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Your Brain on Autumn   Leave a comment

“Human cognitive powers have a seasonal rhythm, and for those living in temperate regions in the northern hemisphere they are strongest in late summer and early autumn”, says an article in the 4 Sept 2018 New Scientist (subscription req’d for full article).

We can assume, in spite of the article’s “hemispherism” (a tendency to privilege the northern hemisphere, or exclude the southern one from consideration altogether), that a similar rhythm holds true for the southern hemisphere in their late summer and early autumn, while the north slumbers uneasily beneath snow and cold in late winter and early spring. Southern friends, if you’re so inclined, bookmark this and return to read it when it’s more seasonally appropriate for your Land.

It stands to reason that harvest, with its demands for food preparation, its expanded food sources and increased nutrition, its social gatherings and preparations for the coming winter, would draw on and amplify human capacities of every kind, cognitive powers included. The lethargy of the heat of high summer has passed, and that crisp tang in the air and the red and golds that blanket hillsides in New England in particular, and draw so many to name autumn our favorite season, all conspire to spur us to activity. In the U.S., schools re-open, and you can feel the tilt and shift of the change from summer from late August through September.

Pagan and Magical Orders have long identified the equinoxes as times of particular inner activity. Initiations in many Orders take advantage of this heightening for its boost to ritual. By pairing our actions with what happens to the planet, we harmonize with currents deeper and more lasting than “what’s new” or what reaches the headlines or media-feeds on our preferred sources of gafs — gossip, advertising, fear-mongering, and sensationalism — that we still call “news”.

For what is truly “new” has of course been going on just beyond our noses all the while. The earth shifts and rebalances every moment. Plants renew the air, and we can keep breathing; they send forth seed and fruit, and we can keep eating. In spite of human assumptions, they’re under no obligation to do so, yet they gift us with their own substance year after year, just as we feed them with our breathing and our waste and our own bodies when they wear out. Break the cycle we’ve built together over eons, each learning the others’ gestures and energies and characters, and the relationship falters, like any relationship we no longer tend.

The initiation of cause and effect, which the Wise tell us we have repeatedly rejected corporately as a planet, has not disappeared or been switched off, or cast aside for something better. It still awaits our preparation and acceptance. With it, we can heal and create and thrive and change. That doesn’t mean it leads to heaven, or the apocalypse, or the Singularity. It’s simply life. And without it, we do what we always do when we reject growth. We stagnate, suffer strange outbreaks of dis-ease, regress, accumulate toxins, bloat, stifle, blame, blunder, and flail about. We cannot stand still, so if we don’t progress, we lurch backward, trampling new growth. The cosmos mirrors itself back in our awareness. We get what we give.

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dew on spiderwebs earlier this a.m.

The first glimmers of acceptance of the initiation spring up around us in individuals who have taken another step. And each of us has, in small and larger ways. Chickens come home to roost politically and environmentally. Mass consciousness shifts by fits and starts, even as individual consciousnesses grapple with change, whether each welcomes or fears it, resists it or works with it. The tipping point, however, is not yet. What we cannot force for the planet, however, we can navigate and midwife for ourselves and our closer circles. This will help more than almost anything else, because it prepares us to weather and grow through further changes and trials, even to flourish, and find joy.

Autumn renews in a different fashion than Spring. We are not seeding, at least not right away. Instead, we gather seed. We take stock, store up, brew, reap, glean. We’re weatherizing, stock-piling, fermenting, pickling, consolidating. We are, in the fuller old sense of the word, brooding, as a hen does its eggs. The soft yet edged light of September bathes days when the sun shows, a goldenrod month, a month of falcons.

Septem is “seven” in the older Roman calendar, the seventh month, counting from the similarly old beginning of the year in March. Seven is fullness, the sum of the 4 of the earth’s quarters and the 3 of the eternal cycle. Now that it’s also the ninth month in most current calendars, it draws as well on the magical symbolism of that number, a three of threes.

Rather than troubling overmuch about whether such associations are “true”, it can be more fruitful to see how and when they might be useful or accurate or faithful metaphors or maps or representations, and for which of the many different states of consciousness we all pass through.

Autumn, like every season, offers itself as a contour map of brains that have evolved over millions of autumns. What we see mirrors the tool with which we see it.

The blessings of autumn on us all.

