Archive for October 2020

Deepest Refreshment: Ninth Day of Samhain (31 Oct. 2020)

[Updated/edited 12:34 EST]

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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Why “deepest refreshment” (apart from its appearance in C. Matthews’ Celtic Devotional)? Before you read further, spend some time reflecting on why and how Samhain might provide such a thing for you. What can you do to help it manifest, at whatever scale matches this last day of October 2020?

Your reasons, hunches, nudges, inklings and flashes of insight can become part of your Samhain experience. Trust them. I’m blogging about Druidry today because Slowly, Idiosyncratically, Reflectively, Imaginatively, and somewhat Skeptically — SIRIS — that’s the track I followed. (I use acronyms a lot.) So I’m commending that as one possible option for you, too. Y gwir yn erbyn a byd “The truth against the world” really is a Druidic ideal for many, and now at Samhain is as good a time as any to try it out. In many ways, while visitors are welcome (after covid) at our circles and most events, Druidry isn’t particularly a spectator sport. Get your truth on!

front yard by moonlight at 3:30 am this morning

The Breakfast Six celebrating the last day of the season at our favorite spot. Sharing is the most human, communal and Samhain-y thing we do. Chef Michael is standing, masked. I’m in lavender hat on far left.

So here we are today, approaching Holy Evening, which is what Hallowe’en means, after all. Or alternatively, Hallows (all ultimately from Old English halga “saint, holy”) are the Saints that make it Holy. The Church certainly thought so, and overlaid its festivals of All Hallows Eve (Oct. 31), All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), and All Souls’ Day, or Day of the Dead (Nov. 2) on the older Celtic observance.

I’ll be spending a quiet Great Hallows tonight with two other Vermont Druids via Zoom. Together we’ll do a meditative reading of OBOD’s Solitary Rite, because it’s more flexible than the group rite for accommodating any latecomers on our mailing-list who didn’t reply or let us know they’re joining us. (Easier to change pronouns — and actions — from one to several!) And if it’s not snowing or too windy, I’ll light a backyard fire in our fire circle and enjoy a blaze under the full moon. I’ll also be meditating on and listening to a specific ancestor who came into my attention in contemplation yesterday morning. Last and next, if I’m still up at midnight, or I wake later while it’s dark, I’ll be making notes for this year’s Nanowrimo — National Novel Writing Month.

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The last words of the main OBOD rite come from the Ancient: “… a new time begins … may it bring us whatever things are needful, support our bodies, nourish our souls and give radiance to our spirits. May it show to each one their true path, by the light of the Oak, the Yew and the Silver Birch”.

The blessings of Great Hallows to you all.

Without Samhain-sight.
With Samhain-sight. (Actually, with night-vision camera setting.) From kitchen facing East.

Cauldron of Memory: Eighth Day of Samhain (30 Oct. 2020)

[Edited/updated 20:18 EST]

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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First snow this morning. Facing east.

The late author and teacher Raven Grimassi published a 2009 book* with the same title as today’s post, and among several techniques he discusses for connecting with the ancestors, lucid dreaming has particular advantages:

If you have trouble with visualizations, or with pathworking in general, there is another method of ancestor contact at your disposal. This is accomplished through the Dream Gate, which is a portal to a particular area of dream consciousness.

There are essentially two states of consciousness in the dream state. The first level is the one in which the dream dictates a series of events or a storyline. At this level we are subject to the dream and we react to whatever is taking place. In effect we are a drafted actor without a script. In the common dream state our subconscious mind is operational but our conscious mind is a passive spectator.

The second dream level is one where we take conscious control and shape the dream as we wish. This is often referred to as lucid dreaming. The advantage of lucid dreaming (in an occult sense) is that we can come into contact with inner plane realities with both halves of our consciousness fully operational. This allows us to function in the magical setting of the subconscious mind (where anything is possible) while at the same time having the benefits of the conscious mind (where everything has connection and direction) (Cauldron of Memory, pgs. 140-141).

Now your reaction may be “But I don’t remember my dreams, so that’s not gonna help”. This is where the dream chalice technique from an earlier post in this series can prove useful. For many people, the light trance that sitting around a night-time fire brings can also help provide another alternative practice. Through such access-points we can stand at the doorway, and decide if we wish to go any further. Another of the many functions of ritual itself can be a similar light trance that we induce through repeated words, chants, gesture and dance.

berries through the snow

Simple candle-gazing also works well for solitaries. You may wish to establish a quiet period, perhaps with few other lights, so that the semi-darkness helps with focusing on your candle-flame. As with any ritual, what we bring to it makes all the difference. How we feel about it, how we set it up, what props we include, what significance we assign to them, what we do with our experiences, whether we choose to record them, and where they fits in with everything else that we are — these things build our spiritual lives piece by piece. And as we learn to choose where we place our attention, rather than letting it be grabbed by whatever is shouting most loudly, we reclaim a priceless spiritual tool.

The metaphor of a cauldron is a potent one. Some of us may experience memory as a thread, or the roots of a tree. Exploring our metaphors can reveal new practices. If memory is a cauldron, bringing to ritual, to our bedside, to our imaginal lives, an object to represent memory can be most useful. Magic shops market small cauldrons for such purposes, and you can make your own from clay. Those with foundry skills may find making a cauldron a remarkable project. Found objects, gifts and other things may serve as cauldrons. A bowl, piece of driftwood, a sea-shell — my own cupped hands — can all be cauldrons in dream and in ritual.

