Archive for July 2020

Working Your What, Part 2: Spirit-ware   Leave a comment

We hear about computer software and hardware, and the humorously-named wetware, that pink and sloshy stuff inside our skulls.

I propose the term spirit-ware for all the applications that run without physical forms. Just as you don’t need to believe in Apple or Linux or Google or Microsoft to use their applications and other products, you can get along fine without belief in spiritware and yet still try it out. In fact, we all do that every day. Belief is just one technique among many.

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Walpole-Westminster Bridge over the CT River, Bridgehunter.com/Library of Congress

Experience of the four elements can often provide a bridge for those seeking to understand both lowercase and uppercase spirit/Spirit. Ritual can help us focus in on how North feels different from East, bringing it home with earth and air as ritual experiences, and also with the enlarged awareness of presence that ritual can facilitate.

Or to give a local geographical and political example, does anyone believe that “Vermont” and “New Hampshire” are anything more than very powerful symbols and metaphors that we agree on for the sake of convenience? (When I cross the bridge at Westminster, VT and drive east to Walpole, NH, what’s much more “real” than any change of state boundaries, to me anyway, is my encounter with the Connecticut River that defines most of the eastern Vermont border and western New Hampshire border.)

Go back a few hundred years and pieces of what are now two New England states belonged to Canada, France, New York, and so on. Go back a few more centuries, and the whole region is Wabanahkik, the Dawn Land of the Abenaki people. “So which is it?” Any answer depends on time and place.

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Over on the Druidry and Christianity Facebook site, a member posted a question about “false gods” in connection with those who worship Brighid and similar figures. How do we know what they are?

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Waxing moon, two evenings ago

For better and worse, I tend towards a pragmatic approach towards Others, especially Others without their skins on.

I understand that such an approach may not work for everyone, particularly for those who’ve committed to a specific creed and worldview. The longer I live, though, the less I believe I know what “false god” even means any more. Yes, I know how such expressions get used, but often that seems like finger-pointing and competitiveness between different religious factions. There are so many kinds of beings, some with skin and some without. And from what I’ve seen, they’re a real mix of good, bad and in-between, so that my criterion tends to be Jesus’s wise standard: “by their fruits you shall know (i.e., distinguish) them”. Which is how I also tend to discriminate between a good and a bad used-car salesperson, plumber, restaurant, potential life-partner, etc.

I also don’t think I really “worship” anyone or anything. Some people do — it’s an important part of their spiritual and religious life. But what I do know is that some beings earn my respect and attention, and others don’t. I find I’m more interested in relationships than worship, and as with any worthwhile relationship, I need to listen, be available to do what’s needful, pay attention, show my gratitude, go with the flow, and live my commitment in my actions.

And I find that demands more from me than most of my beliefs do, which my life keeps revising on me anyway, often when I least expect it.

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The early Church made a distinction between three kinds of reverence/worship: the Greek terms doulia, hyperdoulia, and latria, or reverence, great reverence and worship (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latria). Latria is for God alone, while saints may receive lesser devotion. Well and good.

But I don’t know how to apply such labels realistically to what I do each day, no matter what it may look like on paper. If a dear friend helps me out when I’m down, spends time with me, listens, checks in to follow up on me, takes me out to dinner, etc., the ways I’d show my deep gratitude in response, at least to someone watching from the outside, would probably look an awful lot like latria, or worship/sacrifice. Yet I’m not “worshiping” my friend (or at least not any more than I worship any close friends) when I give a gift in return, or write them a poem or song in gratitude.

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sunset two nights ago, from our front yard

Is writing and singing a love song to someone else a form of worship, or simply expressing love? Does it have to be one or the other? We can attempt to define and prescribe which actions fall in which category, but the person’s intent seems far more important to me, and that’s often where doctrine has least to say, since its purpose, often, is to direct behavior, something visible and measurable, so that we may begin to achieve a glimpse of the result of holy intentions and actions. It can be an indirect way to catalyze a spiritual practice, but for some it’s a useful one.

One of the loveliest modern songs of devotion to Brighid is by Damh the Bard. It’s a favorite of mine and of many. Listening to it, I’m not concerned with doctrine but with the love he expresses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMxeYEhUxYw

Granted, Damh isn’t a Christian Druid. The distinction between human and god matters less in both song and the experience of many Pagans. You’ll note if you listen that Brighid is both “old woman” and “goddess”. (Maybe if we let go that distinction our care and treatment of the elderly might improve.)

One commenter at Druidry and Christianity observed:

But when it comes to pagan gods (let’s assume for the moment that there was a goddess Bridget and a Saint Bridget and that it’s possible not to conflate the two), I think it’s not so much a question of what constitutes “worship,” as it is a question of who/what pagan gods actually are. Are they spiritually beings set up against God? Are they under God? Are they unaligned? Is it even possible to have an unaligned spirit?

There are different kinds of answers to such questions, and which ones satisfy anyone asking the questions seem to depend in turn on the intention, expectation, experience, belief and individuality of those asking. Ultimately, one goes with what accords with one’s inmost sense of truth. No one else can supply that, but only influence how much we trust it.

Prayer may supply an answer individually, though we’ve always seen different and sometimes diametrically opposite answers to apparently the “same” prayer. In response to prayer guidance, some join one church that others condemn — also as a response to guidance received in prayer.

The experience of God’s sovereignty for others means that Biblical verses like Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” are sufficient answer. God’s creation is good, and his Word is fulfilled.

Medieval European angelology suggests a whole range of spiritual beings — evil, unaligned and good. Much Christian magic of that time involves cooperation with the good ones against the evil ones. Or sometimes evoking and extorting from the more dubious ones as much occult knowledge as you can, before banishing them back to their respective realms. You just had to make sure your magic circle was as secure as possible, so you wouldn’t get eaten. (For a contemporary fantasy take on various ways you can get eaten, among many other things, see Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House, set among Yale University’s secret societies, featuring an anti-heroine named Alex, who’s able to see spirits — much to her dismay.)

Divination can help as well, though from a Christian perspective it can be just as suspect as the subject of potentially evil or non-aligned spiritual beings themselves.

