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Hail! — Part 2   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 ]

Woodenbreath makes a valuable point in his recent comment: “Why I didn’t write anything down, was because I’ve been caught in a deep feeling, like a meditation”. Me too. That in fact was my first experience, a signal that alerted me to things in words that became part of this two-part reflection.

You’ll obviously experience the video in Part 1 in different ways, depending on your previous life experience — and that itself is a valuable guide and reminder. In so much of human experience, “There’s no OSFA” — no ‘one size fits all’. Half of living is finding out and learning how — and how much — we need to adapt what we encounter to our own lives and circumstances. And another third is learning who to ignore and who to listen to for guidance. ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’, said the wise Galilean, who might be expected to know what he was talking about. I’ve never encountered the sacred in the abstract, only in forms I can recognize, accept, work with. If it exists, it’s probably already embodied in my life.

rhododendrons, front lawn

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Here are some of my notes and responses to the video in part 1. No real order here, because.

A single voice begins the music.

Sometimes I sing alone because I am alone. But mysteriously, the sound of a solitary so often echoes and resounds and draws others. In a paradox of the sacred, the more inward-focused I am, at times, the stronger the outward call I make to others who resonate with me. Others join the solo voice in community. Sometimes I hear those already singing with me, if I listen. And they may not always be human. If we’re Druids, the chances rise to very high that many of the voices will be other-kin.

The elements

Air, and song, inspiration. The pauses, silences and rhythms that make up music, especially music of the voice. The drone in the background, the awen always singing to us. The earth beneath the feet of the pilgrim walking, the stones she caresses so intimately, the body itself, in postures of reverence. Water, the surf against the shore, the springs and rivers, the hand dipping into the water, the mist. Fire, the human spirit, the sun glimpsed through the mist at the end, the red of the scarf or shawl on the pilgrim’s shoulders that wants to carry symbolic weight, if we let it. Earth my body, water my blood, air my breath and fire my spirit. The old chant still, deep in us.

Pilgrimage

An ancient practice, most apt and fit for our practice today. Many of us have a favorite walk. Pilgrimage. An annual or every-decade reunion. Pilgrimage. A daily practice. Pilgrimage. Coffee or tea each morning or afternoon or evening at a longed-for hour. A small pilgrimage of calm and centering.

Grounding

I loved the physical intimacy of touch in this video. Again and again the imagery is of grounding. Literal groundedness, feet touching the earth. Seeking out grounding, touching the stones. Bowing before the holy to touch the earth. Groundedness in chant and devotion and song. Groundedness in color, in taking in all the hues of our worlds. Acknowledgement of our own bodies, made of heavy, earthed substance.

Color

We’re beings that can perceive color, so it’s little surprise that colors evoke so much for us. How can we use color as part of sacramental experience? Many churches deploy color and changes of color as part of their liturgical year. Some Druids do the same.

A holy mountain

Every culture has one or more. “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence comes my help”, goes a prayer from the Jewish Bible. A good contemplation seed. In form, the holy mountain is often a kind of altar. Most of us have one of those, concealed as something else. A corner of the nightstand, or of the desk, part or all of a shelf, a cupboard, a backyard statue or rock or stone circle. If I don’t have one, and I feel the call to start one, it’s easy to begin right now.

Barefoot

Children know this practice instinctively, as soon as school is done or summer starts, as soon as the car door opens at the beach or grassy park. Only connect, writes E . M. Forster. The pilgrim in the video walks barefoot.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,/ And every common bush afire with God,/ But only he who sees takes off his shoes … Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Another contemplation seed. Or reverse a truth to test it, stretch it: Only those who take off their shoes may see

Gesture

The praying hands of the vocalist partway through. The postures and gestures we make all our days. The prostration before the boulder. The raised arms to the air, the sun, the bird. The arms outstretched at the closing.

Altars and the Bardic Arts

What altar do I currently worship at? (Everybody has at least one.) Can I discern its shape? Do I worship there consciously or unconsciously? Is this a good altar for me? The bard has words, voice, chant, song, music, inspiration to explore other altars, to feel their shape, sample and savour them. The shape of the altar is the shape of your own consciousness, says one of the Wise. The bards carry us with them on their journeys, so that we may choose, if we wish, to begin to explore on our own.

Veil, clothing, fog

What do I veil, and how? What was veiled that has now become clearer to me? Which veils do I respect, and which do I need to part and pass through?

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Posted 30 June 2021 by adruidway in Druidry, spiritual practice

Tagged with ,

Hail! — Part 1   2 comments

[Part 1 | Part 2 ]

First, music and image. On June 21, the Irish group Rainbow Starlight released the ‘Hail Mary’ in Irish, set to new music.

Before you bother with anything that I have to say about this video, make a gift to yourself and write down your own reactions, thoughts, experiences. Listen a second or third time. (And obviously if you’ve experienced negative things surrounding Christianity, and this prayer to the Mother in a Christian guise remains inaccessible to you, claim your own wisdom by all means, and go do something else that heals and helps.)

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I’m writing about this because words are a way I’ve used all my life to manifest what is speaking to me. And this video feels to me, among all the other things it is and can be, one example of a way forward, of manifesting the solstice blessings we’ve received, even of making ourselves aware of them in the first place, which is often the first needful step in manifestation. The video, in other words, suggests a practice.

But it’s all in Irish! Yes it is. I don’t know Irish, beyond a few words. I know enough to recognize a text as Irish, and I know how the language works linguistically as one of the six surviving Celtic tongues. Like many, I respond to its beauty as a vehicle for song. Traditional Irish music, prominently featuring many women as vocalists, can carry a current often missing in much of the contemporary musical scene. For lack of a better word, we can name that current the mystical, the introspective, the inward-facing. Though that isn’t exactly right, either. In this song, a profoundly Druidic meditation, we can experience it directly, as it opens into an engagement with a landscape.

After you’ve gotten down in writing — a whole practice in itself — your thoughts, experiences, insights, etc, consider how the video points toward a practice.