Alternatively, if memory is a tree, then images of trees and their roots, working with a favorite “tree of memory”, drawing or photographing trees, and meditating on the linkages between “roots and recall”, between the solidity and stability of a tree, and the persistence of memory, even memories we have stored deeply, can turn the experience of remembering into a magical and imaginal exploration.

This same cauldron or tree of memory includes “memory of the future” — visions and dreams, hunches and nudges, all part of our largely untapped ability to gaze up and down the time-track. Most of us get glimpses, while some may get more. We live in a particular time and place in the physical realm, because such focus is powerful and has its special lessons to teach us, but we can also learn to look and attend elsewhere, and remember/(re/dis)cover what is needful, whatever things in our long lives we have set aside, and take them up again and use them today, leaving other things in turn for our tomorrows.

What do I wish to leave in safekeeping for my future self, and for my descendants of blood and spirit? What is the spiritual heritage I am building day by day? Making a practice out of consciously leaving things for the future helps shape the futures we both desire and earn.

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*Grimassi, Raven. The Cauldron of Memory: Retrieving Ancestral Knowledge and Wisdom. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

Gates of Welcome: Seventh Day of Samhain (29 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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At the start of this third triad of three in this series, I want to address briefly my conscious sidestepping of most current events. Plenty of Pagan and Druid forums are grappling with current events and the often polarizing conversations that have developed around them, and you can engage them there, where there are people much better informed than I am about up-to-the-minute developments, about the unfolding of events, about history and context. My practice of Druidry points me toward tools and strategies for insight, discovery, exploration and survival, so that’s what I’m choosing to focus on and share with you here.

That doesn’t mean Druidry is somehow values-neutral, that it equips you with a wand of power, then stands back as you wave and cast however you want. A wide range of political expressions may follow on Druid experiences and perceptions, but they won’t slot neatly into one or another political party. Extremes within either U.S. party, for instance, while they generate much of the current outrage and controversy, polarize opinions and attitudes, and grab headlines, aren’t especially productive places to find keys to human happiness and growth. It’s at points of balance and equilibrium between poles where creative tension often flourishes most successfully. Druidry reminds us that liminal spaces draw our attention for very good reasons, because that’s where worlds meet. And Samhain is a prime instance of the liminal or boundary experience.

Do the Gates allow me to look through in both directions?

“Gates of Welcome” is an excellent subject for exploration and meditation. A guide to practice: where do I feel welcomed? And where in turn can I make the things and people and experiences I want in my life feel welcome?

And what practices? Journal entry, prayer, wordless communion outdoors, an artistic response to “gates of welcome” in painting, music, sculpture, etc. Each of these can acknowledge the gates right for us, gates where we feel welcome, gates we may indeed already be passing through.

(What is my True Name? What is my Quest? Because this IS a spiritual quest.)

Snow in the forecast for tomorrow/Friday here in Vermont, with a low of 13 F / -10 C. We’ve had a fire in the stove for the past several days, mostly against the damp. The most daily things, preparing and eating a meal, building and maintaining a fire, washing and hanging up clothes (which we do outdoors in warm weather, indoors on racks by the fire in cooler weather) can become chances for epiphany — moments of spiritual transparency where we see that lived life is holy, that incarnation is a gift, that life is sacrament.

What are your triads today? What are the Three Gates of Welcome? What music do you find yourself singing?

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Grandmothers, Grandfathers: Sixth Day of Samhain (28 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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When I realize it’s not “about me”, my sense of “me” can often enlarge, and — paradoxes teasing us and breaking up our rigidity as they do, gift of the gods to ease us open — I may know myself a part of all that is. Most humans, if we judge by interviews, polls, sociological surveys, etc., have experienced such moments. Consciousness expands, barriers drop away, and we re-connect. The ecstasy that can accompany such moments underlies a surprising amount of experimentation with altered states of consciousness — through drugs and alcohol, ritual, chant, jogging, yoga, dance, and so on.

Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional offers a “Threshold Invocation for the Festival of Samhain (to be said at the front door of the house on the eve of Samhain, 31st October, in the evening)” that begins:

Grandmother Wisdom, open the door,
Grandfather Counsel, come you in …

This sense of living ancestors, of cultural guides and totems, of others with us who simply join in “without their skins on”, still flourishes among many traditional peoples. It’s one of the things much of Druidry has also striven to reclaim and re-animate in our lives.

Part of our experience of these things lies in any welcome we give or withhold. Last night I joined a Zoom discussion on inner guidance. We talked about trusting what we receive, about learning to recognize its signs, those nudges that aren’t merely fear or ego or desire, about staying alert for the confirmation that often comes in outer circumstances that we’re on the right track.

For Christians, Jesus says “I stand at the door and knock”. As far as we can tell, there’s a lot of knocking going on in our lives. Yes, sometimes the message is urgent enough we may receive a visit uninvited. But in either case, what we do or don’t do in response often forms a core part of the significance of the visit. My listening, my acceptance, my questioning or doubt — in sum, my engagement in some way — is a good half of most experiences of contact and connection. In the language of his day, Winston Churchill remarked, “Men [i.e., humans] occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened”. In Heather Hughes Cullero’s The Sedona Trilogy, one character says, “This is the gift of Spirit to you. What you do with it is your gift to Spirit”.

East Coast Gathering, 2017. Spirit may take any form to reach us.

If you’re fortunate to know the names of your ancestors, particularly beyond your four grandparents, you may more readily gain an intimate sense of the curious timelessness of forming part of an immense ancestral line. Though my wife and I don’t have children of our own, we stand in the middle of just such a Long Line, like everyone does. As I mentioned in a previous post, live to 70 or 80 and that puts us squarely in the lives of five to seven generations within our living memory and connection. I recall my late grandmother who died at 81 in 1977, and I know her living descendants down to her youngest great-great-granddaughter Ashley — five generations already.