Ultimately, I find, it seems to come down to a paraphrase of C. S. Lewis’s observation: “You can’t really study people [or gods]; you can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing …”

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Working Your What, Part 1: Ancestors   Leave a comment

[Updated 26 July 2020]

Part of my what is ancestor magic. And — no surprise — it’s not a fully-worked-out thing by any means. It doesn’t need to be, because unlike fully-worked-out and therefore dead things, my magic is alive. Sometimes like all living things it changes and shifts where I don’t expect it. Yes, my mind can still run circles around my practice, with arguments like But the ancestors have already reincarnated and they’re off on new adventures. They’re not just waiting around on the off-chance that maybe you’ll finally notice them and pay attention to them!

To which another part of me answers You’re thinking from a limited vantage-point. There’s no time in the place where we meet with the ancestors. Or rather, all of time opens up, if we allow it, for ancestors and descendants alike. What I did yesterday and will do today ripples back and forth through time, just like the actions of everyone else flow and eddy and wash across other lives. Yes, in some of what I do, I fulfill an ancestral goal or vision in my life today, and also launch my own projects, and sow my own dreams. I may work to rebalance excesses and extremes set in motion long ago, and extend long-term projects and plans, even as I add my own energies to the stream which others in their turn live and work in. And some of those others may be the ancestors themselves, returned to take up the Great Work.

A tool for my magic and my connection to ancestors:

Below is a picture from nearly a century ago in 1922, of three generations on my mother’s side. In the small-town Iowa living room, she’s the youngest, the dark-haired three-year-old near the center, looking down at the doll in her arms. Everyone’s standing in front of the fireplace — though all you can see are the bricks and the mantle above. On either side of my mother are my aunt and uncle, ten and five respectively. The young woman on the arm of the chair to the right is my grandmother Lila, with her father, my great-grandfather, ensconced in the wicker chair, the bald patriarch of the clan, calmly reading. Facing him is my great-grandmother in a dark dress, her laced boots mirroring her husband’s. It’s all carefully posed, an image of the white middle-class domestic ideal of the time.

generations

What magical uses here? you ask. So many. What is remembered lives, runs the Pagan proverb. Another is the magic of images themselves — this image, both frozen and alive in time, potent to evoke. (Remember that image is any sense impression: yours may be a song, or a recipe, the taste of family. Or an heirloom, cherished family object whose touch rouses memory.)

Another piece of magic: I know everyone’s names here, and the lives of everyone but my great-grandparents overlapped with mine. But I don’t need names to evoke anyone, because any evocation is built-in to my bones and blood. With each heartbeat I evoke them. They are each already a presence for me, quite literal pieces of my DNA, as well as the stories and impressions I carry. Put a finger on my pulse and I have a practice: with each heartbeat I say the Names — I live because you lived, you live through me. You stand by the family hearth, the fire that still lights and kindles in me, that I pass on.

In any situation, they are a council of elders to consult, a family gathering both in and outside time. One key is to ritualize this, or it will most likely remain a vague impression at best. How to ritualize it matters less: the act of holding them in my attention vividly, aided by gesture, words, objects, and a commitment simply to do the ritual, matter more. I can’t do it “wrong”.

Put a question in meditation, for example, being sure to write it down as well, and watch for dreams and subsequent meditations to round out the query. So much wisdom to draw on, if I can begin to listen to hear it. Each of my ancestors lived out a life with its sorrows and joys. My aunt who never married, in a time when single-dom was much rarer, but built a quiet and modest career as an editor, keeping her sexuality under wraps for most of her life. My uncle, who at 12 years old drove my great-grandmother along country roads in the family car, while she literally “rode shot-gun”, bagging pheasants for Sunday dinner. My grandmother, widowed young, who raised three children. My great-grandfather, who hunted and fished and homesteaded in Sun Valley, Idaho in the late 19th century, before settling down to farm life “back east” in Iowa.

With all this richness of human experience to draw on, I can draw on it to amplify my own, make better choices, honor their lives by living mine more fully, paying forward the investment in family that each made, just by being alive. In such a family gathering, they shift and move from their places in the photo, and turn to take up their lives, before and after the brief flash of the camera that captures their forms in two dimensions. (Oh, let me supply the third dimension of time!)

Another key: I can make of their strengths several charms to strengthen and clarify my path, holding their images and memory as I say the words and lay the spell on myself most of all:

Aim of the hunter is mine, to hit my target. Singleness of purpose is mine, to achieve my goal. Sureness of place is mine, to flourish where I find myself …

Part of my honoring and my magic both is to recognize and embody their strengths. It may reach concrete magical form as a bind-rune or ogham lettering of their names.

Now this is a fragment of my mother’s side of my family. My father’s side, from my perspective, is less easy and comfortable. My relationships with those ancestors are more troubled. Love doesn’t flow as easily or readily. But magic rests there, too, more potent for any difficulty — because they also survived. A great-great uncle and great-grandmother who immigrated to the U.S. in their teens, just the two of them, brother and sister making their way as family servants where they boarded, learning English and acclimating to a strange new country. Survivors of wars and their traumas. My grandmother with the weak heart, knowing a widow’s struggle to keep going through the Great Depression. Illnesses and early deaths. Both common stories, and also utterly personal. We each inherit a full roster of them, and are adding our own right now. Their lives, and my life, are utterly our own, and also glyphs to read for insight and prophecy. Stomach issues on my father’s side, cancer and ulcers: a challenge quite literally to learn better how to stomach the ups and downs of life. Heart issues — what challenges my heart today?

Far more often than I imagine, such signs and wisdom are plain, not hidden at all. Through the concrete details of their lives, the ancestors can provide personalized “prescriptions for living” for their descendants, like this one: find ways to drop stress to clear the path for yourself. Otherwise blockages and barriers will eat you up inside. You eventually arrive at a point where you can see that your inheritance is neither weakness nor strength, but an insight into a long project you’re an integral part of, one that comes with certain parameters you’re working with, whether you choose to recognize them or not, work with them or ignore them.

