Archive for December 2020

Cycles Ending, Cycles Beginning   Leave a comment

Here at year’s end, I’m finally getting around to reading the next-to-most-recent Mt. Haemus paper, RoMa Johnson’s “The Well and the Chapel: Confluence”. This ongoing series, sponsored by OBOD, has produced substantial papers on a range of topics since 2000, and last year’s 21st paper is of particular interest to me. Readers here know of my investigation of some of the intersections of Druidry and Christianity. In her paper, Johnson looks at five specific aspects of her topic: “Worldviews—Immanence and Imminence; Justice—Sin, Responsibility and Restoration; The Three—The Sacred Feminine and the Trinity; Immrama—The Soul’s Journey and Inspiration; and Confluence”.

Johnson also quotes Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton: “If I were more fully attentive to the word of God I would be much less troubled and disturbed by events of our time: not that I would be indifferent or passive, but I could gain strength of union with the deepest currents of history, the sacred currents, which run opposite to those on the surface a great deal of the time!”

Let me do a Druid transform of this with a few but significant tweaks, and make for myself a spiritual affirmation and guide: “When I am fully attentive to Spirit stirring throughout the worlds, I am less troubled and disturbed by events of our time: not that I am indifferent or passive, but I gain strength of union with the deepest currents of history, the sacred currents, which run opposite to those on the surface a great deal of the time”.

Often you can find this kind of spiritual wealth hidden just below the surface, as Merton’s words suggest, with a little meditation and creativity. At least, that’s one of my practices.

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wood-snow, snow-wood …

A listing of the titles with links to transcripts of each lecture in the Mt. Haemus series provides a rich and broad source of contemplation and meditation seeds, as well as directions for study and practice. You can preview each paper, read it online, or download it for free from the OBOD site at the link above at the start of the paragraph.

More ambitious, and looking for study material for 2021? Or not a member of any Order, but looking for substance, as opposed to the ubiquitous fluff all over the Web? These 22 papers will give you a full year’s curriculum and then some, if you give yourself time to absorb them, follow up on bibliographical links, and explore their significance and implications in your own life and circumstances. The bios of the varied authors are also fascinating by themselves!

1: The Origins of Modern Druidry — Ronald Hutton
2: Druidry – Exported Possibilities and Manifestations — Gordon Cooper
3: Phallic Religion in the Druid Revival — J M Greer
4: Question, Answer and the Transmission of Wisdom in Celtic and Druidic Tradition — John and Caitlin Matthews
5: Universal Majesty, Verity and Love Infinite – A Life of George Watson Macgregor Reid — Dr. Adam Stout
6: Working with Animals — Prof Roland Rotheram
7: ‘I Would Know My Shadow and My Light’ – An exploration of Michael Tippett’s ‘The Midsummer Marriage’ and its relevance to a study of Druidism — Philip Carr-Gomm
8: Entering Faerie – Elves, Ancestors & Imagination — Dr. James Maertens
9: How Beautiful Are They – Some thoughts on Ethics in Celtic and European Mythology — Dr. Brendan Myers
10: What is a Bard? — Dr. Andy Letcher
11: Druidry & Transpersonal History — Dr. Thomas C Daffern
12: From solstice to equinox and back again – The influence of the midpoint on human health and the use of plants to modify such effects — Julian Barker
13: Magical Transformation in the Book of Taliesin and the Spoils of Annwn — Kristoffer Hughes
14: Music and the Celtic Otherworld — Dr. Karen Ralls
15: ‘Almost unmentionable in polite society’? Druidry and Archaeologists in the Later Twentieth Century — Dr. Julia Farley
16: Gathering Mistletoe – an approach to the Work of E. Graham Howe — Ian Rees
17: Tree Lore is Wisdom — Mike Darton
18: Lecture The Elementary Forms of Druidic Life – Towards a Moral Ecology of Land, Sea, and Sky — Jonathan Woolley
19: Channeling the Awen Within: An Exploratory Study of the Bardic Arts in the Modern Druid Tradition — Dr. Dana Driscoll
20: What Druidry does – a perspective on the spiritual dynamics of the OBOD course — Dr. Susan Jones
21: The Well and the Chapel: Confluence — RoMa Johnson, MDiv.
22: The Feminist Druid: Making Way for New Stories/New Work — Dr. Michelle LaFrance

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ADruidWay’s Top 10 Posts of 2020

As 2020 draws to a close, my thanks again to you for taking the time to read and ponder the posts here. As always, I value your comments and suggestions.

10. Druiding without (an) Order — 2

A look at five less immediately obvious aspects of practicing without an Order or group nearby: initiation, spiritual formation, community, proficiency and service. This post resonated with readers also confronting the increased isolation of most of 2020.

9. Moon Ritual Scrapbook

Among other things, this post asks two questions: “What’s your ritual goal?” and “What’s your moon?” Your goal and the time of year can both shape any moon ritual, giving you a starting point and ready imagery to work with.

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

Another two-parter. “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”.

7. 111 Hertz — Our Ancient Song of Healing and Attunement

The ancient earth wisdom of the planet is readily accessible in human frequencies. This can become a core part of a powerful practice.

6. Samhain: Season to Taste

A nine-part series around Samhain, similar to the recent Nine Days of Solstice series.

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A snapshot of your engagement with this blog. You don’t talk much, but you do keep reading.

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5. A Review of J. M. Greer’s The Mysteries of Merlin

Mysteries in the older sense of the word, as Greer points out, are “the traditional name for rituals of initiation linked to seasonal cycles and based on the mythic narratives of Pagan gods and goddesses” (pg. 2).

4. Druiding without (an) Order

Some of the advantages and disadvantages of Orders and Solitary Paths.

3. The Céile Dé and the Fonn

If you’re looking for aids to meditation and a means to reduce anxiety, gain focus and know your own core being, a fonn of the Céile Dé may be for you.