Try out the implications of reincarnation, and you could easily be one of your own ancestors. Take stock, look at family patterns, and it can often help clarify things: who I was then is part of who I am now. Step outside this world and its particular laws, and others come into play. Lifetimes like beads on the string of spirit, linking this brief span of decades to others, backwards and forwards. (Do I want to know the future? I’m building it day by day.)

Rather than being that flaky guest at parties who insists he was Julius Caesar or Rasputin or Charlemagne — that she was Cleopatra, or Madame Curie or Queen Elizabeth I — why not explore the major themes at work in life today, and link them up to nudges and hints about “who we were before”, to help map out a larger spiritual purpose and vision? (It sure beats the hell out of watching and worrying over current headlines — though that has its place, too, if we choose — if it doesn’t choose us.) Even as a purely imaginative exercise, it can open up perception and awareness — which seems to be one of the purposes of reincarnation anyway. (Is everything a metaphor?!)

Grandmother Wisdom, open the door,
Grandfather Counsel, come you in …

Yes, you can purchase Matthews’ book — it’s a good one. You could also use this as a prompt for your invocations. Grandmother Wisdom, what message do you have for your descendants? Grandfather Counsel, how can I best move through the next year? Among other things, Samhain is about tapping into the larger Selves we all are. The rest is often “just” holiday bling, Halloween decorations. But like the family heirloom or old metal toy or yellowing photo, such seemingly small things can loom large, and offer a link between generations.

We hear about ancestors of blood and also ancestors of spirit. If I have a difficult family, or one divided for any reason, my ancestors of spirit, and the current family I make out of friends and loved ones — families of choice — matters just as much. Mentors, supporters, our own cheering section, school classmates, colleagues, “chance” acquaintances who become beloved, spiritual ancestors whose art or music or books matter deeply to us — all of us gather such ancestors in addition to the people in blood relationship to us. These too are our ancestors at Samhain, and can form part of remembrances and prayers and invocations.

Bard initiates with Kristoffer Hughes (left, back row) at East Coast Gathering. What is the awen saying?

Samhain is not, or not primarily, “darkness and death”, but the realities deeper than these, which may wear them as masks. (The masks themselves can be fun, depending.) One measure of our lives is how and when spirit works to get our attention, whether it can keep it this time around — and what we choose do next.

morrigan
The Morrigan personifies the challenges that prove and test us all. Photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty.

Thresholds, Doorways: Fifth Day of Samhain (27 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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Some of you may know author Leigh Bardugo and her recent (2019) novel Ninth House. Set in New Haven, Connecticut, it takes place mostly on the Yale University campus, where it re-imagines the school’s actual secret, elite “landed” societies or Houses like Skull and Bones, Book and Snake, Scroll and Key, Berzelius, Wolf’s Head, etc. as occult organizations, each with its magical specialties. Certainly those names are wonderfully evocative all by themselves!

Berzelius House or “tomb” at Yale University / Wikipedia.

Spoiler alert: one of the novel’s characters, familiar with portal magic, encounters what he thinks is just another magical portal, until he realizes — too late — that it’s a mouth instead.

A little Samhain shiver, of the kind that horror movies offer their fans.

The mouth of what? you ask. So do Bardugo’s readers, who await the sequel. But the metaphor is an apt one, outside the novel and at large in what we are pleased to call the “real world”. We resist change for this among other reasons — that the opportunity, doorway, portal will swallow us whole. Nothing left. Gone. Yanked out of our old life, which for all its problems and burdens is at least familiar. Sucked, tossed, flung into some new and terrifying realm where none of the old rules apply, and at the very best we have to start all over again. And at worst? Well, it just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Fear is a favorite emotion these days. It sells! And it rouses us from lethargy, it pulls in donations and ramps up political action. Right and Left both doing their level best to drum up every imaginable terror at the thought of the evil Others taking control at the next election. In the U.S., November 4 looms for far too many like a shape of fear brighter and darker than any Samhain hysteria.

At best these are distractions from something far more important.

In a 2015 post, “Reclaiming the Wild Self“, I quote Clarissa Pinkola Estés (author of Women Who Run with the Wolves), who writes:

The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a saner life, that is a door.

In part, the doors Estés refers to are a matter of human time. Live long enough and you’ll very likely acquire such scars, carry such stories, cherish such loves. One way to find common ground with others is to focus on these doors. And one of the best ways to access them is by careful listening to ourselves and to each other. (Yes, it’s a “slow fix” which, in case we haven’t noticed, is the only effective kind.)

Often enough, we may fear such a world and such a self as much as we yearn for it. A doorway means change. Even if it just opens onto another room, it’s not the room we were in a moment ago. Fears can outline such a door, too — including fear of a door itself. If you’re anything like me, you know or have been someone who at one time or another has walked into a cage and exulted as it clanged shut behind you, reassured that at least you wouldn’t have to walk through yet another damned door.

How many horror movies give us spider webs across the face as a sign we’ve passed a portal? Can we do it without fear for once?!

How to recapture the sense of the preciousness of these doors, as Estes calls it? For in the end our own longing compels us to find them and walk through. Ritual is one way, though by no means the only. By defining boundaries in ritual we can make a door easier to see and peek through. If the past is difficult country for me, I can approach it with safeguards in place. Ritual can help with its prescribed beginnings and endings, its containers of energy and wisdom we can safely draw on at need for balance and perspective and protection. A holiday like the upcoming Samhain, like Halloween, a holy evening for remembering who and what has passed from our lives, offers a safe space to honor and to say farewell to what is gone. Sometimes all that is needed is for us to agree that we can finally let go.