Practicing ancestral magic means family relationships don’t end just because of death, any more than they do because of birth. Travel to a different era along the time-track, to their time, and I’m the one not yet real, as yet unborn, simply one possibility among many, a descendant whisper they may not hear as they live their lives under clouds and sun, shadow and brightness as vivid as ours today. Yet my birth and subsequent life did happen, and I’m here in my own time, even as I visit theirs, and they visit mine.

I take up the photo again, and in the magic of images and numbers, I’m the seventh element, the six in the photograph complete in themselves, yet also waiting for a missing factor. This is a paradox to work with and explore, how and where (and when) we fit in the cycles and spirals. And it’s a chance, to listen and discover where we find a place, and how we contribute. It comes with work and listening, with knowing all that family means.

Any number of sacred writings have wisdom to offer here: “Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars” (Proverbs 9:1). “The math and myth of seven”, notes Michael Schneider in his A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe, “the Heptad, are intimately related to those of twelve, the Dodekad. Both have in common the interplay of Triad and Tetrad, triangle and square. That is, 3 + 4 = 7, while 3 x 4 = 12” (pg. 233). Use your triangle of manifestation (1 | 2), find your triads, use your four elements, build your own 7 and 12.

But what about those perhaps harsh and bent branches of a family tree? Robert Frost, no stranger to difficult families or to the keenness of multiple personal losses, provides a key to a door that may seem shut and locked. Lest we think ancestral magic is closed to us because of breaking and broken families, he writes in one poem, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/They have to take you in”.

Not necessarily outwardly — that can indeed sometimes be too much to ask of anyone — but inwardly, where all magic is worked. Because Frost’s poem is a conversation between husband and wife about a hired man, someone who both does and doesn’t belong to the family, an increasingly common position many of us may find ourselves in. For the wife replies about home: “I should have called it/Something you somehow haven’t to deserve”.

Ancestral magic finds us where we are, if we care to let it in. It’s then that we may discover how we’ve been practicing it all along in some form, and can build on that practice more consciously, in ways uniquely fitted to our lives and circumstances. I hope that I’ve supplied some hints and suggestions for how to go about recognizing practices we already have, and where we might amplify them, turning up the volume to hear what family, or just one wise member of it, has to tell us that may be useful in these challenging days.

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Finding Your What   Leave a comment

newmoon

New moons for old …

You can find any number of blogs that offer you a Druid or general Pagan what: what to do on Lunasa, what to include in a ritual for the full moon, what herbs can help with skin conditions, what to say to family members uncertain or fearful of your non-mainstream interests and practices, what medieval manuscripts tell us about older beliefs and practices, what a recently-published author gets wrong or right, what the presumed origins are for X, Y or Z. Regular readers here know I’ve written a fair number of posts like that myself. Yet I suspect the reason you visit this blog, or keep coming back, is not to track down a reliable source of practical what — others do that better and more regularly — but to see what this crazy old Druid is on about now. Maybe something here will be peculiarly useful this time …

With luck and persistence and the blessings of earth, sea and sky (and in many cases, a band of inward mentors that keep tabs on us in spite of our best efforts to ignore or discount them), you keep practicing and reading and dreaming till you learn how to suss out the kind of what you’re looking for. Through regular practice, you learn that practice itself will guide you to more of your own what, because it hones your inner senses, it magnetizes your inner compass, it locks-and-loads your crap-detector, it re-enchants the mundane taking out the trash and sweeping the floors. You’re doing magic, whether you know it or not, because magic is what humans do. You learn to sort wheat from chaff, gold from garbage. You gain inner confidence. You are, in sum, guided to what works for you. “The purpose of magical arts is to enable the changes within the individual by which he or she may apprehend these further methods inwardly” (1), notes musician and mage R. J. Stewart.

And a special blessing on those of you who do persist, who recognize firsthand the challenges of practice, but who manage to move beyond the “eternal beginner” stage, who do the work, who aspire to wisdom yourselves, to trust your own inner guidance and not always expect someone else to tell you what to do. Your struggle is itself service. Our world needs more Wise Ones like you, today more than yesterday, and tomorrow even more than today. You help hold the soil against the inevitable storms, so there’s something left to plant in, next season, so the next generation can not merely scrounge to survive, but can feast.

Anyone who reads — and even more, follows — this blog knows that the why and the how interest me at least as much as the what, and often far more. Or if you want to think of these as just another kind of what, then it’s the what that lies underneath and behind all the whats of practice. Because if you practice for any length of time, the experience of a practice starts to run thin and turn hollow, if you don’t have things of spiritual substance underlying it.

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Pillar at Four Quarters Sanctuary, Artemas, PA, U.S.A.

So when I read R. J. Stewart’s assertion that “it is not the ritual that confers initiation, but initiation that generates the ritual” (2), I sit up and pay attention. We’ve all had the experience of the “right book at the right time”, or its equivalent — of situations, “chance” encounters, circumstances lining up and smoothly ushering us to growth, change, transformation, love, opportunity. That inner sensibility of ours, sharpened by practice, resonates with what the eyes or ears take in, and we find a new direction, an opening, a doorway.

If we’re alive at all, if we haven’t given up on our own lives as sources of renewal and creativity and possibility, if we still draw on the well-springs of this incarnation, we come to count on initiations. Anyone alive today has been through one already by being born, and most of us have been through several. We may still be sorting out the immediate consequences and long-term effects of ones we’ve passed or are now passing through, and though we may not always welcome the more challenging ones at first, we may well gain perspective that brings us to a point where we can view them as “difficult gifts”. A diagnosis of cancer, as a common example, though it brings suffering and fear and inevitable change, and sometimes a shorter life, can grow our compassion and bring us priceless experiences we would not know in any other way. Equal parts “gift” and “difficult”.

But what of the easier gifts, the initiations that don’t have to devastate us, that don’t drop us squarely into a Dark Night, or shred much of our lives just to get us to look at and live things differently? After all, love and joy, a new friendship, the birth of a child or grandchild, a fulfilling job, a true gift received, a profound insight unfolding, a period of intense creativity — these are initiations, because we’re not the same afterwards. “Initiation emphatically does not consist of powers mysteriously conferred on us during vague quasi-religious ceremonies” (3) — in spite of what New Age gurus suggest.

