the opening.]
Now is the time of return. [Pause.]

[Turn West.]
Power of the West, I thank you for your presence and blessings.

[Turn East.]
Power of the East, I thank you for your presence and blessings.

[Turn South.]
Power of the South, I thank you for your presence and blessings.

[Turn North.]
Power of the North, I thank you for your presence and blessings.

[With forefinger and middle finger extended outward, walk (or turn) counter-clockwise and imagine, or feel, the shining circle disappear as you turn.]
As I uncast the Circle, let goodwill go forth and outward to all beings.

May there be blessings and balance in all three realms, Annwn [AHN-noon], Gwynvid [GWIN-veed], and Abred [AH-bred].

By the Power of these holy Three,
Seas around me and in my blood,
Sky above me and in my breath,
Earth below me and in my bones [stomp once],
It is complete and whole!

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*For an interesting take on these realms of existence, see this link: Annwn, Gwynvid, Abred.

**The Druid Vow

We swear by peace and love to stand,
Heart to heart and hand in hand.
Mark, O Spirit, and hear us now,
Confirming this, our sacred vow.

 

As Above, So Below: Really?!

[Edited/updated 2 May 2020]

Ye Gods, what does that say about the Above right now?!

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backyard pond, Monday afternoon

The direction of flow, as I’m still learning, is pretty much from Above to Below. What we experience here is a mix of what we’ve been working on for a while and what’s shaping to come through now. We’re quarantined in our physical bodies in RSM — the Realm of Slow Manifestation — even as we sense realms of faster manifestation — RFMs.

Which is why this realm can be so amazingly frustrating, difficult, resistant at times. It’s sluggish, a world of inertia and equilibrium. It takes at least some effort to manifest (though we’ve all had those glorious moments where spirit dances through us and we’re not a separate thing from what’s taking on form). If you’ve ever edited a Wiki article, we’re in the Sandbox. It’s rough draft, workshop, not-yet-beta-version. It’s penciled in, a sketch. We tap into RFM in imagination, dream, vision, hunch, ritual, prayer, inspiration — then run straight back into the denser world of RSM when we work on bringing the vision into form, in a world of time and space. Creativity, like any ritual, asks me to ground and center.

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old newspaper makes great ready-to-plant seed starters

The natural world generously sweeps me up into the possibilities of manifestation. The marvel is that it does this every year, in every season, regardless of whether I’m paying attention.

In the Northern hemisphere, spring’s taking center stage now. Trees put out new leaves, seed becomes sprout — the squash seedlings I started a few weeks ago from some hoarded three-year-old seed are rising to greet the light. Sometimes you can almost hear the nature spirits hovering over each green thing whispering Grow, grow.

Like you, I come back each morning into this world of manifestation, and depending on how the previous day went, what foods I took into my body, what thoughts I cherished, what memories glowed, what emotions I encouraged to spark through me, I may or may not look much more than a day older.

selfportHere I am late last night, a bit zombified and stretched after a long day and too much coffee. We wake up each morning to resume this project of physical existence, so immersed in it that we forget nearly everything else that’s going on.

But even the surprise of coming back every day diminishes and leaves us after a while. (You can still see something of that astonishment in the faces of babies and young children.)

By our early teens, most of us take such arrivals for granted, a foundation we presume and build on, forgetting how astonishing it is that each new day things are pretty much as we left them. We’re only surprised when they aren’t, not when they are.

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old year — maple leaves and pine needles

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dandelions in spite of night-time frosts

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lichens on pine stump

Moving my altar stone, even after asking the rock if wanted to move, is a matter of thirty minutes’ labor, counting breaks.

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stages of manifestation 1 — the rock was too heavy to skid on a sheet of metal roofing

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stages of manifestation 2

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stages of manifestation 3

One advantage of this physical realm of weight, inertia, gravity, resistance, and so on is that things (mostly) stay put. I won’t have to re-imagine and re-visualize the rock in place tomorrow. In all likelihood, it will still be where I lugged it. (A magical postulate: car keys and cell phones are apparently exempt from this cosmic law.)

A disadvantage of this physical realm: because of that same weight, inertia, gravity and resistance, I may rush to conclude that things have to stay as they are, that they can only be as they currently manifest. That’s one reason I’m here (I don’t know about you): I’m still learning all the pieces of the art of manifestation, how to do it with grace and love and passion.

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Aladdin — Parts 2 and 3

[Part 1 | Parts 2 and 3]

This post really combines two sections, Parts 2 and 3 of a series, so it’s longer than usual. But I wrote them as a single document, so for now they’re staying together, because they feel closely linked.

Depending on your interest, you might want to focus on one section and skim the other. The first looks at a specific mini Aladdin-ritual I’ve been exploring, as I draft larger rituals. The second examines the remarkable wider cultural context and background of Aladdin.

ONE

https://i0.wp.com/www.robertphoenix.com/content/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/alchemicalmoon.jpgAll magic is polarity magic, intone some Mages who should know better. On the evidence of her novels The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic, Dion Fortune could easily rank among that magical fraternity. (Popularizations of the idea include Berg and Harris’s 2003 Polarity Magic: The Secret History of Western Religion.) It is true that much magic can manifest through working with polarities of many kinds — it resembles electricity in this regard.

The idea of mystical marriage, of two balancing figures, is an ancient and pervasive one. Christians speak of Christ as groom and the Church as bride. Alchemy is replete with images of kings and queens, marriages and dissolutions symbolizing alchemical and spiritual transformations.

Red King and White Queen: the Rosarium PhilosophorumThe 1550 Rosarium Philosophorum “Rosary of the Philosophers” includes images like the one to the right of the Red King and the White Queen, often used to represent sulfur and mercury, energizing and potential forces or modes. But polarities alone can settle into an equilibrium, or stasis. (We experience this in ourselves;  though expressing both forces at least in potential, we may fear or favor one or the other. In some sense, then, we often short-circuit ourselves on our way to manifestation.) The needed third principle, here represented by the dove of Spirit, energizes the alchemical pair. For this reason among others, Druidry develops the principle of the Triad, sometimes represented in ritual as earth, sea and sky, as a reminder that Three are needed for manifestation. (Polarity, by itself, isn’t enough.)

jasminewj

One pole of a polarity learning to trust the other.

We can see in Aladdin a marriage of such magical currents. The Princess and Aladdin both catalyze each other. Aladdin’s “chance” meeting with Jasmine in the Agrabah market inspires him to pursue the connection they both experienced there. And Jasmine is able to demonstrate full Sultana authority through her association with this other “diamond in the rough” — she activates his potential, helping him become Prince Ali. As some critics have noted, in many ways the story of Aladdin, especially in the 2019 version, has become Princess Jasmine’s story. For she is the real center and heroine of the drama — a further manifestation and unfolding of the archetype.

Each character mirrors for the other the opportunity to transform and manifest who they already are. Aladdin would never have agreed to seek out the lamp for Jafar had the motivation to impress Jasmine not prodded him to act. And Jasmine would never have claimed her rightful identity without the unmasking of Jafar which Aladdin helps her achieve. Aladdin the skillful liar and “street rat” might never be able to tell the real story of himself without Jasmine. And Jasmine might remain “speechless”, without an equal and partner to help her be heard, to speak with the innate authority and force she already possesses.

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The Princess summoning both the movie character and also her Inner Hakim

Check out the double and related meanings of the Arabic word/name hakim: “physician, wise man”; “ruler”. Jasmine summons these forces after the song “Speechless” which confirms she will be heard.

I’ve been exploring a simple mini-ritual that appears to catalyze this on a subtle level. It involves the hands, those magical implements ready to distribute energy, which feature in all manner of social interactions, theater, and human technology, as well as magic. Think of all the idioms in every human language that involve the hands …

Simply put, using the magical understanding of physical polarity in the human body, I can work with the currents of energy that flow through the hands. The right hand is typically charged opposite to the left, so that a circuit of force exists when we take the hands of a person standing opposite us, my right in the other’s left, my left in the other’s right. We can align this way because we mirror each other, irrespective of biological gender.

The mini-ritual I’m practicing involves that link-up with archetypes from the Aladdin story: manifest a connection with those energies through visualization of such a polarity connection. (Versions of this ritual involving another person assuming the identity of another character archetype from the Aladdin story are something I’m still developing.)

