Archive for September 2020

Telling Good Stories   Leave a comment

John Beckett’s most recent post talks about the myth and importance of telling good stories, the stories that shape our lives, which is what myths do. Neither conveniently true nor false, myths work archetypally. Rather than “telling the truth”, as if there’s just one, or just mine, they provide maps by which we make sense of things. Frodo “never carried a Ring to Mount Doom”, and Harry “never defeated Voldemort”. But that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say to us. Enter a mythic world, and things change. “Myths never happened”, says Sallustius, “and always are”. Open the book to page one, or click to play the video, and the story starts again.

Cabin banners at East Coast Gathering. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Though part of John’s post examines what he calls the “unnaturalness” of the myth of the patriarchy, every myth serves a purpose. Otherwise we wouldn’t keep it alive in our consciousness. The stories we tell are choices we make, after all. Yes, we inherit myths, along with much else. Every generation chooses what it will keep alive as part of the legacy it has received. And like maps and relationships and all mortal things that pass through our hands and hearts, myths can go wrong as well as right.

If we listen to our Bards, who are after all among our storytellers, we can attend to good counsel — here’s an instance from REO Speedwagon:

So if you’re tired of the
Same old story
Turn some pages
I’ll be here when you are ready
To roll with the changes

I knew it had to happen
Felt the tables turnin’
Got me through my darkest hour …

If you’ve been paying attention, of course, you might have started wondering who “turned the pages” the last time, and what it was that lead us into our present stories and situations. What was the previous story, and why did we give it up? John offers some suggestions in his post. Certainly we seem to live in a time when sharply-contrasting myths move us in different directions.

The challenge of myths is that other people’s stories look like “just stories they tell themselves”, while our myths are of course the “truth of the cosmos”. How can “they” even think that, “we” wonder. So potent is our own story (until one day when it isn’t any more), that we cannot see it as story.

John’s perspective on possible directions we might take involves an intriguing strategy. “Facts”, he notes, “can’t beat myths – people deny inconvenient facts, truth be damned. Rational explanations can’t beat myths – people jump to ad hominem, straw man, or other logical fallacies, or they just tune it out. If you want to beat a bad myth you have to tell a better story”.

Always another story. Christian and Nadia preparing for ritual.

Think of stories that catch your imagination. Many of us have experienced this with a favorite song, movie or book. You don’t want them to end. While you’re under their spell, you live in their world. Like falling in love, we live transformed, at least as long as the first glow lasts. With luck and spirit willing, that first glow transmutes into something more substantial and lasting — we may well live out our entire lives with that story. By itself that is neither a good or bad thing. But “by their fruits you shall know them” persists as still-excellent counsel: what comes of our story? Does it make our lives better, richer? Are we stronger and more adaptable with it as part of our map of consciousness?

We all know people whose personal myth or inner story helps or hinders them. We can change the stories we tell ourselves — in fact, an “interesting” life usually presents us with circumstances which compel us to change stories. Like a hermit crab, we grow too large for the shell which has sheltered us and been our home. Sometimes we can’t identify growth for what it is. Everything else goes wrong, and we fail to recognize the lack of fit between us and a story that housed us and kept us safe. We may well “roll with the changes” — but in a bruising way.

Changing one story — when we have a whole set of them — usually ends up deepening our appreciation for stories. We shift to another story, because it better reflects what we need at the moment. We learn to keep a number of stories in play — spices in our kitchen, arrows in our quiver — because that’s what the Wise have shown us will help us not merely survive, but thrive.

Great Circle, Four Quarters Sanctuary.

But changing the sole story we know can feel like our world is ending. Because in some sense it is. We won’t ever “be the same” afterwards. Whether or not that might be a good thing usually doesn’t occur to us. Another story might help us roll with “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” as Hamlet calls them. Another story might help us be of use to others, too, when their stories change, when they need wise counsel from us, or just our patient listening.

Healthy spiritual practice keeps us supple and curious and ready to laugh. It helps equips us with a range of stories that aid us in rolling with the changes. Changes? They’re guaranteed. How we roll with them is a matter for negotiation. Let’s start that conversation.

