Archive for the ‘Brighid’ Category

Enchantments Re-enchanted   3 comments

All things listen to each other, even if they don’t intend to, because they share one world. As if on cue, New Republic‘s deputy editor Ryu Spaeth devoted a 6 February 2018 article to “An Education Through Earthsea“.

Admiring and condescending by turns, Spaeth opens with a strong claim: “The most beguiling promise of fantasy fiction is that of self-knowledge”. Maybe. Let’s see where Spaeth wants to go with this.

Because such stories typically feature young adults perceiving that promise and striving to claim it, their characters and plotlines can become hackneyed and cliched. Spaeth asserts that “Although rooted in our oldest legends, they hold less appeal to adults in the twenty-first century than Le Guin’s more critically celebrated works” that treat of gender, social structures and mores — human worlds and all their potential to limit as much as to liberate. Quoting Le Guin, Spaeth observes, “Enchantment alters with age, and with the age”. Odd, then, that it’s our oldest legends that have re-surfaced and that continue to appeal to so many.

But does “enchantment alter with age”, in any sense Spaeth would have us understand?

“In our age, movies and television have taken over the enchantment business”, he says. Taken it over? Yes, in many quarters. But often badly — ruling it no better than contemporary political parties and social movements do our human worlds. Enchantment is no “business”. Le Guin also wrote for the ones who walk away from the Omelas* of mass society and its blindnesses,  of its imbalances in our times of ravening consumption and cold indifference to “all our relatives”, as the Dakota Sioux call them, these many Others who share our worlds, furred, finned and feathered.

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nearby February snowfield

Spaeth ultimately condemns the fantasy quest for wisdom as a product of a particular time and place:

It is an approach that may be out of step with the times; to treat life as a mission to discover oneself can read like solipsism, especially when we know that so much of identity is shaped by factors beyond our control, by race, gender, class. Perhaps only a white American in the postwar period could have written the Earthsea books, could speak of an autonomous self within its own narrative, waiting to blaze forth; writers and filmmakers are more conscious now of systemic forces and the undertow of history.

Both a seemingly “woke” critique and also a deeply oblivious and superficial one: neither Le Guin nor her Earthsea wizard-hero Ged, after all, stop at self-knowledge as any kind of endpoint, but continue on an arc that ultimately finds him old, stripped of the glamours and powers of the difficult wizardry he has practiced much of his life, and at length “done with doing” in Tehanu which follows the trilogy. And each of these things, just as Ged’s beginning does, arises from “systemic forces and the undertow of history” present in Earthsea. Different ones, but hardly absent! To take just one instance, Ged is dark-skinned; the foreign Kargs who attack his village, and spur him to his first act of magic, are white. It’s because of “systemic forces and the undertow of history” that we need self-knowledge and wisdom, along with the strength to quest for them — in spite of the distractions and barriers every age has provided.

The same book Tehanu ends with mortal rescue by a dragon (and not some contrived deus-ex-machina salvation, but one motivated by and in response to human love for a child), followed by an even larger revelation of magic at the very heart of Earthsea which I will not spoil here, and lastly with a woman’s dream of planting a garden — not in some newly-recovered Eden, but a late planting, “right away if they wanted any vegetables of their own this summer” (Tehanu, Bantam 1991 edition, pg. 252). The oldest of magics, dragon and green world, rooted squarely in the midst of human life.

Any worthwhile enchantment survives Spaeth’s dismissal wholly unscathed.

The old stories flourish because they have something to say to us we’re not getting from Washington and Hollywood and Industrial Light and Magic, however temporarily beguiling they may be. Enchantment in the end can never be an “industry” or “business”, whatever glamours its often debased versions toss our way. We earn them, but we can’t purchase them.

And because we each do have our “own narratives”, whatever else we may be, we do have choices, however hard, and at least in part we are our stories, especially if we know and tell them well enough that we do not merely justify all our choices, but grow through them into something more than we were before.

In these days of growing light, along with a typical February snowstorm coming to the Northeastern U.S., the Enchantment of Brighid continues to unfold.

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*A discussion of Le Guin’s genre-defying “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”.