2. Towards a Full Moon Ritual

Technically from 2019, but you gave it over 80% of its views in 2020 rather than when I first posted it, and it reflects our human hunger for ritual and responding to that lovely silvery light of our nearest planetary companion, and to the power of millennia of stories, poems and songs about the moon.

1. Books and Links on Druidry

A page I added this year, so I’m counting it as a post. Its position as the most popular post of 2020 gives added confirmation to what we already know – the Druid- and Pagan-friendly are definitely readers. An obviously personal and idiosyncratic selection that nevertheless attempts to put good books by responsible authors into the hands of inquirers.

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Posted 23 December 2020 by adruidway in Druidry

Nine Days of Solstice 9 — Monday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

Blessings of the Solstice to you! From the South to the North, from the East to the West.

Five of us from Vermont’s seed group, Well of Segais, gathered for a Solstice Zoom last night. For all their quirks and e-glitches, such technologies have helped so many connect over these past months, when the need has been great. The size of a Zoom gathering, as many have discovered, seems to reach optimum around a dozen or fewer. Beyond that, unless the group has evolved good strategies for careful listening and turn taking (or had them imposed by organizers), participants can end up talking over each other. A ritual helps enjoin a more meditative pace, good for helping members sink into reflection and attention. Without a physical ritual circle, more of the work is open for doing inwardly.

During the ritual meditation, I saw each of us five braiding ribbons of light that encircled us. It’s rare that events like this bring vision with them for me — often the experience is more subtle. Beyond any accompanying intuition and emotional response at the time — useful in themselves as part of the “barometer” of an experience — the value of it lies in what I do with it. I’ve recorded it, and it will serve as a subject for contemplation. Recalling it, as I’m doing now, evokes gratitude. In the future, it’s useful confirmation, one more link in a sequence of experiences and encounters, insights and hunches, that make up the trajectory of my life. In a few months I may have forgotten it, until I re-read it: “Sunday, 20 December 2020. Alban Arthan/Yule/Solstice ritual with Well of Segais …” Though forgetting is now less likely, because I’ve grounded it by writing about it, reflecting on it.

As a visualization, it reminds me of my links to everyone else, and how we can all choose to tend such connections with care and love, or otherwise. A blessing on the power of human choice! In the middle of the next challenge I will face, it goes to form part of my toolkit. “Braid now for light, braid for love …” If any of this post resonates with you, it comes to form part of your toolkit as well. And so each gift we receive can ripple outward.

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Each of the “Great Eight” seasonal festivals bears its attendant blessings. They’re not all the same, in part because we’re not the same, when we arrive at the time and place of them. Thank you for walking with me thus far, whether you’re new to this blog, or a long-time reader.

If there’s a ritual for the closing of this sequence of nine posts for Solstice, part of it surely comes in the form of the Scottish blessing that opens my “About” page on this site, which I’ll end with here. If you will, say the words aloud with me:

May the blessing of light be on you — light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you like a great peat fire,
so that stranger and friend may come and warm themselves at it.

And may light shine out of the two eyes of you,
like a candle set in the window of a house,
bidding the wanderer come in out of the storm.

And may the blessing of the rain be on you,
may it beat upon your Spirit and wash it fair and clean, and leave
there a shining pool where the blue of Heaven shines,
and sometimes a star.

And may the blessing of the earth be on you,
soft under your feet as you pass along the roads,
soft under you as you lie out on it, tired at the end of day;
and may it rest easy over you when, at last, you lie out under it.

May it rest so lightly over you that your spirit may be out
from under it quickly; up and off and on its way.
And now may the Spirit bless you, and bless you kindly.

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The next post will be the Top 10 A Druid Way Posts for 2020.

Nine Days of Solstice 8 — Sunday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

“I could be bounded in a nutshell”, exclaims Hamlet in Act II, “and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams”. All right, Hamlet: Dream better.

That’s often the kind of advice we receive. On the face of it, it’s sound, solid. But utterly useless. “If I knew how“, many find themselves thinking, “don’t you think I would?”

Maybe that’s one reason the “how” has interested me for so long. How did you get where you are? How do you go where you want to go? How do you even find out there’s a “where” worth going to? And sometimes: What can I do right now, starting today, that will make any difference at all?

As even part-time readers of this blog know (and are probably weary of hearing me say), a practice is essential for all of these things. Most likely, you’re already doing a version of it and can build on it. It certainly needn’t look like somebody else’s practice. If you do something for love, you’re already half-way there. Nobody starts from scratch. Once you have that kindling, that’s where the Secret Fire lies. As my teacher likes to say, then you start with one small thing, and do it with all the love and attention you can. It may be tying your shoes. Sometimes starting that small is just right. Build from that single step, on your way to your kingdom. Our power lies in how far we can extend that kind of dedication and devotion over time. As it opens, you get caught by the vision, by the good dream, and you’re on your way.

A practice, it needs to be said, isn’t all easy going. Sometimes you run across barren patches. In a 2012 post I wrote:

On first sight (or much later, depending on the particular script we’re following), the world can be a forbidding place. We all go through emotional and psychological winters at times. Nothing seems to provide warmth or comfort, so we hunker down and endure. And we can get so good at this kind of half-life that we mistake merely surviving for full-hearted thriving. Well-meaning friends or family who try to console us with various messages of hope or endurance (“This too shall pass”) can’t budge us from our heaviness.

“Wind and ice are the only deciders of symmetry”, writes upstate New Yorker Linda Allardt in one of her poems. “Survival makes do for grace”. The instinct to survive, one we share with our animal kin, is often what carries us through. There’s a stoicism there which can serve us, if we don’t take it and make it our only stance worth cultivating.

The Solstices are times to watch for change and chance. The hidden changes implicit in the imminent shift of energy and consciousness which Druids symbolize and celebrate in the seasonal festivals also find expression in the starkly beautiful lines of “First Sight” by British poet Philip Larkin.

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

For that is how at least some changes arrive — immeasurable, ungraspable, unlike anything that went before. With a practice, we’re more able to work with their energy and momentum, rather than merely be swept up and along with them, or miss them entirely. In many ways, Druidry provides tools for navigating change.