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The Work of an Order   Leave a comment

Finding out about how we ourselves “do Druidry” — or other path we’re on — is a key step that all of us, it seems, keep taking. From that personal connection and insight, renewed over time and through our own experiences, comes a growing confidence in our own strengths and uniqueness that others can’t easily shake. It’s no longer just faith, but communion. It’s bone-knowledge, gut-wisdom, skin-sense. We know things, in that lovely old expression, by heart.

The more our practice, whatever it is, rests as much in doing as in believing, the more we draw strength from it in ways that can feel surprisingly like physical exercise. Our bodies learn to know our practice as well as our brains. Oak or rowan or beech become friends — our community has grown through knowing individuals, no longer just abstractions in a listing of trees in an ogham-book. The welcome of oak differs from the subtler touch that rowan extends. And these two differ from maple or hemlock. And so on through all the other furry, winged and finned kindred we encounter in the land where we find ourselves.

The work of any Order worth my energy and dedication will contain material that speaks clearly to me and seems just right. There will also be exercises and insights that I can adapt, and still others that are right to set aside for a time until they align with what I’m doing and needing to do. One of the signal advantages of an Order is its span: many hands and hearts have sifted material I might never encounter on my own, and wiser heads than mine have added insights, caveats and encouragements that I might otherwise miss. The work of an Order is more compact, in valuable ways, than the work of a Solitary. It’s denser, richer in certain ways, brewed and spiced, aged and tempered, refined and mellowed, sharpened and lit.

It also vibrates on a harmonic that reaches others attuned to it. Doing the rituals, passing through the initiations, studying and reflecting on and trying out the coursework, meeting others doing the same things, all bring me into a greater circle I discover I need, no matter how solitary I am — and need to be — most of the time. The choice, as it so often does, arises from the richness of both-and, not either-or. I find that I come not to a fork in the path, but the path itself opening out, for a time, into a meadow. Beyond is vista: mountains, maybe, or valleys shining with silver rivers, towns bright with banners and laughter. Quests beckon, mysteries abound. It’s no surprise that a medieval landscape features in so many modern dreams and deeds, with both real danger and jewelled possibility a heartbeat or horse-ride away. Just over the next hill, or back at the castle, down a corridor we never knew was there.

In the West we pursue ever more isolated and internal lives, busy too often with busy-ness itself, all the while crying out for the gifts of community we simultaneously keep turning away from: connection, fellowship, camaraderie, friendship, shared interests and inspirations, shared suffering and joy. Well-founded community sees that spark of individuality restored to a healthy place, one that does not render me less able to connect, but more; one that honors my need to withdraw at times, even as I also need to open to others; one that sweeps me out of indifference toward engagement with the struggles of others anywhere, who turn out to be surprisingly like me after all. We be of one blood, ye and I.

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first fire, a few days ago

Along with Groucho Marx, many of us may have grumbled some version of I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as members. And knowing ourselves as we do, maybe we’re right to say that. On our off days, we’re off on ourselves as much as anyone else. Hamlet’s our doppelganger, midwife to angst and depression and self-accusation: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do, crawling between earth and heaven?

Somehow “joining an Order” just doesn’t seem like any kind of sane response to that question, but more like the absolute last thing I would choose. Isn’t there a twilit bar or pub nearby where I can hide and drown my sorrows?

And certainly Orders aren’t any kind of cure-all or panacea. As human institutions, they’re potentially beset with all the human foibles we know so well in ourselves. Personalities clash, dreams backfire and scorch, visions implode, egos lunge and stab. We peer around at the wreckage, bandage the worst of our wounds, and vow: never again.

But Orders can also launch us toward the heights that we know or dream of, or — if we’re particularly cynical right now — doubt are possible at all: they focus and help to nourish the deepest hungers in us, beyond food or sex. In the connections they aid us in making, we touch on something that lifts us out of ourselves, we’re part of that never-ending story our best dreamers keep singing about to us, and painting, and weaving, and nudging us to explore.

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The Putney Mountain Stone Chambers   Leave a comment

A precipitous drop in temperatures from the 90s (34C) to the 40s (6C) last night, warming to the low 60s (17C) this afternoon, made for ideal conditions to visit the stone chambers around Putney, Vermont.

My Druid friend B. was my guide. The roads around Putney Mountain are not always well-labelled, many run through private lands, and some of the many dirt roads devolve to Class 4 — not regularly maintained, generally not passable without all-wheel drive vehicles, and not plowed in winter. We drove where we could, then set out on foot.

Here B. stands next to the entrance of the first chamber, giving an approximate sense of the height of the mouth.

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A side view of the same chamber. Note the stone wall climbing the hillside in the background.