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If you opted not to write down your experience with the video, ask yourself why. Then at least write down your answer, and return to it to ponder it more than once.

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Sé do bheatha, a Mhuire,
atá lán de ghrásta,
Tá an Tiarna leat.
Is beannaithe thú idir mná,
Agus is beannaithe toradh do bhroinne; Íosa.
A Naomh-Mhuire,
a Mháthair Dé,
guigh orainn na peacaigh,
anois, agus ar uair ár mbáis.

Amen.

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With my breath, with the tide beating on my shores, let me begin.

More in Part 2.

Solstice glow, “if our lake be still”

Still basking in Solstice glow, or want to be? You can find several hours of programming on Youtube from the recent OBOD Solstice celebration (links to separate videos follow), including the ritual itself, as well as talks by Ronald Hutton on “Sacred Waters” (around the 29:00 mark), John Matthews on “Druids and Fairies?“, Penny Billington on “Sacred Landscapes“, and the Eisteddfod (performing arts) portion. Eimear Burke, Chosen Chief of the order, opens the event (4:00 mark), then introduces Damh the Bard (7:00 mark) who as the Order’s Pendragon briefly describes what the typical in-person event feels like in Glastonbury, and reveals the Order’s sword:

Behold this, our Order’s sword, drawn from the lake of still meditation and returned to it again, ever sharp and ever with us, if our lake be still.

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One of the profound bardic gifts is the discovery (accessible to anyone, more perceptible with some training) that what we first imagine, or encounter in the form of image or metaphor, can take on full reality in the other worlds. (It may manifest here as well, in poems, songs, crafts, groves, meditations, changed lives.) Are we creating it, or did it always exist, waiting to be realized? An important question, one to be answered individually through repeated experience with different worlds and their energies and realities. But even more vital is the effect on us of such experiences. They link us to what humans have always experienced, as Hutton’s and Matthews’ and Billington’s talks attest in their own ways.

The efforts and experiences of others across time pool with our own. Sometimes the solitary Druid may experience this sense of connection more vividly than the member of an active grove. The Sword is ever sharp and ever with us, if our lake be still.

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You can hear an interview on the most recent episode (# 171) of Druidcast with Dana O’Driscoll, author of Sacred Actions which I recently reviewed here. In the interview Dana talks with the same grounded, practical, wise insight her book offers and which has won her devoted blog readers at The Druid’s Garden. (The interview begins around the 10:50 mark.)

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Welcome to our newest visitor from Cuba!

Solstice — The Standing Sun

Whether North or South, Summer or Winter, the path the sun takes from the earth’s perspective stays virtually unchanged for some days on either side of the Solstice. Solstice is literally “standing sun”.

Each summer we witness the sun rising higher each day, reaching its highest point at the summer solstice and dropping to its lowest in the winter. For these Solstice days, then, we can rest and take shelter in one of the still points of the year. We can quite rightly speak of a solstice season. Even from the vantage point of three or four days on either side of a solstice, any change in the sun’s path is still difficult to detect without sophisticated instruments.

Dawn and twilight can be good times to listen deeply and draw in this energy. If it’s overcast where you are, or too hot today, there’s tomorrow or the next day. These liminal intervals, these times of transition, offer us both metaphorical and literal pauses in the flow. The Still Point of Solstice is more properly a wider swath of stillness laid down twice a year.

Marvelous things emerge from Solstice stillness!

Devil’s Paintbrush, Solstice 2021

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Mid-Year Solstice 2021

Blessed Solstice! I was searching for a term for the solstices that would include what the sun is up to in both North and South, and “Mid-Year” and “End-Year” make do until I find better ones.

This Farmer’s Almanac pic helps — one of the clearer and more informative diagrams I’ve encountered:

I’ve written several posts on the Solstice, just about evenly distributed between winter and summer, and assembled links to a few of them below:

Nine Days of Solstice

Solstices Before Us

Gifts of Solstice (a 3-parter)

Solstice Season 2020

13 Gift-flames for Solstice Solitaries

May you find the warmth and illumination you need burning in your heart.

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Review of Dana O’Driscoll’s Sacred Actions

Dana O’Driscoll’s new book Sacred Actions (Atglen, PA: Redfeather, 2021) offers its own best “short take” in its apt subtitle: “Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Sustainable Practices”.

[You can hear an interview with Dana on Druidcast episode 171, beginning around the 10:50 mark.]

Even if you’re not familiar with O’Driscoll’s wonderful blog, you’ll quickly recognize that this is an earned book. The author has lived everything she writes about (with her blog as a practicum for those wanting more), the book is rich in anecdote, and in turn that means you can test and try out everything and adapt it to your own life and circumstances. Here there’s no fluff or filler — the feel of the book is workshop — you want to get your hands dirty doing at least some of these things right now. Yesterday we picked strawberries at our local CSA (still massaging our backs this morning), and we enjoyed the first fruits of the season knowing how they grew, and who planted them, half a dozen miles from where we live. Eating strawberry shortcake: sacred action!

Druidry and Pagan practice more widely take many forms — that is one of their strengths. At the core of these life-ways, however, is a practice. While it’s possible to be an armchair Pagan or Druid, sacred action characterizes Druidry and Paganism at their best and most alive. Action, practice, doing all draw us into fuller life with the earth, air and water all around us. (We supply the fire, or not, through our choices.)

A poem I read years ago that I can’t track down now has as its last line “what it is you spent your life loving”. O’Driscoll’s book sends ripples of dissatisfaction through me — in a good way, because you journey with the author asking yourself that question and examining the effects of your answers all around you. The very good news is how many of these sacred actions are things I can begin today. Alternative ways to compost, to approach garden layout, to engage with the community, they’re here, along with so much else: ritual, recipe, reflection. But more significantly, this is a book that helps you find places for other how-to’s you’ve amassed by providing a view from the Tower, from the treetops, from the mountain. I keep being struck at how comprehensive the vision of the book is. O’Driscoll’s reach and grasp, appropriate to the Archdruid of AODA, are wide.