Find the right tree, I wrote in my last post. Do that much, and I’ve haven’t completed the journey. No — that’s just one place where a new story can begin.

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Posted 27 September 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, myth, Sallustius, spiritual practice

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“Find the Right Tree”   Leave a comment

says a line in my current OBOD Ovate gwers (Welsh for “lesson”). No, I’m hardly giving anything away. Or at least no more than I often do here on this blog. (Thus I fulfill the wise counsel of Lew Welch’s 1969 poem “Theology” to “Guard the Mysteries! Constantly reveal them!”)

Though the instruction may sound peremptory or authoritarian, the judgment about any “rightness” is — no surprise — left to the student. Thus are we led and set free in equal measure by spiritual teachings that prove their worth in such encounters.

In practice it’s not so much different from deciding which flavour of ice cream you’d like as you stand in front of the menu board. The quality of your decision will be reflected in your choice, and in your subsequent experience. You are not separate from your situation, but an integral part of it.

Or to enlarge the kind of choice a little, not too much: who will you commit to and spend your life with, if you choose to do such a thing? How do you recognize the — or just a — “right” one? What can your recognition teach you? What qualities of rightness met your judgment, sense, desire, will, reason, imagination, etc.? As interesting, perhaps, do these same qualities arise today when you recognize rightness?

Curiously enough, any rightness isn’t for hoarding. It’s rarely some kind of endpoint where I arrive, having won the prize, and where I can now rest, fulfilled, accomplished, self-realized, gone to the other shore, salvation assured, gold crown in hand, halo proudly pressing on my brow. Much more often, it’s for giving away, for planting, for setting in the earth to manifest, so that more rightness can arrive. It’s the rightness that arrives, not me. I take this as a good thing. When any rightness arrives, I can serve it, rather than the other way around.

Sometimes the bright tree is also the right one. Or vice versa. Maple this a.m.

Here I’m with a maple I transplanted two years ago from where it had sprouted right next to the foundation of our house. This is the first autumn its leaves haven’t simply fallen, but turned bright red first, in best sugar maple fashion.

Sometimes the “right” tree is one you’ve already connected with. Sometimes it’s one you’ve yet to learn from. By branch and leaf, elder brothers and sisters, steer me towards the tree of today.

Of what value is such a spontaneous desire or prayer?

I want to weave in another thread here, this time from Jung, whose introduction to the Wilhelm version of the I Ching offers some deep insight into how attention and divination (and magic, for that matter) can work. Rather than build my own argument — Jung does it much better — or spend time cutting and pasting text from an online version you can as easily find here (https://www.iging.com/intro/foreword.htm), I encourage the curious or thoughtful reader to investigate.

The only indulgence I will grant myself are these closing lines from Jung, which seem to me to accord with the spirit behind the gwers instruction to “find the right tree”:

The I Ching does not offer itself with proofs and results; it does not vaunt itself, nor is it easy to approach. Like a part of nature, it waits until it is discovered. It offers neither facts nor power, but for lovers of self-knowledge, of wisdom — if there be such — it seems to be the right book. To one person its spirit appears as clear as day; to another, shadowy as twilight; to a third, dark as night. He who is not pleased by it does not have to use it, and he who is against it is not obliged to find it true.

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Your Equinox

[Update 12:47 EST]

Visit Penny Billington’s blogpost Gifts of the Equinox for inspiration and ritual ideas.

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Looking for an Equinox Ritual? Searching for one that fits your experiences and perspectives?

If you’re not a member of a practicing group, it can be a challenge to know where to begin.

Fortunately, I’ve got you covered. That’s why you’re reading this post, right? With some thought and creativity on your part, you’ll be on the way.

If you visit my Ritual page, you’ll find an outline at the bottom of the page for composing your own rituals. I’ll be expanding on that outline here. The advantage of any model or example is that almost immediately you’ll see things you want to change, drop or add. That’s a good thing.

If you’re anything like me, give me something to work with, to push against, and my imagination kicks in, offering its gifts. Vision and desire and dreaming crave form — that’s one of the magical “secrets” we all practice in our own ways, but don’t think about very much. Working with them even a little and good things can spring forth.

The ritual you write and perform has something of you in it. That becomes part of the offering you make, and part of the hallowing the ritual achieves.