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What we called the terraced or “pyramid” structure around chamber 1:

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The chamber features a drainage (?) channel cut into the rock. All of the chambers face roughly east, and this particular channel runs due east, judging by readings from B’s smart-phone compass app.

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V-shaped entrance to chamber 2 — note what appears to be a stone “lintel” in the foreground.

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B crouched within chamber 2 — larger than chamber 1, and quite dry inside. The massive roof plates of stone easily weigh several tons each.

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Looking out from within chamber 2. Unlike the first chamber, this one was dry enough to sit on the earth floor.

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Chamber 3 differs in the location of the entrance. Here is what looked and felt to both of us like a “processional walk” to the chamber. Merely a path left from frequent hikers exploring the area? Or something else? How to tell?

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Continuing the approach to chamber 3.

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B standing at the roof entrance to chamber 3 for a sense of scale. The beech (?) to the left appeared at least two hundred years old.

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Close-up of the kiva-like entrance to chamber 3.  The interior is deep enough for a person to stand upright in the oval space, about 8 feet (2.4 m) across.

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Chamber 4 — the roof has fallen in on the far side. Stone taken for building elsewhere? Similar design to the others — but perhaps run-off from hillside weakened the roof.

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Despite both learned and amateur speculation, no convincing conclusions about the purpose of these chambers exists. Colonial smokehouses? Storage sheds? Native ritual or burial chambers? Nothing quite seems to explain the massive construction, cramped and damp spaces, the exceptions of the details of chambers 2 and 3, etc. Similar stoneworks around New England raise similar questions. While dating suggests pre-European construction in some locations, other sites present what appears to be intermingled periods of building/repair.

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Toggling Our Spirituality   Leave a comment

One of the often ironic tests of a spiritual path is that it doesn’t comfortably “turn off” just because we may want it to. Many have “left” Christianity or another religion, only to find it still tugs at them, especially at vulnerable moments when our hearts stand unguarded, or broken open by events most of us face in simply living. A death, a love lost, a talent explored and trampled, a friendship severed, a dream deferred too long. The heart’s desire. J. K. Rowlings’ Mirror of Erised — desire, reflected back to us.

This is high on most lists of inconvenient human truths: a god or gods don’t release me from commitments I’ve made, just because I tire of them; the discipline I began that over time has shaped my awareness, habits, and life choices isn’t something I can smoothly abandon at whim, or even in the face of deep and ongoing challenges; the realm “outside the box” that I poured time and energy into doesn’t vanish just because bugs and snakes start to creep in from across the border.

If a path “has heart” (to use words from that curious 60’s classic series, which author Carlos Castaneda gave to his Yaqui teacher Don Juan), that heart beats with or without me, and asserts its own claims regardless of my feelings about the matter. (Of course, if the path doesn’t have heart, I’m riding a long con, and have an equivalent set of painful lessons to learn.)

And yet. To look deeply and honestly into this matter, I need to set these next words of Castaneda side by side with what I’ve said above:

Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary.

For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length — and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly (The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge).

And in the best style of answering one quotation with another, here is Gildor Inglorion counseling Frodo in the The Fellowship of the Ring. To set the scene for those not versed in the “secular scripture” that is Tolkien, Frodo is leaving the Shire with Sam, and has encountered dark intimations of the path he has set himself to walk:

Gildor was silent for a moment. ‘I do not like this news,’ he said at last. ‘That Gandalf should be late, does not bode well. But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. The choice is yours: to go or wait.’

‘And it is also said,’ answered Frodo: ‘Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.’

‘Is it indeed?’ laughed Gildor. ‘Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you? But if you demand advice, I will for friendship’s sake give it.’

Well, what did I expect? A one-sided and definitive answer will never spur me to use my own understanding, or kick me out of the spiritual immaturity where I’ve been lounging, waiting for someone else to make my big decisions. Even if another “knows all concerning myself”, how then can that person choose better than I can? Don’t most of my troubles issue from allowing another to do just that? I’m not talking about childhood, but about assuming the mantle of adulthood which modern society conspires to discourage us from ever doing, if we can avoid it with the pretty toys it serves up to distract us.

Instead, wise counsel generally arrives in harmony with what we already know in our marrow, and may be resisting — it confirms what we suspected all along. “To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life”, Don Juan notes. When I yearn deeply enough for what is my birthright, a way opens. Often that’s our first taste of a kind of discipline not much talked-about: the kind we earn by living, and suffering when necessary to clear the crap away. Clarity has arrived, usually at some cost. Nothing, finally, can keep it from me. “When the student is ready, the master appears”, goes the ancient proverb. That master may be partner, friend, the stray who takes up residence and opens my heart, the neighbor whose children cross into my yard, fall from my fruit trees, and teach me compassion for others. It may be a stubborn refusal to give up, give in, give out. Whatever guise you take, Mystery, may I know and welcome you again.