A key insight I’ve found true in my experience sees expression in R. J. Stewart’s observation about magic. “The purpose of magical arts” — and here we can accurately substitute spiritual practice, or devotion to a craft or art — “is to enable the changes within the individual by which he or she may apprehend these further methods inwardly” (Living Magical Arts, pg. 3). A kind of teaching takes place through our practice. Our determination to persevere, to dig deeper, sets in motion a series of insights tailored to our particular circumstances and purposes, which gives us the experience Jesus talks about when he says “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. We find the spiritual principles that work for us because they meet us where we are.

These things can be hard to talk about for obvious reasons. Either one looks arrogant or deluded, or often enough a combination of both. But anyone with similar experiences can nod in recognition — and share their stories. J M Greer reminds us that

Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth … It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit.

Until you have the experience of it (whatever it is for you), you may have a range of beliefs about it, for sure, but it’s your insight flowing from your own contact with the realms of nature and spirit that counts more, and longer. The path, the only path worth walking, the “path with heart”, is to continue that contact, to see where it leads, to trust it, because trust also opens doors that will not otherwise open. Part of Greer’s point is that any authority worth having comes from within, not from another person. Our human tendency is too often to look for the next Holy Magister 27th-Grade Ipsissimus Archdruid Deluxe Squared for “the answers”, which usually won’t be our answers anyway. (For some amusing insights on this, do a search of my posts on One Genuine Real Live Druidry — OGRELD).

south yard, yesterday, after clearing the way to our woodshed

The most that any outside authority can do is help us recognize the fire inside us, to suggest ways of keeping it burning, to point out directions towards firewood, to guide us to lighting up the path along the way.

Our inner Sovereignty, you might say, can often look like a hearth.

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Nine Days of Solstice 7 — Saturday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

What now, after making the Star? It’s a good question. After what feels like the completion of a cycle of manifestation, it can be a challenge to identify the next steps.

Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

says the Rubaiyat 73 of Omar Khayyam. We’re into the third Triad of the Nine Days of Solstice. What more? Well, the Bards have one corner of it, as usual. Khayyam lays it out for me in this stanza, if I’m willing to walk even some of the way with him, and listen. There’s a triad in human affairs, as in so many things: you, me, and “Fate”. Or as we could also call it, karma, the momentum of things we’ve already launched, that we’ve set in motion. The “sorry scheme of things” is one perspective on our making so far (not the only one, to be sure), and as with most human choices, once we receive what we wished for, we almost immediately aspire to something better. That’s an excellent feature of human consciousness, if I remember to treat it wisely and prudently. And yes, we can “remould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire” with the same abilities we moulded it in the first place.

The Green World is always green, whatever other colours it takes on.

The challenge for me is to decide on what plane I will do my remoulding. Try to do all of it here, I find, and I run into everyone else’s vision of Hearts’ Desire. I am indeed creating my possible futures — and so is everyone else. Our visions bump into each other, as often as not. I find that the place to focus the predominant part of my work is inwardly. Change my consciousness to match my desire, and the effects manifest far more easily than trying to the change the world first. It ripples out from each of us individually, when we do the work. That’s how the mass consciousness changes — one of us at a time, till we reach a critical inflection-point. You see it in birds preparing to migrate for the winter. Ones, and twos, and then larger practice flights, till it spreads like yeast through bread, “the whole is leavened”, and the entire flock is ready to take wing.

Jesus’s counsel to his disciples is clear: “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world”. The common denominator of mass consciousness, sometimes useful in brief bursts during ritual when properly tuned, isn’t something to try to sustain all the time. The apparent world isn’t the last word on much of anything. Part, just not whole. I can begin to overcome the less desirable effects of mass consciousness by breaking my agreement with it. Look at the vision of the world held out to us in most social media, and there’s not much to choose from. I can target where to place my attention, for the simple reason that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. How can I even know my “heart’s desire”, let alone manifest it, “remould” things nearer to it, if everything else is tugging at my attention, away from where I need to be looking?

Holding the Star in my vision, the Four Elements and Spirit, I pick up the Work again.

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Nine Days of Solstice 6 — Friday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

The series of pictures below illustrate the folds to make the 5-pointed Star. There are 9 folds, a good piece of symbolism, and then a single cut of scissors. It may take a few tries till it comes out right it. Start with a piece of scrap paper.

If you like, treat this as a “ritual of making”. As you practice the Nine Folds, try out a prayer, chant, rhyme, etc. This can be a fun exercise to do with a child.

AAAAA

You need a sheet of paper in the proportions of 8.5 x 10. Size is up to you. (For many, that’s almost a standard sheet of loose-leaf or photocopy paper, with the bottom 1 in/2.5 cm cut off.)

BBBBB

FOLD 1: Fold the sheet in half horizontally, top edge to bottom edge.

CCCCC

FOLD 2: Next, fold the sheet in half vertically, left edge to right edge, then open it again.

DDDDD

FOLD 3: Fold the sheet in half vertically, top to bottom, then open it up again.

EEEEE

FFFFF

FOLD 4: Fold the right edge in to the center fold, then open it again.

GGGGG

You now should have these guide-lines for the next folds.

HHHHH

FOLD 5: Fold the top left corner to the center horizontal fold crease.

IIIII

FOLD 6: Fold that same corner back on itself, flush with the left edge.

JJJJJ

KKKKK

FOLD 7: Fold the top right corner back on itself, in the same way. You should have two right triangles of the same size.

LLLLL

Turn the star over, back to front.

MMMMM

Here’s the vertical guide line for the next fold.

NNNNN

FOLD 8: Fold the star vertically to the right, back onto itself.

OOOOO

FOLD 9: Fold the top flap to the right, back onto itself. Then open it out again.

PPPPP

Turn the star 180 degrees, so the point faces down. The crease/fold about 1.5 in/3 cm above my thumb is an important guideline for the next step.