I sit, breathing to center and ground myself. Welcoming the particular figure I wish to work with, I hold out my right hand palm downward, imagining the Other’s left hand in mine, palm up. Likewise, I hold out my left hand palm upward, imagining the Other’s right hand in mine, palm down. Together we form a magical circuit, into which I place my intention, spending equal parts of the ritual listening and visualizing. At the close, I offer the “praying hands” gesture of palm to palm as a salute and closing of the ritual. A further visualization and ritual detail: here I join my polarities into a single gesture, acknowledging how I’ve added to my capacity, however subtly, for manifesting the spiritual wholeness that is my true identity.

This mini-ritual has already proven useful in manifesting changes in behavior I have been seeking, including a break with an old habit that no longer serves me as I age. Having “initialized” the gesture as a magical one with a specific intent, I can now make the gesture whenever I find old thought-forms in my awareness, and tap into the magical transformation associated with the gesture to break down the habits of thought and emotion that accompanied the behavior.

TWO

Even as the magical potential of the Aladdin story took hold of my interest and imagination, some obvious questions came with it. Why look outside the Celtic/Northern European world for magical imagery and practices, when that world is so rich and still not fully explored?

Several reasons. First, the Aladdin story is very widely known in the West — its imagery and symbolism are readily available. Beneath the Eastern setting, the story is one already familiar in the West, because it reflects universal elements found worldwide: the Poor Boy Who Makes Good, rising to the level of his inner qualities, the Quest, the Ruler Constrained by Tradition, the Animal Helpers, the Prince-and-Princess love story, the Evil Sorcerer, the Spirit Guide or Teacher, the Magical Object.

In other words, we’re dealing with archetypes.

Second, one of the strengths of Druidry is how we can adapt it to the land where we’re living. Or more accurately, how the Land teaches us to adapt, if we’re listening. This is one of the signal characteristics of Earth Spirituality. British Druidry isn’t the same as American Druidry, which isn’t identical with Australian or New Zealand practice. Names and places change. The seasons often don’t match up from region to region, the land itself has a different history, with different memories, presences, energies, patterns. No reason to keep a practice that doesn’t fit. Good reasons to adapt practices that do.

Building on the previous point, because Aladdin has Middle Eastern and Asian origins, aren’t these posts also instances of cultural appropriation?

In a 2018 Vox.com interview with Susan Scafidi,  who authored Who Owns Culture?, Scafidi notes “there’s a spectrum of cultural appropriation, from harmful misappropriation to creative and often collaborative inspiration”. The interview offers several excellent examples and links, including controversies surrounding pop stars like Beyonce, Madonna and Bruno Mars that, not surprisingly, were sometimes misinterpreted, misreported, sensationalized and politicized.

Scafidi continues: “Source communities themselves are the best arbiters of what is or is not misappropriation … We would never [be able to] taste others’ traditional dishes, buy unfamiliar ingredients, or create fusion cuisines without this kind of permissive exchange”.

And that brings us to a most curious feature of the Aladdin story: the original 1001 Nights didn’t include the most famous stories associated with it — Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sinbad — until the first translation into a European language in 1704 by Frenchman Antoine Galland. Did Galland invent his own stories to add to the collection? Were his claims to hearing additional stories like Aladdin from the Maronite Christian Hanna Diyab truthful?

You can read historian Arafat Razzaque’s 2017 “Who Wrote Aladdin?”, one study of this fascinating history, here. And more generally, the stories that were mostly gathered into The Arabian Nights, or One Thousand and One Nights, have origins, antecedents and versions in Arabic, Chinese, Pali, Sanskrit, Farsi, etc., as well as a history dotted with forgeries, back-translations, reinterpretations, cultural exchanges between Europe and the Mediterranean, and all manner of intrigue, mysterious informants, lost and recovered manuscripts, and so forth.

Razzaque observes:

It is a shameful legacy of authorship that Galland never once bothered to name Hanna Diyab in his publications. In our haste to dismiss Aladdin as an Orientalist construct, we risk further perpetuating this erasure of someone who has been described as “probably the greatest modern storyteller known by name” (Marzolph 2012).

No doubt, it is important to see “the Arabian Nights as an Orientalist text,” as in Rana Kabbani’s classic critique, and to interrogate the ways in which the 1001 Nights has long been used to uphold absurd stereotypes, not least by Disney. Likewise, as even its Arabic printing history suggests, we must remember how the text’s modern production was often tied up in the power dynamics of European colonialism.

But these necessary critiques should not be at the cost of negating the agency and creative imagination of “Orientals” themselves.

For a racier take, here’s Ha-Aretz‘s click-baity titled but still worthwhile “1001 Lies: Everything You Know About Aladdin Is Wrong“.

If you’re interested in still more, consider the soon-to-be-published book cited at the end of this post. (Its price as listed is well beyond my means, but it should be available through interlibrary loans.)

Akel, Ibrahim, and William Grannara. The Thousand and One Nights: Sources and Transformations in Literature, Art, and Science (Studies on Performing Arts & Literature of the Islamicate World). Brill, 2020.

Publisher’s note: “The Thousand and One Nights does not fall into a scholarly canon or into the category of popular literature. It takes its place within a middle literature that circulated widely in medieval times. The Nights gradually entered world literature through the great novels of the day and through music, cinema and other art forms. Material inspired by the Nights has continued to emerge from many different countries, periods, disciplines and languages, and the scope of the Nights has continued to widen, making the collection a universal work from every point of view. The essays in this volume scrutinize the expanse of sources for this monumental work of Arabic literature and follow the trajectory of the Nights’ texts, the creative, scholarly commentaries, artistic encounters and relations to science. Contributors: Ibrahim Akel, Rasoul Aliakbari, Daniel Behar, Aboubakr Chraèibi, Anne E. Duggan, William Granara, Rafika Hammoudi, Dominique Jullien, Abdelfattah Kilito, Magdalena Kubarek, Michael James Lundell, Ulrich Marzolph, Adam Mestyan, Eyup Ozveren, Marina Paino, Daniela Potenza, Arafat Abdur Razzaque, Ahmed Saidy, Johannes Thomann and Ilaria Vitali”.

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Images: Princess Jasmine from Aladdin; fair use for commentary/derived work; copyright Walt Disney Corporation, 2019.

Aladdin as a Source of Magical Practice — Part 1

[Updated 27 April 2020]
[Part 1 | Parts 2 and 3]

wawe

Princess Jasmine as archetype and spiritual guide

In this post, I’ll be looking at the 2019 version of Aladdin as a source for magical images and practices. [WARNING: Spoilers abound!] On the surface, that may seem a strange and doubtful choice as a source for any kind of magical practice. You may well be asking the same question Jasmine asks in the screen capture above, just a few minutes into the film: Where are we, exactly?

After all, both the 1992 cartoon and the 2019 live-action remake issue from what Wikipedia calls an “American diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate headquartered at the Walt Disney Studios complex in Burbank, California”. On the face of it, you can’t get much less Druidic. Trees, introspection, fire circles and reverence for the Land would all seem to fall away before such a commercial and capitalist onslaught.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you start to discover remarkable things.

A–First Level: Questions and contemplation seeds from the script.

