Archive for August 2020

Refounding Our Fundamentals   2 comments

First, a quotation from Dion Fortune, who flourished in the 30s and 40s of the last century, and did much to launch contemporary understandings of spiritual wholeness, vitality and magic:

“When, in order to concentrate exclusively on God, we cut ourselves off from nature, we destroy our own roots. There must be in us a circuit between heaven and earth, not a one-way flow depriving us of all vitality … it is not enough for our mental health and spiritual development that we draw down the Divine Light, we must also draw up the earth forces. Only too often mental health is sacrificed to spiritual development through ignorance of, or denial of, this fact. Nature is God made manifest, and we blaspheme Her at our peril.” — Dion Fortune, Applied Magic.

While several monotheisms exist which offer training in drawing down the divine light, where in the world do we learn how to draw up the earth forces?

Some of us learn precisely here — in the world. Exploring nature as a child can often go far toward linking us with currents which can help sustain us all life long, if we don’t break the circuit ourselves. We find that secret place away from adults — a tree, stone, grove, meadow, pool in a stream. Maybe we share it with a few others our age, or maybe not. Many who feel drawn to Druidry as adults once enjoyed that contact, and come to realize it includes part of what’s missing after they’ve been alive for a few decades and felt the loss keenly.

[Some forms of Christianity have much to teach concerning honoring the earth and drawing on the telluric or earth forces. The current interest in Celtic spirituality, admittedly sometimes a romanticizing of the realities of its ascetic strain, mirrors such an instinctive search for the rebalancing of the telluric and solar forces. And among other contemporary Druid teachers, J M Greer addresses this in his The Druidry Handbook:

“It’s no wonder so many modern people are deluded into thinking of nature as an unnecessary luxury, and fail to notice their glittering artificial world depends, moment by moment, on vast inputs of materials and energy wrenched from their places in the cycles of the living earth …

Psychologists have shown that many kinds of mental illness have a central factor in common. Despite the stereotype, mentally ill people don’t lose the ability to think clearly; psychotic delusions are often masterpieces of internally consistent deductive logic. The trouble comes because this elegant reasoning loses touch with anything outside itself. Deductions become delusions when they stop being tested against the way the world actually works” (pg. 144).

That wordless communion a child enjoys, which it may not be able to verbalize to adults, begins to be restored to us when we again spend time outdoors. While our headspace is fuller and noisier than when we were children, the “green yoga” of opening our senses, listening, and letting thoughts subside, is a vital practice — quite literally: one that grants vitality. A backyard altar, as simple as a low-hanging tree branch or flowerpot or corner of the fenceline, which I visit each day and where I rededicate myself, becomes a source, a well, a font of sanctity.

Those who struggle to blend approaches, who have — for instance — remained devoted to Jesus, even if church has become a trial and even a hindrance, and who long to honor the holiness they also sense in the natural world, might ponder this reflection from Steve Shelton, who has commented here and elsewhere, and whose path as Christian and Druid lets each enrich the other:

“Let the Christian and Druid talk with each other — they seem to have a way of working this out, usually while we are doing something else.”

And Denise comments:

“Nothing new under the sun, as Ecclesiastes says. We can only do what the ancestors did — keep trying. As long as we’re still human we won’t quite get it right, none of us. Some days — most days — the biggest challenge is to remember that I’m as bad as ‘them’ in my own way and do my best not to cause harm”.

Here is humility, a quality often missing from fundamentalism, which too often speaks from an arrogant certainty that closes off possibilities of growth and discovery. We can also flip the words at need: “I’m as good as them in my own way, and do my best to cause good”.

The etymology of humility tells us much — earthed, grounded, in touch with the humus, the dirt which nourishes us through the other bodies we consume, whether plants or animals, and which our own bodies will nourish in their turn.

The Dao De Jing (Ch. 14/Winter Bynner trans.) observes (adjust the gender to present-day standards):

One who knows his lot to be the lot of all other men
Is a safe man to guide them,
One who recognizes all men as members of his own body
Is a sound man to guard them.

And again, in Ch. 27, pointing us towards one of the results of practice — our ability to salvage in each other what we may think we’ve lost:

A sound man is good at salvage,
At seeing that nothing is lost.
Having what is called insight,
A good man, before he can help a bad man,
Finds in himself the matter with the bad man.
And whichever teacher
Discounts the lesson
Is as far off the road as the other,
Whatever else he may know.
That is the heart of it.

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Where else does fundamentalism take root? The plant metaphor is an apt one. It finds fertile soil in our human capacity to navigate through a deluge of complex sensory and mental inputs, filter and sort them, and then to generalize, schematize, summarize, simplify and transmit them to others.

Blessings to the ancestors for passing along to us many rules of thumb. Some concern the natural world. They may be simple, and some even rhyme: “leaves of three, let them be” for identifying poison ivy. Others we seem to pick up from the air around us. It’s no surprise we’re comfortable around PLU, Jane Austen’s name for and means of poking fun at our clannish and tribal tendencies. “People Like Us” reassure us we fit, we belong to a place. Yes, they say, there’s a soft, warm niche among us with your name on it. And anything that threatens that can draw up deep reserves of fear of the Other. Let that threat come from among a member of the tribe, and that member will eventually be ostracized as surely as a complete foreigner and outsider will be.

Part of the vigor of the fundamentalist tendency in all of us rests in our solidarity with a tribe whose members are all “looking in the same direction”.

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Two keys for dealing with the fundamentalist tendency find echoes in the common law of almost every society we know. In simplest form, they’re the promise and the practice of respect. At root, they form the core of common law, of contract and tort law.

In his remarkable book Whatever Happened to Justice (2004), Richard Maybury lays them out like this: “Do all you have agreed to do, and do not encroach on other persons or their property”. If we’re searching for a clear-headed diagnosis of the times, we might consider how well we’ve been applying these in the United States over the last few decades.

Extend the first principle just a little, and we begin to see a spiritual obligation we often lose sight of. What have we agreed to do? The Western version most of us have inherited has been pared down and simplified until it resembles “Do what makes you happy”; “Follow your bliss”, “March to the beat of your own drummer”.

