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

“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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