Even if you can’t bring yourself to consider a cartoon and then its subsequent commercial remake (what cynics term one instance in a series of blatant cash-grabs as Disney mines its old hits for reboots) as a source of powerful images and prompts for spiritual practice, it still contains some remarkable lines that deserve repeated attention. Here’s an obvious sampling, making up a symbolic initial set of Nine:

1. How do you find (and polish) – a “diamond in the rough”? (The Cave of Wonders during the opening, and later, and also Jafar’s obsession. Of course, he never applies it to himself. Can I?)
2. Where am I, exactly? (Princess Jasmine, on the walk to Aladdin’s ruined tower after they meet in the Market. How would I answer?)
3. Can you be bought? (Aladdin/Prince Ali’s fumbling suggestion in the Palace scene that he can buy the Princess — or her affection — with the gifts the Genie provides.)
4. Have you lost your country? (Jasmine’s provocative challenge to Aladdin/Prince Ali when Ababwa doesn’t show up on her maps. What is my “native land”? Where am I most “at home”?)
5. Are you who you say you are? (Jafar and Aladdin trade versions of this. Is Aladdin’s attempt to be Prince Ali a deception or an inspired piece of self-invention?)
6. Who/what is worthy of your admiration and sacrifice? (From Jasmine’s speech to Jafar and the assembled Court, and her challenge to Hakim.)
7. Where does your loyalty lie? (Jasmine’s direct challenge to Hakim, as Jafar seizes power. A revealing question!)
8. When did you last let your heart decide? (Aladdin’s famous question to Jasmine in the song “A Whole New World”. Can I answer this?)
9. How could I not recognize you? (Jasmine’s vulnerable — and valuable! — question to Aladdin near the end of their carpet ride, when he convinces her he is indeed “Prince Ali”. Is he? A question also to ask of our experiences: do we recognize them for what they actually are? How can we begin to do so? Being able to ask such questions is in itself a wonderful sign of readiness to grow.)

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Princess Jasmine as a figure of transformation

If I take any one of these for a spin, applying it to myself, I have material for rich reflection and insight. These questions can also form hinge-points in a magical rite, offering ritual challenges for participants, opportunities for ritual responses and actions, and thus cues for writing and shaping ritual that leads outward from where I am right now.

B–Second Level: Companions and Doubles

Each of the three principal human characters has an animal familiar — Jasmine and Rajah, Aladdin and Abu, Jafar and Iago. Jasmine and Aladdin each have a further human counterpart or double: Dalia and the Genie, respectively. Their companions, human and animal, mirror their natures. Rajah channels Jasmine’s regal nature, her unexpected capacity for affection (Rajah stalks Aladdin, but then unexpectedly licks his face), and her fierceness. Abu reflects Aladdin’s own capacity for agility, thievery, initiative and improvisation. And Iago is cynical and sneering, as well as clever and observant. As a creature of Air, he goes up against the Carpet, Aladdin’s magical implement granting him the freedom and mobility of Air. The Carpet is torn, then repaired; Jafar-as-Genie sweeps Iago into confinement in his lamp.

Dalia is a servant to the Princess; Jasmine herself is a servant or captive to inflexible tradition, but also aspires to serve her kingdom as its compassionate leader. The Genie expresses (among many other things) the magical nature of imagination, the power of desire, the importance of openness to wonder and the imagination, and the magical riches available when we begin to explore our own diamond-in-the-roughness. He too is a servant, and like Dalia, in the end he is released from servitude — and made human in the bargain.

C–Third Level: Ritual Assumption, Interaction, Pathworking

(For an “auditory overview” of Pathworking, in case you’re not familiar with it, check out Damh the Bard’s current Druidcast episode 157, and the first interview with Peter Jennings.)

With some time spent in contemplation, divination, imaginative practice and experimentation, it’s possible to derive multiple rituals we can name for the principal characters: Agrabah itself, Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie, Jafar and Sultan. What follows are condensed notes on each one of these.

For elemental balance within rituals, Agrabah as a port city representing and invoking Water (or Earth and Water), the stage and setting for a spiritual drama of transformation; the Genie/Jinni as a spirit of Fire; the Carpet as a vehicle and implement of Air; the Cave of Wonders, the markets, and the desert surrounding Agrabah as Earth.

Aladdin: Invoking the element of Air for inspiration, clarity, lightness and improvisation, I work with seeing these things as external to myself, and needing vehicles like lamp, carpet and Genie to manifest what I lack. Then a ritual transition and manifestation, where I can begin to express these things as aspects of myself, no longer props outside me that I need to acquire.

Jasmine: Invoking any one of the elements — perhaps in a series of Jasmine rites — for the stability of Earth against forces that would minimize, discount and dispossess her; Air for the inspiration and imagination to lead, and the vision that leadership asks; Fire for passion and will — things she reveals most powerfully in the staging of the new song written specifically for the 2019 film, “Speechless” (link to official video featuring Naomi Scott), that has earned over 170 million views since its release less than a year ago. (Still think Aladdin is nothing more than a commercial grab? What need does the song respond to?); Water for the port city and country, and for emotional balance and intuition in handling the new power and love that are coming into her life.

Genie: in early versions of the Aladdin story, there is no limit imposed on the number of wishes the Genie grants: own the lamp and the Genie’s magic is yours for the duration. Likewise, in earlier versions the Genie has no desire to escape limits on his existence and action — he doesn’t yearn to no longer be a Genie, or to become human, or to earn his freedom. He simply does what he is. How can I transform my assumptions and expectations and self-imposed limits on my magical nature? What is my Genie ritual? What would my three wishes be? (Or nine, or some other number?)

Jafar: as another figure representing a stage on the spiritual journey, Jafar is also me. Where can I claim power appropriate to my needs and purposes? Alternatively, Jafar could feature in a “Diamond in the Rough” ritual. How does my animal companion mirror to me what I am doing right now? Where am I imprisoned? What are the lamps that now contain me? What is my Shirabad, the city that made me suffer, and where I long to take my revenge? Is my marriage or linking up with other persons, things or attitudes an opportunity to demonstrate something other than the bonds of love (like Jafar’s almost-marriage to Jasmine would have done)?

Sultan: as a figure of maturity and renunciation, the Sultan is an excellent ritual figure for seeing to the heart, for renouncing power that has passed from me but which I may still be clinging to; for recognizing and honoring the emerging feminine forces in my life; for resistance to manipulation, magical or otherwise.

In the next post in this series, I’ll look at some wider issues that touch on magicking something like Aladdin, including cultural appropriation and Orientalism, casting, character names, and additional pieces of the surprising background of the Aladdin story.

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Images: Princess Jasmine from Aladdin; fair use for commentary/derived work; copyright Walt Disney Corporation, 2019.

The Name’s the Thing — 3

[Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3]

If you think about it, of course, you soon realize that words and names in every day use very often don’t have a single or “true” meaning. In that case, what becomes of the “right” or “true” name of a thing?

Bards reply with at least one answer to that: they show us how the sound of a name is a chief component of its fit or rightness. Almost all of us have had the experience of encountering a name that just doesn’t fit the person or thing it names.

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In that sense, a rose by any other name obviously isn’t a rose — it can’t be — because the sound of the word rose is an essential part of the name of the thing. That’s where the magic comes in. Through the use of word, sound, song and chant, a magical space and state of consciousness transforms our experience of “the everyday”.

Everything She touches changes, sing the Goddess-worshippers. Jesus is Lord, and at his name every knee shall bow, celebrate the Christians. Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō, recite the Shingon Buddhists. Lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh, proclaims the voice of the muezzin. Om mani padme hum, chant the Tibetans. Four score and seven years ago, writes Lincoln, on his way to the Gettsyburg Address. I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way, choruses Lady Gaga, assuring herself and us. We both seek out special language to express what we’re experiencing, and we rely on such heightened language to help us move into states of awareness that match the experiences we seek. (In what ways are these sets of words “the same”? What would — or could — we do with an answer to that question?)

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Though the rose, or more specifically the word/sound that is approximately rosa, roh-sah, is a widely-shared name in many European languages, in part because of its rich cultural associations over hundreds of years in European religion, literature, painting and music, we also have many other names on the planet for the flower, including Chinese méiguī, Turkish gül, Arabic warda, Swahili ilipanda, and many more. Are these still “roses”? Are any of them more “rose-like” than “rose”? And what do any answers to those questions like “yes” or “no” even mean?

You’ll have your own and better answers to that question after you chant warda or ilipanda or gül or méiguī for ten minutes. Does it make sense to ask whether an ilipandais” a warda or a méiguī?

In that case, what happens to a question like “Who am I?”

Especially in the presence of trees, Spirit, whatever god(s) we look to, and our own wonder, this can be a powerful theme for meditation, if held lightly in the attention, and turned like a gem or a flower in the sunlight, or a candle-flame in the dark.

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Animals live in a largely pre-verbal world, and get along quite well without formal language. True, the more intelligent animals can interact with human symbol systems like language, because they have finite sets of symbols themselves, with calls, cries and intentional patterned behaviors. From time to time we read about apes able to manipulate quite complex symbol systems of hundreds of elements. And studies of bird intelligence suggest impressive equivalent capacities among the smartest birds. Perhaps the best current understanding sees animal communication existing along an evolutionary continuum, sharing some but not all of the key features of human language.