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Samhain can be good “portal practice”. Every year we already walk through many doors, whether we choose to or not, so why not practice doing it consciously? (Or if we choose not to walk through a door we face, that too is valuable.) By ritualizing our experience, we get to explore it, viewing it from several perspectives, and if we’re part of a community, a ritual circle, a group of friends, we get to do this together.

One of the advantages of Samhain (a fruitful subject for meditation all its own) is of a holy day “outside of time”. During Samhain we can gaze up and down the time track, the pathways of our lives and those of our ancestors.

The ritual words of the OBOD Samhain ceremony address the uncertainties and doubts that we may face:

“Is it then possible, during the celebration of Samhain, to pass without risk or fear from one world to another: the living to the realm of the dead, the dead to the span of the living?”

(Those with recall of past lives whisper to themselves “It sure ought to be — after all, how many times have I already done this before?!”)

One good answer: if we do it with love, the answer is yes. Many of us have made the journey already in meditation and dream, meeting loved ones where the boundaries are less daunting, unless we close ourselves off to such experiences. No rush, no need to force these things: we will know when the time is right.

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Dedicated Waking: Fourth Day of Samhain (26 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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No surprise, midway through this series and this post has been a tough one. I drafted a few paragraphs this morning, then had to step away for a while and return later.

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Whenever I lack a sense of how to proceed, the guidance of the living green world rarely steers me wrong.

But snow?!

Well, snow in the forecast, a picture of a snowy owl, and a winter memory quietly guide me. For this theme of the Fourth Day of Samhain, then, I found myself turning toward the midwinter thaw that often arrives in Vermont sometime in January or February. Not Samhain-y at all, you might think. Temperatures rise, the air warms sometimes to short-sleeve heights, and everything seems to pause on the hinge of change.

Will some oak wisdom sink into my head?

But while it’s a reprieve of sorts from the coldest months, it’s an echo, no more. The dedicated waking comes not around Groundhog’s Day or Imbolc, at least for New England, but later, after the Spring Equinox. Then there’s a greater chance that warmth might stay, or at least wake the beginnings of Spring. A kindling. Or is it a second kindling after all, after that first one from the winter thaw?

And what waking at Samhain? For I don’t need to wait till Equinox, or Samhain itself, for that matter. Things wake up, or can, all the time. A dedicated waking is fuller, the kind that comes not in the middle of the night, though I may stir and turn on the light and read for a little. The dedicated waking comes later, when I actually get out of bed. I’ve committed myself. Morning coffee calls, and the day beckons. We live by such choices, thinking nothing of them. But let a spiritual opportunity like Samhain arrive, with ancestors knocking, and it pays to listen harder. Will I?

trees and green along the Pinnacle Trail

If this is the season that marks the start of hibernation, why should I care about waking up? I’ve got sleeping to do. Well, for one thing, because the other hemisphere is awakening into spring. Beltane and Samhain, yin-yanging it across the planet, nestling in each other. Anyone celebrating Beltane is also probably hearing from the ancestors, if they give them half a chance.

I’m curious now. What are they saying?

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Unchanging Wisdom: Third Day of Samhain (25 Oct. 2020)

[Edited/updated 13:53 EST]

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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One reason the Old Ways still call to us is that they’re replete with earth-wisdom and heart-truth. For dogma, read experience. For doctrine, read rule-of-thumb. Our favorite childhood stories, our fairy-stories, legends, myths and tall-tales all seem to take place in such a cosmos, where the smallest actions spin out their consequences, where magic flourishes, and where hopes and dreams come true. Samhain wisdom.

It’s a revealing expression, come true. This world of change and manifestation is constantly arriving, shaped as much by our misunderstandings and mistakes as by our grasp on truth, all tangled up in the physics of a cosmos that’s often far weirder than we imagine. Samhain cosmos.

[Here’s John Beckett’s post today on the Veil Between the Worlds.]

Often we’ve jettisoned belief in a single truth-with-a-capital-T, but in the process we’ve also often forgotten that cause and effect still play out in our lives, and not all of our personal truths are equally viable. (That’s how and why we keep learning and growing, after all. We test our understandings against our lives. I don’t know about you, but I’d not want to jump back to 14-year-old me and my beliefs, doubts and fears of that time.) Samhain truths.

In place of our traditional and healthily provisional/experimental perception of what spirit is and how it works, we’ve turned to all manner of beliefs and disbeliefs, forgetting that spring keeps coming every year, that the power that underlies and sustains things still pulses through them regardless of our human awareness or obliviousness. Rather than bothering so much with belief, it might help us to find out where and when and how things are true, under what circumstances they can be true, and so on. Less church, more laboratory. Samhain practice.

Even words like wisdom and truth and evil have fallen out of fashion, because we think we don’t believe in them any more, until they bite us where it hurts. (Well, wisdom still manages to stick around in a few places — especially if it comes from somewhere exotic, and can be bottled and marketed as hidden or never-before-revealed or traditional.) Sometimes we even notice that most of the “new and improved spirituality” on offer is our traditional wisdom with a hip contemporary makeover. Samhain fashion.

But catch the spirit of Samhain and I get plugged back into a cosmos alive under my skin and in my blood and flaming in the autumn leaves. Get out in the cooling air and I smell the old earth-year. I watch the moon swell to fullness this time coinciding with the last day of October. Samhain reminds us we are alive in time and space, here and now, but also that the world turns, whether we will or no. The chorus of the old goddess chant deserves meditation: “Hoof and horn, hoof and horn/Those who die shall be reborn./Corn and grain, corn and grain/Those who fall shall rise again”. Where and when and how is this true, under what circumstances can it be true …? Samhain questions.