We’ve lost a more comprehensive vision that connects us to every other being and level of existence. The “mass fundamentalisms” of the West have swept us all up, whatever our private beliefs. They have deified the self of the apparent world (the one that Druidry gently tries to draw us beyond from time to time, so we can recover a vision of the greater self), while also delivering us to a point where we don’t know that we’ve agreed to anything else (we often deny that there is anything else to agree to), or that we are also selves beyond the apparent world, so that we can’t see the terms of our agreement coming due, we’ve “blasphemed Nature at our peril”, and we’ve forgotten how to get back on a good track again.

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Fortunately the tools we need are at hand, and a little exploration and experimentation shows us which ones will serve us best in our own unique circumstances and situations.

Despite what you read in the headlines, the most important fixes are never big ones. They begin small, in the self, in each self, where all real change occurs, and then flow outward into the world from there. When a “big fix” occurs, it can only occur because enough selves have “gotten on board”. The group consciousness has to change first, and that’s where it’s most productive and effective to focus.

I make of myself a culture in the biological sense, and I then infect those around me. That is, I cultivate a set of attitudes, perspectives and abilities which will spread and flower and propagate because I have brought them into manifestation in myself. This may sound mysterious or bizarre or even frightening, until we realize we’re all doing this all the time already. The sole difference is whether I do it as consciously and intentionally as possible, or whether I tend to drift and sway in and with the living currents others send out toward me.

Will I be cause, or effect? Will I at least choose?

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Fundamentalism and Me

This first post in what will be at least a two-parter takes a tangent that may feel like a change of tone and pace. It’s a reflection sparked by John Beckett’s 9 Things You Can Do To End Fundamentalism, posted earlier today. And I’d say read that post first, and you may not need or want to read this one.

View of Rice Terraces
What terrace am I currently working on?; Pexels.com

Long-time readers of this blog know that often I try turning these things onto myself, especially “things” like this topic, because my inner Fundamentalist is alive and well. I assert that we all have one, and where he’s most active (Fundamentalism feels sexist, so I’m happily calling it a “he”), he can likewise be most revealing to examine.

John’s post is partly a response to a friend’s question about how to “end Fundamentalism”. I’m going to trust Jesus on this one: “the poor you will always have with you”, and by analogy it sure looks like that’s true of Fundamentalism, too. We won’t be “ending it” any time soon — I’m not ceding any ground here, but merely acknowledging realistically a feature of human behavior, the better to strategize about “OK, so what then?”

One of the prime definitions of Fundamentalism is “strict adherence to the basic principles of any subject or discipline”, and if it just ended there, we’d be in a different place and space. But there’s also that annoying corollary, “… and you must adhere, too”. Fundamentalism has just one story to tell about the cosmos, and a corollary hatred of any competing stories.

The Last Bow Book
What are your stories? Pexels.com

Like ignorance or anger or lust, these orientations to human existence don’t “go away” through the effort of supposedly more enlightened people like you or me. As long as the tendencies are present in each of us — and I assert that they are — such things send out runners and spores, seed packets, shoots and burrs, and doggedly persist and re-root. That very energy and vigor is revealing of things I hope to cover in a subsequent post.

Part of the good news is that we can work to limit them and rein them in, starting first with ourselves, and returning there as a default setting in the face of any moralizing we — I — feel inclined to do. Beware the soapbox, I hiss to myself. The poor, the “fundamentalist tendency”, the human propensities toward laziness, selfishness, lust, anger, attachment, vanity — we have these with us always. Again, this isn’t any admission of defeat, or reversion to a “dead morality”, but an attempt to describe some aspects of a larger reality, and maybe even develop an actual workable set of strategies in response. (After all, that’s what things like Christianity and Druidry — and Fundamentalism, too — all claim to be: responses to Things As They Are.)

Paganism and Druidry often struggle with evidence of human evil, one instance where Christianity has developed some peculiarly profound insight. One tacit Pagan or Druid assumption seems to be that if we’re in touch with natural rhythms, most of our actions will be harmonious and balanced, in imitation and synchrony with those rhythms. It’s a pleasant conclusion, but is it accurate or helpful?

Even the naming of such things anger, lust and ignorance as “human evil” can sound quaint, faintly ironic, or old-fashioned, irrelevant to the Woke among us who’ve supposedly “moved on” from such labels, improving ourselves in the best American tradition of bootstrapping our way to Utopia. (Somehow, generation to generation, we just keep failing to arrive.)

Photo of Pathway Surrounded By Fir Trees
Sometimes a label would help a lot. Pexels.com

But whether we like to admit it or not, ignorance, anger, lust and so on are heightened expressions of innate human mechanisms with a certain value, or they wouldn’t persist in human behavior over such long time periods. We see equivalents of them in animals, which should red-flag them for us, not as “bad” but as structural or even genetic — part of our inheritance, just like the mixed bag we inherit from our specific ancestral lines.

While meme theory tells us that memes propagate by themselves, like viruses, regardless of how maladaptive they may be for “human thrival”, the capacity in us that both memes and fundamentalisms* hijack and exploit is what interests me more, because I see it in all of us. It’s not just the despicable behavior of some Other (“The evil ____ will destroy this nation if elected!”), mysteriously detached from my own experience, but also inherent in me, too. (Note that Fundamentalisms excel at Othering.)

To pick on just one secular response to such human “bad choices”, the “Values Clarification” exercises popular in some schools decades ago, and still a current therapeutic practice, don’t automatically lead us to make better choices. Such things seem to operate from faulty assumptions about the source and pathways of behavior.

If some form of Fundamentalism wasn’t there in me, albeit in what’s hopefully a less virulent, milder form, I wouldn’t keep pushing ritual and spiritual practice on you, dear readers. Yes, I’m trying to “improve” you the best way I know. Hence my concurrent strategy to turn these things back on myself, to try to walk my talk as best I can, in public, on a blog, for everyone to see who cares to, and hopefully learn from. Some days a blog can feel like a spiritual hit-and-run accident. Other days it’s like the best picnic ever. You learn to roll with these things.

I know that Fundamentalism as we see it now is often simplistically labelled “a response to modernity” and hardly dates to earlier than 150 years ago or so. But if I take even a cursory look at previous centuries, oddly enough I see a set of behaviors that look awfully similar, behaviors largely indistinguishable that I’m including here under that label Fundamentalism/One-Way-ism for my purposes. These behaviors just kept manifesting in things like the Inquisition, pogroms, Crusades, internment camps, the Islamic State, Native Reservations, Satanic Panics, and a host of similar phenomena.