QQQQQ

Line up the scissors so you cut across the intersection of lines toward the point to the right.

RRRRR

SSSSS

After the cut.

TTTTT

Start to unfold the bottom piece.

UUUUU

The Star …

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Nine Days of Solstice 5 — Thursday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

“Then came there a great snow, and so greatly it snowed as if a great fleece had fallen …” The Old English dictionary I use sometimes offers inscrutable abbreviations for its sources of quotations — in this case, simply “Nar”. But I love this description, and I’m (mostly) grateful to live in a region that experiences four distinct seasons.

18 in / 46 cm at 9:40 am this (Thursday) morning, and still coming …

Winter’s finally arrived, ghostly guest. Somehow the whiteness of the snow at winter solstice always feels to me like an outward image of the inner fire burning all winter long. We light it, or it kindles us, at Samhain, when it leaps to and from the inner worlds, and it accompanies us right through to Beltane. I gaze at a candle-flame for a few moments, until I sense something of that world, that companion.

Snow both obliterates and illuminates, like any proper fire. Sometimes the track of spirit, of the presences in our lives, can be difficult to discern. Let snow-fire — or as a friend might write it, snow-fyre — illumine the way, and things can clarify. We see by contrasts — a powerful lesson in and of itself. In these worlds, it can take snow for us to see better.

The distinctive horseshoes of neighbourhood animals, tire-tracks and human footprints

Do I step on prints made by those who’ve gone before me? Many four-leggeds do this naturally, rear feet landing nearly where the front have just been. Sometimes weather helps map the trail, the spoor of my predecessors clear to be seen. Other times I walk trusting that when I need to know, I’ll know. Way-showers, as I follow you, let me likewise help show the way to those who come after.

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I’m posting below the first page of a rough draft for a workshop. You might find the points helpful, as I do, when you assess where you already place your energies and attention, and consider where they best belong for you, as you look ahead to the coming year.

It feels right to close by repeating the opening from the above image, a piece of dearly-bought wisdom for many: “Your consciousness — your awareness — is ALWAYS the final judge of what is right and appropriate for you. Yield it to no one“.

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Nine Days of Solstice 4 — Wednesday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

Sometimes we need to talk ourselves into our discoveries. That’s only fair, because we’ve talked ourselves out of them until now. When we listen to others’ counsel but ignore our own, when we look for dreams anywhere but in our own hearts, when we yield up our Sovereignty, precious possession, to anyone else, then in spite of a cosmos trying at every moment to get us to claim it, we just …

Ah, what to do with beings such as ourselves?

I turn to remembered wisdom, from a praying mantis, from a post in 2017: Often the best sacrifices are ones you can keep doing. The point isn’t burnout. Make it sacred, sacri-fice it, so you can make it sacred again.

One challenge of sacred time, of holy time, is re-integrating it back into what we are pleased to call our “daily lives”. Where to stash the spiritual uplift so I can draw on it when I really need it?

Part of the reason behind a spiritual practice is to help us begin to see just how the “mundane” is also absolutely overflowing with spiritual energy. (It’s another instance of easier said than known.) We need to re-charge, yes: so we can flow again. Or to put it another way, my ability to tune in to a seemingly “ordinary” interaction in line at the supermarket, or pumping gas, or climbing the steps at work can transform the apparently mundane into a spiritual connection. The “apparently mundane” in all its flatness and dullness is our workshop, laboratory, spiritual opportunity. Empty canvas.

It’s easy (or at least easi-er) to perceive and ride the spiritual currents during retreats, workshops, seminars, gatherings. Each of us throws our offerings into the common cauldron and voila! — energy stew. We sup from it throughout the weekend, workshop, gathering. Then I get to return, to practice during “everyday life”. I am transformer, I am catalyst, I am pathway in and of myself. It can always begin again with each of us. Oh, Spirit … just show me how again, one more time?

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One of the site searches over the past several days has been in Cyrillic, for звезда шаблон из бумаги zvezda shablon iz bumagi or “star pattern made of paper” as Google-Translate clumsily renders it. Cutting a five-pointed solstice star is an excellent seasonal craft, for reasons that deserve contemplation. We’ve got the planetary conjunction (link to an informative PDF by the Astronomy Club of Asheville, NC) or “great convergence” coming up on the 21st, along with the Solstice, we have the traditional association with stars at Christmas, and we know the star or pentagram is a spiritual symbol with a world-wide spread long preceding modern Pagan associations.

So without further ado, here’s the clearest and most useful guide I’ve yet found for creating a near-perfect 5-pointed star from paper, with a series of folds, and a single snip of the scissors.

https://www.origamiplayer.com/orimath/embed560.php?ori=betsyrossstarfroma4

After all, it’s Day Four of this series — four the number of manifestation.

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I’m looking for a sheet I made for a workshop, with similar instructions — if I find it, I’ll post it on Day 5.

Nine Days of Solstice 3 — Tuesday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

With a nor’easter building to the south of New England, and a forecast of several nights with temperatures in the single digits, I turn to Thecu Stormbringer. It feels like a good point to draw from today, because while the solstices (like the weather) are objective physical events anyone in the world can observe, celebrate, or ignore as they choose, one person’s subjective experiences, like mine of a goddess, simply aren’t. Even after you read my posts about Thecu, you may think nothing more about the matter. But enter “solstice” in a search engine and you’ll get a range of sites, some offering “all you need to know”. Inviting as that may sound, I tend to shy away. If I can find out everything I need to know from a website, why pay any attention to the actual event? But “knowing about” and “knowing” are two different things. One’s a head experience, the other we feel in our bones and blood.

One link between the objective and the subjective is awen, inspiration, the flow of spirit, which lets us evoke in others an echo of our original experience. Let the echo be strong enough, let our understanding of this thing called being human, and our skill in working with it, run equal to the task, and music, image, voice, story, object of craft can all serve to unite us in the experience of mystery. An echo from outside awakens a resonance within us.