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Rowan and the Ovate   Leave a comment

As the second tree of the Celtic ogham “tree alphabet”, the Rowan, ogham ᚂ and Old Irish luis, is associated with Ovates, the second of the three Druidic grades in much of modern Druidry.

Rowan, or Mountain Ash, is certainly up to that role, both physically and symbolically.

In Europe one common native variety is sorbus aucuparia; in the U.S. it’s usually sorbus americana. The rowan’s leaves resemble those of the ash, but the two trees belong to different families, the rowan being a relative of the rose. Standing out front of our southern Vermont house, “our” rowan was the first tree to alert me to the attention the previous owner, a native of Austria, devoted to certain plantings on the land. Not hard to notice, when our rowan stands near the road, offering its protection. In fact, roadsides are a common location for the rowan, often planted by bird droppings containing the seeds. Its European species name aucuparia means “bird-catcher” — the rowan attracts birds like cedar waxwings — we often see a flock of them come through in late winter, and strip any remaining berries for their sugars and vitamin C.

(A little digging uncovers research demonstrating the rowan’s central importance for humans as well, particularly in Austrian folk medicine, as an anti-inflammatory and treatment for respiratory disorders, as well as “fever, infections, colds, flu, rheumatism and gout” according to the article at the link.)

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The sky was overcast a few minutes ago when I took this picture. The red-orange berries are still ripening, and will be ready for harvest in October or early November, after a frost. Though our tree bears the brunt of winter’s north winds and a spray of snow and sand at each pass of the snowplow in winter, it’s a tough, scrappy species and still flourishes. Wikipedia notes:

Fruit and foliage of S. aucuparia have been used by humans in the creation of dishes and beverages, as a folk medicine, and as fodder for livestock. Its tough and flexible wood has traditionally been used for woodworking. It is planted to fortify soil in mountain regions or as an ornamental tree.

The rowan’s Old English name is cwic-beam, “quick” or “living” tree, which has survived into modern English as the variant name quickbeam. The name of one of Tolkien’s Ents in Lord of the Rings, Quickbeam is “hasty”; his Elvish name Bregalad translates to roughly the same thing — “quick” or “living” tree.

As a tree sacred to Brighid, the rowan also produces five-petalled flowers and fruit with tiny pentagrams opposite the stem — barely visible in some of the berries below, especially at the bottom left:

rowan berry pentagram

What put the tree before my attention now in particular is an invitation to serve in the Ovate initiations at East Coast Gathering in a few weeks. A rowan stave with a ᚂ on it will make a good gift to each of the new initiates.

The rowan shrugs off cold weather — it can be found at remarkably high altitudes; it flowers in white blossoms in spring and produces red berries in autumn. Thus it earns its nickname “delight to the eye” in the 7th century Irish Auraicept na n-Éces. As a tree to represent the toughness, persistence, and changing work in each season required to pursue the spiritual journey we’re all on, the rowan is a worthy candidate. It is often named the “most magical” of all the trees. As protection against another’s enchantment, it can aid us in creating our own.

Its mythological and folkloric associations are many. (You can find another rich link on the rowan here.) As a “portal tree” facilitating entry and return from other-worlds, the rowan invites contemplation under its branches.

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Image: berries — Wikipedia rowan.

August Moon, and Serving   3 comments

In New England the Sturgeon Moon, as some Native Americans call it,  arrives this coming Sunday, the 26th of August, but early enough in the morning that many will observe it the previous evening.

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Rowan in the front yard, its berries ripening

OBOD Druids are encouraged to do monthly Peace Meditations on the full moon. I never have, which is odd, considering how largely the moon figured in my teens and twenties. For years I observed its phases and influence, absorbed what I could find about its significance in diverse cultures, wrote poems and songs to it, connected to Goddess through it. But a peace meditation?

You could say I absorbed the wrong things from Christianity: “Think not that I am come to bring peace on earth: I came not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34). This has proved one of the most accurate of Christian prophecies. Though it’s not so much a prophecy as a statement that this is a world of the flow of many energies. By its very nature, changes keep coming, and the shifts and rebalances can’t all be smooth, given the pockets and reservoirs of other energies that may resist or simply move on a different time-scale and energy flow.