We’re a few days out from summer solstice (winter for folks down under) — both very apt times to think about food, its scarcity and abundance. O’Driscoll’s chapter 5 is “Summer Solstice: Food and Nourishment”. The middle class in the West has grown so accustomed to “what I want when I want it” that we’ve often lost touch with the seasonal cycles, and how mindfully the abundance of one season can be stored, preserved and cherished to feed us through other seasons. It’s a deep satisfaction to eat the ample summer and especially autumnal foods of pumpkins, squash, potatoes, and nuts through the winter, their nutrient riches beautifully aligning with our hunger for calories against the cold. That this is also spiritual act matters just as much. Home preservation of foods, an art within living memory of our parents and grandparents, if not a part of our own lives, is a particular skill that we can revive and benefit from, when foods are abundant, and store against times of scarcity.

One of O’Driscoll’s signal achievements in this book is to remind us practically and repeatedly and inspiringly how we already embody the sacred in what we do each day. We are called and re-called to our sacred human task of mediation. The opening paragraph of the Introduction is a declaration:

Every human being has an innate understanding of the sacred: it’s that feeling of reverence that we get when we enter an old-growth forest, it’s the wonder we feel when viewing a fresh snowfall, and it’s the magic of the amazing Milky Way in the night sky. And those of us drawn to Earth-based and pagan paths are drawn to building and establishing that sacred connection. Our sense of the sacred emerges through interaction between ourselves and our surroundings. It is through the combining of human reverence and thoughtful action with the outer energies of the land that the sacred is awakened. Another way we might think about the sacred is that it occurs when humans are living in harmony and balance with the living Earth, rather than living removed from it (pg. 12).

The sacred is what we do, as well as what we invite and welcome, throughout our lives. How much is up to us.

O’Driscoll’s first chapter launches us with “The Winter Solstice: The Ethics of Care”. In an earth-centered book, we might find that an odd season to begin. Why not with spring, or Samhain / Samhuinne, the traditional Celtic end of the old year and start of the new? North or south, solstice feels like an extreme — and that is the part of its character O’Driscoll wants to engage:

We begin our journey at the darkest point of the year … at the point when the light returned to the world, we are hoping, working, praying, believing, and enacting a better tomorrow. This is the energy of the winter solstice: the time when at the moment of utmost darkness, the light glimmers with the promise to return. The light of our sacred action is what I call the ethics of care … Most of today’s problems are rooted in a lack of care, compassion and connection for ourselves, for others and for the living Earth and all of her inhabitants (pg. 27).

With a wise spiritual diagnosis in hand, doors open. I can work in the smallest parts of my life, knowing I needn’t wait for the Powers That Be to “do something”. O’Driscoll notes, “When doing any work in the community, I have found it to be very forthcoming about where you are in your own lifestyle shifts. I talk about my struggles at various points with areas I am still working to change” (pg. 194). Or one of the Wise observes, “To volunteer from a position of strength is not to know what holiness is all about”.

O’Driscoll’s conclusion follows from the rest of the book: “we need people to do what they can, using the best aspects of their own contexts to make it happen” (pg. 232). “The important thing is starting the journey and making the decision to walk it each day”.

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Five for May

1 — GOLDEN WEEK

When I lived and worked in Japan in the 90s, I became familiar with a major Japanese holiday period called Ōgon Shūkan or Golden Week. It’s actually a cluster of holidays from late April through the first week in May, and a popular time for travel. Many people have paid leave, and many companies shut down completely as employees depart.

Here in Vermont the pollen has been so heavy that this last week of unusually warm weather has felt like our own Golden Week. Our car lay under a dusting of it this morning.

Pollen on our car windshield and hood this a.m.

What’s your earth doing locally? How do you already find yourself celebrating it, honoring it, living in it? How can you extend that, personalize it, make it more conscious?

2 — 750

A month ago I recently posted for the 750th time here at A Druid Way. The month-long interlude between then and now has been a break I needed. Not sure I can sustain this blog to 1000 posts, but there’s a completeness in such a goal far beyond anything I envisioned when I launched this blog a decade ago. Your comments and encouragement continue to matter!

3 — A REVIEW in the WORKS

Start work on one review, I find, and other books arrive, looking for their turn.

I’m working on a review of Paul Cudby’s The Shaken Path: A Christian Priest’s Exploration of Modern Pagan Belief and Practice, published in 2017 and still worth reflecting on. Balanced, thoughtful — a good model for future writers, and a book to hand Christian friends and family.

And just today New World Witchery (Llewellyn, 2021) materialized in the mail, a response to a summons as magical as any a mage performs. The thick, juicy volume now sits on my desk, richly beguiling.

Thumb ready to open the book!

4 — DEALING with our “What About’s?”

Often new Druids are beset with questions. The wide world! Here, the meadows open, glorious with leafing things, beasts gazing just beyond the rise, and birds calling. Or there, the forest path beckons, a mysterious fresh scent drawing you on. Or on the other side, wilderness, desert, or seashore. Each one calls with a yearning that matches our own.

Recently on a Druid forum I offered what I’ve learned over time, that’s become a kind of five-point Druid mantra for me. First, go with what works. Second, experiment as you are guided. Third, learn from every source that runs away slower than you can follow. Fourth, tune to the Awen. Fifth, trust that love will guide you from star to star.

5 — BELTANE, and SOLSTICE

Because we’re about three weeks after Beltane, its energies swirling around us, and a month out from Solstice. Always each holy day rouses me from whatever I’ve been doing and says “Pay attention!”

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Posted 20 May 2021 by adruidway in awen, Beltane, blogging, book review, Druidry

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Flames of Bealtaine

Search “Beltane” and “Bealtaine”, and one of the top results to come back is “How is Beltane celebrated?” People want to know the how, the available elements for crafting a meaningful life from any source that won’t run away.

One source that modern Druidry has adopted is working with the four seasonal festivals of the ancient Celts — Imbolc, Beltane, Lunasa and Samhain. Each carries fire symbolism. But more than the symbol is the thing itself. Fire is an intermediary — a palpable physical thing, it’s both animate and insubstantial — a beautiful representation of the cosmos at its most alive and mysterious. Gather with friends around a fire and you participate in a human action tens of thousands of years old. In these challenging times, mirroring our ancestors’ experiences through the centuries, a fire says “we’re still here”.