And what of Samhain music? It’s in our blood, a human heritage. Wisdom makes a song we all know by heart. We hear echoes all the time — a fragment of a melody that arrests us in the middle of whatever we’re doing when we hear it. A phrase in a speech or book or conversation that makes us sit up straighter, or slip into reverie. All the things we tend to discount in our humanness, things we rarely talk about. Samhain stuff.

Earth of Samhain, bone and boulder. Air of Samhain, breath and breeze. Fire of Samhain, ______ . Water of Samhain, ______ . What draws us to fill in those blanks we might call the gravity of Samhain, the tug of the time on us. Things have a particular shape, fit into a certain space and no other. Aptness. Identity. Fire of Samhain, heart and hearth. Water of Samhain, blood and brook.

Turn those phrases toward however they work best for you. Then do it. (For counsel on what your particular it is, consult the season of Samhain, your left ventricle, your right hemisphere, you animal guides, and the blessed time you spend outdoors under trees, listening.)

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The Beltane Fire Society will hold a digital Samhuinn this year, with live events posted to Facebook and Youtube.

Shrine of Sleep: Second Day of Samhain (24 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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What offerings do I bring to the shrine of sleep these days?

In some ways we resist the dark on a national level. In most of North America and much of Europe, the season of time changes is upon us, where we turn back our clocks one hour to bring more daylight to our mornings. But much of the rest of the world doesn’t do this, and some regions even within the time-changing nations don’t change either.

Mystic River Grove ritual

Samhain, like Beltane, is a time when “the veil thins” — when the distinctions and barriers between levels of reality are less sharply defined, and it’s often easier to move back and forth between realities. Many of us have had dream experiences that open us to such possibilities. (Whether and how we choose to respond to these opened doors and gates and windows is another matter.)

Twice a year, potential experiences of a larger cosmos unroll into our awareness, unasked. (The rest of the time we may need to make more effort.) The mingled fear and curiosity we often hold for such enlargements tell us much about the social controls at work in our lives. While some explore lucid dreaming, yoga nidra and similar practices, for many of us the twice-yearly opportunities of vivid and insightful dreams, if we invite them, offer plenty to work with. Anyone who has kept a dream journal, and worked with recurring dreams, dream sequences, symbols, guides and ancestors, knows the value of dreamwork. As with so many practices, what you reap mirrors what you sow.

Animal companions can often walk with us to help us with comfort and reassurance, if we’re exploring other worlds. A familiar object — a photograph, seashell, feather or stone, handled before sleep over several nights, can travel with us into the dream, appearing within our dreams to remind us of our intent and our desire, and help shape the dream experience. Some people find that gazing at their hands, as a reminder of our capacity to effect change, to accomplish tasks, to shape our lives, can be another dream tool.

Personalized affirmations, repeated verbally, written in a journal, kept in the attention during the daylight hours, can also help incubate a dream. Here are a couple of examples:

At the shrine of sleep I dedicate my intent to ___, this object/animal companion to ___, my hands to ___ . Change whatever needs changing for your personal circumstances.

As this candle comes alight, so I seek a dream tonight, a holy gift of deep insight. Meditate with the candle, then extinguish it, knowing you carry the light of your intent into sleep for blessing during this time of Samhain.

Likewise, many have found the dream chalice practice an effective one:

Dedicate a goblet, glass or other cup as your dream chalice, placing it on your nightstand or otherwise near your bed before you sleep. Each morning when you awake, drink from the chalice, knowing you are drinking in the wisdom of your dreams. Keep a record of your impression, thoughts, feelings, memories, and images that occur to you over the next three (or seven) days.

May you dream richly at the Shrine of Sleep!

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Tide of Winter: First Day of Samhain (23 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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The word tide is a marvelous inheritance from Old English, both in its older meaning of period of time or season, and its more recent sense of the movement of earth’s waters in response to the moon’s pull — also a matter of time. Low and high tides — a fitting reminder for what Waters of the Western Gate are doing constantly, every day, around and within us. The Coast-dwellers among us know this intimately. But each of us has inner shores to walk and watch, touch and tend as well.

A daily spiritual practice helps to shine a spotlight on angles and aspects of our inner and outer lives. Whatever is going on in one realm will echo and resonate in the other, and what that means will vary from person to person. Spiritual practice is one ever-wise prescription I can make for you out of personal experience and the records others have left, but the form it will take for you is always deeply individual.

With Winter-tide growing stronger, more of our attention is drawn inward, just as the approach of Beltane in the southern hemisphere calls people outward, into springtime and early summer. No season is all one thing or another, but a blending, the tide of one hemisphere ever recalibrating and rebalancing with the other. It’s no surprise that the four major festivals of the ancient Celts each shared a connection with fire. The cold fires of Winter dance with the hot fires of Summer all year long, yielding and advancing and yielding again.

The Path leads through a gap in the Wall. Pinnacle Trail, southern Vermont.

One way I can tune in to the movement of the tides within and without is through attention to my breathing, my heartbeat. Relaxing into them, watching them roll on ceaselessly, can become a practice all its own. Breathing is the more obvious of the two, but a finger lightly pressed on the wrist or throat, and unrushed reflection on “as above, so below; as within, so without”, can often help transform that proverbial wisdom into deeper awareness.