Druids are called to be peacemakers, and the popular Peace Prayer stands ready as a worthwhile practice, daily for some. Here’s one version of the words:

The Peace Prayer

Deep within the still centre of my being
May I find peace.
Silently within the quiet of the Grove
May I share peace.
Gently (or powerfully) within the greater circle of humankind
May I radiate peace.

Find, share, radiate: all are valid practices I see as part of my own practice. Spiderwebs and hurricanes co-exist in this world. Both will manifest long after I’m gone and forgotten, but I can choose how I will align myself each day. I prefer, actually, to focus on love, which can exist even in tumult and turbulence, when peace has long fled. A home with children and pets and one or more working adults may not know much peace, but it can still overflow with love. A damaged landscape after the rebalancing that storms bring needs love more than peace.

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OBOD ritual proclaims, “Let us begin by giving peace to the quarters, for without peace can no work be”. I don’t know what kind of work you do, but if I required peace before I  started, I’d get nothing done. Don’t get me wrong: I value OBOD ritual, much of the language engages me, helping in the work of magic, but there I must turn aside and let the moment flow past. So I give love to the quarters instead, something they seem to use more readily.

A fragment of a prayer that has stayed with me — maybe someone can identify its source — I encountered decades ago, though I’ve never been able to track it to its lair. But I’ve remembered it fairly accurately, and I’ve recited it often: “I drink at your well. I honor your gods. I bring an undefended heart to our meeting-place”. This triad of actions faces outward in a way I know I can practice myself. For me it establishes a distinct vibration I value.

It also points toward a way I can hear and answer the call to serve.

“Serving is different from helping”, writes Rachel Naomi Remen. I cite her words in full below, because the following text has become so important to me, as a meditation seed and guide and source of wisdom.

In recent years the question how can I help? has become meaningful to many people. But perhaps there is a deeper question we might consider. Perhaps the real question is not how can I help? but how can I serve?

Serving is different from helping. Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals. When you help you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength. If I’m attentive to what’s going on inside of me when I’m helping, I find that I’m always helping someone who’s not as strong as I am, who is needier than I am. People feel this inequality. When we help we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity and wholeness. When I help I am very aware of my own strength. But we don’t serve with our strength, we serve with ourselves. We draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve, our wounds serve, even our darkness can serve. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals.

Helping incurs debt. When you help someone they owe you one. But serving, like healing, is mutual. There is no debt. I am as served as the person I am serving. When I help I have a feeling of satisfaction. When I serve I have a feeling of gratitude. These are very different things.

Serving is also different from fixing. When I fix a person I perceive them as broken, and their brokenness requires me to act. When I fix I do not see the wholeness in the other person or trust the integrity of the life in them. When I serve I see and trust that wholeness. It is what I am responding to and collaborating with.

There is distance between ourselves and whatever or whomever we are fixing. Fixing is a form of judgment. All judgment creates distance, a disconnection, an experience of difference. In fixing there is an inequality of expertise that can easily become a moral distance. We cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch … We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy.

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Omens, Signs, Friends Visiting   Leave a comment

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I practice two distinct spiritual paths. One of the teachings on the other path concerns waking dreams. “A waking dream is something that happens in the outer, everyday life that has spiritual significance”, writes one of my guides on that path. And the crucial point, for me, is that I can perceive that significance. Or miss it. Or call it coincidence, or something else.

In her post “The Reality of Omens“, Druid Life blogger and author Nimue Brown writes,

When looking for omens in the world around us, it is necessary to consider how reality works in the first place. One of the things I have rejected outright is that other autonomous beings could show up in my life as messages from spirit – because the idea that a hare, a sparrowhawk, or some other attention grabbing thing could have its day messed about purely to try and give me a sign, is profoundly uncomfortable to me. I have something of an animist outlook, and I do not think the universe is *that* into me.

Brown’s caveat rings true — we can safely pare the human ego down, without fear it will crumble and disappear. Unlike the average toddler, most adults handle reasonably well the discovery that they’re not actually the center of universe.