I’d like to close this first and very probably deeply depressing post with the briefest suggestion for where I’m planning to go in the next post: toward a revisioning of Fundamentalism as a positive, a set of basics that form a powerful and productive core response to finding ourselves here, now, alive, and trying to tackle what playwright Arthur Miller [at link, go to eleventh paragraph] called our “single problem: how may a man make of the outside world a home?”

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*fundamentalisms, plural. We’re seeing them, in case we forget, in India with the Hindutva movement Modi is exploiting, in forms of Islam in the Middle East as we’ve witnessed for decades, in Buddhism, and elsewhere.

Posted 20 August 2020 by adruidway in Druidry

“Nothing in my spam queue” as a Guide

Log in to WordPress, check your site, and with luck you read a notice that announces “Nothing in your spam queue”.

Imagine: even spam has been lining up to see you! You’re not as small and insignificant as you thought!

Spam — the stuff that clamors for my attention whether it deserves it or not. First cousin to Fake, Faux, etc. Cut down actual trees, put models of ’em in a Tree Museum*.

A whole Spam world? Sign me up! Take the Blue Pill …

The subtitle of this post could well be: What’s So Bad about the Apparent World, Anyway?

IMG_1961

Finding hollow spaces to celebrate richness. Mt. Ascutney State Park, Vermont.

The “Apparent World”, you’ll recall from previous posts, and as OBOD ritual reminds us, is this one, this world of apparently firm surfaces that consist of little more than the orbital shells of electrons surrounding atoms — nothing “substantial” at all. Spam. This world of matter, energy, space, time, friends, relatives, partners, pets, car, house, job, neighbors, Current Political Crisis #437, aliens, the solar system, all the galaxies beyond it — apparent. Yes, all these things really do “appear”, which is what apparent means. What else, after all, would anybody expect them to do?

“As the Apparent World fades …” says the ritual. Well, maybe I like this Apparent World. After all, I’ve spent 2-3-4-5-6-7 decades acclimating to it, acquiring skills to deal with it, maybe even occasionally thriving in it. I’m invested in it, even if those annoying Others have paved paradise and put up a parking lot*. Yes, I know I have to leave it all too soon. How could I forget that? Reminders all around me every day, even in the best of times, as if I’d forget otherwise! Sometimes ya gotta deny the end just to notice and enjoy everything that comes before it. Smell the flowers, they tell us. Hey, sometimes denial is one of the best and most adaptive survival strategies of all!!! “Some of the happiest people I know …” and so on.

Because just when I think it’s (only) apparent, it shifts on me and becomes fabulously, dangerously, pulse-quickeningly real.

“But wait. There’s more!” Paradoxically, many of the same people reminding us about The End also keep telling us there’s so much beyond it. Huh. What? How’s that work?!

Thoreau has something to say about that. Love him or hate him, he’s on the money often enough to deserve our clear attention:

Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one.

“Counting one” can be a ritual. Maybe the ritual I’ve been longing to do, but for any number of reasons I haven’t yet done. Yes, fishing’s also a grand ritual, as any devotee knows. So is drinking, too. And seeing the sandy bottom, detecting its shallowness. Noticing eternity. Daydreaming of fish in the sky, pebbles like whole planets and stars. Longing to drink deeper.

Our Apparent World, for all its richness, is paper-thin, and with eternity banging at the door and peering in through the windows, and always beginning right now, why deprive myself of that glorious abundance, especially when I don’t have to? In another paradox, it turns out that the true Masters of self-denial, the rabid ascetics and flagellants [warning — link to rites of self-crucifixion in the Philippines!] are those who restrict themselves to the Apparent World, never bothering to drink and detect and long and notice and count. But only a few of us are really cut out for the Apparent World, though almost everything’s set up for their convenience. Most of the rest of us run around vainly trying to arrange “something more”. I’m speaking to the latter group. Because if you’re content with apparent, why do anything different? You’ve got what you need, and I don’t need to photobomb your perfect selfie. Delete this blog from your feed immediately. Otherwise, I’m your spam.

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A post appeared this morning on an OBOD Facebook page from a new bard uncertain about where she could find in the published course rituals any kind of entry point for herself. The rituals she’d encountered so far felt too grand, too dramatic. She wasn’t sure where or how she fit, or how they fit her. She also noted she was a Solitary, with no group nearby to experience that form of ritual with.

mantis

Who else is solitary and may have something to teach me? Do I know?

One of the replies to her post took an interesting tack. Yes, ritual can exist to impress others, the commenter noted, taking them to places they might not go on their own. The dramatic gesture, the theatrical staging, often matter more in such cases where people can beneficially be surprised out of skepticism or ironic detachment or a long-established cool by an honest-to-god encounter with a god, or a spirit, or themselves, or another world, or even this one. But ritual can also be for ourselves, and take any size or shape we wish.

We all do ritual every day, all day long, anyway. Why not make these moments work more beautifully and magically for us, rather than spamming our attention with thoughts, opinions, images, emotions, possibilities and so forth that just don’t fit us and who we are and where we want to go?

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*with thanks to Joni Mitchell and her “Big Yellow Taxi”.

 

Three Questions for “Beyonding”

[Related post: Beyond 101]

If I could make just a single change, large or small, what would it be?

A change in what? you ask. Exactly. This question can open up many things, depending on how you ask, how patient you are with an answer to take shape, how clear the need for the next step may be for you, etc. Even asking the question can be a spiritual practice all its own.

Where do I already have space, support, opportunity, inner nudging, etc. to deepen my practice? What’s already in place, just waiting to be activated, brought into my awareness?

I may have a physical space in or at my dwelling where I can set up an altar, add a window box or flower pot on a landing, expand my garden, set up a compost bin, put a bookshelf dedicated to my sacred reading, etc. I may have a group I can meet with online for support, encouragement, brainstorming, ritual, etc. I may have a CD or musical instrument that helps me create sacred space.