With the Druid love of threes, we can ask, if there’s a pre-verbal world and a verbal world, then is there a post-verbal realm? Intelligence, literally the ability to pick out or select (Latin legere) from between (Latin inter) things, to notice and make distinctions, is closely linked to language and awareness. Among other spiritual practices, Zen attempts to point to realms beyond words with its koans like this one: “What’s your original face, the one you had before you were born?” (You might find this insight productive if you attempt to draw, paint, etc., one or more responses to this question. That is, get out of your verbal head-space and try a different mode.)

For we know of other kinds of intelligence besides verbal intelligence, and these point to some of the possibilities of a post-verbal world. If, in some worlds, we don’t have physical bodies subject to time and space and the laws of physics, analogues of human language — and naming — may work quite differently, or not be needed at all.

All of us have had intuitions and hunches enter brain consciousness and only then arrive into some kind of language, even if it’s “I’m not sure, but I have a feeling that …” or “I don’t know why, but …”. In such cases, the non-verbal perception comes first, and only afterwards makes its way into words. Simultaneously such experiences point to the profound value of naming as a way of understanding and clarifying our choices and best directions, but also the impossibility of discussing things we cannot name. (For a related link, see apophatic thought — the idea that some things can only be hinted at in terms of what they are not — in the world’s major spiritual traditions.)

On a related theme, if you haven’t watched brain researcher and neuro-anatomist Jill Bolte Taylor’s marvelous TED talk about her experiences during and after a massive stroke, take a look at My Stroke of Insight. Here’s the 20-minute video:

 

 

Many spiritual practices are intended to open up consciousness to experience some of what Taylor talks about in her video — without the unwanted side-effects!

In the next post, as a way of illustrating some of what I’ve talked about in these posts, I’ll look at deriving magical and spiritual practices from a popular film from last year.

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Image: rose — pexels.com

That Fire Festival

There it is again, the nudge of an approaching Festival. Like the light of a full moon, it engenders a subtle wakefulness. The gods are stirring the embers, raking the coals, adding kindling and blowing across the hearth their living breath. Who wouldn’t spark into flame?

May, Beltane month, reminds us how every time is a liminal time. (Samhain certainly stands equal to the task of reminding us, if instead of Beltane, you’re Down Under.) Liminal, from Latin limen “threshold”. E-liminate something and you take it across a threshold and outdoors, and presumably leave it there. In that sense, Druids are always trying to eliminate themselves, crossing over and coming back, seeking expanse and connection with whatever is without, in the older sense of “outside, not within”. Several churches across Christendom have as part of their names “without the walls” — outside, e-liminated. If you’re outside, you make your own threshold.

Of course, once you’re outside, it’s the Within that may suddenly become attractive again. By a kind of spiritual gravity, what goes out comes back inside, and vice versa. Like a cat or dog that can’t decide which is better, and meows or barks to be let in and out and back in again, we look longingly at wherever we aren’t. Jesus gets it, knowing Self is the Gate: “They shall go in and out and find pasture” — on either side.

The grass is, in fact, always greenest wherever I am right now. “As above, so below; as within, so without”. It just often takes ritual to know it. We say the words, often without hearing ourselves, but do we mean them? Not to say that everything’s the same on both sides of the limen, but that they constantly talk to each other. And the limen is so often more interesting than the sides.

In some sense, festivals and ritual generally are opportunities and attempts to have it both ways. We get to make an inside and an outside wherever we are, out of the Möbius strip of reality, which has only the one side, though consciousness insists on two. And we get to be the boundary, the place of transformation, our native place. Practice it enough, and we get good at it. Become the exchange point, the crossing-over, the hinge. Then when a big event comes along like death or birth, disaster or first love, we don’t get thrown quite as hard. (Or maybe, we get better at throwing ourselves, so the cosmos doesn’t have to.)

By the power of star and stone, says the Herald at the opening of the standard OBOD ritual format. By the power of the land within and without, by all that is fair and free, be welcome! E-liminated at birth from the Land within, I emerge onto the Land without and stay awhile. At death I get re-liminated from the Land without, and turn back within. So it goes, till I can stand at the Hinge and look across births and deaths, springs and autumns, to What’s Really Going On, whatever that turns out to be. I aspire to be a hinge-Druid, bending rather than breaking.

Ritual is hinge-work. You and I write the ritual of our lives.

At Beltane, the hinges heat up in the growing sun. We long to touch, to connect, to be in communion. Virus or no, we still nurse at the breast of the cosmos. “Where the bee sucks, there suck I”, says Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Oh, who wouldn’t?!

Or take the case of Job in the Hebrew Bible. God dresses him down, and challenges him. The old King James/Authorized Version catches the flavor well, for all its increasing linguistic distance from us:

Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?
Canst thou put an hook into his nose? or bore his jaw through with a thorn?
Will he make many supplications unto thee? will he speak soft words unto thee?
Will he make a covenant with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant for ever?
Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?

The ritual answer to these insistent questions is “Yes!” That’s one of the things ritual does: it lets us answer “yes” to a cosmos whose very strangeness and majesty and terror otherwise impel us to answer “no”. Who, me? Of course not! No!

Stand at the hinge, and we come into our own as Children of the Most High. For Christians, Jesus is that Hinge, that Gate. The advantage of Person-as-Hinge isn’t exclusive to any one religion or spiritual practice, of course. Talk to the cosmos and it talks back. Persons everywhere, spirit incarnating, doing its thing. We’ve just fallen out of the habit. Ritual is one way that re-awakens us to possibility. But so many us are un-hinged, lost, disconnected.

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the “Mother Stone”, Four Quarters Sanctuary, Pennsylvania

Through the windows and doorways of ritual, we can see again what we lost sight of.

ancestor altar in circle -- W Flaherty

Four Quarters Sanctuary stone circle and altar

Sometimes the Face that Cosmos wears to reach us is familiar, sometimes not. Sometimes an Ancestor, sometimes an Other. We’re particularly bothered by things that speak to us that don’t have faces. Ritual can give a face to Things without them.

Ritual also opens an opportunity to organize my altars. Yours may look like this shelf of mine, all hodgepodge. Stones, peach pits, coins, figures, feathers.

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Yes, the Wiccan chant reminds us, One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother. But not every thing, not all at once. Ritual says go with one thing, watch it change, celebrate the transformation. Be the hinge.

So we’ll gather (Zoom-Beltane, May 2 for us here in VT), and say the words: By the Power of Star and Stone …

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The Name’s the Thing — 2

[Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3]

An understanding of the power of naming is ancient and world-wide. During his lifetime, the Chinese sage Confucius was asked what he would do if he were a ruler, and he replied that he would “rectify the names” (Chinese zheng ming). He explained that words need to correspond to reality.

Damage that alignment, destroy the match-up between word and thing, he continued, and social order collapses. Or to jump ahead millennia and borrow from Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy, “enterprises of great pitch and moment,/With this regard their currents turn awry,/And lose the name of action”. In other words, to jump still further ahead in time to almost our century and to the much-quoted words of W. B. Yeats, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …”. Bards get these things, and warn us sometimes centuries in advance of when we’ll need them.

Or to put it in the unpoetic jargon of our times, things suck cuz our names for them are wrong.

It’s not always wholly that simple, but it’s also not so far off.

camellia

“A rose by any other name
Would get the blame
For being what it is–
The colour of a kiss,
The shadow of a flame.
A rose may earn another name,
So call it love;
So call it love I will,
And love is like the sea,
Which changes constantly,
And yet is still
The same” — Tanith Lee
A test for each of us: does this poem clarify, or obscure?

Likewise in ancient Egypt, where knowing the true names of people and things gave you power over them. U. K. LeGuin develops this idea in her Earthsea books. There her characters have “use names”, and hold their true names secret. For mages as persons of power, this practice is even more essential. And aren’t we all “persons of power”, however unclaimed? (Disempowerment is the magic too many wield today, against themselves as much as against anyone else.)