Many things can open to the awen. Our inner awareness hums in sympathy with it, and the skill of our hands, the deep yearning of our hearts, rise to answer its call. Mystery, unlike mere obfuscation, only deepens as we explore it. We don’t exhaust the “meaning” of a forest by walking through it once or twice, any more than we do with a piece of music. Yes, I can obsess over a person or a fiction or a place, and in doing so lose much of the freshness which was so inviting at the outset that my obsession took shape there. But that doesn’t “use up” all mystery, merely one piece of it I’ve temporarily drunk dry. Time-walkers, awen-workers, we’re given capacities we’ve just begun to explore.

Solstice is one interval when can hear the original, after the echo has drawn us closer. Many religions offer a rule, or rules, for this. Initially the rules seemed designed to help this happen, to catalyze a connection. What I love about Druidry is that it sets out a rhythm, a melody, instead. Hear that Song, feel its rhythms as you move to them, and you’ll begin to follow it back to its source, to yearn for more of the original music.

The late Medievalist, theologian and fantasy author C. S. Lewis delivered a series of radio broadcasts and included a chapter in at least one of his books titled (more or less) “Right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe”. At least as interesting and significant, to my mind, is relationship as a clue to the meaning of the universe. Right and wrong ultimately serve relationships, rather than the other way around. The former are means, the latter’s the goal. Hear the Song, learn how to work in increasing harmony with it, and these things start to fall in place with less struggle and effort. What we are relating to, and that music “on the edge of things”, begin to converge. Praise the Mystery!

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“We are wise”, John Beckett writes about the process of discernment,

to focus our attention on our actions rather than on our beliefs. But our actions generate experiences, and in our attempt to interpret and understand our experiences we form beliefs. Our experiences may be so strong or so frequent we are certain our beliefs about them must be right, but if we are honest with ourselves, we can never be completely sure they are right.

But we can ask ourselves if our beliefs work, if they conform to known facts, and if they help us lead better lives. If we can answer yes to these three questions, we can be confident that they are as right as they can be.

So I return to experience, to relationship, to that Song behind all things.

Posted 15 December 2020 by adruidway in awen, C S Lewis, Druidry, winter solstice

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Nine Days of Solstice 2 — Monday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

Look ahead, look back, look to now. Following the nudge, I’m posting links to previous Solstice posts I’ve made, part of my own looking back, as well as other events I can recommend.

Here’s a Beltane ritual with notes and suggestions that can be readily adapted to a Solstice celebration.

A year ago in December 2019 I posted a three-parter called “Gifts of Solstice” 1 | 2 | 3.

Solitaries and groups with a meditative bent may find these 13 suggestions helpful: Thirteen Gift-Day-Flames for Solstice Solitaries.

Here are 19 Ways to Celebrate Summer Solstice that can be adapted for Winter.

And on Saturday a friend reminded me of the earth song we all can enjoy as residents of this planet, which I wrote about here: 111 Hertz — Our Ancient Song of Healing and Attunement.

Those of you interested in an OBOD Alban Arthan/Winter Solstice ritual can find this year’s on both Facebook and Youtube. You can also find a solo ritual here.

John Beckett of “Under the Ancient Oaks” is offering one on Friday evening, 18 December (link to his specific blogpost, with discussion) which you can watch on Youtube (link to ritual).

Massachusett’s Mystic River Grove is holding one via Zoom I’m participating in. Our fledgling Vermont seed group celebrates one on Sunday, the eve of the Winter Solstice.

You can watch Stonehenge Winter Solstice live here.

A reminder to check out these links in advance, in case of technical glitches, to minimize disappointment.

Pause for an Anglo-Saxon interlude. I’m tutoring a small group of students of Old English via Zoom, and yesterday we spent a pleasant hour discussing an Old English riddle. The richness and density of Old English is everywhere, and often subtle, and in it echoes of ancestral wisdom, if I listen. As I was drafting this post, the refrain from the Old English poem “Deor” came to my mind regarding our current challenges. The line gets widely quoted: Þæs oferéode; þisses swa mæg – “That’s passed by – so can this”. But to me it expresses more than a medieval version of “Just suck it up, baby!”

Yes, it’s true we’re often we’re called to patience and perseverance, invaluable spiritual practices our ancestors knew well — often because they had no other alternative. Patience and perseverance can be hard work, and those “Two P’s” can feel awfully small and negligible in times like these, though they’re huge.

The refrain notes that this can (mæg) pass by, not merely that it “may” pass, which is a mis-translation. There’s room in our situations for our own efforts, our mægen (approx. “mayen”) — a related word — our spiritual strength. It’s our “might and main“, the descendant of that word mægen, and pronounced almost the same. Our mægen can make a difference, even — and especially — if we can’t see it at the time.

Mægen is part of our inheritance as living beings. One way to think of it is the Western version of chi, and it also can vary widely in quantity. Trees respond to it, and can help us replenish it, as many Druids have discovered. They can also help take away the blocks and leaks in our reservoirs of mægen if we approach them respectfully, and offer a gift in return, to help build the relationship and serve the balance, rather than take and take and take. I can learn to hoard my mægen like any good dragon, because my stash of it can run low, get depleted — and also recharged and topped off by skilful means. If you’re reading this, you very likely already know a fair bit of what I’m talking about. If not, life is laboratory — you can test it and find out for yourself.

Today is Monday, day of the Moon. I seek móna-mægen — moon energy — which need not be wholly dependent on the physical moon phase. Our human ability as time-walking beings means that, living in time as we do, we can nevertheless walk outside of time as well, and connect with ancestors for help and relationship, although they already oferéodon — have passed over. In the same way I can also align to a phase of the moon inwardly that may not be in outer manifestation. Even the saying of it, and the playing with it, begin to manifest it.

And so Matthews offers a meditation for Mondays of the Winter Season:

“Wise-men, Wise-women, Holy Ones of all generations, I call to you to send a blessing upon all who are stuck in the past and walk the spirals of an inturning maze: may your wisdom lead them by fresh and fruitful pathways to the blessing of the present moment”.