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Enchantments of Brighid   Leave a comment

One of the Enchantments of Brighid is openness to possibility. The goddess specializes in healing, poetry and smithcraft — skills of change, transformation and receptivity to powerful energies to fuel those changes and transformations. We seek inspiration and know sometimes it runs at high tide and sometimes low. As this month draws to a close, we have a moon waxing to full, an aid from the planets and the elements to kindle enchantments, transformations, shifts in awareness.

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A day ago we finished a box of wooden matches. The box holds 250, and since we use them only for lighting our stove, that means we go through just part of a box every year. Emptying a box doesn’t happen that often, so it’s noticeable.

I like the imagery of the “empty” box. Though combustible itself, its main purpose is to contain matches and provide a strike surface. An old box has a worn strike surface, and one might be tempted to toss the whole thing in the fire. But I’m keeping it for these 19 days of Brighid, and it occurs to me now that it deserves a place on my altar. The sacredness of the everyday? Well, where else can the holy mystery abide in the worlds of matter, energy, space and time. As a friend likes to say, a mest (or messed) world can be a good and powerful stage for life and joy to happen.

Not to stretch things too far — how far is that, anyway? — I am a box, and so are you. Our spaces can hold all manner of things, and it’s our intention that determines what those might be. Insubstantial in itself, the box is nevertheless a potential locus for fire and mystery, or scores of other things. We take from the box a mood or a match, strike it and lay it to paper and kindling. We don’t create the fire, but without the box, the match, the intention and the movement to bring fire and kindling together, we don’t get flames.

To me the empty box is a “found” spiritual tool (my favorite kind), one I can work with physically and also in the imagination from where magic pours forth. Kitchen magic, or woodstove magic, if you will. What belongs inside it? What are some of the matches I wish to light? Where do I find them? (Where have I found them in the past? What new sources of them open up each day?)

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On a small piece of paper I write a prayer to Brighid, and I fold and close it in the box.

Brighid: Druid and Christian   Leave a comment

[Edited/updated 1 Feb 2019]

We could subtitle this post “Druidry — the Ironic Survival”. Philip Carr-Gomm notes in his book Druid Mysteries:

Although Christianity ostensibly superseded Druidry, in reality it contributed to its survival, and ultimately to its revival after more than a millennium of obscurity.  It did this in at least four ways:  it continued to make use of certain old sacred sites, such as holy wells; it adopted the festivals and the associated folklore of the pagan calendar; it recorded the tales of the Bards, which encoded the oral teachings of the Druids; and it allowed some of the old gods to live in the memory of the people by co-opting them into the Church as saints.  That Christianity provided the vehicle for Druidry’s survival is ironic, since the Church quite clearly did not intend this to be the case (p. 31).

Sacred sites, festivals and folklore, tales of the Bards, and the old gods: there you have the substance not only of Druidry but also of Druid and Christian linkages and considerable common ground.

Do we need all four to practice Druidry, or to honor Brighid?

Yes. We already have all four, to a degree that allows us to build on what we have, if we choose. While guided tours to sacred sites continue to make money for their organizers, we can gain access inwardly, through dedicated practice.

How?

On the day before the 19 Days of Brighid, we have many points of access, if we’re willing to explore them with attention, creativity and love.

1) Kildare is Cill Dara, “Church or Cell of the Oak”. Find an oak tree or leaf. “As above, so below. As within, so without”. Can you proceed from there? If you’ve been reading this blog, or have a practice of your own, you have an inkling or a clear idea of what you might do next. Here then is a first door to the Enchantment of Brighid.

Now for 18 more.

2) For a guided meditation, many songs exist. One I’ve posted about previously is Damh the Bard’s song “Brighid” . Enact the song, as your circumstances permit. Read through the lyrics first, or just listen through. Then do what comes to you to make the song come alive. What will you offer at the Well? If you have a bowl of water and a candle or tealight, enact the first appearance of the goddess. Say the prayer of the song’s chorus, or your own.

3) Using the help of the video in the previous post for making a Brighid’s cross, make the creation of your own cross — from reeds, strips of paper, fabric, etc. — an offering, a gift, an act of mindfulness, a devotion to Brighid.