The what that I’m looking for here are practices that make initiations easier. Let’s look at an obvious big one: I’m going to die, so how can I make that transition smoother? Yes, another art we’ve lost: ars moriendi, the art of dying, was a serious study and practice, not so many centuries ago. And if that sounds too morbid for you, consider it an essential piece of ars vivendi, of living well. Not to garden as if the cherished spot just keeps producing forever, but what to do to take the garden through the autumn and winter, so it’s ready for next spring.

And that’s just one specific initiation. One of my teachers once remarked we’d have a hard time if we knew in advance only the good things coming our way. And though if you’re like me, there are times you’d welcome a chance to prove that teacher wrong, think of all the changes “just the good things” have made in your life. After all, can you really separate out the “bad” from the “good” in any meaningful way?

green trees under blue and orange sky during sunset

Lisa Fotios, Pexels.com

Stewart has a fix on our usual states of consciousness. “The normal flow of our life-energies is wasteful, vague, disorientated, and devoid of intent” (4). Often, it’s “Netflix-and-chill”, or “vegging on social media”. Nothing at all wrong with “letting off steam” — we all do it and need to do it — except that initiation itself flows in the opposite direction. Or as Stewart characterizes it, “a door is opened, or a gate created, both within the individual psyche and in imaginal (but not imaginary or false) worlds, through which the pressurised or shaped energies of the initiate are channeled” (5). Initiation changes us through either the willed or unintended discharge of accumulated energies, which is why “unplanned-for” initiations can so disrupt our lives. I get fired, my marriage ends, my lab test comes back positive, my brakes fail at the intersection. In some sense, then, a part of a sustained spiritual practice is “practice for disruption”. What can fall away, what do I no longer need, what holds me back? Asking for insight on these things, working with what comes, prepares me for smoother initiations that needn’t devastate my whole consciousness, that allow me to find my footing more quickly, and work with rather than against the energies released.

That this isn’t a pipe dream or unrealistic goal meets with confirmation in world-wide myth and legend. In Europe we  see it in “the quest for the Grail, which is a vessel of perpetual regeneration, guarded by terrors and wonders that can and often do destroy the seeker. But the destruction is that of the false personality; the Grail then regenerates the initiate, brings him or her back from the dead” (6).

So any tools that make both needful and “optional” initiations more clearly defined, that help me work with rather than against them, are an increasing part of the what that I want to find, and that I write about here. When Stewart says that “initiation generates the ritual”, at least a piece of that means, for me at least, that I’ll recognize how to tweak my practice because I’ve been practicing along the way. The new directions, the additions and modifications I’m led to make, will arise from what I’ve been doing already. When in meditation some of my friends dedicate their session to sit by the bedside of those dying alone from covid, they serve powerfully and lovingly. We’ve been on the receiving end of such service countless times ourselves, though we may not always recognize it, and what a joy it can be to return the gift as part of a practice.

“In truth”, Stewart notes,

there is only one initiation, and if we were able to relate to it entirely at our first experience all subsequent art of magic would be unnecessary. In practice, however, we unfold and encounter the various harmonics of initiation through what appear to be a series of encounters and inner changes (7).

And often in the middle of such deep transformations we know a profound sense of recognition. We touch our lives stripped of illusions, and what we thought mattered no longer stands between us and the core of life. This sacred encounter, though I may make it accompanied by grief or pain or despair, is real like nothing else I know.

Part of my spiritual apprenticeship, then, is to minimize, around my own life-initiations, the unnecessary grief, shock, pain and despair — not to zero, because that’s almost always unrealistic, but to levels where the sacred encounter itself matters more, and shines through, becomes the dominant and most powerful aspect of the transformation. The next step is a turn toward gratitude for growth. Why waste any initiation, planned or unplanned?

This is a form of spiritual service, because if the changes of initiation throw me off balance, that will ripple to those around me. The first part of the service is to reduce the negative effects of my growth on others, and eventually learn how to help them do the same. And a portion of that service may take place inwardly, just as my friends sit by the bedsides of the dying in contemplation. For all of us are dying daily to the little selves we no longer need, in order to walk another spiral on the magnum opus, the Great Work of our lives.

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(1) Stewart, R. J. Living Magical Arts. London: Blandford, 1987, pg. 3. (More recent reprints and editions available. Avoid ridiculous Amazon used prices. Just checked: Thoth Publications has the best price.)

(2) pg. 86.

(3) pg. 84.

(4) ibid.

(5) ibid.

(6) pg. 85.

(7) pgs. 84-85.

 

 

Recycled   Leave a comment

Cycle 1 This is the next life, said a friend.

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“It takes night to see fire best”. / Photo by Drew Rae on Pexels.com

You want to know if there’s reincarnation? Well, here it is. This. Yep. You don’t have to believe it. You’re in it. And look: the real question isn’t ‘Is there life after death?’ The real question is ‘What are you gonna do with this life?’ If this one can’t engage you and fulfill you and challenge you, why should any future one do any better? Maybe you’ll bring all that you are right now along with you to the next life (along with a similar forgetting, like what happened this time around) or you’ll be so different in it, that it won’t be “you” in any real sense any longer, so it won’t “matter” either way. Sort of like how it feels when you’re born and start to grow up. Everything is mix of brand new and familiar at the same time. And everyone and everything else around us, if we can make a wild guess from the look of things, looks like it’s experiencing something pretty similar, that same strange, fascinating blend.

Cycle 2 “Recycling” isn’t even the right name for it. Nothing’s ever removed from the cycle. It just takes longer or shorter periods of time in its movement through the cycles it’s in, depending on what humans and other forces do with it. We don’t “choose” to recycle or not recycle. We just move things (or try to move them) from one kind of cycle to another for our convenience. Cut and dry wood for a fire. Garden and grow vegetables. Build an aquaduct, a fighter jet, a coffee-maker. Form a political party. Assassinate a rival. Cure a disease. Compose a song. Raise a family. Lick our wounds and hate and love and figure out how to manage another cycle or two. Just like how other things and people are trying to move us from one cycle to another for their benefit. Cycles within cycles.