Sometimes any inertia or resistance or blocking can issue from already-present space, support, community, resources, etc. waiting to be brought “on stage”, opened up, made use of. Acknowledging these things, recognizing them, bringing them into my conscious attention, can unstick the flow.

boxHere’s a ritual box I was given at Yule. Near it, scenting that corner of the room, is a sprig of yew from Samhain last year. I haven’t yet placed the box in a dedicated space, though I knew as soon as I received it that it belonged in one, that I would need to find-make-discover-dedicate one for it. The smell of yew each evening reminds me, helped the remembering make its way into my attention and this post. Noticing the lag between our recognitions and our actions often provides a key that opens doors.

What would an “ideal experience” feel like? Look like? Sound like? Taste like? (Add any other senses you may have been working with.)

Take your time with these questions. One or more of them may lead to sketches, doodles, chants, poems, tools, found objects or other aids to help the experience manifest here. “Ground and center” also applies to objects in my life. How can I help ground and center them in my attention?

Think of these as ritual “participants” in making the experience happen. Sometimes I know I need to experience a change, or shift, or something new, but I form no clear anticipation of how I’ll recognize it if it comes. This question can start me paying attention to surroundings, events, circumstances, objects, people, opportunities, etc. for signs — and set me making (or inviting) forerunners, precursors, aids to “bringing the experience home”.

celt-cross

cross on north windowsill with screen behind — earthing the guidance

Sometimes different objects help bring different experiences “to earth”, into our worlds and into our consciousness. For my work with the Druidry and Christianity Facebook group, for example, this Celtic Cross has been a useful tool to refine my sensitivity to links and connections. It’s also proven to be a kind of conduit or lightning rod for ancestral experiences with Christianity, too. Whether you think of it as a ritual tool, a stage prop, an icon, a mandala, or some other variation of these, it’s proven its worth through use. It’s also something I can grip in my hand — even more useful in these touch-starved times, when the virus limits tactile experience, unless we pay attention to amplifying the touches we can bring into our lives.

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Beyond 101

lichenrock

moss and lichens claiming my backyard altar stone

What might moving beyond “Paganism 101” or “Druidry 101” look like?

(The number refers to one common identification system at colleges and universities for introductory courses. Higher levels — with their prerequisites of knowledge, experience and ability — come with higher numbers.)

Part of the difficulty stems from our diversity. The Druid and Pagan circle is an apt metaphor. We stand together facing a small piece of turf, both literal and figurative. That’s our common ground. Our group, our grove, our gathering of friends shares a common goal. We’ve come together to celebrate the harvest or a particular phase of the moon, or hold a handfasting or croning or saging. We’ve got “Purposes”. Turn outward from the group circle, though, and start walking, and we grow farther and farther apart.

That’s not a bad thing in itself.

salamander--annaoakflower

eastern newt / eft in pine woods

Jason Mankey also gets at some of the issues of the “beyond” factor in his post “The Trouble with 101 Books“. Partly it’s a consequence of living in a world of time and space — things keep changing, and so do we.

For Druid bloggers and polytheists like John Beckett, moving beyond 101 means deepening your relationships to the deities you connected to, among other things.

For an herbalist or gardener, it may mean developing your craft by studying nutrition and alternative healing, perhaps offering your skills professionally. It may mean getting a certificate in permaculture, or developing a hardier species to thrive where you live, challenging your ability to grow a larger percentage of your own food, teaching others, and so on.

For some of the members of the Druidry and Christianity Facebook group, the challenge is to find ways of being Christian that honor their spiritual discernment, while also acknowledging the powerful call of spiritual realities and opportunities of the natural world which are often ignored or considered actively suspect in the eyes of mainline churches and congregations and pastors.

Painters, sculptors, musicians work to sharpen their skills and develop their individual styles, and with enough talent coupled with a knack for marketing may even generate some income from their abilities. Some, but usually not enough to quit the day job.

If you don’t recognize yourself and your own experiences in this small handful of descriptions, you understand intimately how far you’ve walked from your own circle or community, just as much as if one of these descriptors more or less captures where you are right now and what you’re doing. Praise for the keepers and participants of circles, for the communal centers they offer!

For a mystic and walker of boundaries, it can mean exploring realms others don’t visit very often, including states of consciousness, ritual approaches, and a growing personal vocabulary to talk about such experiences, along with attempts to find parallels in other traditions and in the work that centuries of Bards in so many cultures have gifted us with. If a Bard somewhere seems to know about what I’m experiencing, I take that as a helpful guide to the terrain I’m walking. But if readers aren’t familiar with that particular association or reference, or if it doesn’t resonate for them, it may not help clarify what I’m talking about very much.

Often the work is so idiosyncratic and personal that it’s hard to share. Or when we do, others don’t quite know what to make of it. I found I learn best when I ask questions. As a ready way to minimize spiritual deception, especially self-deception, I find it unsurpassed. But long ago I also learned that the kinds of questions that interest me most often make other people prickly and defensive, or cause them to look at me strangely, or throw things, or turn away and find somebody else to talk to. So to avoid ostracism and rebuffs and a generalized loathing of my presence, I mostly turn my questions on myself and on my experiences and understandings of the world.

It’s true that such preoccupations can lead to a markedly reclusive lifestyle, so I bless my guides and mentors for nudging me into a career in education and teaching, thereby avoiding even greater eccentricity. If twenty-five years of teaching at the secondary and university level has shown me anything, it’s demonstrated that students like to ask questions of their own on occasion, rather than always answering other peoples’. The same holds true for groups and structures. Young adults are always forming their own groups, with structures that make sense to them, rather than answering to or serving the needs of adult administrators trying to justify their salaries.

When I write about my preoccupations here, I realize I’m writing first for myself, and only secondarily for others, because otherwise I wouldn’t know what to say. Your Druidry 201 and or Paganism 450 Honors will not always overlap with mine. That’s as it should be. Thoreau addresses this phenomenon in the first chapter of Walden with characteristic dry humor:

In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.

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Thank you to all my readers for helping this blog reach 100,000 page views. While I write first for myself, I wouldn’t have kept going without knowing you were also reading and thinking about these things.