4) Troubled by doubt? Blocked into inaction by hesitation, fear, or talking self telling you not to be ridiculous? Note the lines in Damh’s song: “But in her prison, she heard the spell the people were chanting: Three days of Summer, and snowdrops are flowering again”. The people — that’s you and me — help free her from prison. We imprison the divine, but we have the power to liberate it again in our lives. What chant comes to you? Listen for it as you go about your day, reading the headlines, listening to conversations, songs on the radio, and so on. Meditate, and write down what comes. This is a prayer the people are chanting.

5) Dance a dance you make up that has 19 steps. A circle, a square, some other shape or just steps as they come to you. Swing your arms, raise them, keep them at your sides, or clasped in prayer. Drum on a tabletop, a pot, a cup, bang two spoons together. Or step in silence. On the 19th step, say or whisper aloud or inwardly the name of the goddess. Dance when nobody’s watching. Except you and the goddess.

6) Brighid is goddess of fire. Light a flame and say “The fire is still burning. Nineteen priestesses tend the Eternal Flame. Oh but of you, my Lady, we are still learning”.

7) Educate yourself about Brighid. Here’s an easy “for-instance” — a short video (5 mins.) featuring Mary Meighan, who offers several clues to a practice.

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Brighid’s Well

8) Volunteer at a homeless shelter, dedicating the service to Brighid, an offering, a way of helping to keep the human fire kindled in others. We think of such things around the big Christian holidays of Christmas and Thanksgiving and tend to drop them from memory at other times. I’ve just sent off an email to one of our local shelters, 8 miles away, requesting info on volunteering.

9) Dedicate a practice meaningful to you for each of the next 19 full moons. Ask for insight and resolution — in exact proportion to how well you keep your practice. Ready? Set … Go!

10) Following bpott’s comment on a recent post, “[P]lay (with serious thought) with enchantment”. What does enchantment look like to you? When have you experienced moments of enchantment? How did they manifest? What was going on when they did manifest? What can you do to welcome them again?

11) Again following another recent comment by bpott, take your practice outdoors, however briefly. Especially needful in the Northeastern US, because we get serious cases of cabin fever. (Our area organizes “Cabin Fever Dinners” to bring people out of hunker-down mode and into celebration over a communal meal. One of the more popular ones in our area draws 75-100 people and is held in a local church.  Yes, plenty of non-church people attend. It doesn’t hurt that the menu and kitchen are overseen by the pastor’s husband, who’s a gourmet chef. It’s very much a Brighid experience, at least for me. Generosity, kindling the fire in others.) Enjoy the thaw that’s come to the region. And wherever you are, breathe outdoor air. Let the sun shine on your skin.

12) What can you kindle and smith, inspire and heal, in yourself and others? What wells and forges exist in your life? How can you use and serve them? What wells and forges have you possibly overlooked or taken for granted? Again, how can you serve and use them?

13) Set a dream intention each night for prophetic, healing or creative dreams. Record each morning what comes. If you think nothing came, write what you imagine coming. Read it that night before you go to sleep.

14) Choose a bowl of water or goblet, etc. as your Well of Brighid. Ask for the blessing of Brighid upon it. Drink from it each morning after sleep.

15) You visit the Fire Temple on the inner planes. What do you experience there? Write down what comes. Who greets you? What gets ignited? What gets burnt away? What kind of flame are you given to return with to your life?

16) Find a poem that inspires you. (Or write one.) Make the reading and saying aloud of the poem a practice for the 19 days. Make of your love for the poem an offering.

17) Practice intense devotion for a particular manifestation of the divine in the form of a god or goddess that draws you. In a post “Loop of Brighid: The Mysticism of Devotion“, Christopher Scott Thompson says,

Rather than talking in a hypothetical way about what the mystical experience actually is, I’m going to talk about how to get there yourself through your own relationship with the gods and goddesses you personally serve. This is not an attempt to import something like bhakti from Hinduism into modern western paganism, because devotional practice to specific deities is already naturally developing within the pagan revival. However, I will be using the concept of bhakti as an analogy for the most intense and mystical forms of modern devotional paganism, such as the mood expressed in this poem [included just above this extract in the original post].