Time spent outdoors helps with this attunement. The speaking world always has something to say. Birds, wind, trees, sky — and in the early morning or evening, the sun, clouds, stars, planets — re-establish in us a rhythm that keeps time to a saner pace than the one we may be following. The ancient practice of neldoracht — cloud divination — is one every child begins without effort, a “natural art” that comes simply from being human and alive. Flat on our backs gazing up, we watch the sky wash over us, daydreaming in and around the shapes of clouds. Joy is one of our earliest rituals.

The Celtic day begins at sunset — the Celtic year at Samhain. It’s a good reminder, if we need it (and we always do), that beginnings emerge from darkness. One path to and through the Samhain season leads through a gap in the Wall we begin to perceive. Seeds from the dark earth, children from the womb, ideas and plans and visions from a place where, just a moment or a few months before, they did not exist in the same form. As we enter this fallow season, may we sense — gift of paradox, hand of Spirit — this new life stirring.

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Samhain: Season to Taste

[1st | 2nd | 3rd | 4th | 5th | 6th | 7th | 8th | 9th]

Unlike that high school or college or professional exam or road test or other ego-destroying experience of assessment, your first or hundredth ritual needn’t achieve a certain score before you “pass”.

If you bought candy to distribute, you’ve performed a small ritual. If you have decorations you’re thinking about putting up (or you already have them up), you’ve performed a ritual. If you plan to sit quietly and reflect on the season, you’re doing ritual.

As John Beckett remarks on his blog, it’s the Samhain season, not just a single day.

I invite you to join me in celebrating Nine Days of Samhain. I’ll be posting every day for the nine days starting Friday the 23nd through the 31st with contemplations, any insights, ritual gestures, and whatever else comes through, so if you’re looking for meditative company in the days leading up to Great Hallows, check in as it pleases you:

First Day, Friday the 23rd: Tide of Winter
Second Day, Saturday the 24th: Shrine of Sleep
Third Day, Sunday the 25th: Unchanging Wisdom
Fourth Day, Monday the 26th: Dedicated Waking
Fifth Day, Tuesday the 27th: Thresholds, Doorways
Sixth Day, Wednesday the 28th: Grandmothers, Grandfathers
Seventh Day, Thursday the 29th: Gates of Welcome
Eighth Day, Friday the 30th: Cauldron of Memory
Ninth Day, Saturday the 31st: Deepest Refreshment

Note: the themes and seeds for the Nine Days loosely derive from Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional.

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Cat of the South, Horse of the North

The Sunday Guardian included this article on a large feline figure among the Nazca lines in Peru.

Nazca feline figure / Andina

Now we have two out-sized figures — the Nazca Cat and the Uffington Horse — to use when we call the Quarters/welcome the Directions/invoke the Watchtowers/hail the Archangels/commune with the Guardians.

Uffington White Horse / Wikipedia

Let our Druidry span the planet!

But wait! What is it I’m invoking, or at least imagining here?

We have marked the images of animals on our landscapes, both physical and psychic — marked them visually, emotionally, energetically. It feels like part of the same impulse that leads us to put pictures of friends and family on our walls and mantles and desks. Image evokes presence, welcomes the energies of the imaged being (or place). We go where our attention takes us, so it’s prudent to be conscious about what we allow into our attention — a potentially profound practice over time, over an entire life. Image, icon, logo, meme, visualization — we use this human ability in so many and such varied ways, for our enervation and also for our betterment.

It can be a practice to meditate with these images, to inquire what they can teach us, what we should be attending to, how to regard them, what energies they mediate into the landscape where they are located, and into our consciousness when we think of them, recall them, bring them to mind, see them with the mind’s eye. Those of us who feel “I can’t visualize” may in fact be profound visualizers, since visualization is as much about feeling and sensing as it is about “seeing.”

When we plan a trip, go to the grocery store, think about dinner, bring up a memory, the associated images can pass by the screen of our inward attention so quickly we think we’re not seeing them, when in fact they may merely be passing faster than thought can separate them. We’ve done this since we arrived in this life, so it’s little wonder the images we practice are fast. Often we “flesh out” or incarnate an anticipated event by just such an inner run of images. We may not necessarily “see them” in a “daily life” way, but a part of us notes whatever is missing from the sequence, and that’s what we add to the grocery list, or remind ourselves to attend to after we return home.

Some practice with this can be revealing, if we start from the assumption that visualization isn’t our “problem”, but rather a skill we’ve already perfected, one we do so automatically we no longer notice it, like walking without falling over like when we were toddlers, any more than we notice our cerebellums telling our hearts to beat, or our stomachs to digest. Bringing these semi-voluntary and involuntary actions under conscious control is a different matter — some branches of yoga teach this — but we all visualize constantly, and usually faster than thought.

As above, so below — yes. But as within, so without, also. Our inner and outer worlds can start to work together rather than fighting each other, with loving practice to what our attention is doing, and where we’re placing it, and how we feel about what we’re attending to.

Attitude and attention — two of the greatest powers we have.

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What’s Up with “An”, “Rede” and “Mote”? / Curious George is My Druid

“An it harm none, do what you will” (The Wiccan Rede).

“So mote it be”.

East Coast Gathering 2017 — a Druid blend of Hindu rangolee and Celtic ogham

Spend any time on Pagan and Wiccan sites and you’ll eventually encounter some version of one or both of these ritual assertions. Just this morning someone asked in an online Druid forum why such phrases have to sound obscure or use strange vocabulary. “Can’t they just say it clearly?”

The archaic language in each case can certainly cause hiccups in understanding. Sometimes you’ll see “corrections” or modernizations of the first one like “And it harm none …” which at least looks like a better word for the context. Discovering that an is an old word meaning “if” helps sharpen the sense into something to work with: “if it doesn’t harm anybody, do what you want”. It’s a version of the Golden Rule. As a subject for meditation, ask and decide which version might guide your life better.