So you might say the “bestest” thing, the wisest thing to do, is learn about the cycles, and which things move other things in and out of cycles, and how they do that, and how we (can) play a part in that. Sometimes that gets called science, and sometimes religion, and sometimes politics, and all three are pretty much hamstrung by leaving the other ones out. Each plays ‘king of the hill’ and ignores any of the other hills. Kind of like a kid’s version of the real work and play we’re engaged in. Wasn’t it some ancient Greek or Roman who said “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one thing well”? And neither one is (usually) held up as the example of how to tackle this thing called living.

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For here or to go? Paper or plastic? Slab or slot? Trail marker on Mt. Ascutney, Vermont.

Cycle 3 Don’t get trapped in a single cycle. Well, unless you want to. You’ll tend to mirror and match the smaller cycles within that cycle if you do, and spin around several times in it, because it’s mostly a closed loop. People tend to do that, at least till they catch the trick of cycles, and it starts to feel like BTDT — been there done that. The more accurate movement and description of what we usually experience seems to be a spiral — cycle-jumping. Of course, you can spiral down just as easily as up (often more easily), but the usually movement is up. No, the arc of the cosmos doesn’t appear to ‘bend toward justice’. It bends towards equilibrium. It resets, or recalibrates, at the end of a cycle, but it doesn’t “advance” in any consistent way. Of course, it may shift or change. It usually does, just not in a way that we could call meaningful. Only individuals seem to advance or regress (or more often than we think, stay the same). Sorting out the significant and the random changes is a deal of work.

What does a cycle do? It cycles. Life and death, I notice, just keep on cycling, for example. The things in the cycle, they change, not the cycle. Or not much. Cycles cycle, and things “thing”. They’re not usually the same processes, though they move in similar ways. Because things thing by moving through cycles. After a while they can even start to look like cycles because of that. But they seem to hold on to their thing-ness pretty closely over small cycles. Only the bigger cycles show the changes, even make the changes possible. “Rolling with the changes” means using the shape and energy-form of a cycle to change more easily. If you don’t know how a cycle moves, how can you roll with it? Rolling just makes it easier than bumping and banging and thudding, or getting tarred and feathered, or just dragged along. Fewer broken bones and broken lives that way.

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Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

Cycle 4 You can think of a cycle like a song. It begins and ends, you can play or sing it several times, and the pleasure is usually in the movement of the cycle, not in finally “getting to the end”. (Unless you’re finishing a very long run of cycles, and finally leaving, and glad to get out.) Learn a few songs and a larger cycle often opens up. We jump to that cycle — we spiral. The smaller cycles often keep going though, sometimes for us and sometimes they just don’t include us any longer, though they may be alive and engaging for others. It’s not always our choice, either, because other choosers are at play in the cycles — other beings in this being-crammed cosmos. One way to think of it is that every thing is a collection of cycles, a working set of them, a larger cycle collecting and relinquishing smaller ones, something like a card player picking up and putting down cards in the game. A “winning” hand is a set of cards (cycles) that work well together. A set of well-chosen and harmonizing cycles that let the larger cycle spiral for the cycling being.

SF looking up from inside kiva -- BB

Cycle 5 Your game.

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A Triad, and a Window   Leave a comment

Many variations on the following theme exist. Socrates receives credit for it, among other thinkers. Sometimes it’s called the “Three-Way Filter”. So no, it’s not originality I’m claiming, but utility. As a simple but profound guide in these challenging times, this triad answers a deep and pervasive need. It asks us three questions, in a form so compact we can’t help but use it if we wish:

Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

Twitter would mostly dry up, if we followed this Triad. Social media as a whole would shrink to a more appropriate and sane size, and not co-opt reason and good sense. My wife and I attribute our durable marriage to both of us practicing this Triad with each other. Because where else do we live our lives most deeply except with our loved ones? If it works there, our way of life, it might even work elsewhere.

Imagine how our patterns of consumption and our interactions with others would approach something more conscious and intentional. Politics as we know it would change radically. And the shaming of others that we indulge in for not meeting standards we ourselves also fall short of would also shrink. (And again: if I can practice this with my partner whom I love, I gain skill for practicing it with others whom I may not love as much.)

Why?

Because often enough I can say “yes” to two of the three criteria. And though the song lyrics tell us “two outta three ain’t bad”, aiming for all three remains the goal. “Why not excellence?” asks ADF, one of the major Druid orders today. Why shouldn’t we aspire?!

road

When we push against this apparent world, and see it begin to pixelate, a new path can open for us …

It’s interesting to me that, of the three criteria, “kind” is most often the criterion that catches me. I don’t normally think of myself as a particularly heartless or cruel person, yet “kind” is often my sticking point. We reach to claim the moral high ground with “true” and “necessary”, but I end up where it’s kindness that’s lacking.

Try imagining this Triad as a political platform, I say to myself, whatever my place on the political spectrum. And if I can’t, what does that say about my politics, or about my hopes for any kind of justice?

Or as “the only morality I need”, how does it stand up? It’s remarkable how thoroughly the Triad reaches into choices, values, treatment of others — a whole range of ethical issues.

Now let’s couple this Triad with the famous Christian Triad of Jesus: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. You can derive a whole series of useful meditations on the various pairings of the Three of Jesus with this other Three. And not just the obvious linkages, either — for instance, “Is it necessary?” is a truth we often toss aside, because in our self-indulgent age we feel justified simply if we want something. Voila — no further criteria needed! Likewise with freedom, at least in 21st-century America: if anything constrains me, it must violate my rights. Never mind that it’s good for the whole. Never mind that a whole range of behaviors are denied me, that laws constrain me and would have constrained me during most major civilizations we have knowledge of, because much of “what I want” may not be good for others. (We each have our lists.)

But is any of this Druidic? asks my pesky inner Druid. Well, consider the Instructions of King Cormac, and let me know how well this Triad of Truth, Kindness and Necessity lines up with the counsels of the King.

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Which brings us to death, which can seem a very un-Druidic subject.

First ethics, then mortality. Wow, you really know how to market yourself to your readers, and offer upbeat blogposts.