18) Read Chris Godwin’s 19 Jan 2018 post on his blog, From a Common Well, on “18 Celtic Imbolc Customs and Traditions for the Feast of Brighid“. Choose one or more to try.

19) Give thanks to Brighid for the opportunity to give thanks. There’s a paradox and a profound insight to be practiced here.

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Image: Brighid’s Well.

 

Moon of Brighid   Leave a comment

Brighid--Patrick Tuohy

St. Brighid/Patrick Tuohy

For those of you incubating your own enchantment of Brighid to coincide with the upcoming 19 days of the goddess, you have the moon to aid you. Waxing now, it reaches full at nearly the midpoint of the 19 days, on the 31st of January — a fine symmetry, whether you choose to align with it or not.

The Solar Question for today, the 20th of the month, in Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional (Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2004) asks “What is the source of your spiritual guidance?” The Lunar Meditation* for the fourth day of the moon (counting the New Moon, Jan. 17,  as day 1) is “the wonder of life”. If I’m facing a period of spiritual dryness, if I have no other ready guidance, “the wonder of life” is a fitting source. Watching and listening, I can find in something small as the sun sparkling on an icicle a subtly radiant doorway into the Enchantment of Brighid.

Because magic so often starts small, no more than a tickle, a spark, a whisper. Till it builds.

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Images: St. Brighid by Patrick Tuohy (1894-1930)

*The book includes a perpetual calendar displaying the 19-year lunar cycle, allowing a reader to find the appropriate Question and Meditation.

Refreshing “Home”   Leave a comment

Keep refreshing “home” and your browser gives you different results, your Facebook feed changes, etc., my wife said the other day.

If I’m paying attention, an inner bell goes off for me at such moments, an aha! of illumination. Spiritual practice is my way of refreshing home, of choosing — or asking for — something else than what the apparent or obvious may be telling or showing me. Some animals and insects excel in mimicry as a defense, or to lure prey. So too the human world, with its heartfelt truths and its cons, its bullshit and its profound beauties, its “characters” and “originals” and its gold standard friends.

Refreshing home is a kind of alertness that many animals retain, honed senses not dulled by noise from talking self. Don’t get me wrong — human speech is indeed a gift. But like many powerful gifts, it’s double-edged. It’s true, peace to Walt Whitman, that animals “do not make me sick discussing their duty to God … Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago”*

So when I write, as in the previous post, about things like devotion to Brighid, and you’re feeling particularly agnostic about, maybe, absolutely everything, consider J M Greer’s observations about egregor(e)s, the energy of group consciousness that forms around any regular gathering and gives it a distinct character, and especially around magical groups that work intentionally with charging and exploring its potentials. Is Brighid an egregor? Does your local parent-teacher association or book club or university class differ from other groups in any way? Of course. But is Brighid “merely” an egregor?

Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and other atheists miss a very large point here. I won’t spell it out — you already know it, or else you’re not interested in knowing it.

Greer says, writing about magical lodges:

… egregors capable of carrying the highest levels of power can only be built up on the basis of the living patterns of the realm of meaning, outside space and time. These patterns are what some religions call gods, and what others call aspects of God. They have a reality and a power that have nothing to do with the egregors built up around them, but they use the egregors the way people use clothing or the way actors in many traditional societies use masks. Skillful, intelligent, ethical, and dedicated work with these egregors, according to tradition, can bring lodge members into a state of participation with the primal living powers of existence itself — a state that is the goal of most religions, and as well as the highest summit of the art of magic (Greer, Inside a Magical Lodge, Llywellyn Books, 1998, pgs. 109-110).

It’s the part of those willing to work with and within a tradition not to stop at the level of belief in it, but to test and explore its possibilities. We’re worlds away from credal faith here. But you may, if you’re around a devotee of Brighid, especially this time of year, overhear or encounter a song or poem or prayer of dedication, service, and love.

 

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*”I think I could turn and live with the animals“; Song of Myself.

Nineteen Days of Brighid   2 comments

Imbolc, the February 1st or 2nd holiday, part of the seasonal cycle of the “Great Eight” Pagan festivals, has long been associated with Brighid. Goddess, saint, patron of poets, smiths and healers, Brighid is a potent presence for many Druids. Christian Druids can honor her in either or both traditions, and her legends and symbols — effective points of access to her — are many.