1–INTENTION — what do you want in an Equinox ritual, or out of it? The whole ritual follows from this. A clear intention, large or small, leads to effective and enjoyable ritual. You know what you’re doing, and why. You want to celebrate the season, you feel a need to be more grounded, you wish to honour the presence of spirit, in large and small ways, you’re grateful for good things in your life — all excellent reasons to ritualize your experience. There are plenty of additional reasons, too. More than one is fine, but let one be chief.

Write down that intention. Sometimes we resist this simple step. (Why we resist is a fruitful subject for meditation — at some other time!)

my intention occupies space, even before I light in up …

Getting it into words helps a lot. “Oh, you’re celebrating the Equinox?” says a friend, neighbour, relative, passerby. “Why? What’s your ritual for?” Now you have an answer. “I’m grateful for my garden, my pet, neighbours, family, life, the beauty of the season, the promise of renewal, the strength to continue, the conversation with a classmate I hadn’t connected with for years …”

Let gratitude become a ritual habit, and you’ll want to celebrate more often. Ritual can deepen gratitude.

“I come to give thanks for the gifts of this season”.

Where are you? “In this sacred space …” if you’re in a place you’ve held ritual before. Or if in a new space, your attention and anything else you add can help sanctify it, making it sacred for you and your intention. If it’s sacred, why not say so, and do something that signifies that truth.

Sometimes, every space is new and sacred too. You may need more words or deeds, or none at all, to know it as the truth.

2–MATERIALS NEEDED — As soon as you’ve written down your intention, the things you may want to include will start occurring to you. If you’re grateful for something, bring it — or a representation of it — into your ritual. Let it be part of your ritual focus. I love to have a fire, as I mention in many of my posts, if the weather allows it. Otherwise, a candle is an excellent equivalent. Our woodstove in winter is a daily fire, and a heartening meditation-companion all through the cold weather. Who knows how many great things have come from fire-dreaming?

Cycle back to add to your list as you develop your ritual. Remember to include the actual list at the beginning of your script as a reminder, so when the day and hour come for your ritual, you have it on hand and can pack the car, carry the materials to your yard, set up your living room, etc. If you’re doing ritual with a friend or friends over Zoom or Skype, a copy of the list for them helps everyone get read. (Share it on the whiteboard for any who arrives early!) If you’re meeting in person, will you or somebody supply masks for everyone? How can you make social distancing part of your ritual in some way?

“Keep it simple” is a good principle. “Ritual stuff” isn’t the main event, any more than ritual bling. But lacking the one or two things you DO need in the middle of the ritual, once your script grows to include them, is a real downer. That ritual knife, candle, bell, bowl of water, smudge stick now needs to be there. Do you need ritual clothing, body marking, etc.? If you do, make sure it gets on the list.

3–PARTICIPANTS and ROLES — how many does the ritual need? In these Zoom-days, you may find yourself more solitary than usual. Again, cycle back to update your “cast of characters” as your ritual plans develop. In the event of missing participants, how can you double up on roles?

Can you include objects — dolls, dressed figures, symbolic objects — for some of the roles? A tarot card, for instance (enlarged on a photocopier?) may serve as a stand-in for a role. Miniaturized ritual could be another fruitful area for experimentation and discovery. Think of the kinds of spontaneous role-play that children often do, and you’re halfway there already. Quite literally, they talk themselves into it, imagining it unfolding all around them. And it does.

Is there something for guests to do who aren’t speaking or performing major ritual actions? Can there be? Do participants — or visitors — need to prepare in advance in some way? Learn a short chant by heart? A melody? A ritual gesture? Vigils, fasts, prayer, meditation, questing, etc. can help participants bring their full ritual selves to the rite from the beginning. Work with the limits and possibilities of Zoom and Skype to bring some of the experience of ritual online.

4–PLACE and TIME — flexibility is key, especially if weather, others’ reservations, or schedules have other ideas for your ritual. A solitary ritual can happen in a fifteen-minute interval of sun on a rainy day. But group ritual benefits from pre-planned alternative locations, announced in advance. These things keep confusion and disappointment to a minimum. Is accessibility an issue for any participants or visitors? Again, will you provide masks in these Covid times?