Much of our human experience consists of defining our spaces and places, and the awareness we bring to them. At its heart, Druidry is a kind of continual prayer: O let me wake into the holy in every moment.

This is sacred time, go the words of standard OBOD ritual. This is sacred space. We name it to remind ourselves, yes — to evoke it through intention and attention — but also to recognize what’s already there. We can create sacred space because sacred space has shaped us from birth. It’s our heritage, our birthright, unless we give it away.

So we call it back.

“One of the most common responses I see to the idea of developing a daily practice”, Teo Bishop writes, “is that there is no time. This assumes that a practice must be a long, complicated ritual, full of gestures and ritual phrases. It paints a practice as yet another way that the struggle of our day to day life is a weight on our shoulders.

But the daily practice can be framed another way.

Let it begin with something small. Light a candle, take one, deep breath, then extinguish the flame.

That’s all.

It won’t take but a second”.

Bishop wrote the blogpost I quote above for the autumn equinox. But fire is good for any time. As mage and author Josephine McCarthy describes it,

My deepest personal experience of that is with the lighting and tuning of the candle flame. The intent to light a candle to prepare the space for a ritual act developed from that simple stance, to an act of bringing into physical manifestation an elemental expression that lights through all worlds and all times: it becomes the light of divinity within everything (J. McCarthy. Magical Knowledge, pg. 70).

As a focus for meditation, for out-of-body work, for reverence, for kindling the spirit in times of heaviness and despair, fire has no equal.

It’s very old, this focus on fire. (“Focus” itself is an old word for “hearth” or “altar”. We make an altar of what we focus on). We read in the Rig-Veda 1.26.8, “For when the gods have a good fire, they bring us what we wish for. Let us pray with a good fire”.

One way to understand this passage, of course, says simply that “if we build it, they will come”. On occasion that’s exactly right. Dedication is its own reward. Often, though, the arrival of gods lies in our building — the impulse to light the fire, the desire for kindling light and flame, is itself divine presence. We manifest the divine, or banish it, by choice, by our actions in each moment. Magicians, every one of us.

We tend, under the influence of credal religions and orthodox examples where belief is central, to feel that if we don’t “believe” in something, then it doesn’t exist. We create our reality, the zeitgeist tells us. And that’s beautifully and abundantly true in ways that deserve our respect and exploration — as long as we remember others are creating their realities, too. In these times of covid, we’re reminded forcefully of the consensus reality we all play a part in creating, one where other things and people have existence and significance — and impact our lives — whether or not we “believe” in them.

Fire is even more important then, as a witness. No matter the dark, life and light also exist and have their say. One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother. Fire can assist us with that transition — can help bring it about.

We need the sacrament of fire.

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A Local Druidry

What would a local Druidry look like if I built it from the ground up, from what I can perceive today, right now? What do I bring to this moment? What does this moment bring to me?

daffodils waiting, saying more than any blogpost can …

After all, Druidry begins like most spiritual paths with “Here I am — here we all are. Now what?”

One of the most obvious things we can acknowledge and celebrate is day and night. A walk at sunrise and sunset. Standing in the doorway or at a window, facing east at dawn or early morning, west at sundown or in the early evening. A photo or picture on the wall, a small shrine to the direction. A prayer, song, chant, charm or rhyme, for these times, or for just after waking, just before sleep. Write/collect a set of them, to vary them according to season or month or intention.

We learn to “curate our consciousness”. Because if I don’t, plenty of others will jump at the chance, telling me how to feel, what to think, what to buy, where and how to live. (Half of Druidry is exploring ways of using my life for the best purposes I can choose.)

What does this attention bring me? What do I see and hear, feel and smell and touch? What touches me?

crocuses crocusing

Perhaps some other part of the cycles of your life interests you, or draws your attention. Maybe your lunch-hour or midday is most significant in your schedule. Or perhaps returning home each day after work. The specific rhythms of our lives offer an excellent place to offer honor and gratitude for their gifts, to acknowledge exchanges of energy, to honor the life in them. They’re ours, after all — we’re unique beings in unique circumstances, so why not build our practice from these experiences?

We may justifiably rebel from the ordinary, the mundane and humdrum and commonplace — until we find a key to transform them.

Waiting for that key … If you’re like me and practically everyone else on this planet, we can be quite passive toward our own lives, waiting for “something to happen”, till we begin to see how much we shape our experience by assumption and attitude and attention. A small step toward “making things happen” will have effects all out of proportion to its beginnings. Doubt it? Try it out and document your experiences. Yes, you’re on your way, a key in hand.

What keys are the apparent, mundane, ordinary facts of my life trying to hand me? Where am I turning them away? Again, rather than judgment, treat it as the story-line out of a fairy-tale. “I am the seventh child of the seventh child, and this time I will take the key … when all my sisters and brothers and cousins turned away …” Because right now the key awaits in the most unlikely likely place.

“The highest good is like water” — Tao Te Ching

What am I looking at right now, and does it deserve my attention, my time? What can I shape and beautify and charge with my desire and intention and joy? Because if I don’t, I’m simply yielding the floor to the desires and attentions of others, and they’re almost never more fitting for my life than my own. Not wrong, or bad or “evil”, necessarily — just not as appropriate. Bless them and let them go. Apply a triad to actions, a “sieve for consciousness” like one attributed to Rumi: “Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?”

Sifting priorities. The time I spend online can be a sample illustration of this powerful tool. Because it affords a magnificent and piercing sieve of my actions and intentions and will. Let me log on consciously, with a blessing on my interactions. Let me stay as long as I need to, in order to check in with those I care about, to make worthwhile posts and comments. Let me pass by any distractions that don’t serve me. No judgment, just choice in action. Let me log off with another blessing.