Gates to the Otherworlds 2

[Part 1 | Part 2]

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One of the Putney, VT stone chambers

Unknowingly, we also shut most of the gates to Otherworlds ourselves. Hence religion — literally, “re-linking”. Both bad and good news here, for the keys (hidden, discovered, at the end of the quest — pick your legend) are in our hands.

As children all of us spent at least some time peering from the gates of an Otherworld into this one. That’s almost a definition of childhood. Imagination came so readily then that we thought nothing of it — it was our native tongue, our common language. We thought nothing of it because our journeys back and forth between the worlds felt completely natural, for the simple reason that they are. How many of us have heard children endlessly repeating a word or phrase, self-enchanting, practicing one form of word-magic to launch themselves into another world, another state of consciousness? Or the youngster who asks for an adult to read the same bedtime story over and over again, never tiring of it, making it part of the before-sleep ritual, that transition to another world, another state of consciousness? Or watching the same children’s movie day after day, delighting in the ritual of sequence, of beginnings and endings, of transport out of one state of awareness and into others? Or childhood games, with their frequent patterns of losing and finding, of repetition and transformation together. Anyone can be “it” — until the next round. (For whatever “it” may be this time, consult your right hemisphere.)

Almost effortlessly we arrive into this life, knowing firsthand, instinctively, how to make such journeys, only slowly letting go of that precious knowledge as we acclimate to this world.

With enough practice and experience here in this life, we’re able to mock up difficulties and obstacles of all kinds for ourselves in the opposite direction. In fact, we get r e a l l y good at it — when I have time, when I’m not so stressed, later, next weekend, when I finally get a break from work, when the kids are asleep, after the virus retreats, when I’m not so strapped for cash — never perceiving that it’s exactly such priorities which too often shut us off from the very wonder, healing and rebalancing we long for and so desperately need. Rather than slipping in and out of worlds with ease, we root ourselves deeply in just one, then struggle to connect to any others. Rather than tapping into sources and fountains of rejuvenation that would make this life easier, less stressful, more magical, we resolutely “put away childish things”, then wonder why we feel empty and unfulfilled. If we want a clear demonstration of elemental earth out of balance, we can look at its grip on us, holding us back from mingling with the other elements and with spirit. Hence the needful work with elemental ritual.

Through ritual we can let this “apparent world” fade, as OBOD rites describe it. And one strategy for doing that, given our busy lives, is to slip into such ritual spaces and places in the middle of whatever else we’re doing. This practice in itself mimics the between-the-worlds quality we seek, so it models what it induces. Make the intervals and practices small enough we can’t not enter them. They can also become components of the larger rituals we practice.

We don’t need robes, candles, incense, banners, deity and elemental figurines, gongs, bells, swords, wands, altars. True, things like these can help, but they’re not necessary. Sometimes a single short prayer-chant, practiced once an hour through the day, or on some other schedule (every 15 minutes, or each time you get up from your chair, or at each break, etc.), can begin to open doors.

With each breath I take I walk between the worlds.

The previous post offered a somewhat longer prayer: I invoke the three gifts of Mon …

And the usually brief triads are another short piece of poetry and singing, of verbal magic to enchant ourselves into other worlds.

200px-InfiniteOr if you’re more kinesthetic, and words don’t do it for you, a ritual gesture or kind of movement, or for other sensory orientations, sound, color, smell, and so forth. The previous post offered the infinity symbol as gesture or sign, a way of signaling the openness that always walks with us, the ability to slip in and out of other worlds in an instant, and then return. Drawing it might help. (Doodling is one way many of us enter daydream, another world, and to shift consciousness, etc.)

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In another few days this blog will hit 100,000 views — one indication that in the nearly nine years of its existence it’s continued to serve those who read and return to ponder the kinds of things I write about here. The international readership it’s acquired heartens me as well — it’s not speaking merely to a North-American base.

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Shardik_cover_1974

cover of 1st edition, Wikipedia/Allen Lane

I do a lot of re-reading (“if it was worth reading once, it deserves at least a second go”), and right now I’ve returned to Richard Adams’ Shardik, his 1974 novel about “the power of God in a bear”. Adams, though better known for Watership Down, felt that in Shardik he had written his best work.

We have echoes of bear-and-human connections in the bear-cults of early Europe, and in the Korean Dangun legends of the bear-ancestors of humans. Jean Auel’s series that began with The Clan of the Cave Bear picks up on this, and there’s more than one Facebook page devoted to the phenomenon.

Some flavours and expressions of Druidry devote attention to the shape-shifting that can open doors, to the more shamanic aspects of our past and our potential, to the animal-human links that can help restore us to balance and fuller experience of humanity. Books can often point us in such directions.

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Porth i’r Byd Arall — Gate(s) to the Otherworld

[Part 1 | Part 2]

So reads a sign at Llyn Cerrig Bach, a small lake on the Welsh isle of Anglesey or Môn.

porthirbydarall

photo courtesy Kristoffer Hughes

Porth “door, gate”, related to portal; i “to”; (y)r “the” byd “world”; arall “other, another”.

(Incidentally, one of the best online Welsh dictionaries is maintained by the Prifysgol Cymru/University of Wales.)

How to find and pass through such a gate?

In addition to the photo above, Welsh Druid chief and author Kristoffer Hughes [Facebook link / Voices of Modern Druidry entry] offers this bilingual triad on his Facebook page:

Dyma dri o roddion Môn,
Traed y Derwyddon ar y Tir,
Cylch tragwyddol y Môr,
Coleuni diderfyn yr Awyr.

The three gifts of Môn,
The feet of the Druids upon the Land,
The eternal circle of the Sea,
The Sky’s unbounded illumination.

Here are the Three Elements of Earth, Sea and Sky — Tir, Môr and Awyr. The Welsh names work very well all by themselves as a chant and prayer: tir [teer], môr [mohr] and awyr [ah-weer].

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In 1942, a hoard of some 150 objects was discovered near the end of the lake, apparently deposited there as votive offerings. Among them is this splendid bronze plaque, now held in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff:

torc-LCD

crescent plaque / Wikipedia

How do we find and pass through portals to the Otherworld?

I invoke the Three Gifts of Môn,
and seek entrance to an Otherworld,
to where it is right and fitting for me to journey.
Feet of Druids, guide my steps.
True return I seek, for I have been there before,
not merely in dream and vision, and in desire,
but fully, born out of it into this life,
in the eternal circle of the Sea,
returning to it after time and times have ended here.