As we begin to move into our own identities as Wise and Holy Ones ourselves, we begin to send — and receive — these blessings, among the most powerful things we can do for ourselves and others. For I am Wise and Holy, as well as stuck here and there in the past. I carry both identities within, learning from them as I go. What we do for ourselves, we do for Others.

May Solstice wisdom lead you by fresh and fruitful pathways to the blessing of the present moment.

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Nine Days of Solstice 1 — Sunday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

This day of Sun begins in mist, and I’m in some discomfort. The aging body adds its voice to the chorus — so often you need to choose what deserves your attention most, a practice all its own. We may look to others for uplift when it’s hard to find on our own. I turn as I often do to Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional*, to the page of meditations and poems for Sundays in the winter season:

“Wise teachers and friends of my Winter’s pilgrimage, I seek to arrive in safety; please assist and inspire me through the dark Winter days, as I go on my pilgrim way, seeking the answers that my soul needs”.

So often others do help us. In addition to neighbours, friends, family, beloved animals, we have at hand the inspiration from centuries of singers and writers and painters available online. Yet as the plague rages across the lands, we still follow that pilgrim way, now from necessity, perhaps, rather than by choice. How often have our ancestors spoken and thought and felt these same words?

The other path I follow asks for a monthly written reflection, and it’s good practice. Often I find myself blocking as I sit to write, itself a useful signal: “Oh, I have nothing to say, or nothing’s been happening, or it’s just the same old stuff — nothing’s shifted or moved”. Really? “Which voice deserves my attention most?” becomes an even more valuable question in the face of acedia, that old devil of sloth and inertia and indifference and the doldrums that dog the heels of anyone on pilgrimage. If I want to sail, I can wait for good winds, I can tack across existing less-than-good winds, or if I’m utterly becalmed, I can unship my oars and start rowing. Sailors knew these things once, and the archaic language tells me both that the way is ancient and I haven’t used the words enough. I need to relearn them, or find a new idiom, and make it mine. On foot, it’s much the same. We all know it: “Can I even get out of bed to start the day’s journey?”

A friend shared his approach to the monthly ritual of reflection: he writes three things he’s grateful for, three insights, three requests or questions. A triple triad. Each month thus has the previous and the coming month as fuel and as a starting point. Often that’s enough to break the ice, to mix metaphors, but appropriate to this season, to drive off the acedia, and launch us well. Sometimes it’s possible to begin with real joy, and the discoveries mirror it as they come as the mist clears.

Then we take up the option of mailing in the reflection, or keeping it in our journals. A magical, spiritual act all its own, a trust that I can release it on its way to fulfillment.

I look at winter and mind the nearing peak of summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. It pays, I find, to attend to what the planet is doing “on the other side”. Maximum light and warmth, zenith, high point. And in the midst, the mist, whatever the season, I seek that still point, the spiritual hinge as I initiate the next step. The opportunity to begin is a priceless one, whatever the weather.

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What do I need to “hold an initiation”? The idiom’s a profound one. To hold an initiation, to tend and cherish it, to brood it as a chicken does a clutch of eggs, to warm and birth it with my attention and intention, to make it mine, as it already is in embryo. Never do we start from nothing. Nature — and Spirit — “abhor a vacuum”. The Fool rushes in where angels fear to tread. Bless the Fool! S/he’s gone on ahead, to clear the way, even a little — a priceless gift.

So much that we do in what seems our “off-season”, like this winter season may seem to be, is the work of roots, beneath the surfaces. If “nothing” is happening, something is indeed happening. When all looks barren, that’s when to marvel at what lies hidden, in preparation, hibernating and dreaming. Yule in many ways is the completion of Samhain, its fulfillment. The center of activity has shifted, and my quest becomes tracking the hub of energies to its Castle, to the place it radiates from, to bring the Grail Quest imagery into play. What helpers and hinderers will I meet on the way? What companions travel with me, and (com– “with” –pan– “bread”) share my bread? What and who blesses my quest? What’s at stake? Do I know?

What soul needs is the quickening that will manifest more openly at Imbolc. Now is a time of preparation, and tools in hand.

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*Matthews, Caitlin. Celtic Devotional. Fair Winds Press, 2004.

Prelude to Nine Days of Solstice

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

As I did during the Samhain season this year, I’m planning a solstice series to honour Nine Days of Winter Solstice, starting tomorrow, Sunday 13 December, and continuing through the Solstice on the 21st. Because writing is one of my principal spiritual tools, it helps me deepen my awareness and gratitude for the gifts that are given to us each day, in the midst of all the tumult and discord we see around us on this planet. Without those gifts, our experience would be far more grim and difficult.

ice on our evergreens

Is there an “official” Nine Days of Solstice? No and yes. You can always find people asking questions like that. Sometimes it’s newcomers, wanting to “get it right” which is an impulse we can celebrate. But nobody needs permission for such things. Who would give it? The Ancient and Noble College of Druids? That’s fun to imagine — maybe a plot detail for a fantasy novel. How about a national government? Not for decades, if ever. And what would “official” mean? Wider recognition? Signs and decorations in public buildings? TV specials? News anchors on cable wishing each other “Happy Solstice”? Human interest stories about how others celebrate the Nine Days? Official lighting of candles or torches at public venues on each each of the Nine Days?

Yes, there could be pleasant acknowledgements of the season, ways to introduce children and young people and the Druid-adjacent and Druid-curious to its rhythms and dynamics. But the end-of-year holiday season is already crowded enough with numerous cultural events and celebrations. Many Druids already acknowledge and celebrate one or more other traditions. I find that acknowledging the days around a seasonal festival can provide useful private space for reflection and re-dedication. If the Nine Days of Solstice became a “thing” — if others celebrated it, too — that’s fine. But the initial impulse for me comes as an inner signal to pay attention.

Which, as someone said in an online forum recently, is 3/4 of Druidry.