5–RITUAL HOUSEKEEPING — “Please turn off your cell phones!” Run through any details guests need to know. “This is what we’ll be doing. Don’t break the circle, or remember cut yourself a door in it, or ask a ritual celebrant to do so for you. Restrooms are at the end of the hall, or 20 miles away; find a tree. That’s north, so this is west.”

Doing ritual online may mean reminding participants to mute themselves if a phone rings, a motorcycle roars past, etc. When each of us takes a portion of responsibility for ritual conditions, ritual works well. Help others, and yourself, avoid NINO — nothing in, nothing out, ritually speaking. What we bring contributes to the rite, so let us bring our best. And this, too, could be a line to add to the script.

6–FORMAL OPENING — you probably want some combination and sequence of purification, grounding, centering, welcoming, proclaiming ritual intent, honouring and inviting Others to be present.

How will this happen? Write it down. It can be simple. But come back to it when and as you need to in order to tweak it, add or take away, include a rhyme or poem or song, etc. Achieving an opening online often calls for something visual, as well as auditory, because Skype and Zoom offer just two senses, and magnify (distort?) their importance.

Bells, singing bowls, incense, water, fire, salt, chant, drums, etc. all can help. Casting a circle, establishing sacred space, erecting or acknowledging altars, redefining the status of participants, the place, objects nearby or some combination of any or all of these may be appropriate. Choose who does these things, and why, and how others can take part. Less talk is usually better. So is simplicity.

“I stand in this sacred place, at this sacred time”.

The small online Equinox celebration via Zoom that I’m hosting tomorrow evening is a little over three printed pages in the OBOD solo version. Half of that is stage directions: “Enter your circle from the West”. On Zoom, or in a solitary ritual, you may opt to focus that inwardly. What is “West” where you are? Trees, a hill, an open field, a neighbouring house? You may have your own associations, or objects to help evoke West.

“Let this bowl be my West, vessel of dream and inspiration”.

Doing these things via Zoom/Skype, etc., often calls for innovation and creativity. Can a swivel chair make do for turning toward each of the directions? Can picking up an object for each of the directions suffice? Private ritual is a chance to work on visualization, to slow down, and take the time, rather than letting the time take us.

7–The MAIN RITE — what you’ve gathered to do. Re-enacting a myth; marking the changed status of a participant through initiation, etc.; celebrating the season, a date, festival, harvest, planting, boat-launch, new home, new family member, etc. Healing, defending, strengthening, commemorating, blessing, gifting. Where you do the stuff specific to your tradition, practice, gods, calendar, and so on.

Equinox is a time of balance, so language, gesture, actions, focus, ritual movement can all focus on images of reciprocity, balance, light and dark, polarity, exchange, mutuality.

“On my right hand, ___. And on my left, ___ .” With intention and love, something as simple as this can serve as part of your rite. Or make it a triad:

If you’re facing East, for instance, “On my right hand, the warmth of the South. On my left, the cool of the North. On the right, I give thanks for gifts of passion and fire. On my left, I give thanks for the gifts of harvest, nourishment and sustenance. On my left, what needs to sleep, may it slumber and awake refreshed and renewed. On my right, what needs to kindle and ignite, may it burn brightly and cleanly”.

8–FEAST, ritual meal, distribution of ritual objects, etc. — a piece of maypole ribbon, a slice of apple (showing the star), a drink, a stave of ritual significance, a card or picture, stone, sea-shell, etc.

We still feast ritually, even if we’ve abandoned other ritual forms. Whether at a restaurant or at home, your chosen or blood family may or may not pray before (or after) eating, but you can include prayer that is meaningful to you in your rites. Silent prayer, a quick blessing, may be something you wish to bring back into your daily round.

Why, if prayer isn’t a part of your repertoire? To explore it as a ritual tool. To allow it to slow us down, closer to the pace of the trees around us, who breathe in and out once a day. To let the focus of its words wash over us in their specific ways. Add your own reasons, so you know.

My wife’s family, coming from diverse experience, belief and practice, often uses this old prayer, which can stand in as an example of something accessible to many who might have difficulty with language specific to any one tradition. Again, modify, add and delete as you need to.