(Spend enough time with Shakespeare and you’ll run into his variant form an if, like in Romeo and Juliet: “An if you leave me so, you do me wrong”.)

The same is true for mote, a form of the Old English verb motan [link to an OE dictionary entry] meaning “may, be allowed, be able”. So mote it be — may it be so. In literally one other word — amen. The use of mote in Wicca and in Paganism more widely can be traced back more than half a millennium to the ceremonies of Freemasons. Here’s a link to an article in the Scottish Rite Journal from 2009 that explains in more detail.

We hold on to old expressions like this for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s just a love of the familiar things we’ve inherited, even if we don’t always know their meaning. We’ve said these words before, and we’re saying them now, and our continued saying matters more than anything else. We’re still here, and still together. The tribe endures. We take any meaning we need from the context, and that’s enough.

Sometimes, of course, language marks us as insiders, or outsiders. Then it’s a useful flag or badge of identity, or a password. Other times it can offer a teachable moment, if we let it. Rather than excluding, we can bring another person into the sacred circle that we mark with such words.

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A change of topic. Or maybe the same, since it’s about understanding.

My Druid Teacher of today is Curious George. A former student of mine was reading to his daughter this morning, and they came to the page below.

He read down the page, as we normally do — and the words no longer made sense. In a moment he realized that, unlike all the other pages in the book, this page needed to be read across the divide.

I like the symbolism or metaphor here. Reading across — taking in the whole spectrum — reveals a wider perspective that helps us make sense of things. A stance “right in the center” avoids the extremes which, the Tao Te Ching counsels us, “do not last long”.

Another way to think of it: a path with heart, Don Juan Matus calls it, in Castaneda’s classic The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, the book that launched the series. A path with heart, that’s the secret: “For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length — and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly”.

Whatever else is going on that may well be beyond my control — and the past six months have illustrated that in painful living color for so many of us — the path remains.

Don Juan goes on: “A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use”.

A final citation, since threes have peculiar value in teaching, memory, physics, life. Don Juan observes, “Think about it: what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow men. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone”. If I can begin to let go of just this one practice, I have begun a path with heart.

May we all find such paths and walk them.

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Spiritual Quests — “Deliciously Druidic”

“What … is your name?” asks the Bridgekeeper. “What … is your quest?” Monty Python and the Holy Grail is definitely onto some truths about the cosmos, veiled in the form of humour, a potent magic. Looking for a Noble Quest? It will demand of us an account of who we are and what we seek. Do we really know? Can we answer truly?

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When does the excitement of the Quest of our lives first dim? We set off, full of a consuming certainty that This is It. The Big One, whatever it is. Sooner or later, though, we run smack into some kind of Wall. Our first Obstacle. (All the Great Quests include them!) Often enough, it takes on the form of a Rule. We face a “No”. A Can’t, Shouldn’t, Mustn’t. Often, human life being what it is, the Rule comes to us through a person. Our Bridgekeeper of the Moment stands before us.

Enough people have turned away from — and been turned off by — “rule-religions” and the “morality police” that it can sometimes come as a surprise to encounter any mention of spiritual law apart from the dogma and doctrine of a particular faith group. Yet a successful Quest navigates via spiritual law — navigates it with style, with flair, with panache. We instinctively respond to a good quest story because it “rings true”. Its spiritual melody harmonizes with something deep within us.

Windham Pinnacle Trail. A Golden Path to …

We’re usually not surprised by the existence of physical laws, like Newton’s laws of motion that govern the movement of physical bodies. In our first dozen years on the planet we typically pick up enough firsthand experience with gravity, acceleration, mass, and so on, even if we don’t call them by those names, so that by the time we start to operate cars and trucks we don’t (usually) have to start from scratch and repeatedly crash into trees, walls, or other vehicles just to learn how to drive.

Indeed, we spend our first years falling down, getting knocked over, getting up again, bumping into things, getting hurt and recovering, because we often learn best by doing. (The trick of good parenting is letting that happen under reasonably safe circumstances.) We may then spend the next several decades learning (or not learning) how to apply versions of the same lessons to our relationships, jobs, goals and dreams. Yes, our lives provide such good material for song lyrics and film scripts that we should all get a cut of the box office proceeds and royalties.

For example, at some point I may find myself pondering old proverbs such as ‘birds of a feather flock together’ and ‘like attracts like’. I run into some version of the law of harmony, or harmonics. By the time we arrive in our 20s or 30s, we’ve seen people careen from one bad relationship to another, while it can seem others ‘have all the luck’. We’ve also met enough exceptions to such proverbial wisdom, maybe in our own lives, that many situations we find ourselves in deserve more than a fixed or set response. Sometimes it can seem like “other laws are at work”. Often enough, we’re not wrong. When things “go our way”, we’re often going their way. We’ve aligned, however briefly, with a current, a larger flow in the cosmic stream. And that’s usually a pretty damn cool sensation — a kind of “effortless effort”, a sense of connection to something bigger.

View northwest from Pinnacle.

The Shape of the Quest

A helpful approach in studying spiritual law is one of curiosity and experimentation, an echo of the effortless effort. I don’t want to just listen uncritically at the outset to somebody else’s moralizing about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ — their version of “No” — mostly because it offers little more than just the kind of fixed or set response I mentioned above. Instead, I want to find out for myself what laws exist, how and when they operate and interact, and how I can work with them, like a sailor learns to sail with, across or down the wind. ‘When the winds blow, how do I go?’