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December Pentad

ONE

238 abandoned drafts, 727 posts / screenshot 9 December 2020

In many ways the posts here at A Druid Way comprise a spiritual memoir. They’re not really a “how-to” for Druidry, though I do post suggestions from time to time, if the nudge comes through persistently enough that something in my experience may hold value for others. (On the other hand, you should see my backlog of about 200+ rough drafts of posts that will never see publication.) But I don’t usually write a “How to Read the Ogham” or “Becoming a Priest of Lugh” or “Three Land-spirits You Can Work With” kind of post. Others do that more competently.

Instead, by digging into my own experiences for the energies and portals, avenues and worlds they open into, I hope to document one small part of the wild landscape we can walk as Druids. “Small” isn’t false modesty but simply spiritual fact, given the vastness of our inner worlds. I also try to ask hard questions, because to me they’re some of the most useful things for where I am now. Don’t worry — Druidry is tough enough. It can take it. And so can we. I know my practice, my amazement and my gratitude have all deepened as a consequence.

TWO

I take for a valuable triad the “Three Questions to Ask of a Deed”: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Rather than telling me what to do, this Triad turns me inward, prompting me to act with greater awareness of the spiritual identity of a person, of a situation. Often others can only see the action itself, not what led up to the moment of it, or what follows. Often I can say “yes” to two out of three points of the Triad, but that third Question will stop me in a most helpful way. And more than 33% of the time, it’s the Question of Kindness. The harsh letter of complaint to our used-car dealer I want to write, after over $3700 in repairs two months after we bought it, or the snarky comment to a stranger I just don’t need to make, especially over-caffeinated as I was — if a Triad can re-direct my energies to better purposes, it’s proven itself. All emotions are what they are — flows of energy. What I do with them, though — that’s my laboratory, my workshop, my opportunity, my spiritual arena. Molotov cocktail or spiritual illumination?

THREE

A private lane in southern Vermont/Tuesday, 8 Dec 2020.

There’s intermittent talk among Druids about signs and omens. “What do they mean? How can I tell?” I’ve noticed that the more compassionate and wiser listeners among us try to answer with some version of the following:

All things have multiple meanings. Some of them are part of consensus reality, and some are private and personal. We live in many worlds, and some of them are symbolic. If you had a bad or good experience with dogs, then a dog in a dream, or a vision, or on a solitary walk will mean something different for you than for the next person. Keeping a record of encounters, of signs and omens, can often help with understanding them, because patterns may emerge. Sometimes you will know. And sometimes you’ll need to be patient until you can see a pattern emerge.

In my more manic moments I test these responses with a potentially silly question to help me unpack them: “What does my wife mean, if I meet her unexpectedly when I’m out in our backyard?” The oddness of such a question helps reveal some of my attitudes about signs and omens. Does she “mean” anything? Yes and no. She’s a person like I am, and like the birds and trees and all the other beings in this cosmos that I may encounter. She has her own path, and while we’ve agreed out of love and shared interests and common goals to walk some of the same paths together, what she means to me isn’t all or even part of what “she means”. Or to put it another way, who she is is greater than “what she means”. Her existence can’t be contained in the definition of another person, even one who loves her, but by her going about her life, by the living of it.

FOUR

While signs and omens may exist partly or even wholly in our own subjective universes, I find that much (most? all?) of the physical world reflects the inner worlds. “As above, so below” is more than just a nice theory. (Sometimes you get the sense that the gods “really mean it” this time.)

Instructions for rituals or magic often include directions to “visualize”. For many that can be a challenge, so it’s helpful to have a physical map of an inner reality, something to get into your mind’s eye.

Part of the 3-mile walk we try to take a few times a week takes us past a neighbor’s maples, and the sugaring gear remains in place for the next season. Here then are the energy lines running from tree to tree, as they do between so many beings — in living color.

FIVE

From time to time Druidry (like Paganism generally) faces a critique, less common than it used to be, that it “has no ethics or moral principles”. Or if it does, they’re hedonistic and selfish. Fortunately, here we can heap some blame on old uncle Al, Aleister Crowley, with his widely bandied-about “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”, as if the sum total of all non-Christian thought amounted to a Nike commercial and “Just do it”.

That Crowley was talking about living from one’s True Will gets lost in all the noise, just like “You must be born again” too often gets turned into little more than emotional experience at a revival. That Crowley and Jesus might even be talking about something similarly transformative — that the spiritual terrain they both point to might be worth exploring so we begin to know it in person “with signs following” — such a thought might well rank up there on many people’s Top Ten Blasphemies list.

Apropos of this, you may have seen the recent ad(vert) for a video game featuring a pic of a CGI busty red-headed wench and the leering tagline “You’re allowed to do anything you want in this game!” As one commentator responded:

“Really, interactive porn grifter? I’m allowed to do ANYTHING I want in this game? Can I travel the world? Can I achieve self-actualization? Or do you assume that my imagination only extends as far as touching a cartoon boob? Because I’ll do that too, but there’s a lot of other shit I want!”

Rather than assuming all our wants and desires can be conveniently divided into pure and impure, or some other light/dark, good/bad dichotomy, why not employ the energy behind these surface manifestations to see what they look like in the other worlds? Sometimes the outer form of “what I want” overlays a very different contour on the inner map of who and what we are, and how far we extend into realms we didn’t know we walked in.

Or to frame it differently, what would my life look like if I operated under the postulate sometimes attributed to Chaos Magic — “Nothing is true and everything is permitted” — and which originates in the novel Alamut by Vladimir Bartol, also an inspiration for the book/film/game Assassin’s Creed? That theme and precept can fuel any number of thoughtful plunges into one’s assumptions and world-view.

And a Bonus SIX

Here we are, a little less than two weeks out from Yule / Solstice / Alban Arthan — that interval I keep noticing shimmers in my awareness whenever one of the “Great Eight” seasonal festivals approaches. Each of them has a pooling of forces and dynamics that calls to anyone who’s worked with that cycle of holy days — calls in varied ways. Is there an Inner Solstice taking place at or around the same time? A very good question for meditation. Would I like to join the inner celebration? Yes! Would you like to join me?