Back of the loaf, the flour.
Back of the flour, the mill.
Back of the mill, the sun and the power,
the love and the Shaper’s will.

9–READINGS, Music, Poetry, Blessings, Prayers — this important portion of a ritual can accompany the Feast, etc. to help sustain the ritual energy, hold focus, minimize side chatter, etc. It also gives everyone present a chance to contribute personal requests, blessings, songs, etc.

Always we’re passing through markers, doorways, portals. What are your Equinox Gates?

In a solitary ritual, your own voice can be a gift, for the simple reason that it’s yours, speaking your gratitude, your celebration. Or a bone flute, a gong, drum, flute, stringed instrument. An empty bottle, blown across its open end, produces a pleasing tone. Pebbles in a jar, can or bottle will — with some experimentation — make an effective rattle.

And sometimes, rather than words, your rite may call for silence.

10–CLOSING — reverse what you did for the opening: thank Others you invited, uncast the circle, return ritual elements to their original places, desanctify what needs desanctifying. Take down the altar. Ring the bell, beat the drum formally, close the ritual. Re-establish the world before the ritual began. Again, simple is good.

Online, a clear visual or a gesture, along with a sound, can help mark the ending. Often on Zoom, with its over-emphasis on just two senses, and especially on the visual, a combination of markers is effective. Let participants SEE an ending, as well as hear it.

11–ANNOUNCEMENTS — upcoming events, requests for help with clean-up, calendars, thanking visitors, etc.

With a solitary rite, you can certainly skip this part. Or make of it an opportunity to announce that you wish to hold future rituals, to come again to celebrate and commemorate, to honour and to thank. It can take the form of a vow, or simple intention, expressed in sacred space. So the Wheel moves, each turn both same and different.

One of the earliest things we teach children is to take turns. That’s how the cosmos flows, so it is a priceless lesson, one we need to keep re-learning as adults, in new and varied forms.

12–CLEAN-UP — leave the ritual space as pristine — or more so — than when you arrived. Make this a ritual act of service and gratitude.

Again, this may seem less or not necessary for a solitary rite, but if you have a fire-circle and hold your rite outdoors, for instance, there’s clean-up to be done. Let it be part of your ritual, giving thanks and visualizing the Others who attended, sending after them your gratitude and goodwill on their journeys.

Conversation following the rite can be an opportunity for formal teaching, Q-and-A, casual discussion, ritual debriefing and a post-mortem “how did it go?”, planning for another event, etc.

13–RECORDING — entering details of your ritual in your journal is another way to grow and discover. Insight may come in the act of sitting to write, or a day or two later, as an addition to that entry. With larger public events, a paper copy of the ritual can serve as a souvenir and also a place for notes and reflections. What did you experience? Anything happen that seems a coincidence at the time, or after, or before? Record it.

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Posted 19 September 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, equinox, intention, ritual

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“What am I doing for Emnight 2020?”

[Updated 11:51 EST]

John Beckett offers Two Online Equinox Rituals on his blog.

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Ah, Emnight — that word I’ve lifted wholesale from Old English emniht, from *efenniht “even-night, equal night (and day); equinox”. (Hail, Kin Down Under at the start of Spring)!

I don’t know about you, but I like the homely feel of Emnight — literally, the feel of home. It’s a word loved by use, a word with its edges rounded off, that begins to match the age of the celebration, fitting for the interval when we enter the dark half of the year. Not em-day, but em-night.

Always we’re climbing in and out of darkness, in and out of the restoring earth. Hiking with friends at the Putney Stone Chambers.

I’m doing three things around Emnight, since you asked. First, hosting a Zoom workshop with the Druidry and Christianity group I’ve mentioned in previous posts. One of our members has recorded a meditation that will form part of what we do online and in our hearts. We’re also drafting a set of commitments for members’ guidance and practice. Here’s what we’ve got so far, a nice symbolic seven that may shift as we explore and revise:

1. We commit to a daily spiritual practice to help us attune to divine presence.
2. We commit to witnessing and practising an ever-growing path of peace.
3. We commit to becoming more in tune with the natural world and its rhythms.
4. We commit to weighing our thoughts, words and deeds — are they true, kind, and necessary?
5. We commit to not judging others on their paths, but instead to rejoice in those places where our paths cross.
6. We commit to sharing our relevant knowledge and our own faith/spiritual experiences for the purpose of our mutual spiritual development.
7. We commit to sharing the divine love by service to others according to our abilities and circumstances.