The weather both today and seasonally invites me to other celebrations. Beltane in the wings …

Full moon, waxing, waning, new — we can also make attention to our sister planet part of our Druid practice, if we choose. What phase of the lunar cycle calls to you? Or if none do, pass by, without judgment, to where you are called.

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Mooning the Druid, Druiding the Moon

Ready or not, here I come! says Moon, childhood companion of so many days and nights.

According to a handy online app, some 760 full moons have lit the sky since I arrived in this incarnation. How many of them have I even noticed? Of those, how many have I celebrated? Does that number matter? Or is celebration of what is, right now, a better focus?

It’s good to see readership for “Towards a Full Moon Ritual” climb each month in the days before a full moon. More of us seek out the “how” — we often have some sense of the “what” already. That post, and many others here, arose from my experiences of less and more effective ritual. Some of the “best” rituals are the ones that “didn’t work”, that provoked inquiry, or reflection that in spite of “appearances”, something happened that matters. Maybe I “didn’t feel it”, but it felt me, changed me in ways that the ritual helped shape. Experience remains the supreme teacher. (If you don’t believe it, just scan the day’s headlines. Slow learners, every one of us.)

How bright the darkness, how dark the light …

Google “What does the moon mean?” — because you’re bored, because procrastination is better than anything else on offer right now, because Google can entertain with such questions and their crowd-sourcing answers — and the first result may tell you something like “The moon is a feminine symbol”. Really? That would be news to the Anglo-Saxons a millennium ago. To speakers of Old English, the sun sēo sunne is feminine, and the moon se mōna is masculine. Ever hear of the Man in the Moon? Or consider the image of a woman some have identified as Mary in Revelation 12, “clothed with the sun …”

When we Druid the moon, we can discover our meanings, plural. When things mean, it’s we who are “doing the meaning”, after all. For if meanings inhere in things independently of our perception, where do they come from? Does each thing arrive on the scene with a full set of ’em, hanging off them like holiday decorations? Does the moon “represent a feminine symbol” to last night’s owl? Or to the pines and hemlocks swaying in the wind out my window right now, as a cold front works its way through the northeastern U.S.? Is the moon “meaningful” only to humans?

I stand in moonlight as I sing.
Moonlight and shadow make a ring.
The moon could mean most anything —
don’t wait to find out …

That’s better. Too much thought, not enough song. Wait to find out and I could wait a long time. But song — that leads me straight to the heart of things.

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Often the moon is more of a mood than a meaning. There it is, mooning us all month long, silver arrows lodging in our hearts. Because some months, basking in moonlight may be all the ritual you need.

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Here we are, just past the Equinox, just past Emnight [1 | 2]. Doth the moon shine that night we play our play? asks Snout in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And Bottom answers, Find out moonshine, find out moonshine! — some of the best advice anyone could give me, whatever my season.

Moonlight is my ritual, says the Moon-Druid. Let the Moon sing me, the whole dream long.

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Welcome, new visitor from Ecuador!

Awen’s Music

Recently there was a heartfelt inquiry on a Druid forum asking for suggestions for adapting to a new home in an unfamiliar region. We all face this challenge in some form, either connecting to a landscape with ancestral presences, or finding our way in a new place. And how many times must our ancestors also have faced a similar experience?

Other helpful responses from commenters included making offerings, walking the land, asking for guidance, and — because Kris Hughes’ marvelous new book is still buzzing in my awareness — here’s this edited version of my response.

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My instinct is to begin with individuals, along the lines some others have described. That particular tree, this stone, that stream, and so on. Often they can be an individual welcome-point. (Not all trees pay attention equally, at least where I live. Some don’t talk as much, either, while some talk a lot.)

Kris Hughes writes wonderfully about this in his latest book, Cerridwen: Celtic Goddess of Inspiration:

“I recall quite vividly a workshop where I was given the task to go and speak to a tree and glean any wisdom from it or anything indicative of communication. I failed miserably … How could I be a Pagan if I couldn’t speak to trees?”

“It took one sentence from someone completely unrelated to trees or Paganism to transform the way I perceived communication. It was a Welsh documentary about Bardism, and within it, one of the interviewees casually said that regardless of how different we may perceive ourselves to be from any other life form, we all have one thing in common: we all sing the song of Awen. The Awen’s music is the same in everyone and everything, it is the lyrics that differ according to one’s experience. The resulting song is unique, and it is the tool by which the Awen and, in turn, the universe experiences itself through the countless windows of expression. So I took to thinking that if I contain the music of Awen, then so would that rowan tree I was trying desperately to communicate with. The lyrics, of course, would be different, mine based on the fact that I am a human being … But how on earth would I hear her song?”

“It still didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I needed to do something that would bridge that logical side of my mind with the subtle, invisible spectrum. And the answer to that was to sing” (pgs. 241-242).

So I sing to the trees and the stones, the waters and the land.

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Greetings to a first-time visitor from the Dominican Republic. (I find the flag counter app in the sidebar a great reminder every time I see it that Druidry and an interest in understanding and honoring and celebrating our home are worldwide.)

Apparent Worlds and “Druid Choice”

There’s been a lot of talk in recent decades about choice, and about freedom. Do we know what these things are, or how to perceive them? And if we know and perceive them, what do we do with them? What will we create?

Spring Dreaming … 15 Mar 2021

“As this circle is cast, the enchantment of the apparent world subsides”, says the first part of standard OBOD ritual. These are the words we hear at the same time we see — feel — hear — another Druid physically creating a ritual circle. The ritualist’s circular movement achieves this, along with any intention that person has as they cast the circle. The ritualist doesn’t stand alone, but enjoys the help of anyone else participating, with or without skin on. Visualizing, intending, choosing, celebrating, focusing energy, inviting the circle to manifest. Seeing and sensing it do so.

Any participants in the ritual are already standing in a circle before they hear the words — a kind of reversal of the usual affirmation: as below, so above. The physical reality of people gathered at the event precedes the circle that will be completed inwardly. You might see this as a Druid version of “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”. Or in fact is this too part of the enchantment — that we may confuse outer and inner, or think that one “precedes” and the other “follows”? Are they, or can they be, facets of the same thing, standing outside time even as they manifest within it?