In this air I make the sacred sign
[with the forefinger of your dominant hand,
draw an infinity symbol in the air].

By the power of Earth, Sea and Sky,
assist me to make the journey anew,
and recall what I discover there,
so that I may share it after
for the good of the whole.

Recording the experience, whatever comes, is a valuable tool for making any subsequent journeys, and as a landmark of our practice. By making a record, I learn how I journey, which may be very different from the path others take. It may be that I recall with different senses active. Some see, but others hear, or touch, or return with no distinct impressions until they lift a musical instrument, or write a poem, or paint or draw. The more different kinds of outlets we provide in our lives and practice, the more the Otherworld can touch us here, and we can locate and recognize and draw on its inspiration.

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For more information, and images of other signposts like the “Gate to the Otherworld” mapping the region, visit “Anglesey Visualizations installed” at Monumental UK.

For an 8-minute Youtube interview with Kristoffer Hughes about the history of Druids in Wales, and their shamanic background, go here.

 

Boasts, Toasts, Oaths, and Growth

I wrote a few years back about toasts, boasts and oaths as part of a Lúnasa ritual at Mystic River Grove in Massachusetts, and I’m revisiting the topic here, because it’s a rich one to explore further. Anyone interested in Lugh, his Welsh counterpart Lleu Llaw Gyffes, and associations with Lunasa need only Google for more info than any ritualist could use in 50 rituals. Use the search box on this site for my other posts on the subject.

lugh1

This triad of ritual actions is especially fitting now, because Lugh is the god whose nasadh “assembly” gives us the name of our current seasonal festival Lughnasadh, or Lúnasa in reformed Irish spelling. Lugh is described as samildánach — “equally skilled in many arts” — certainly reason enough for boasts, toasts and oaths as components of Lunasa ritual. Emulate the god and celebrate the pluses in our lives. His festival includes games of skill, a kind of Celtic Olympics.

Without much squeezing or distortion, we can also see each action as associated with a specific time: past, present and future.

Boasting generally looks to the past, to something already accomplished. “I’ve done it before (and so I’ll do it again)”. We could even see the modern job resume as a kind of contemporary and restrained boast — it highlights our relevant employment history, our training and experience. Likewise, a good job interview is a delicate balance between touting our accomplishments and demonstrating our self-awareness, an understanding of our weaknesses — cleverly transformed, of course, into opportunities for growth in the service of our next employer.

lokasenna

The Flyting of Loki

A boast naturally seeks recognition and praise, or acknowledgement at the very least. (A suspicion of pride and an awareness of its dangers pervade the Judeo-Christian moral heritage of the West, so a Pagan restoration of justified pride is long overdue. The point, after all, is to do something praiseworthy, something that fully deserves boasting about.) As a result, it can also be an occasion that calls for responses from others that tease the boaster, as much as for compliments on an achievement done well. A roast, another rhyming theme that fits well here, is an invitation for just such teasing and carefully-tuned mockery. Through it we test the self-confidence of the boaster, their ability to “take it”, and check their anger, and sometimes to respond in kind. African-American playing the dozens and the Norse, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon flyting each ritualize an exchange of insults. The Norse Lokasenna, sometimes called the Flyting of Loki, is just one historical and literary example. In one form or another, the “rap battle” has long been alive and well.

Toasts are often expressions of gratitude or celebration for something that’s happening now in the present. We salute and celebrate another, whether person or object, event or location. In some way it’s a form of blessing. We toast a newly-married couple, we christen and launch a boat, we hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a completed factory or auditorium or museum. As with boasts, toasts often ask for toasts in response, and some cultures formalize such exchanges. Further highlighting the link between boasts and toasts, it’s often considered “good form” to lightly tease a person or couple we’re toasting, as a way of showing affection.

Oaths usually look toward the future, to something we intend to achieve. As a promise or vow, an oath can be an acknowledgement of a debt we’ve garnered in the past, but oriented towards a general time to come. Or it can be more like a promissory note, specifying terms of repayment, the conditions for fulfillment, etc. In the oral cultures where they mostly originate, oaths are a matter of public memory. We make them publicly so that others witness them. A sense of a commitment made with others’ knowledge often helps the oath-maker to fulfill the oath. It’s a way to utilize any shame, any fear of loss of face if we fail, to motivate us, just like we imagine the praise if we succeed, the enhanced reputation and public standing.

This triad of ritual behaviors can feel somewhat contrived in the West, because each is a ritual action less common today than in the past. As an opportunity to revive ceremonial forms and a chance to explore a triad of potent group ritual gestures, boasts, toasts and oaths deserve to be incorporated in our rites and celebrations.

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These ritual acts are also chances for growth. Part of the cultural change we’ve undergone in the West over the past several centuries has been a shift toward internalizing these three rites. Rather than boasting publicly, we read books on motivation and struggle to deal with self-esteem issues. We take workshops on resume-building and interview skills and networking. We internalize our weaknesses and strengths, though we now hand over to social media an increasing share of our once-private lives, in a curious reversion to the older cultural patterns of turning towards a community for much of our identity.

chickensThe pecking order of birds, the ranking among herd animals, a usually stylized aggression to establish social position, can shade into bullying among humans, a specific form of cruelty. Animals generally stop once one of them establishes dominance over the other. We see animal rituals in the submissive gestures of wolves, stags, chimps, etc. who yield to a stronger opponent. A human bully doesn’t stop, and equivalent gestures of submission may simply encourage greater cruelty. The point of bullying is not merely to establish dominance, which is the goal of most alphas, both female and male, but to cause pain.

Specifically Druidic responses to bullying are often rooted in community. We look for our values to nature and to what we have in common, and a response to a bully is often a communal one. Isolation, banning, shunning, communal expressions of disgust and repulsion, all can have their effect in awakening shame and regret, or at the minimum ending the behavior and any opportunities for it to continue.

Just as important, however, are opportunities for clearing one’s name, for redemption, for forgiveness, for reparations and restoration. Ritual has a place in this as well. The fear and anger that often underlie bullying behavior can be dis-empowered. Elemental re-balancing can play its part — earth can eat the heaviness and sense of blockage and obstruction that comes from wrong-doing acknowledged. Water can cleanse and purify, air can lift and lighten, and fire can purge and burn away.