Sparrowhawk, the use-name of the wizard hero of the Earthsea books, goes through a naming ceremony on the cusp of adolescence. The mage Ogion “reached out his hand and clasping the boy’s arm whispered to him his true name: Ged. Thus was he given his name by one very wise in the uses of power” (A Wizard of Earthsea).

Egyptians in the times of the Pharaohs as well as Native Americans and many other peoples took on new names after defining events or achievements. To cite just one example from contemporary culture, Lily Collins’ anorexic character in the 2017 film To the Bone is given a new name by her therapist to help her imagine and discover her identity as someone other than a sick young woman.

Some of us pick up nicknames from others (including ones we may loathe), as well as give them to beings that matter in our lives. Dog and cat owners know this well. We give our loved ones “pet names”. And again, among the Egyptians, if you can name someone or something accurately, write its name on a pottery shard or piece of parchment, and then destroy the object that bears the name, you lessen the power of the person or thing.

A common rationalist view (an egregore at work there, too, one claiming that reason alone is exempt from all bias) calls this the rankest superstition. But insofar as words and names matter — and you need only scan current headlines to see a myriad of examples that names do matter, and deeply — that’s exactly where we’re living, whether we think we participate or not. “Superstition” literally stands (Latin sta-, stit-) over (Latin super) us. Are government stay-at-home orders “safety precautions” or “tyranny”? What we call them matters in concrete, “real-world” ways.

Next door in New Hampshire, protesters against the virus lockdown rally in the state capital. An added poignancy or irony: the NH state motto is “Live free or die”. People are hurting, both from the virus directly, and from restrictions around it. Does the binary of “live free or die” offer a good path forward, or might the Druid practice of transforming a binary into a ternary prove beneficial?

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Breitbart News, 18 April 2020

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In the previous post in this series, I asked these questions:

What is your best name? (Do you have more than one?) How can you invite it into your awareness most beneficially? What reminders of it can you build into your days?

With some time spent in meditation, you can answer the first question for yourself. Make a name-giving ritual that’s meaningful to you — an opportunity to manifest your creativity. Consider both the power of writing down your name, or wearing it, perhaps in a locket or pouch around your neck, and also of keeping it secret, guarding its energy even as you build it, and never committing it to writing.

Maybe you take on a different name for each day of the week. More elaborately, you dedicate yourself to a month of name work. A different name for each day of the month. Watch for names you are taking into your awareness. What names are you giving to things? What names do you have for the events and circumstances and people you encounter during the day, week, or month? What power do you give them (or take from them) as a result of your naming?

If your birthday or another significant day is near, how can you consecrate that day and the names you’ve given it? “Oh, that’s the day that I ___ “. So what difference does that name make in your memory and experience? Try it out, with serious and also silly names.

Sticking with these practices, even if only for an hour at first, and then a whole day — or week — can demonstrate their efficacy and value better than anything I can write here.

What prayers can you create for your (new) name? Does that sound strange at first? Maybe a simple triad: “I shine the power of today’s sunlight on my name. I give the love of my ancestors to my name. I feed my name with the pungency of nutmeg” and so on. Work with this name, and spend time using it in contemplation. “By the power of my name, I ____ ”

May you find names of beauty, wisdom and freedom, and welcome them into your lives.

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Images: Breitbart photo of NH protest;

The Name’s the Thing

Updated 24 April 2020

[Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3]

Novelist M. M. Kaye, who wrote so vividly about Indian life in the days of Her Majesty’s Raj, opens her novel Shadow of the Moon with this exchange about the name of one of her main characters:

Winter! Who ever heard of such a name? It is not a name at all. Do pray be sensible, my dear Marcos. You cannot call the poor mite anything so absurd”.

“She will be christened Winter”.

“Then at least let her have some suitable second name. There are so many pretty and unexceptionable names to choose from”.

“No. Only Winter”.

hmni

Time change, as they used to say with less irony. These days, when we have actors with names like River Phoenix, and singers like Lady Gaga and Madonna and Prince, and thousands of Pagans named Raven, a name like Winter no longer stands out. (Here in southern Vermont lives the writer Crescent Dragonwagon.)

If like me you’ve puzzled at times over other people’s choices for religious or magical or craft or “inward-facing” names, we need look no further for diverse examples than the venerable tradition in many of the major religions for often unusual religious names. From Catholicism alone we get less-than-common saints’ names like Adjutor, Drogo and Lidwina. Buddhists also have cultural names to choose from, with Tibetan Chogden and Lobsang, and on to possibly multiple dharma names, if they practice in the Mahayana tradition.

Give yourself an unusual name and it sticks out, making you stick out, at least a little more. Not letting yourself be just a number, not permitting yourself to disappear into the background. You live with a chosen name differently than with one someone else gave you. More so when other people also know it and use it. More so when it bears rich associations, or ideals you now accept as goals to live up to. (For some useful insight, try chanting your own name for ten minutes. No one else needs to hear you. What do you discover?)

camellia

Camellia, April 2019, Charleston, NC. Flower names are popular for obvious reasons!

If like me and other Druids you look to the languages of your tradition for inspiration and examples, you happen on names like Welsh Twrch for the wild boar, one of the animals I work with. And since most people don’t know Welsh spelling conventions, they end up reading it something like twertch — decidedly not “the magical name I was looking for”. Yes, Twrch (with -ch as in Bach, something like toorkh) remains a name I might use in ritual, but not otherwise. The spiritual realm, I’ve discovered, can track me down well enough whatever my name is.

If we want to see the inverse of this, we need look no further than some people’s obsession over the pronouns others use for them. “My pronouns” only extend as far as other people’s willingness to indulge me. How far do I expect that to reach? Will my government legalize my choice of identity and pronouns? Perhaps. But why would I want to put one more piece of my freedom and identity into others’ hands? As head of the Anglesey Druid order Kris Hughes likes to say, “What other people think of you is none of your business”. You’ve got far better, more worthwhile and fun-ner things to do than beat your head against centuries of arbitrary linguistic habit.

Yes, of course oppression can often be encoded in language, but many languages that lack gender distinctions in their pronouns belong to cultures far more repressive than those in the West, where we may indulge superficial linguistic variations in the name of political correctness and identity politics. To offer just one example, Chinese has the invariant syllable ta* meaning either “he” or “she”: anyone who seriously imagines their identity will be respected and accommodated better in the People’s Republic of China is welcome to go live there and find out how far a unitary pronoun changes things on the ground.

(*As Bogatyr points out in his comment, the written language does distinguish between the characters 他 “he” and 她 “she” — both pronounced the same, but visually distinct.)

It is for these reasons that some people create an entire magical language to encode the meanings they desire, rather than merely accept those they inherit. For one (in)famous example of this, see the Enochian language and alphabet. Better still is an understanding of egregores and the work necessary to avoid their undue influence — see the previous post.

If in language we encode energies of oppression, can we also encode energies of liberation?

Among other ways, we do this with mantra, with holy words and names. Instead of troubling yourself that you “don’t or can’t believe” in a particular deity, try chanting that deity’s name one thousand times. (A rosary of some kind helps with the count.) After the fifteen or so minutes that this practice asks (depending on the name or word, and your rhythm), if you attempt it with even a moderate intention for true discovery, you will very likely come into a different understanding of “belief”, one more rooted in experience and less in mental formulation. Mantric power affects us in much the same way as music. We take the vibration into our atoms, and probably echo with it for some time after finishing the chant. Those of you with clairvoyant and clairaudient abilities may be in a position to confirm this.

What is your best name? (Do you have more than one?) How can you invite it into your awareness most beneficially? What reminders of it can you build into your days? The next post will take up these and similar topics.

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From My Archive: “Opening Ritual”

I’ve been clearing out old papers, pictures, magazines, clippings, etc. from over a decade ago. Partly it’s self-quarantine work. Among the items I’m saving are these three, which deserve a post — partly because I have so little recollection of them that it’s like coming on them as new things. So I can be more objective, and maybe even say something useful about them. And also because it’s clear they retain value and efficacy.

glyphs08

First is a symbol, a quick and then a more elaborated version, to follow up on my post about sigils. It shows one way to work with a symbol, help it come into focus. There’s a definite change and clarification of energy in the second version.