Each person participating may also hear and experience the “subsiding of the apparent world” differently: as a gentle suggestion, or as a simple statement of fact. Or maybe it’s a ritual assumption, something “you do during ritual”. Or perhaps it’s “just words, like all the rest of the ritual”, a kind of communal game or sport or play: ritual theater. Or it’s an observation about transformation and magic. Each of us inhabits multiple apparent worlds already. Literally, worlds that appear to us, that invite or seduce or beguile or convince us in turn, that lure us with promise of their own particular enchantments. If they appear, they also may disappear. Ritual invites us into this possibility of choice and transformation, suggesting we may choose and create more consciously and intentionally. (We may just need to choose an appropriate world, rather than insist on forcing one that may not be the best stage for manifesting a particular choice.)

Which worlds deserve my attention? Which one(s) am I in at the present moment? Can I achieve my purposes best by focusing on this particular world, or are there others where I may be freer to act and to fulfill my intentions more joyously? Does one need to recede so I can better focus on others?

“Come! Be a physical body, experience touch and time, change and pleasure, death and birth, loss and love,” one world invites us. “Ah! Wear a body of light, and move across the cosmos to serve where you are needed”, sings another world. “Won’t you join others in their quest to X?” whispers a third.

Or if this is the only world there is, then when the “apparent world” fades, what’s left? Where am I? Do I jump into “ritual vertigo” if I let go of this world? Is ritual in fact “safe”? And so I enter yet another world with its own answers to such questions, if I choose to accept them.

One link, or common thread, or clue, or all three at once and more besides, for me anyway, rests in the awen. As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, this is the longest practice I’ve kept up, to enter the world of primordial sound and creativity.

As with most Druid practices, this isn’t one that requires me to believe anything, but simply do something. Over time I may well come to believe certain things, much as someone who has seen the sun rise in the east for decades might begin to be confident it will to do so again tomorrow. I can’t “prove” it, but proof just isn’t all that interesting to me anymore. There are much better things to focus on, more interesting and deserving worlds to choose.

In his new book Cerridwen: Celtic Goddess of Inspiration, Kristoffer Hughes notes that when we enter this soundscape and world of awen, “several things will happen on a number of levels. On a physiological level, something particularly magical happens with the systems of your body. Song and singing profoundly affects almost all of our senses, and the vibratory quality of the sound is particularly affecting, having direct action on the cells of your body…” (pg. 243). He goes on to explore other effects of awen as a practice, on other levels, as a way to communicate with life and lives. Even a little singing or chanting can produce results.

I return yet again to an observation by Philip Carr-Gomm which strikes me as uncommon good sense in these challenging times:

Try opening to Awen not when it’s easy, but when it’s difficult: not when you can be still and nothing is disturbing you, but when there’s chaos around you, and life is far from easy. See if you can find Awen in those moments. It’s harder, much harder, but when you do, it’s like walking through a doorway in a grimy city street to discover a secret garden that has always been there – quiet and tranquil, an oasis of calm and beauty. One way to do this, is just to tell yourself gently “Stop!” Life can be so demanding, so entrancing, that it carries us away, and we get pulled off-centre. If we tell ourselves to stop for a moment, this gives us the opportunity to stop identifying with the drama around us, and to come back to a sense of ourselves, of the innate stillness within our being. And then, sometimes, we are rewarded with Awen at precisely this moment.

Rather than judging one world as “good” and another as “bad”, I can simply note if I’m pulled off-center while I’m in it. (Sometimes the distraction is the point!) If you’re like me, you may only realize this after the fact. Then I ask if that’s what I want. If I’m pulled away from myself, and if I’ve identified with the drama around me, rather than with what I am, I can test a world further: can I act freely and creatively as the presence of awen in this moment? The awen I sing, from the deep I bring it, sings Taliesin. Can I do that right now? Can I come back to a sense of myself and act in my best interests?

If I can, the way of awen is a good way for me. And if I can’t? Then the way of awen might be a good way for me …

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This post has offered a number of seeds for contemplation and practice. As we near the equinox, a time of balance, they can give us fruitful ways to manifest and mirror what the seasons are doing around us.

Review of K. Hughes’ “Cerridwen” — Part 2

Part 2 — because how can a book of lore that also offers a path of initiation and suggestions for a regular practice be properly reviewed in a single take?

Kristoffer Hughes has helpfully made Youtube recordings of some of the Welsh that appears in this book, because the sound of the language is one approach among others to entering into sacred space with the goddess. As of today, there are four videos on his Youtube channel: “Ritual to meet Cerridwen”, “Welsh ritual phrases”, “Guide to Welsh pronunciation”, and “Cerridwen: glossary of words”.

The dedication page is brief: I Cerridwen — Mam yr Awen: “To Cerridwen — Mother of Awen”. And because she is Mother, Kris reminds us, we are Plant Cerridwen — the children of Cerridwen.

All of us, whether we’re Welsh or not? Of course. But a caveat … As Kris notes in the opening paragraphs of his first chapter, “The Quest for Cerridwen”:

The current New Age trend of spiritual commercialism has dissected the mysteries to their component parts … This has profoundly affected our relationship with the mysteries … The permanent individuation of the gods to the exclusion of the landscape in which they exist does them a disservice, for the landscape inspires and breathes life into the divine … (pgs. 1-2).

Yes, those wishing to enter relationship with Cerridwen and gain initiatory wisdom and insight from her mysteries can do so anywhere. No, she is not “a universal goddess, never mind what we call her”. So if we wish to avoid “damage to an archetype” as Kris calls it, a real possibility if we wield our indifference like a blunt instrument, and thereby miss much that Cerridwen asks of us and offers in return, there are several things we can put into practice. One that should come as no surprise is observance of the Wheel of the Year.

Such observance “causes us to stop, take heed, and observe a world that we believe we are familiar with. To those who fully engage, they begin to sense more to the world than first meets the eye” (pg. 202). The “apparent world fades”, as OBOD standard ritual reminds us — a world largely created by the inner chatter that, unchecked, fills our waking hours. “To sense the subtle and perceive the space between spaces that connects all beings, we must learn to be still and identify that space within our own beings. In my tradition we have a name for this process: we call it finding one’s taw” (pg. 202).