So it’s fitting that one of the most irrepressibly cheerful Druids I know should speak about death, and from daily, intimate, firsthand knowledge. Here’s Welsh Druid Kristoffer Hughes speaking on the subject on the occasion of the re-issue of his meditation on mortality, under the new title As the Last Leaf Falls. As someone who deals professionally with dead bodies and the bereaved every day, as a mortuary worker (in the States we’d say morgue), he knows the death industry firsthand.

“You can tell an awful lot about a society just by the manner they deal with the dead”, notes Kristoffer. He traces much of our contemporary Western outlook, practice and ritual to Queen Victoria, who dressed in mourning for 40 years.

 

 

Dip in at any point in this half-hour talk and you’ll gain something of value. “The medicalization of death and grief profoundly impacts all of us in the West”, Hughes says, around the 8:00-mark. “Death always brings in the big questions and the Spirit — but that is not the domain of medicine … We’ve created institutions of death whereby the indignities of death can occur without offending the sensibilities of the living. And I see that every day quite viscerally …”

At the 9:00-point, he notes “A basic anxiety runs through humanity … we are all going to die. And that sound quite depressing, doesn’t it? I might need a mouthful of gin just to offset that. But please don’t judge me. I’ve been in a morgue since quarter past 7:00 this morning”.

“Life … a terminal sexually-transmitted infection …”

“There’s no fundamental universally-correct truth that will alleviate everyone’s anxiety …”

“We need meaning … significance … transcendence …  When there’s no meaning, we find people under their desks sucking on Valium the size of their heads …”

“We’re told to conform to other people’s meaning … and that can be a frightfully difficult task”.

“So often when people shine too brightly, [other] people might want them to dim their light. And I say to you never dim your light. Ever. Shine. ‘Cause that’s the purpose you are here. Your eyes are windows through which the universe experiences itself. How can you not shine? If anybody tells you to dim your lights, tell ’em to buy a pair of shades …”

Later (around 16:25) he cites Taliesin: “Know what you are when you are sleeping. Are you a body or a spirit or an occult radiance?” Sleep, he says, the “little death” we each experience every night, is a prime key to insight and awareness about what death actually is.

Re the Covid-19 virus, he says, we lack meaningful rituals to cope that we used to have. “Ritual has fractured”, says Hughes. And the emotional relocation that is grief is far more difficult to navigate. So we need new rituals to help us travel the emotional relocation of grief, of honoring the living and the life of those who’ve left.

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Directional Divination, and Confluences   Leave a comment

equinoxmt

scenic drive up Mt. Equinox, VT

We inhabit a speaking cosmos. (World, would you call me home?) I don’t know about you, but that’s what I keep on concluding, when I consider my own history, the breadth of divination systems, the experiences of many who report contact with other beings, sought and unsought, the writings in world-wide cultures attesting to the existence of persons both with and without skins on, and many other odd and assorted pieces of evidence. How to connect, how to join the conversation, is what remains, and that can become part of a regular practice. For that, here’s one more item from my toolkit.

Diyeshegwanhi dee-yeh-sheh-gwahn-hee — the “seven directions”. It’s a word that came to me in meditation many years ago, and I use it when I do this particular divination. An awareness of the cosmos with seven directions appears in a number of traditions: the cardinal four of north, east, south and west, with the addition of above, below and toward the center. Often the starting direction varies, but I almost always end with toward the center. It focuses and closes the divination with what is going on within — something good to attend to, that guides without dominating the divination.

After grounding and centering, I invite the directions, acknowledging my kinship with the beings who inhabit each of them. Recently I’ve been reading about ancestors who lived and are buried in northern Vermont, so today I begin with north.

North of my kindred, I greet and bow to you! [Pause] May I attend to your wisdom.

And so on through the directions, making it a meditation, a ritual, a prayer, and varying what I name and attend to as I go. Sometimes it’s enough just to turn in the direction, or to visualize it (which can mean other senses than site — the focus of imagination IS visualization, regardless of the active sense. I may feel north, for instance, rather than hear or see anything).

I write down what I sense/visualize, and that’s my divination, always shaped by the final focus on what’s going on inwardly, which guides my interpretation. (I often use the abbreviations n-e-s-w-a-b for north, east, south, west, above, below in my notes — holding the center apart — and so I think of the meditation as my neswab meditation.)

This morning’s divination:

North: birdsong
East: shadow under the willow
South: morning haze
West: openness
Above: a swirling or whorl of energies
Below: containment
Center: movement across, or transverse

I am moving across a field with both song and shadow. I’m open or accessible to these energies emotionally, while my field of movement, my perception or awareness of a range of action, as well as my intention, may be obscured by haze and shadow, or by a confusion of energies. Goals: attend as I move, watch and work for clarity, and sharpen my intention. Because the field is in transition — because I’m transiting it — now isn’t the time for insisting on substantial or enduring perceptions, but for a sounding of what’s current, timely, of the moment, as a guide for what’s coming next.

asc-rdview

Mt. Ascutney from the south on Rt. 91N

Now it’s certainly possible — and maybe desirable, depending on your inner guidance — to expand this to include other correspondences: the chakras, the notes between octaves, and so on. Personally, I find my own associations much more useful than someone else’s. Your mileage will vary. The point with any divination system is its practicality: does it serve? If not, its neatness, symmetry, complexity, etc. are all distractions.

If it helps, for instance, to associate the directions with sacred spots on your own local landscape, follow through. Four New England mountains lie along my cardinal directions: to the east is Mount Monadnock; to my south, Putney Mountain; north is Ascutney; and west is Mount Equinox. I’ve visited all but Equinox, and it happens to lie in the west, and be the home of the only Carthusian monastery in the U.S. — the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration.

To take just one obvious tack from my divination, what needs transfiguring that I haven’t yet visited or invited into my experience? And given my interest in Druid-Christian linkages, what should I be focusing on there? The home page of the monastery website, as a pointer, notes “The Transfiguration of the Lord contains all the constitutive elements of Christian contemplation”. The Carthusian prescription for contact, for connection, is silence and solitude, and of course prayer.

All of this is a helpful reminder for someone like me who can spend too much time online. That’s what bloggers often end up doing. So a regular period of fasting from social media is one way for me to bring more solitude and silence into my life, where I can then hear the awen more clearly.