I don’t recall for sure what I was aiming for — the word aksi under the second symbol is the Sanskrit word for “eye” and a good hint. So a stylized eye, a symbol for magical awareness and perception? Was I still working with my group at the time on symbols and logos?

I know I was using a homemade journal personalized with individual pages portraying my own sigil. Building associations with an image, as with a mantra or chant, helps “trigger” us — in a positive way. Doing this work with intention in a group, creating an egregore, grounds such chosen triggers much more powerfully. (For more info on egregores, see Mark Stavish’s Egregores: The Occult Entities That Watch Over Human Destiny. Inner Traditions, 2018.) Using more of the human psychological apparatus to our advantage like this is one further way to live more fully and consciously and richly, rather than at the whim of what Google and Amazon and “influencers”, the stock market or the Party or any Current Government want us to think and do and feel.

Hamlet confronts his former friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Act 3, scene ii) after he discovers they have been informing against him to the King. By way of comparison he asks Guildenstern to play on a recorder he has obtained from the musicians who have just performed. “I have not the skill”, replies Guildenstern. And Hamlet nails them both to the floor with his next words:

Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you
make of me! You would play upon me. You
would seem to know my stops. You would pluck
out the heart of my mystery. You would sound
me from my lowest note to the top of my
compass. And there is much music, excellent
voice, in this little organ, yet cannot you make it
speak. ‘Sblood, do you think I am easier to be
played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument
you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot
play upon me.

Let this be our reply to those who would use us, squeezing from us whatever they can for their own benefit, then abandoning us when we have nothing more to give.

For the difference between your own will and another’s starts small, but soon enough with practice you can wedge your foot in doors you weren’t even aware of before. And then you can open them wider, and walk through. And you can shut other doors that do not lead to your best life.

What kind of doors? The email below details some of what was on my mind that January (email shows American order of month-date-year).

email08

Finally, this “Opening Ritual” — who was this for? Besides being my practice that spring, I don’t recall. Did I do it as well with my magic group at the time?

openrit

I offer this to you as a short practice for this time. If as you try it out you find it helpful, adapt it to your use. It can help clear the way for prayer, for ritual, as well as serving as forms of these things on its own.

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I’ve added a page of books and links on Druidry, as a stable reference I’ll revise over time. With more material appearing all the time, it’s helpful to refer inquirers to titles and websites I’ve found helpful and to update the document over time.

The Water is Wide

Like most of the posts here, use your spiritual discrimination. If what I write works for you, good. If it rubs you the wrong way, rather than fretting over it or wasting your valuable energy in anger, click away. (Anger can be an energy response that opens doors, but can also close them.) I try to write from different perspectives, and address different spiritual temperaments, and this may simply not match yours. Time with your dog or cat or partner or the spring or autumn sky or a beloved tree will do you much more good.

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Often the spark or seed for a post comes from someone’s “chance” comment in a conversation, in person or online, or a phrase from my reading, or the nudge of a dream. I’ve found repeatedly from painful experience that so-called writer’s block, like spiritual block, usually means too much rather than too little. The door opens inward, and I’m standing in my own way.

This paradox can hurt. It can drive people in so many directions away from the exact thing they need. But for each of us, no one else can say what that needed thing is, only the person living that life. So much is pouring through us that we can’t make out a single handle or corner to grab onto and work with. It’s all just a blur, like standing under a torrent with a coffee-cup in hand. The surge of water can dash the cup from our hands in an instant and snatch it away in the flood.

In fact, when the “pour” is sufficiently loud and strong, like it is right now for so many people in these heightened times, it can feel, perversely, like the opposite, like nothing at all is shaping or coming, when in truth more pours through than ever. The triple frustration of greater need, constricted access, and a suspicion of all that possible abundance out there can make tempers flare, and drive despair.

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The water is wide, I can’t cross o’er
And neither have I wings to fly,
But build me a boat that will carry two
and we will row, my love and I …

The words and tune of the old Scots or English folk song, in one of its variants, have stuck with me since I first learned them, years ago now. You may well know them. Several versions exist — here’s a plain and soulful one by James Taylor:

Making room for spirit is often a matter of singing a song, re-linking to the awen that is always flowing. If something like this simple melody, easily learned through repetition over several verses, helps calm you, you’re on your way. A visualization I use with it is seeing the boat, knowing what I love most deeply always travels with me, even and especially when it can seem like I’m alone in the boat on the wide water. Or when it feels like I don’t have a boat at all.

Songs, in other words, can launch and power a practice. You may well have your own favorites in play, close to your heart. You know their power. Sound can open us to possibility like nothing else.

The first stanza of “The Water is Wide” is lovely. Listen through the rest of the song, however, and you eventually reach words above love growing old. What?! you may be saying. Betrayed again?! That’s where many of us are right now. Even the most basic or profound solutions aren’t working for us any longer. Even love can seem like it’s not enough. But the chorus comes one last time, a reminder. A boat built to carry two will get us across. Who or what is the Other with us? Always, always, someone or something accompanies us.  The hackneyed saying “we are never alone” remains scorchingly, absolutely valid still. Deny it as I may, I won’t get across without it. But what is it?

[If you’re anything like me (you are and you aren’t, of course, both at the same time, another paradox), you can spend a whole life in denial, till it’s one of your superpowers. I’m a master of denial, and I try to deploy it like the spiritual weapon it can be. But my challenge (it may not be yours) is not to let it wield me. Most of the time I need to sheathe it again, rather than keep waving it about.]

Sometimes letting go needs to be my practice, and a song can help then, too. Making whatever I’m feeling into a poem or song is powerful practice, an ancient tradition in many cultures. No one else ever needs to hear it. But some famous laments, and songs of celebration, and every other response to living in this world, have survived for us as models and springboards.

I can’t force the Other into the second spot in my boat. But a practice of knowing the Other is there, whether I’m aware or not, can go far to restoring me to the boat that will carry me across. Both need to row. I can’t get there alone. But build that boat through a practice, and I can cross over. (How often do I need to relearn that?)

Notice this isn’t a faith so much as a practice. I don’t need to believe something I can’t believe right now, where I’m in this moment. I need to practice something I can keep practicing, whatever I believe, the same way anyone gets better through practice. If I’m baking bread — the time is prime for it, people are home more, and hungry — I don’t need to believe the bread will make itself. But by mixing flour and water and yeast, working the dough, and putting it in the oven to bake, bread comes out. Yes, I get better at it through practice. The loaves will be better shaped, less lumpy, lighter. But my getting better, while a good thing, a needful thing, isn’t the final point. The bread is.

The water is wide. May your boats carry you over.

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Thank-you’s to annaelleamaya for her recent likes. Knowing others read and value what I post here helps keep me going, especially in these times!

“Everything is Broken Up and Dances”

Google the title of this post, and chances are you’ll unearth three seemingly disparate connections. One is the title of a recent (2018) book by Edoardo Nesi. You might also find the Youtube trailer of a 2016 Israeli film by Nony Geffen with the same name. The third — the link between them, well down the list of URLs and capsule summaries — is the original, from lyrics by Jim Morrison of The Doors, where this line appears at the end of a stanza in “Ghost Song” off the 1978 album American Prayer.

In their own ways, both book and movie use the lyric line to evoke ghosts. Nesi’s book on economics is subtitled “The Crushing of the Middle Class”, while Geffen’s movie focuses on the story of a soldier suffering from PTSD after the third Lebanon war. In each case it’s the ghost of something lost, which makes living in this glittering, fragmented present of ours a hallucinatory journey. The Door’s album was issued after Morrison’s death, using recordings of his spoken word poetry, so that his ghost also looms over the work.

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not here yet — coming, coming …

The prayer of the album title is not just “American”, though some of its song references are. Like any prayer, it grapples with the worlds we live in, worlds of memory and dream and imagination, of the physical senses and of the possible worlds that time and human choice may unfold.

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A facile reading of “Ghost Song” might suggest we can dance along with the fragments — make the best of the situation. This is a strategy that may work for some of us — I silently add it to my spiritual toolkit — but the current troubles tug and gnaw at us in ways that dancing may not ease. The loss of jobs and “normal” life, the stress of disease and the threat of disease, put us right in the middle of the break-up and fragmentation.