In a section titled “Appropriate Appropriation”, Kris addresses such concerns head on:

There is a strong possibility that you, reading this book right now, may not be Welsh or even have a connection to Wales. But somehow, by some means, you have found your way to reading this particular book. Cerridwen has found a way to seed within you the spark of Awen. You are the sum totality of all things that went before you, including the magic of the Welsh bardic tradition, which is held somewhere deep in the recesses of our species memory. By all means, learn a little Welsh or at least strive to understand the complexities of the history that brought Cerridwen into the light of twenty-first century Paganism. Know that you are equally expressive of the Plant Cerridwen and have as much right to claim that title as any Welsh person.

Whilst it is important to develop honest, nonappropriative practise, do not ever think that you don’t have the right to claim Cerridwen as a goddess that is valid for you … she is more alive today than she has been for the last four hundred years (pg. 261).

Kris then offers 13 excellent suggestions for ways to develop a non-appropriative practice that will not cramp anyone’s style. He also states clearly that any limitations we face as modern people can serve as opportunities for creative work-arounds:

I cannot see Cerridwen physically–she does not possess a carbon based physical body–so the manner by which I develop my relationship with her must somehow address these limitations. Nothing beats heading over to Bala for an afternoon spent at her lake, for there is a sense there that is different to anywhere else on earth–there is a tangibility to her presence in that location, as if the landscape holds a different kind of lyric. However, Bala is just over an hour from my home, and my schedule does not permit me the luxury of going there every day. Therefore I have re-created a sense of what I feel at Bala at home, and it is centred around my altar … (pgs. 264-5).

This book is rich in suggestion and opportunity, with keys Kris draws from personal experience. Visualization proves difficult for many, and Kris supplies a most helpful tool in the form of sigils — several appear throughout the text. As he notes, “… application of the magic will invariably have a physical aspect to it” (pg. 204). Just like humans need to ground and center, magic needs that grounding too, or it remains a mental head-trip the other parts of ourselves never take.

It is perhaps inevitable that some readers will merely skim the book and zero in on the section “Stirring the Cauldron”, with its wealth of suggestions for practice. But practice often runs dry without roots, which the text amply supplies, and a practice unmoored in understanding and respect for a tradition will soon leave the restless seeker wandering off to the next book. The fulfillment of anything that worthwhile books promise can only come from the same thing such books usually counsel us to remember and put into practice — full immersion.

For us to practice such immersion, the Welsh traditions of song and awen, poetry and inspiration, silence and speech have literal significance and application:

The Awen is active, and to sense its blowing through us, we must actively vocalise and energetically move into its power. We live on a unique world, a place where expression is facilitated by the atmosphere that surrounds and imbibes us. Breath is the bridge between the density of the physical and the lightness of spirit (pg. 246).

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Review of K. Hughes’ “Cerridwen: Celtic Goddess of Inspiration”– 1

Hughes, Kristoffer. Cerridwen: Celtic Goddess of Inspiration. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2021.

Quick take: In his latest book, Hughes gifts us with a marvelous resource. Drawing on native Welsh sources — his first language, his place of residence, his own spiritual practice, and the central Celtic myth of several Druid orders — he writes with passion and profound insight.

In-depth Take: Unlike my other book reviews, this one will have several parts, as I begin to work with and through the rich material Kris provides here and to offer what can only be provisional insights. That is as it should be.

A personal note: I’ve met Kris several times at Gatherings in the States, where he was the special guest and main speaker. Most recently, at East Coast Gathering 2018, he gave a Tarot workshop, with this book already very much on his mind — so much so, that when he spoke briefly but movingly of awen and Cerridwen, several of us begged for him to say more. “That’s another workshop”, he replied. “And another book — this one”, he might have added.

Let’s start with the cover: we see only part of Cerridwen’s face — fitting for a goddess of mystery and initiation. Whatever your stance toward the divine, Kris notes in the introduction,

“This book does not expect you to conform to the manner by which I work with and experience deity. There are a number of ways that people may develop relationship with what some may refer to as god or goddess, and neither is right or wrong. In that spirit, I do not expect you, the reader, to even be a theist, or an individual that works with deity. Cerridwen is flexible enough to be a psychological component to those who may be atheistic or nontheists. The rise of a figure to the status of deity is a process referred to as apotheosis, and this is important, for often the main complaint and criticism of modern-day Pagan practitioners is that they connect to and are often devoted to deities that may not ever have been identified as such in the past. I shall delve deeper into the function of apotheosis in the coming chapters” (pg. xix).

This richness of perspective and detail, drawn from personal experiences which Kris shares throughout, makes the book both a wisdom-meditation and a guide. Often in Druid books we get the distillation of insight, but without the personal component that lets us in sympathetically, imaginatively, emotionally. And “letting ourselves in” — in this case, into relationship with Cerridwen and similar deified energies and persons — is what this book accomplishes so well.

“The journey into relationship with Cerridwen and her myth is not safe — how can it be? For in so doing, one potentially positions oneself at the edge of the cauldron of inspiration and transformation. Your life may never be the same again” (pg. 27).

Of course many books promise much — good marketing is a part of how they sell, after all. But the substance that underlies any promise is where Kris prefers to focus. Issues of cultural heritage, appropriation and authenticity still loom large for much of the Pagan world. Ideally, such grappling will eventually lead to greater clarity and integrity.

Kris notes:

“The difficulties that people face when attempting to move into relationship with mythologies, particularly those that they may be culturally removed from, is the perception that the very words on paper contain the mystery. Modernity has preserved the words themselves whilst simultaneously causing many to consider that only the words themselves matter, and the eye is taken away from the vast space between the lines — wherein lies the magic” (pg. 16).