Most formal moralities express a codified version of spiritual law. Too often, it’s one that’s either clumsily taught, or taught without imagination and human insight, taught hypocritically and humorlessly, or in ignorance of its underlying purpose. Someone “holds the the rules over us”, rather than setting them down so we can stand on them to reach the stars. Good teaching liberates rather than confines. It opens up possibilities and new pathways, rather than shutting them down. The old insight that “the truth shall set you free” means spiritual law is for our benefit and growth, not for our limitation and restriction. We learn the steps so we can dance — we learn the notes to join the song.

What makes our quests so deliciously Druidic is that “we can look to the world of nature around us for help in understanding our own nature, recognizing that if a theory about the nature of the universe proves to be a mistake when tested against the world around us, it will also prove to be a mistake when applied to the world within us … ‘the visible is for us the measure of the invisible'” (Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, pg. 15).

To put it another way, my life is my laboratory, my studio, my garden, my craft space, my canvas.

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Great Hallows

In this Samhuinn season I turn again, as I so often do, to Bards. Lorna Smithers’ “Annuvian Awen” offers us a chant for the approaching “Great Hallows” of Hallowe’en, as a friend once called it.

“Out of darkness I am born”, Lorna sings. “Out of blood I am born/
Out of spirit I am born”. Change the pronoun and you have a chant for a group rite.

This is invocation and evocation, true, but it also states spiritual truth. It both summons and declares what is already present. Halfway between Equinox and Yule, the Celtic New Year begins, even as the Celtic day begins at sunset, and continues through the night to dawn.

In the southern hemisphere, Beltane nears, halfway between equal-day-and-night of the spring equinox, and the longest day at Midsummer. What links between the “Fires of Bel” and “Summer’s End” — one plausible set of meanings of the names Beltane and Samhuinn? One theme for meditation: they happen at the same time, depending on where you are, where your attention rests.

The form of the triadic chant I’ve been looking at above reaffirms such truths: it consists both of stable elements and changing ones. In that way its rhythms are those of life. And going further, the three words “darkness, blood, spirit” could be changed in a Beltane chant to “brightness, fire, spirit” or some other suitable triad. With enough people singing it as a round, both sets of words could sound together, Beltane and Samhuinn, Samhuinn and Beltane.

Of course, at other times, just one or the other is all you need.

As with so many things Druidic, the chant comes first, and possible meanings and magics come second. Or we notice them second. Set the chant going on your breath, give it a simple melody, carry it with you like a fragrance for the day, and you do a Druidic thing. You call on all that you are to explore the value of a thing, to test its measure, not just with the head, or reason, but with flesh, blood, spirit, breath, fire, dark and light. Work with the chant and it will feel different at sunset than at dawn. Different again at Beltane than at Samhuinn.

One of the Putney Stone Chambers — “kiva-style”

Set the chant against whatever comes to you during the day. What weight and authority does each thing have, event and chant? Is that the weight and balance you desire? Keep the chant going and ask how the balance can shift to one you can serve.

Samhuinn is a time of death and birth, even as Beltane celebrates the fires of vitality and magic, conception and sex and creation. “The ideal that you hope to achieve is always to be ready for an incarnation”, observes Paul Twitchell, “whether it is in this world or those planes beyond. But unless an incarnation can be offered its birth through you, though, it is incapable of being brought into the manifestation of life. Therefore, your attitude should be one in which, having desired to express … the higher states of consciousness, you alone accept the responsibility of incarnating a new and greater value of yourself”.

And if something needs to die before something better can be born? Well, the Samhuinn season can be an excellent time to explore that, too. Will I allow it? How might I be standing in my own way? How can ritual help me let go of that obstacle to what I desire? How can I celebrate a Samhuinn and a Beltane, too, for transformation? And can I also let go of desire, once I have expressed it, again getting out of my own way, letting go of preconceived ideas of “this is how it has to happen”?

Oh, if you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you know enough by now: I seek practices to stretch me. Elastic lives, brittle breaks. Haven’t enough of us learned that at least a little bit?!

“Can’t I just celebrate and enjoy the season, and not bother with such things?” a part of me asks. Certainly — as long as you’re sure such things won’t bother with you, whether you will or no. Do Druidry long enough and you’re called to go deeper. As Gaga sings, we’re far from the shallow now.

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“The rest of the results might not be what you are looking for”, Google alerts me this morning. “See more anyway” appears as another option. How many reminders do I need?!

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Posted 12 October 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, Lorna Smithers

Tagged with

“Everything is Talking”

“Drink water from the spring where horses drink. The horse will never drink bad water. Lay your bed where the cat sleeps. Eat the fruit that has been touched by a worm. Boldly pick the mushroom on which the insects sit. Plant the tree where the mole digs. Build your house where the snake sits to warm itself. Dig your fountain where the birds hide from heat. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time with the birds — you will reap all of the day’s golden grains. Eat more green — you will have strong legs and a resistant heart, like the beings of the forest. Swim often and you will feel on earth like the fish in the water. Look at the sky as often as possible and your thoughts will become light and clear. Be quiet a lot, speak little — and silence will come in your heart, and your spirit will be calm and full of peace.” — Saint Seraphim of Sarov (1754 – 1833).

An infallible guide to living without risk? No, obviously not. A path of harmonious wisdom, a portrait of observant sanity, a practice of reverent joy? Yes. The highest truths never demand that we abandon common sense.

Sarov Forest Pilgrimage spot for St. Seraphim. Wikipedia CC images

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Posted 7 October 2020 by adruidway in Druidry

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