No single remedy exists. But multiple remedies do, and humans are remarkably resilient creatures. Most of us already have ways for dealing with the present craziness, and we’re always on the lookout for new ones. Yes, the snake-oil sellers and spammers and scammers crawl out of the woodwork in times like this to snare the vulnerable and careless, but that doesn’t negate our search for new practices, solutions, promises. Like any green thing we send out runners and branches questing for new soil, for air and water and light.

For Christians this weekend is about hope, about resurrection. No surprise, the festival comes at the start of spring in the northern hemisphere. Christians in the southern hemisphere might consider matching their festivals to the season — Easter in September, Christmas around the June solstice — in order to align with a natural order they know God established. Likewise with Pagans down under. Samhain in May, and Imbolc in August. While celebrating beginnings as the leaves fall, or endings as the world greens all around us, may teach wisdom and the ability to distinguish other worlds from this apparent one, it’s out of harmony with the dominant dynamic the season is inviting our bodies to join and participate in.

If we look at the rest of “Ghost Song”, the first word commands us: “Awake”. I could stop there, or rather start there, and need nothing else. Awake, and keep awaking. But I keep going.

byard-snow

already past — what’s to come?

American Prayer” opens with vital questions: “Do you know the warm progress under the stars? Do you know we exist? Have you forgotten the keys to the Kingdom?” Read the rest of the lyrics and you see how Christian imagery pervades the song, how the song itself asks deeply Christian questions, which means questions for everyone, in spite and because of its obscenity and “politics”.

Without the profane there is no sacred. And often enough, though we don’t like to admit it, they trade places.

All right — but what can I do with this possibly useful fact?

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One of the headlines in yesterday’s Guardian reads “Sesame Street’s pandemic advice for parents: ‘Find rituals, be flexible, take a breath'”. I take this Triad and meditate on its seven words “for parents”, and for children, too. Right now that boundary shrinks. We’re all parents and children too, looking for comfort and reassurance (assuming we’re not honing our skills at denial) and for the first hints of “what next?” We “parent and child” each other right now in all kinds of ways.

Sometimes the only ritual I can manage is to take a breath. But that’s a good one, because without it I won’t make it to any of the others. Let me re-order the advice: “take a breath, be flexible, find rituals”. Bend, breathe, ritualize. Breathe, ritualize, bend.

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Bless, and the blessing spreads outward. We are blessing-bearers.

 

Moon Ritual Scrapbook

Two Questions to Ask

“What’s your ritual goal?” Celebrating on a beautiful evening? Performing moon magic? Attuning to the rhythms of earth’s nearest neighbor? Healing, banishing, blessing? Charging a ritual implement? Making the most of heightened sensitivity and emotion at this time? Singing a song, or writing a poem? Painting? Finally writing a difficult letter? Making love? A blend of several of these? Which ones are primary for you?

BAM Druid Gather

BAM Gathering, Full Moon, Sept. 2019

“What’s your moon?” Is it New, Full, Waxing, Waning? You can see the moon as a guide and also as a “map to manifestation”. What do each of its phases suggest to you?

With some preliminary answers to these two sets of questions, you’re already better prepared to proceed. Journal, do divinations, watch your dreams, doodle, pray, listen and watch the natural world holding your intent in your heart as ways to refine your preparation, and you’ll be rewarded with deepening insight and more possibilities that will come to you.

Moon Names

Different sources of lore will suggest a range of names and associations for each moon and month, depending on the tradition they draw from. One name for the April full moon just past is Pink Moon. Native American names can be evocative, and may help point you toward specific conditions and qualities present in your locale — if you live in North America. But Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia each have their own varied traditions and imagery that do the same thing. Images and stories give you material for your rites: they help you focus attention and emotion and imagination in the service of your ritual intent. They’re also fun!

Melody and Harmony

Just as important in a ritual as the words you choose are any musical instruments, dances, enactments, costumes, gestures. Or try an entire ritual without words. What can you do, rather than say, to perform your ritual? When I performed my Ovate self-initiation, by far the most significant components were flickering candlelight in my dark living-room, my ritual nakedness marked by charcoal runes on skin, and the silence. OBOD materials suggested a ritual. But it was the personal experience, including the details I just mentioned, that made mine memorable and transformative.

A Basic Script

Here’s a sample “barest-bones” mini-script you can elaborate with your own intent, setting, companions and creativity. Treat it as you would the grain of sand that becomes a pearl in an oyster — an irritant that can grow and take shape and become a thing of beauty. Don’t like part or all of it? That’s fine! Change it!

Full/new/dark Moon of (month name), I/we greet you here and now.

I/we bring (specific offering, intention, dedication, vow) as token(s) of my/our intent.

Bless/heal/enlighten (you, your gathered group, a project, an object, the coming day).

You could, for example, fit in non-verbal ritual elements before and after each spoken part. How will you signal your rite has begun? Bells, drums, horns, etc. each have distinctive voices to contribute. Lights, incense, candles, torches all have roles they can play. “Moon foods” — the ancient mangiare in bianco (literally, “to eat in white”) of Italy — comes to mind. White wine, pale fruit juices, bananas, nuts, pasta, pears, apples, beans, bread, other pastries, etc. can all serve — and be served at your rite! “Season to taste” in addition to being a cooking instruction is a wonderful piece of ritual advice.

A Local Lunar Calendar

Consider making a list of each moon for the current year — your own lunar calendar, with room for notes, pictures, additions, poems, etc. Note the dates of the moon phases each month, and also your local season. June in North America is sometimes called “Strawberry Moon” for the fruit coming into season then, but of course that doesn’t work in the Southern Hemisphere — it’s the middle of winter then!

Personalizing

What personal events and associations might you include in your rituals for each moon? May, for instance, is the Moon of my birth, and it’s also Beltane Moon, so any moon ritual with that moon will feel different to other moons, even if I used the “same” script each time. What’s the local weather during each moon? How might land and sky spirits be included? What other rites and celebrations happen where you live? Who do you want to invite to celebrate with you? If you’re typically “alone” for such things, what ancestors feel right to include? When will you walk/dance/play with your animal guide, guardian, etc?

birchbk

“backyard birch” bark for ritual writing

What props do you already have that can be included, or perhaps dedicated, in a rite? The quartz you picked up on a walk, the statue or bowl or cup that caught your eye in a shop or at a flea market or antique auction and now rests on a shelf? That gift from a relative or friend you’ve had for ages? A ring you’ve inherited from an aunt or grandmother?

The strips of birchbark from our backyard tree, in addition to providing great kindling, are excellent for writing during a ritual: ogham, runes, blessings, “give-aways” of things participants don’t want, commemorations (stitched/bound while still supple into a booklet). These strips can be burnt, composted, or saved as appropriate.

hazelnecklace

hazelnut necklace

Our Vermont seed-group, the Well of Segais, features the hazel among its mythic associations and symbols — the nut that feeds the Salmon of Wisdom, which some OBOD groves use to represent the Power or Guardian of the West and of Water. Ground symbols in objects and you make the ritual that much more accessible to the senses, imagination and memory. As a group gift, Mary Anna drilled hazelnuts and made up packets with thread for us each to make our own necklaces: “nine hazels of wisdom”. An appropriate and personal piece of ritual gear for a moon ritual!

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I bless you in each of your moons,
your fullness and your dark nights.
I bless you in your changing faces,
in the pearl shadow of your twilight.

In between, when I dance or dream,
both or neither, I trade places
with tree, beast, spirit of the grove,
soon or late uncovering
another doorway to your sky.

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“Howling to the Moon”

For a different take on our current world, here’s OBOD chief Philip Carr-Gomm in his most recent “Tea with a Druid” weekly episode from yesterday, 6 April 2020. During the 28:30 broadcast, he offers a number of useful techniques, meditations, prompts and perspectives, as well as his characteristic warmth:

 

Six Things for the Sixth

ONE

Now that I’ve got the melody of one of the fonn stuck in my head, I’m reminded yet again how we can establish new habits surprisingly easily, and can often re-program ourselves more readily than our rational “But-I-can’t-really-change” argumentative self will admit.

“… the interval created by if“, writes Robert Hass in his poem “Spring Drawing”*, “to which mind and breath attend, nervous as the grazing animals the first brushes painted, has become inhabitable space, lived in beyond wishing”.