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The One True Druidry

[Updated 5 August 2020]

is the one you’re actually practicing, as opposed to any ideal in your head. Or least so it looks from where I’m walking through the woods, or sitting at the kitchen table.

From new Druids on one of the OBOD Facebook sites introducing themselves, asking questions, sharing their sense of discovery on this new journey, to battle-scarred Christians on the Druidry and Christianity site, recounting their journeys out of toxic groups and towards a Jesus who’s always been praying in the forest, as well as blessing the tidal basins along the seashore and listening in the desert sands, or standing there in the next room, gazing at the statue of his brother Lugh, or his sister Brighid, we’re walking any number of possible and imagined paths to see what the next steps reveal.

Can we map out some of the characteristics of what “true Druidry” might look like?

incense

incense / Pexels.com

ONE

For a start, we can lay claim to the sense of the Hippocratic oath (NIH website). Though the oath doesn’t include the explicit words “First, do no harm” that are often attributed to it, the sense behind those words is clearly present. One of the signal advantages to walking a solitary path is that no dysfunctional group will muck up your journey. Add to that the reassurances in the study materials of responsible Orders to do what feels right, and simply to set aside any exercises or materials that don’t. Most people connect with a group, if at all, through a friend or acquaintance, and that’s as good a way as most. Likewise, the practice of Druidry should be the practice of non-harming.

Of course, Druidry like any other valid path can be an instrument to help unstick us if we’re stuck. It tends to do this gently, pointing us toward sources of balance and healing. More vigorous and rigorous forms and practices are also available. As we come into healthier balance, we often are drawn to find ways to lighten any undesirable impact of our words, actions, thoughts and feelings. Just as taking up the study of Druidry should do no harm to us, our practice of Druidry should do no harm to Others.

TWO

Good teaching supplies options to students: you can find ways to adapt the course of instruction to your interests, circumstances, and so on. A water-loving tree mentioned in your reading, for instance, may not grow anywhere near you in your home climate, a dry one unlike the British isles, but another tree in your yard or town piques your interest and attention, and can teach you much. Your local tree becomes your teacher for the month (and beyond) as much as your formal written study materials. Knowing this, authors of good materials generally point you toward such teachers, who constitute a central part of earth spirituality. “The Land is your greatest teacher”.

A Druid proverb here might be “Do not overlook teachers you may not expect, or who don’t match your preconceived notions of what a teacher should look like. For these include some of the best teachers you will meet”. Or more succinctly: “Expect the best teachers, whatever forms they may take”.

THREE

Many people recount experiences of synchronicity in their study: the lesson on animal guides arrives when you’ve encountered or been dreaming of an animal, perhaps the animal mentioned in the lesson. A book reaches your hand that opens up a topic you’ve just been thinking about. A conversation with a friend touches on an issue you’ve been struggling with, and that brings its own comfort. Any focus maintained over time tends to provoke such experiences. Are we simply more alert to things already present in our lives? Does our study “cause” them to arrive when we need them? Is the green world listening in some sense to our spoken and unspoken wishes and thoughts? Pondering such questions is also part of Druidry, and helps to shape our response to the synchronicities.

BAM Druid Gather

“It takes night to see fire best”. Full moon at BAM gathering, Sept. 2019.

FOUR

Ritual observances as the tides and seasons change, something as simple as a blessing over a harvest, or a libation to the full or new moon in recognition of its beauty and mystery as a door to spirit, deepen our experience of living in time, and also afford us glimpses of timelessness. “The apparent world fades”, says OBOD ritual. (Don’t worry, whisper the flowers on the altar. It hasn’t gone away. It’ll still be there when you return.)

Ritual both intensifies our awareness of the “ordinary” and opens us to the non-ordinary. Often ordinary and non-ordinary share qualities, or merge and blend and shift in ways we hadn’t noticed before. (Are they the “same”? Both no and yes seem true or accurate answers. Compare Tolkien’s proverb: “Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes” — The Fellowship of the Ring.)

At Lunasa or Imbolc, Brighid may have something to say to Lugh, and vice-versa, and via ritual we find we can listen in to their conversation. Or we turn our words, gestures and ritual elements to one of them and it seems that the other answers. As the Wise have reminded us, just because Brighid or Lugh may not exist, that doesn’t mean they have nothing valuable to say to us. Such categories of things get re-arranged. We start to realize how large and multi-form and marvelous the cosmos can be — a blessing of freedom and possibility in itself.

FIVE

“Guard the mysteries! Constantly reveal them!” wrote Beat poet Lew Welch some 51 years ago now, in 1969, in his poem “Theology”. In one sense, that’s what the experience of doing Druidry feels like. The really profound things can’t be conveyed to other people anyway, but only experienced. Any mystery we “guard” is also something we’re trying to reveal to anybody interested, through our rituals and actions, our stories and our own practices, our urging to others to practice for themselves so they can have the experiences, too.

Doreen_Valiente

Doreen Valiente / Wikipedia.

The act of revealing often takes the form of a kind of guarding. With both mirth and reverence, as Doreen Valiente puts it in her Charge of the Goddess, we approach the sacred at the heart of the world, in ourselves and in other things. We model this as best we can because of our own repeated experiences.

Our approach is a participation and honoring; our participation is an approach. The guarding itself is an invitation — apart from initiations, our Circles are typically open to respectful visitors, and we do what we do “in the eye of the sun” unless the event runs into evening hours, as feels right for Samhain.

SIX

Curiosity seems a common trait many Druids share. Almost always there’s something that sparks their interest. Often it’s an avocation, something done as an amateur in the original sense of the word — out of love. There are many remarkably accomplished and educated people among Druids I know. They take up new studies and practices, pursue training through more formal diploma-ed and certificate programs, as well as less formally, through reading, apprenticing, experimenting, returning to and building on a hobby, study, or passion of their youth or acquiring a new one.

“So many things worth knowing” could serve as a motto for many. Like Gandalf, they often enjoy digging, learning things in the process not yet generally known or accepted. “Among the Wise I am the only one that goes in for hobbit-lore”, remarks Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring. The wizard’s specialty proves to be “an obscure branch of knowledge, but full of surprises. Soft as butter as they can be, and yet sometimes as tough as old tree-roots. I think it likely that some would resist the Rings far longer than most of the Wise would believe”.