Among the traditions that have gathered around her is the significance of the number 19 — whether part of the ancient awareness of the moon’s Metonic cycle, or the Christian tradition for determining Easter, curiously associated with the full moon, or the 19 nuns at Kildare connected with Saint Brighid. Or the practice of 19 days of magic focused on devotion to the goddess-saint, which this post examines. As a Druid-Christian link, the number and practices associated with Imbolc and Brighid can join the others I’ve talked about in other posts here as yet another means to transcend argument or debate, and find blessing.

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Nineteen days with Imbolc in the center (on Feb. 1), the 10th day, begin January 23 and take us to February 10.

As this circle is cast, the enchantment of the apparent world fades … We stand together in the eye of the sun here and now …

So goes part of OBOD standard ritual. Why, you might be asking, if Druids say they wish to attune themselves to the natural world, do they practice ritual that sees the natural world as both enchanted and apparent?

Well, we still stand “in the eye of the sun”. Partly it’s “talking self” (see this and this post) that distracts us, that enchants us in the sense of holding us spellbound (and self-bound) rather than freeing us to grow. Circles concentrate energy and attention, contain them for the duration of the ritual, and can help charge us as instruments of the divine in order that we may “know, dare, will and keep silent”, as the old adage goes. So we circle alone and together to watch that particular enchantment fade, so that others can manifest more clearly. It’s a choice of enchantments. Do you like the current ones at work in the world? “She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes”. Sign me up!

Spending the interval from now till the beginning of the 19 days, a week from today, determining what service to offer, what magic to work, is time well spent.

I’ll be following up here with my experiences.

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Image: Brighid. My preference is for deity images that aren’t sentimental or “airbrush pretty”. Contemporary artists often portray sexy gods and goddesses, which is fine, but as an image for meditation I’d rather not use soft porn.

Devotionals   Leave a comment

On a Druidry Facebook group I’m a member of, the question arises a few times each year: what makes Druidry distinctive? In other words, if you’re looking over your options, “Why this and not that?”

Sustained contact with the green world is first practice, never abandoned, never out of date.

In a comment on the last post here, bpott said she was told in meditation to “practice devotionals to the gods outdoors. Lighting a candle to Brighid and sitting with her, or pouring water in a bowl for the moon to infuse its energy and listening to Manannan are such devotionals. There is indeed much to be gained through these spiritual practices”.

But this isn’t something for you to take anyone’s word for. It’s not that kind of observation. Words are meant guide us to own experience and back out again, to reflect so we can experience deeper.

Or as J M Greer puts it,

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

We regularly need reminders like these, because Talking Self sidetracks us.

“Talking Self” — you know, that chatty, sometimes neurotic self we use to read and post on Facebook, grumble at headlines we don’t like, and cheer for ones we do. It can often persuade us that it is all of who we are, because its medium is language and the thoughts and feelings language kindles in us. Name it, says Talking Self, trying to keep everything in its domain of names and words. (The Dao De Jing quietly reminds us “the nameless is the origin of heaven and earth”.)

Druidry says take yourself out of talking self and into Self — the being linked in its sinew and blood, bone and spirit, to all that is — rivers and streams, woods and meadows, valleys and hills, tundra and deserts, bird and beech, beast and bass and bug.

When you come back, you can turn Talking Self toward song or ritual, if you like — give it something to do that it does well — but in the service of something higher than reactive gossip and self-importance and anxiety.

And “going outdoors” doesn’t have to entail a frigid January plunge through a hole in the ice at the local lake. It may be as simple as smelling an evergreen twig you picked up yesterday on a walk, and now you hold it as you meditate, on the change of seasons, the incense of a living thing on your fingers and in your nose. Crafting a banner or a poem for the next time your Grove meets — at Imbolc in February. Baking and taking a gift to an elderly neighbor or the local soup kitchen. Grooming your dog or cat.

All these things re-engage the body and give Talking Self a break. Poor thing, it needs one. These practices help restore our connections. They gift us with balance. For these reasons they are, in a curious word more often associated with another tradition, incarnational. They literally put us into our bodies, even as they give Spirit shapes and forms we can experience.