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But as a fellow semi-animist, I’d not separate “spirit” from what you and I and other things are doing every day. “Spirit” isn’t a thing that stands apart from what it inhabits — it’s not a bearded Jehovah lounging in the heavens, lording it over the rest of the cosmos, twitching the puppet-strings to get his way with us. Spirit permeates things — it’s what peeks out when you look in the eyes of a dog or bird or bug, or into the heart of a flower. It’s what gives waves their curl, or cumulus clouds their cotton-like billow, or your jogging neighbor the will to keep at her four-mile routine, in spite of December sleet. Spirit makes things thing-ly — how else can I detect its presence? Ever seen it hanging out all by itself? Pay attention and I can notice now more, now less. But never apart from the things it’s been doing all along, like you and me and the grass growing tall in the back lawn where I haven’t mowed it at all this year.

The skies cloud over, the temperature drops and a wind kicks up. Is it an “omen”? No — but these things do carry meaning to anyone paying attention. It’s probably going to rain soon. That particular kind of omen we call a “no-brainer” (though humans still manage daily to ignore even obvious omens). As part of the universe where a local storm is brewing, I can pick up on other things spirit is doing, or I can ignore them. The universe “isn’t that into me”, but it is in fact *in* me, and in you too, and we’re both in it.

So I prefer to see “omens” and “signs” as friends visiting. Spirit is simply flowing. One of its flows is you, another is me, a third is the car pulling into the driveway with S. at the wheel, “just stopping by” on her way home after shopping. If I gain insight or wisdom or a nudge to do something, or a burst of gratitude from that visit, then I’m paying attention in some way, and I’m being me, with my own unique responses to what spirit’s always doing all around and in me.

Rather than worrying overmuch about whether it was a sign or an omen or simply another wave in the ocean of spirit manifesting everywhere and everything, why not measure its effects? Is my life deeper, richer? Are the lives of others made richer and deeper? Is that enough, without checking the box labeled “omen” or “not omen”?

But what of the autonomy Brown names as part of her animist understanding of the uni-verse, the “one-turning”?

The idea that “other autonomous beings could show up in my life as messages from spirit – because the idea that a hare, a sparrowhawk, or some other attention grabbing thing could have its day messed about purely to try and give me a sign, is profoundly uncomfortable to me”, she notes.

But she and the many other beings in her life can be and are many things at once. And so are you and I. Like spirit in us and all around, I am many things at once. I am not “purely” anything, but delightfully mongrel. I’m an incarnate human, and also a Vermonter, a husband, a blogger, an aging white male, a person alive in the 21st century, an American, the son of two parents who both lost fathers while still in their single-digit years. I am a manifestation of spirit, a homeowner, a Druid, a teacher, a conlanger, a portal of Mystery, and so on. (Maybe the problem isn’t labels by themselves, but that we never use nearly enough of them. Scatter them like seed. Each is — not a limit — a possibility.) Each of these features opens access points for spirit to reach other beings, while leaving me with the same freedom as other “autonomous beings”. Spirit does “overlap” and “interconnection” really well.

My individuality and freedom are what spirit uses to connect with all other free and individual things. Spirit as the whole, the universe, seems to “love” individuals — that’s why there are many of us, rather than just two or three. Spirit as “one thing” interconnects and links all things, all these other “one things”.

So when a crow flies overhead while I’m checking the squashes in the garden, the crow is a crow and a friend visiting and a reminder, if I’m listening, of animal intelligence and and and.  Its appearance and my awareness meet, for whatever comes from that meeting. Omen, sign, friend visiting, reminder of crow wisdom to fly over things before I decide to land on them, spirit guide — because spirit is always sparking the beings it pervades — to eat, fight, flee, love, mate, birth young, flower, fruit, grow old, die, return, become, become.

And the crow also discovers and learns something. Here’s a human that does not aim a gun at me as I fly over. Here is a water supply, a pond I can drink from. Here are trees to roost in, good cawing branches to talk to the rest of the flock, food sources to peck at in the scraps and compostables that get put out almost daily. And a hundred other crow things I don’t know about, without shapeshifting to Crow, or crow to me.

Brown goes on to make a key observation about our attention:

I can however read something into my behaviour at this point. I was in the right place at the right time, and I think that tells me something about my relationship with the flow. I take exciting nature encounters as good omens not because I think nature is bringing me a special message, but because it means I was in just the right place, at exactly the right time, looking the right way and paying attention. That in turn means I am in tune, and would seem to bode well for anything else I’m doing.

I simply take “encounter” as “message”. Humans are meaning-makers — it’s what we do. Any omen is an amen, an awen, a chance, a doorway. Will I walk through it? Or will I see how spirit walks through it — to me and to everyone and everything else? And as these things happen, can I catch the Song that is always singing, just at the borders of hearing?

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Article in today’s New York Times: “What does it mean to be human?” touches on some of these matters.

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