One key to crossing the river gorges and chasms along our paths is finding useful bridges. Not everything that “takes us across” leaves us where we want or need to be. Kris notes:

“The promise of sweet mystery may well turn sour during one’s exploration, particularly if one cannot make the content applicable in practice … The Pagan traditions work best when orthodoxy, something one believes in, is combined with orthopraxy, something that one does. This book will provide keys to effective and essential practice in order to transform myths from static stories to elements of spiritual practice, illumination and inspiration” (pgs. 13-14).

This core insight is a key that anyone can use, with any mythology — that is, with any story that makes sense of the cosmos. If we love and cherish the story, how do we light it up with life and fire? (That’s what can happen, what Kris wants to help happen for us, when we’re in relationship with a deity.) Christianity excels in orthodoxy, in instructing its communities of believers about what to believe, to the point where recitations of creeds have become the primary identifying feature of different denominations. What Christianity often lacks, and what has led people to find instruction elsewhere, are effective practices that make its teachings something one can actually begin to embody concretely, hour to hour, outside of “church”.

Do people nowadays “know Christians by their love”, as the Christian song lyrics say? It remains an open question. Likewise, do we recognize Druids by a characteristic wisdom and inspiration?

Part 2 coming soon.

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Paths, Order, Rights, Gods — It’s all PORG!

This morning, a post on a constructed language forum I frequent asked how one might go about expressing what we mean by “rights” in English. There’s a lot of talk these days about rights and freedoms, but much less about what these things are. Whenever we use unexamined words in such prominent ways, it pays to take a look at what we’re talking about. We often use words like “rights” and “freedom” to mean something we presume is self-evident, but it seems that much of our disagreement arises because they actually don’t mean the same thing to everyone.

Depending on the era and the culture, rights are given to us by gods or culture heroes; or they’re baked into The Mix from the outset; or they’re balanced — and dependent on — our fulfillment of obligations that are paired with each right we desire; or they’re human creations, meaning they’re entirely under our control. When I look at my own understandings, I see flavors of each of these perspectives. No wonder we’re struggling. (If you’ve figured it out, are you running for office? Or do you have a workshop we can attend for more money than we make in a month?)

If you see rights as something given, they’re not up for revision. But if you think we humans created them, you’re more inclined to tinker, and to recreate them to fit your current vision.

In older cultures like that of Vedic India, the cosmic order or rta is “the principle of natural order which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it”. Rta is something to find out, to discover, to align with. It can’t be legislated into or out of existence. Regardless of human law and laws which may come to overlay it, it persists as a foundation — or the foundation — for how the universe works. It takes in physics as well as morality. We can’t cancel gravity, in spite of its behavior. There may be comparable things at work within humans that we’ve overlooked.

There’s a certain Druidic sympathy for much of this view. The natural world embodies a significant expression of the harmony we aspire to. We choose nature as one of our teachers, birds and beasts and trees as fellow-travelers with us, each possessed of their own truths and gifts. Nature, we’re still learning, offers healing and wisdom for many of our ills, if we can learn to re-apprentice ourselves to it.

Many people feel that morality is much less (or not at all) “built into things” but instead more or entirely a matter of human choice, consciousness and active shaping. There are physical laws, but human society is a created thing, a part of human culture. That means, or should mean, that we can make it whatever we want it to be. Any injustice is a human choice, therefore, as are the inequalities of our social order. If we made them, the thinking goes, we can change and improve them. Resist such an obvious good, goes the thinking, and you’re just on the wrong side of history. You’re selfish, wrong, null and void, past your expiration date, hateful and evil, and above all you deserve to be outed and stopped.

One of the ancient insights of established religions is that there is a force, principle, entity, counter-balance — something or Someone, depending on your predilection to personify — that often causes our best-laid plans to go off the rails, turn awry, flounder and founder and crash and burn. Raven, Loki, Trickster, that strange neighbor — take your pick. We readily find reasons to blame some Other for mucking things up, not ourselves. But many ancient wisdoms would point us to tendencies within each of us that we need to face and work with. Gods know we’ve certainly all had long enough to get it right.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings, says Cassius in Julius Caesar. What’s so wonderful about Cassius’ words is that they are both beautifully true in general and evilly true in particular. We want to revolt, but against whom?

“A country without justice is a country that calls for a revolt …” Justice for who? How?

It’s certainly an accurate diagnosis that we often and too readily yield up our sovereignty to others — gods, partners, friends, corporations, the majority, the Party, The Man, the Patriarchy, the evil Leftists/Rightists/Centrists, etc. — and then we complain when they act in their own interests, and make us suffer, whether intentionally or not. We all repeatedly make ourselves “underlings” in amazingly short-sighted ways, then struggle long and bitterly to reclaim our power. Along the way, it seems we have to reinvent the wheel each time, making enough mistakes that at least half the time we’re Part of The Problem we’re trying to fix. Slow learners, every one of us.

Some religions call this tendency in us evil or sin. We might use vocabulary from physics or biology and just as reasonably call it inertia, finiteness, self-preservation and a number of other observable tendencies that carry less judgment with them. As Andy Dufresne says in The Shawshank Redemption, “you get busy living or get busy dying”. How often do we think we know which one we’re doing, only to discover to our dismay that we’ve been doing the opposite. The natural/organic/biologique food we pay more to buy turns out to be slathered in pesticides by an unscrupulous grower. The journalist we abused for critiquing our favorite new governor turns out to have been right after all. Someone oughta pay! Too often, it’s us. And along with us, the planet, the truth and others’ trust.

We’re constantly told to “just be ourselves”. Seems obvious. But do we know how? Why is that apparently so hard? Hundreds of solutions on tap, and not a single one working for everybody. Part of this — THIS — is that we have to find our own path. Though it will — blessedly — intersect many times with the paths of others.

One of the great insights of Druidry is that working with the awen, with our creativity, is a profound and pleasurable way to restore and reclaim much that we have lost. It is not The Sole Solution (though it’s a Soul solution), but it IS a practice that can lead us toward solutions more productively than much else we’ve tried. When we align with Spirit and our own genius and connection to the worlds, beautiful and inspiring things result.

We can always use more of that.

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