Try them out. Sharpen them, adapt them to your path and practice and situation.

Second thing I’m doing: a small Zoom Alban Elfed gathering, with a meditative read-through of the solo OBOD ritual for Autumn Equinox. The advantage of the solo version is that it’s scaled down, maximally flexible for whether three or thirty people join us (and our numbers will hew toward the former, not the latter).

“I stand at the threshold of dark and light”, runs the solo rite. “Though I come to this gateway time after time, never come I to the same Gateway twice. Tonight I shall pass through once more, and enter the dark half of the year”. The center of the ritual asks us to acknowledge the Four Directions and the representative objects we’ve placed there. A time, as the eight yearly rituals all are, each in their own ways, for gratitude, reflection and commitment.

Autumn Equinox, East Coast Gathering 2017

And last thing: a fire with just my wife and me and a few bluejays for company, along with a fall crop of crickets singing counterpoint. “Pray with a good fire” remains one of my standing counsels for those seeking to put their leanings into practice — that ancient advice from the Rig Veda. A fire focuses and clarifies, lifts the heart, and embodies the moving spirit in things.

Posted 18 September 2020 by adruidway in autumnal equinox, Druidry, emnight, OBOD, prayer

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Equinoxing 2020

Ah, evidence that sometimes you’re just further ahead NOT posting to your blog 🙂 Who knows what drew 600 views on Sunday, then 800 yesterday? Certainly not new content.

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Equinox, we sense you on our skin. Whichever hemisphere, whether north or south, the light level has changed. Clearly the sun now climbs to a different point in the sky — different enough that finally we notice it. The birds tell us, too, if we haven’t been paying attention ourselves.

“Go into the earth for counsel …” — Putney, VT stone chambers.

So many thing bark for our attention these days. And a range of responses are still open to us, in spite of the insistent and distorting messages behind the barking — that only one choice remains open, that we’re a small and single step from disaster, that Evil walks bodily among us, that the Dark Lord has risen again, soon to place the Ring on his demonic hand once more, and usher in a final darkness.

More than enough real trials and struggles merit our attention that we needn’t twist our creativity and imagine more of them. To choose just one challenge from my own country as an example, widespread fires burn on the west coast of the U.S, taking lives and property.

We know bad news sells. Rather than feed our nerves and anxiety with servings beyond our ability to digest, though, it’s spiritually prudent to focus on what we can do with love and attention. Rather than prescribe what form that might take, it’s the part of wisdom to leave that to the discernment of each person.

I know I need to keep reminding myself of all these things — one reason I’m writing them here. You, my readers, are part of my practice.

A “Triad of Triads”

Last Saturday a friend offered a “spiritual form” to several of us, a “triad of triads” he does as a monthly rite: three things he’s grateful for, three requests he has, three things he’s learned or discovered that month (sometimes in response to his requests from the previous month).

These three can also form prompts for the core of an enacted monthly ritual as well. Sometimes we need that larger gesture to reach our own awareness more concretely, to realize what we know, quite literally to make it real to us. For the three things I am grateful for, a small offering for each. For the three requests, a lit candle, or incense tossed into a fire, or a small individual fire kindled for each. For the three requests, three nuts or seeds placed on the altar — potentials to be manifested. (Adjust to fit your need, style and inner guidance.)

Often he writes these down, as a way to record his spiritual journey, the long trajectory it takes, the shape of his life. We think we’ll remember, but any time spent with such a record reveals we forget by far the greater part of such things. Even reviewing this kind of personal track-record can re-ignite hope and provide concrete evidence of participating in something larger than what passes for news these days. The real news that is always happening pours onto us out of silence, as Rilke says in his Duino Elegies. The silence when we greet the dawn and the trees, and the world ever new each day.

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Posted 15 September 2020 by adruidway in Druidry

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