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If you find yourself asking But where’s the Druid(ry) in all this? you might enjoy reading the current (21st) Mt. Haemus lecture, sponsored by OBOD, which this year is “The Well and the Chapel: Confluence” by RoMa Johnson, MA, MDiv, addressing connections between Druidry (the Well) and Christianity (the Chapel). The link takes you to an OBOD subpage where you can learn more about the author, and download a PDF of the lecture.

Johnson explores five sub-topics: Worldviews—Immanence and Imminence; Justice—Sin, Responsibility and Restoration; The Three—The Sacred Feminine and the Trinity; Immrama—The Soul’s Journey and Inspiration; and Confluence.

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Druid & Christian: Whole, Healthy, Holy   2 comments

Beside various books, conferences, retreats and training programs on the subject, the ongoing Druidry and Christianity conversation has a number of other outlets, among them Forest Church and some Facebook groups. On one of the latter which I co-admin with a Christian-Druid friend, we’re polling members for the topic of our next Zoom meeting. The current favorite is “Blending Earth Spirituality and Christianity”.


We can find many paths inward to such meeting-places, but we might begin with Shawn Sanford Beck’s observation (in his 2015 Christian Animism) that “To say that a Christian can, and should, cultivate a relationship with the spirits of nature, the spirits of the land, is something new. What was natural and somewhat unconscious up until the end of the medieval period now requires consciousness and intentionality”.

That time-line is significant. If such relationship seems foreign or alien to Christianity today, it’s perhaps more a measure of our often severe disconnect from the natural world rather than any heretical bias or heterodox belief. One has only to read the Biblical Psalms with their ecstatic delight in the natural world to begin to recapture what was once a human birthright. “Earth’s crammed with heaven”, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning exclaims in Aurora Leigh, “And every common bush afire with God,/But only he who sees takes off his shoes …” The difficult and awkward questions arise: Do I even want to see any more? And if I did, would I instinctively know to take off my shoes?

e-cook trees-s

Note that Beck’s and Browning’s exclamations aren’t set forth as any kind of doctrine, but as celebrations of something self-evident. Spend time in nature, these guides say to us, and you will know these things, too. And so Beck notes further that if we read saints’ lives and consider their remarkable interactions with birds, snakes, and other beasts, “The ability of the saints to cultivate such interesting relationships with animals was seen to be a sign of their growing sanctity.” What is holy is whole and healthy — the Old English forebears of these words form a network of related terms*.

*hál: hale, healthy, whole, sound, without fraud (links here and following are to entries in Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary online). (Note common Old English greeting wes hál be well, be healthy, hail!)
hálig: holy; a saint (in the forms se hálga/ seo hálge).
hálig-dæg: holy day; holiday.
hálgian: hallow, sanctify, make holy, consecrate.
hǽlþ: health; wholeness, healing, cure.
hǽlan: heal, make whole, cure, save.
hǽlend: a healer, savior; Jesus.

We begin to re-approach such “Garden relationships” with a world of non-human others, you might say, using the metaphor from Genesis, when we re-attune to the world all around us. God brings the animals to Adam “to see what he would call them” (Gen. 2:9). Have we forgotten who and what we named, and how we once could distinguish and recognize each one? Do we have “eyes to see and ears to hear”, as Jesus asked?

These senses matter, because “this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:15). The healing and wholeness we desire are conditional — they depend on us. They can’t reach me, on offer as they still are, until I open to them.

So a major first step is to put myself into connection. Of course, that step and that action are not merely one-sided, from me. Bugs, birds, plants and beasts also keep trying to connect, though we often ignore them. Druid and blogger Dana Driscoll has a marvelously wise post on encountering the teachings of Poison Ivy.

In the same post, Dana addresses what the wholeness-that-is-healing consists of:

Sometimes, as druids and as nature-oriented people, we focus only on the fuzzy and happy parts of nature: blooming edible flowers, fuzzy soft rabbits, cute animals, soft mats of green moss, and shy deer. But nature isn’t just about things that are comfortable to us and that bring us joy and peace — nature is also about survival of the fittest, about defenses and predators, about huge storms, floods and destruction. I think its important that we learn about all aspects of nature, even those that don’t always make us comfortable. Part of this is because nature is a reflection of ourselves — we have our dark parts, the parts we wish we could avoid or forget. And understanding these many pieces of nature, I believe, helps us better understand the complex mosaic that makes up any human being. But another part of this has to do with honoring nature — without connecting with the many pieces of nature, we are in danger of misunderstanding her, of not seeing the whole, and not having a whole relationship with her.

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Druids, Druids Everywhere!

Are Druids known — popular — mistaken for something they’re not — exploited — desirable — cool, etc.? Judge for yourself. Consider: would (or do) we see the same kinds of things marketed with the names “Christian” or “Hindu” or “Muslim”? What aspects or commonly-held images of Druids do these many sites draw on for their own benefit? What cachet, vibe, association or desirable quality are they suggesting about their organization, product or business?

What follows is a small sample of the many uses of the name …

creperiededruides

The Druid Crepery / Creperie Des Druides [Facebook link] in Saint-Brieuc, Bretagne, France.

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restaurant-des-druides

The Restaurant des Druides (and also the Bar de Druides!), in Montcheneix, Rochefort-Montagne, France.

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hoteldedruides

Hôtel des Druides, Quiberon, Morbihan, Bretagne, France.

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PTV9970-1024x683

Thwaites Druid Inn, Gorsedd, Holywell, Wales.

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0224the druid inn hi res images

The Druid Inn, Pontblyddyn, Wales.

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Frontage

The Druid Inn, Llanferres, Wales.

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druidsarms

The Druids Arms, Penrith, Cumbria, UK.

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Druids Arms - Maidstone

Druids Arms, Maidstone, Kent, UK.

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Exterior

The Druids/The Druids Arms, Brighton, Sussex, UK.

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The Druids Head, 9 Brighton Place, Brighton, East Sussex

The Druids Head, Brighton, Sussex.