Many forms of Spirit, many bodies to experience them: earth body and dream body and thought body and memory body. And others we haven’t begun to explore.

I lay the makings of a fire in our woodstove, crumpled newspaper and punky dry strips of willow from a fallen branch two years ago, and thin strips of a log split and split and split again. Wood’s our primary heat-source — we’re far too stingy to waste money on our electric backup, except in direst emergencies, and then the power may have gone out anyway. I can pause a moment before setting the match to the kindling and honor Brighid. The makings of a devotional. Not “believe in Her”, not “profess my faith She exists”, but honor Her. Often something quite different.

As someone once quipped, more important than me believing in Brighid is Brighid believing in me. What god would care to waste attention on a human who isn’t ever here? But if I’m here and as I honor Her I sense She’s here, what’s left to believe? It’s the honoring that’s important. The connection.

The Druid experience continually “abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit”. Continually, because my rigidity will creep back in, and fire and touch can warm and soften and free me from inflexible habits and open me to change and love.

I met Brighid most intimately through the task of firing up the woodstove when we settled in Vermont in 2008.  Fire became a daily reality each winter (and much of spring and autumn, too). The wonder of fire and the opportunity of honor to Brighid needn’t be separate from the gathering of kindling and the match. Our winter-fires may not be the reverential fire of Kildare — though they can be. Every morning.

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Today I’ll take out the ash to the compost pile, the midden, lovely old word. I let the freshly-removed ash sit out in the hod for a week, so I’m not dumping a pile of embers outdoors on a windy day. Old ash out, new ash to the hod, new fire to the stove ,whose walls are still warm to the touch. I set the kindling, whisper a sometimes wordless prayer to the goddess, and watch as flames grow and spread.

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taking out the ash

 

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new fire

My devotional has to take a particular, concrete form if it’s to exist at all for the body and senses to engage. Spiritual-but-not-religious knows this, instinctively keeps seeking but then abandoning forms, because it distrusts forms even as it senses their value. But it’s the dead form and the opinions-and-then-dogmas of Talking Self that are the obstacle to spiritual connection, not form itself.

Oh, Lord [goes one prayer] forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.
Thou art Everywhere, but I worship thee here:
Thou art without form, but I worship thee in these forms;
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer thee these prayers and salutations.
Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.

Except they’re not limitations at all: the way to do them in time and space is with temporal and spatial forms. I find little limitation in building a fire and honoring Brighid too. My devotional is a matter of intention, of choice. When I’m on another plane, I adopt its forms. (In dreams I fly, with dream-power my earth body doesn’t have.) But now, here (no need to apologize for limitations*), these forms.

Without a form, no transformation, whisper the Wise.

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*The words “limit” and “limitations” are dirty words, far more obscene these days than any other. Obsessed with freedom, we miss what limits are and signify for us.

A shape is a limitation. Personally, I like shapes and forms. If I had no particular shape or form, I wouldn’t be “free” — I’d be monstrous, “de-formed”.

J M Greer notes in his Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. 2012, pgs. 42-53:

A field mouse, for example, has teeth and a digestive system that are fine-tuned to get nutrients from seeds and other concentrated plant foods, and so that is what field mice eat. They do not eat crickets, even though crickets are very nourishing; they leave crickets to the garter snakes. They do not eat herbs, even though herbs are very abundant; they leave herbs to the rabbits. They limit themselves to one kind of food, and as a result their bodies and their behavior are exquisitely shaped to get and use that kind of food. Rather than jacks-of-all-trades, they are masters of one.

… the elegant lines of the blade [of grass] have evolved to make the most economical use of limited energy and resources, for example, and the curve at which it bends measures the limit of the blade’s strength in the presence of the wind. Remove the limits from the grass, and its beauty goes away. The same thing is true of all beauty, in nature as a whole and in the subset of nature we call human life: beauty is born when a flow of nature encounters firm limits, and the more perfect its acceptance of those limits, the greater the beauty will be.

… The same thing is true of all power, in nature as a whole and in that subset of nature we call human life: power is born when a flow of energy encounters firm limits, and the more narrow the outlet left open by those limits, the greater the power will be.

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