SEVEN

Transformation and spiraling seem to characterize living teachings. We change, the teachings themselves seem to morph and change and shift, what we thought we were and knew transforms, and we spiral to see the same old things in new ways, encountering higher harmonics of the no longer “same old thing”, so that our experience and wisdom deepen as a result. Another common proverb expresses this well: One thing becomes another in the Mother …

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Working Your What, Part 3: Sleep and Waking

[Updated 1 August 2020]

It’s Lunasa, or Lughnasadh, the Assembly of Lugh, god of many skills, a harvest festival, and also a time of funeral games, as Lugh mourns and commemorates his foster-mother Tailtiu. Even as the southern hemisphere eases through winter, into not-quite-yet spring, the north gazes into the darkening half of the year, the light of summer still burning brightly. As with each of the great eight festivals, Lunasa includes its own shape and interval of balance and opportunity for reflection.

The Denton Texas CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) will hold an online Lunasa ritual. Copying/pasting from John Beckett’s blog:

The complete ritual will be presented as a YouTube Premiere this Saturday, August 1, at 8:00 PM Central Time. That’s 7:00 PM on the West Coast, 9:00 PM on the East Coast, and 2:00 AM on Sunday in Britain, Ireland, and Portugal.

Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/FaeYgEXU7hg

The Youtube link will remain up in case you’d like to view it later.

Its paired festival is Imbolc, and meditation on the linkages between them can bring useful insight.

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One of the more astonishing behaviors that so many living things do, including humans, is to sleep and wake again. (Why not write your own journal entry to explore connections between waking and sleep, birth and death.) If sleep and waking for yourself seems utterly commonplace and not worth thinking about, try watching your child, or partner, or dog or cat or bird or other pet, transition through these states of consciousness. If the cat or child falls asleep in your arms, you may find yourself consenting to cramp and stiffness just to avoid moving and waking them. Something of the magic has rubbed off on you, in spite of everything.

dog-sleep

You may begin to sense what a strange or even uncanny thing this shift of consciousness really is. We do it every day all our lives and usually think nothing of it. It comes with the operating system we’re running. It’s part of our software, hardware, wetware and spiritware. Only when the sleep mechanism doesn’t work do we often start to notice.

Anyone curious about what sort of thing a self is might well wonder what’s going on. Judging simply on the basis of sleep — where does the “I” go, and how does it “come back” again? — a self starts to seem far more malleable, changeable, supple and fluid than we’ve been led to believe. And that, as many of us can attest, may feel both terrifying and liberating, as brushes with reality often do.

We know from daily experience that sleep performs a number of resets. It can deliver a changed perspective on a problem or challenge, and also toss us into a landscape where the laws of earth-physics no longer apply, or run in the opposite direction and convince us we already are awake, until we actually do wake up, much to our surprise.

From such a triad of qualities — insight, alternative reality, convincing similarity to waking — many have deduced profound truths about human consciousness and cosmic order. But we don’t even need to extrapolate quite so far to work with those three as they come. Sleep on it, we say. We might well say, let go of it until it assumes a new form, rather than clutching it so tightly it can’t change. And often the thing I’m clutching most tightly is my sense of self, refusing to let it “slip into something more comfortable”.

wood-child

Rather than being tougher than my problems, battering them into submission through my superior will and skill, I can learn to be more flexible with them, working with my charm and finesse. But how can I? A song, a poem, a charm, a prayer, a supple turn and bend, rather a full-on frontal assault. Problem-solving, also known as living, starts to look like a form of martial art, a study of forms, flow and approaches. It can become a practice toward mastery, an affirmation of the value of being alive. It can even, on occasion — though it can be heresy to say it — be an experience of joy. And one of a further set of contemplation-questions may take the stage: What else can I wake up from? Or what can’t I wake from, or fall asleep to? Do I even know?

The verisimilitude to waking experience of some dreams can easily lead us to conclude that waking experience itself is similar in kind — one among a number of options, rather than the only “real” or final one.  Maybe one from which we can awaken further, one step of a larger stairway. From there it’s often only a turn or two to playing intentionally with awareness and consciousness, testing how solid the boundaries are between states of consciousness, and where the hinge-points and doorways might lie. And among the tools to activate those kinds of testing and play, ritual pattern-making, meditation, visualization and other means can prove highly effective, and safer than some pharmaceutical options pushed on us by both licensed and unlicensed pushers.

Mat Auryn’s Psychic Witch (Llewellyn, 2020) offers an excellent and fresh set of exercises for exploring adjacent and transformed states of consciousness. With a text centered on a series of 93 exercises, any summary I attempt will fail to do it justice, but in Auryn’s hands this book is the next best thing to taking a workshop with the author, in these pandemic times. John Beckett posts a useful review here.

If he has an over-arching theme, Auryn captures it early on:

Whatever you touch will touch you back. The simplest way that I can try to explain it is that when you spend time touching the core of the earth, soaking in the stars, communing with the moon, aligning with the elements, working with the gods and spirits, it changes a person (4).

How we respond to such contact says much about what our life experiences will be and where they will take us. Such contact is already taking place. We’ve already touched and been touched by a lot in the years we’ve been alive. It’s not a matter of if but of when, how, how much and to what effect, and sorting out what those mean for us, if we’re inclined to take that on as a project, one of the most worthwhile ones we can, whether as challenge or opportunity, as art or science or faith or some giddy mix of all three.

I’ll close with a personal observation from my own idiosyncratic practice:

Every day, like everyone else, I experience many differing states of consciousness, moving from deep sleep to REM sleep to dream to waking, to daydream, to focused awareness and back again. We make these transitions naturally and usually effortlessly — so effortlessly we usually don’t even notice or comment on them. But they serve different purposes: what we can’t do in one state, we can often do easily in another. The flying dream isn’t the focus on making a hole in one, nor is it the light trance of daydream, nor the careful math calculation. And further, what we ordinarily do quite mechanically and often without awareness, we can learn to do consciously.

May you sleep and wake again.

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Images: Pexels.com

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