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Camino Photo of the Day: The Inn of the Druid – Pilgrims on the Way

La Posada del Druida, Foncebadón, Castilla y León, Spain. Interestingly, this spot is a stop on the Camino de Santiago, the Pilgrimage of Compostela, also called The Way of St. James — one of the oldest Christian pilgrimage trails (hence the Spanish subtitle albergue de peregrinos — pilgrims’ hostel).

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Druid Theatre (Galway) - 2020 All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go ...

Druid Theatre, Galway, Ireland.

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Turnpike Troubadors to play Druid City tonight – The Crimson White

Druid City Music Hall, Tuscaloosa, AL, USA

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druid_outside.jpg

The Druid Pub, Cambridge, MA, USA.

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The Lost Druid Brewery opening today in Avondale Estates

The Lost Druid brewery, Avondale Estates, GA, USA.

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druids-cave

Druids Caves, Matlock, Derbyshire, UK.

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Druid Hills High School Auction Officially Begins | Virginia ...

Druid Hills High School, GA, USA.

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/df/DruidPeakYNP2010.jpg/640px-DruidPeakYNP2010.jpg

Druid Peak, Yellowstone Nat’l Park, Wyoming, USA.

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Amazon.com: Druid Peak: Spencer Treat Clark, Andrew Wilson, Rachel ...

Druid Peak (2014), a film set in Yellowstone, in part about the re-introduction of wolves to the park.

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ip.access: News

Druid Software, mobile and cellular networks, Ireland.

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Business Intelligence for Apache Druid- Holistics | Business ...

(Apache) Druid is “a column-oriented, open-source, distributed data store written in Java” (Wikipedia entry); a “high performance real-time analytics database” (official website).

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Druid Technology

Druid Technology — from the Chinese website, English version: “Adhering to the idea of Connecting Life and Nature and backed by Debut series bird tracker developed independently, Druid is devoted to establishing biological ubiquitous network and the bridge between human and nature, helping human to explore the magical rules of nature and safeguarding the sustainable development of earth”.

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Image may contain: text that says 'ORUID dESIGNS media & marketing mastering the dark arts for millenia'

Druid Designs, a media and marketing company with the Facebook address “designedbyDruids”.

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Posted 5 July 2020 by adruidway in Druidry

Spiritual Practice as Laundry

A mundane laundry triad: It needs doing, you do it regularly, and you see the benefit in practical terms: clean clothes.

laundry

elemental laundry: water, earth, air, fire …

While people have individual laundry rituals — you must fold clothes a certain way, or you can only wash certain items together, or you sort into whites and colors, while somebody else sorts by fabrics, or gentle versus regular machine cycle, or you use specific detergents on specific categories — laundry everywhere needs washing. It’s a deeply human activity.

I talk so much about spiritual practice for several reasons. Those who do it know its profound value, while those who don’t tend more often than not to busy our political landscape and to make headlines of various less-than-positive kinds. By “less-than-positive”, please note, I don’t mean less-than-comfortable. A spiritual practice worth doing should in fact unsettle us if we’re stuck — and that’s a good thing. If I’m entrenched in a rut, I need to be plucked from it, and a good spiritual practice is a rut-plucker.

Do laundry long enough and you begin to discover its seasons and rituals, its smaller and larger gestures. During warm weather, hanging clothes outdoors may be an option (as a rural and stingy Yankee, I get to save several hundred dollars each year drying clothes on a line from early April through late October, and gathering in wonderfully sun-breathed clothes besides. Ah, blessed sweat equity). You may wash more in cold weather because you wear more in cold weather. You may also begin at length to practice economies — better (and less) detergent, or scent-free choices, or more efficient machines, or certain days where doing the laundry just makes better sense. You may struggle against housing ordinances which prohibit clotheslines, or you may frequent laundromats or public laundries with their own rules and practices.

Travel or visit others (before these wry, random and ructious covidious times, and hopefully afterwards, too!) and you face different laundry adventures, washing items in a sink, or in your friends’ or sisters’ machines, or in a hotel laundry room. Leave the ritual you know and you discover how much of a habit it has become. Pack a suitcase, and you’re drawing on accumulated clean laundry to see you at least partway through the journey. A good practice grants you just such a reserve you can draw on.

Some practices will shrink or shred or discolor some of your laundry. Note that nothing in such a practice is “wrong” by itself: only the combining of actions and objects that don’t work well together causes the problem. How far I can extrapolate from that lesson is itself a useful meditation.

female backpacker enjoying waterfall streaming from green hills

Water, air, earth … gifted already. Add the fire of my intention. / Photo by ArtHouse Studio on Pexels.com

And I ponder how the goal of laundry isn’t clean clothes by themselves, exactly. It’s more a person well-clothed in fresh apparel. We want to wear the clean clothes, not merely gaze at them in a pile. I can shower twice a day, but if I have to put on dirty clothes again after a shower, I’m working at cross-purposes with myself. Another reflection for meditation, for the place of a practice.

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At a certain point, laundry can become a spiritual practice, an apparent reversal of the title of this post. But not really: a sound spiritual practice nourishes our capacity to make a practice out of more and more of our lives. If I’ve been doing a practice for a while, and I can detect how it has enlarged me in good ways, that’s a valuable indicator, a signpost along the way that we often do not learn in schools, or from those who by rights should be conveying to us the keys and secrets to making the most of our decades here in this strange and marvelous world. But I will not fault them: it may well be that they in their turn did not ever learn it themselves. If I’ve caught even a glimpse of that possibility, I’m blessed indeed. A ritual of compassion for the ancestors: share with them this gift, let them sense something of its resonance for me, let it flow backward and forward in time.

If we’re fortunate, we can number among our family or friends or teachers someone who makes a spiritual practice out of daily life. Their company is a gift and a pleasure, because whatever they do, they do with love. Children may experience this around a grandparent or other mentor. What we do in the presence of the loving spiritual practitioner matters far less than the doing of it in that presence. The quality of that presence outflows. It’s like a fragrance or vibration we take with us. Begin with something small that you do often, said my teacher one time. If it’s tying your shoelaces, tie them with love. When you’ve made that a practice, then slowly expand it to other things.

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