TWO

Yesterday I spent time clearing out glossy buckthorn (frangula alnus), a fast-growing invasive in the north and northeastern U.S., along our property lines where it’s been trying to establish a foothold for the last few years. A native of much of Europe, and originally planted as a natural fence in parts of the midwestern U.S., glossy buckthorn’s invasive because it’s so vigorous. It stays in leaf longer, shading out native plants, it reproduces through both berries and runners, it has few or no natural enemies, and it tolerates wet soils and pollution.  In some ways you might say it’s exactly a bush for our times, tough and adaptable, if it weren’t so successful. Bees, birds and even a specialized butterfly relish its flowers and fruit.

frangula-alnus

glossy buckthorn in leaf and fruit

The bush has value to humans, too — as charcoal it contributes to gunpowder production, and its dried bark has been used as a laxative. In older lore, the ancient philosopher and physician Galen asserted its protective qualities against against “witchcraft, demons, poisons, and headaches”. Even his name has an associated value relevant to today: Γαληνός, Galēnos means “calm”. A mini-ritual in the making — invoke Galen’s calm along with the purgative and protective qualities of buckthorn.

THREE

“Is muggle a real word?” runs one popular search on Google. Like most magical and spiritual things, the question holds the key to its own answer.

Consider proper names that have become known in the last few decades. Is Lady Gaga a “real name”? To me anyway, more interesting than the question is what a person will do with the answer. Realness often depends on aptness — on fit. Does the (new) name fit the thing it names? If it does, the name is likely to catch on. If not, it probably won’t. To put it another way, if it ignites interest and attention, it becomes real. This is a key to many insights.

We tend still, in spite of more than a century of training from many directions that should have helped us know better, to think of things magical as pure marvel, a kind of “conjuring out of thin air” — creation ex nihilo, on a par with what the monotheistic God does “in the beginning”.

But a mage, like any creative person concerned with manifestation, studies patterns, tendencies, and energy flows. J. K. Rowling builds her names out of tendencies, patterns, sound symbolism and existing English word-forms. An arbitrary word like zlimpk is much less likely to catch on in English than muggle — it violates English word formation patterns. Magic — and spirituality — follow similar laws or patterns. A quick online look at muggle lists a whole set of antecedent associations at play for Rowling to work with. And a further test? Plenty of people now know the word muggle who have never read a word of the Harry Potter series. A magical act: something there that wasn’t there before.

FOUR

I’ve written several times about Thecu and the runes of storm I received from her — “created out of thin air”, if you ignore section Three above.

Here’s the first image I have of them from my daybook where I wrote them, the entry from 19 July 2017 — nearly three years ago now.

runes2

We often surround manifestation with all sorts of coverings, labels, shrouds, mystiques, and shrines, even though in varying forms we all do it all day long. “Thus saith the Lord”, the Biblical prophets write. When the circumstances of manifestation are particularly powerful, it can certainly feel like an external source impels it. If you’re predisposed to think in terms of deity, then a god/dess is a convenient point of origin — and you’re neither “wrong” nor “right”. You made yourself available as a collaborator with the cosmos. The labels you choose to understand and account for your experience and its results may help or hinder you in dealing with manifestation and its consequences.

The next step for me is to incise the nine runes onto the metal sheet I mentioned in a post not too long ago. Eventually it will live on an altar — possibly the lichen-covered altar stone I’m in the process of shifting to my grove. I’ve been looking at the best way to inscribe a nonagon on the metal, and you’ll see my results in a subsequent post.

In part I’m writing this section to reflect on my own experience of manifestation in connection with Thecu, and to understand what it is I’m doing, as well as what it is Thecu wants me to do.

I also reflect that here I held a warning of coming changes three years in advance of their physical appearance. “Nine paths of storm” for “riding change” indeed!

FIVE

Tomorrow night, members of our OBOD Vermont seed-group will hold a virtual “moon-moot”. It’s a full moon later that evening, around 10:30 pm local time, and we’ll have the waxing moon at our shoulders during our gathering. OBOD suggests a peace meditation on full moons. I’ve held my own rites at different phases of the moon, and find the dark and new moons of equal interest to the full.

I don’t need to go any further than the daily, monthly and yearly cycles to find “transparent witnesses” for “what it all means”. One post from a couple years ago has been receiving surprising numbers of readers, I suspect because it contains the words “spiritual meaning”.

Spiritual meaning often isn’t separate from physical ones. The sun rises and sets, coming to its full strength, then diminishing, and returning again. So to does the moon. And the length of days follows the longer annual cycle. A triad of planetary and astronomical pointers toward spiritual meaning: things run in cycles, and have a natural cause or origin, a life cycle, and an end.

Of course spiritual traditions around the world also include expressions like “seeing the sun at midnight” (which isn’t necessarily the same thing as the “land of the midnight sun”). Physical events are always themselves, and may also serve as pointers to things beyond them — at least to human consciousnesses. A great deal of ink (and blood) has been spilt arguing whether these things are “real” — for one take on the matter, see muggle above.

SIX

“All I know is a door into the dark”, writes Seamus Heaney in his poem “The Forge”. Bards like to sound dramatic. Heaney’s both telling the truth and lying through his bardic hat. But if you read through the link above to the “sun at midnight” you might spy a connection.

All I know is a door into the dark.
Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;
Inside, the hammered anvil’s short-pitched ring,
The unpredictable fantail of sparks
Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.
The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,
Horned as a unicorn, at one end and square,
Set there immoveable: an altar
Where he expends himself in shape and music.
Sometimes, leather-aproned, hairs in his nose,
He leans out on the jamb, recalls a clatter
Of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows;
Then grunts and goes in, with a slam and flick
To beat real iron out, to work the bellows.

Any teacher knows the frustration of helping students move beyond thinking “Oh, it’s a poem. It can mean anything you want”. Of course: anything can mean anything. But try that out, and you quickly see such an understanding leaves you standing in mud. Rarely is it useful. It’s only when things mean something specific for us that they touch us, move us, arouse us to transformation and manifestation, those quintessential human acts.

Yes, quintessential: the five essences that underlie human activity. We know them as the four elements, and spirit — the pentagon, pentagram, pentangle or pentacle of both Pagan and Christian understandings.

Where is my real iron, to look again at the last line of Heaney’s poem? How do I do the work I need to do?

May you test and find your metal and mettle.

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Hass, Robert. Human Wishes. New York: The Echo Press, 1989.

Heaney, Seamus. Door into the Dark. Faber and Faber, 1969.

Image: Frangula alnus — creative commons image by Sten Porse.

The Céile Dé and the Fonn

The Céile Dé, sometimes Anglicized as Culdee, is one current revival of an ancient and largely monastic Celtic Church of the British isles. If you’re looking for aids to meditation and a means to reduce anxiety, gain focus and know your own core being, a fonn of the Céile Dé may be for you. I was privileged to attend a Céile Dé presentation at Solar Hill in southern Vermont several years ago, and to experience a demonstration of several fuinn (pl. of fonn). As part of a spiritual practice, you too may find these chants potent for healing and balance.

salamander--annaoakflower

salamander, Camp Ashby, MA

The Ceile De website notes:

The fuinn (plural) are said to bring the three parts of us — Spirit, Psyche and Physical, into harmony. They offer a powerful practice that can help us sink into a deep meditative state … or enflame the heart.

Most of the fuinn are short and repeated over and over. Fuinn can also be “prescribed” as anam leighis (soul medicine).

The three free chants on the website clock in respectively at about 6 minutes, 3:20 and 2:45. Once you’ve listened a few times and harmonized to the energy and rhythm of the chant, you can begin to adapt the form to passages from other poems, songs and prayers that uplift you. A slow, meditative chant works, as the website observes, “because we always have our voices and hearts with us”.

Using the previous sentence, “our voices and our hearts together” can form a group chant.

“The awen … I sing … from the deep … I bring it” serves equally well as an individual chant, which can be effective in alternating periods of silence and chant. Try experimenting with where you divide up the line, into three or four parts, or one longer slow chant.

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You can read an OBOD article on the Céile Dé here.

I invite you to post about your experience with these chants.

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