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Maa-usk and Taara-usk — Estonian Paganism

Indigenous spirituality draws its strength from what makes it “indigenous” — it comes from inside, not outside. It arises naturally on the land where we live, in the daily and sacred encounters people experience who live there. We breathe it in the air, and drink it in the water. No founder or prophet needs to arrive to announce its truth; no sacred scripture needs to proclaim its right way to live. These are other things, not “wrong”, but also not the same thing: they’re rooted in belief rather than practice.

We start where we are, by paying attention. That’s one reason so many common elements exist world-wide in indigenous forms of spirituality — why elders from different tribes, communities and nations can gather together and recognize in each other similar experiences of the power and spirit of place. They can speak with “one voice” because the Land does. It says similar things wherever we live. Listen! Do you hear its Song?

The Jumiois, a stylized cornflower and a symbol of Estonian nature spirituality. It is also the logo for the research and preservation efforts of Maavalla Koda “House of the Native Land”

I’ve written before about Romuva, the indigenous Lithuanian spirituality. To the north of Lithuania and Latvia, due south of Finland across the Baltic, lies Estonia, with its own flavours in Maausk “land-faith” and Taarausk “taara-faith“.

Like many of the nations that once comprised the Soviet bloc, with the fall of communism and its official atheism, Estonia enjoyed a re-opening to older native traditions and a revitalization of its national culture. Because a significant part of indigenous spirituality is “paying attention to where you live”, it’s also possible for humans to ignore place for a time, but that doesn’t cause place to disappear or cease to matter. For the same reason, we can always re-connect: it’s still there.

Entrance to Taamealusa Hiis, a sacred site (hiis) near Samma, Estonia, May 2019. / Photo courtesy of Religion News.

Encounter and learn the local gestures and practices, and you keep finding links to practices elsewhere. Sometimes journalists who help raise awareness about such connections are themselves perplexed by them, even as they report them. “While pagan and folk religions may seem archaic to the wider world, they are thriving across the Baltic states” notes a writer for a 2019 Religion News article. But often the “archaic” is part of just what people are seeking — something profoundly, instinctively human that we’ve been doing for centuries and millennia, out of a timeless natural awareness that the sacred is all around us. In that sense, the “archaic” is indeed “thriving”:

“Hiis” means “sacred grove” in Estonian. Past another wooden board with a runic symbol carved on it — it is customary to knock on this board — is a green clearing where visitors have tied ribbons around trees and placed eggs at their bases as a gift and left the dark remnants of a fire.

“All that is brought there has to be eaten there or burned in the ritual fire,” said 28-year-old Tõnu Rehela, who has been a member of Estonia’s nature-oriented, neopagan Maausk community since he was 16. “Through the fire, the gods eat. Through the holy tree, the gods drink.”

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The Case of the Missing P

The ogham alphabet, which some contemporary Druids and Pagans use in divination, served writers of early Irish for about half a millennium, starting in the 400s. The writing system consists of mostly straight lines, well-adapted for incising letters on wood and stone, which keep saying “we don’t do curves”.

Ogham stone, Rathass Church, Kerry, Ireland./Wikipedia Images.

You can read scholarly speculation about ogham’s origins here on Wikipedia and elsewhere. Accounts in the later medieval Lebor Gabala Erenn (“The Book of the Taking of Ireland”) and the Ogam Tracts variously attribute its origins to the god Ogma/Ogmios and to wise Celtic ancestors.

Among other modern writers, Robert Graves (1895-1985) launched the ogham into the modern world in his book, The White Goddess. Did he know what he was doing? Well, it’s subtitled A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. Depending on your point of view, that’s utterly contradictory, or an image of our common human reality. Things rarely have a single “cause” but instead are part of a web or network of beings and energies, each aspect or person or deity contributing its portion.

Whatever you make of its origins, as a proven divination system the ogham can open doors to insight.

But as a friend of mine recently discovered, it has some practical disadvantages in non-magical use. For one thing, it has no letter to represent p, in part because Irish had no need for a letter to represent this sound, which disappeared over the course of its development. Historical linguistics offers examples: Proto-Indo-European *pater “father” became early Irish *athir; PIE *pisk– “fish” became (modern) Irish iasc, and so on. (With Christianity, Irish came to adopt the Latin alphabet, convenient for all the words beginning with p that it eventually borrowed from Latin.)

I find in these things some helpful reminders. Sometimes what works — works well, works wonderfully — on one level of reality may not fit well or at all on another level. Deploying the gift of a magical alphabet like ogham, I might discover something profound about my purpose in this life, but not be able to write the word “purpose” using that same alphabet.

Though a p is a possible sound, you might say, I may not need it in particular — there are other sounds, a whole spectrum. (Arabic, for instance, doesn’t have a p either, and gets along fine. From the perspective of many other languages, how can English speakers possibly have a language without the “raspy throat sound” in Bach or Ḥanukkah? [That’s a velar or pharygneal fricative, if you want to show off.] English used to have that sound — the evidence lies in all those archaic spellings with -gh- like “night, light, sought, though, bright, laugh” etc. And the way languages keep changing, we could one day have that sound back again.)

I fall into a ready trap if I expect the cosmos to line up obediently according to my partial understanding of it. (Don’t ask me how many times I’ve had to re-learn that lesson. And by the looks of things, I’m not yet done, either.) When I asked Ogma for help with a constructed Celtic language, I attempted to align with an energy connected to language and words. The results reflect both the blessing the god was willing to offer, and also my human effort. Centuries from now, if someone attempts to “explain the origins” of “my” language, could they even come close to the muddy, messy reality of human interest, a spiritual door opening, a gift of inspiration, some experience with Celtic languages, time dedicated to manifestation, and who knows what else in the mix? I may want my magic pure and my life comprehensible, but they refuse to cooperate.

Maybe because the p’s are missing.

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