Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

Kuklunomes — Let’s Form the Circle: Part 1

birchgrovemd

[Part 2 here]

Kuklunomes.  Karla, our ritual leader, half-sings, half-speaks the word in Priyosta Grove’s dedicated language.  Let’s form the circle.

Swonago!  says Russ, as he strikes a singing bowl forcefully.  The sound ripples through the clearing.  We’ve been experimenting with opening gestures and words.  These seem to work for us now.  I can feel without looking that the others are listening, as I am, as the sound fades.

Already the five of us who’ve gathered have been falling out of speech and into a ritual hush.  April wind blows chill through our grove, though the sun in a cloudless sky feels blessedly warm on our faces.  I open my eyes. Dry brown grass whispers around us and underfoot, but the rains have greened things as well.  Almost everyone still wears long sleeves, though a few dare to bare a little more.  Russ strikes the bowl a second time, and cries Swonago! just as Angie and Dan enter the grove.  They’re somewhat flushed, and release hands as they separate to walk to opposite sides of the circle.  Our resident young couple has plainly been making out.  Karla smiles at Angie, who’s tousled and a little breathless.

For the invocation, Karla passes to Michelle the staff she’s handcarved.  For each gathering she decorates it anew.  This time, on one end of the staff, three bird feathers, and a neat braid of colored ribbons cut from scraps from the Beltane rite last year.  Michelle raises it toward Karla in acknowledgement, than lifts it high over our heads.  The words to come are hers. We each bring a piece of this rite, having rehearsed it through a flurry of emails and briefly in a conference call a week ago, fighting static over a bad connection.  All becomes part of Grove tradition, stories to retell, to share with newcomers when the time is right, to remind us who we are.

Gods, spirits, ancestors of blood and the heart’s bond, Michelle chants in a minor-key singsong, we call you to sift our intent, to join our rite, and to bless what we share here and always. 

The words ripple up and down my spine. I glance around the circle again, wanting to take it all in.  Dan and Angie’s eyes are closed.  Both their heads tilt slightly as they listen.  To the casual observer, we’re just as casual: no robes or massive Pagan bling.  Look closer and you might see a few discrete pentagrams, a few modest-sized pendants and earrings.  One bearded fellow we know only as Dragon wears jeans and an embroidered white dress-shirt, a fluid Celtic pattern worked in red.  Michelle has brought water in our lovely aquamarine offering bowl that she found some years ago at a household auction and gifted to Priyosta Grove.  Friendship, it translates, or Amity.  An ongoing goal for us, an intention.  Michelle passed the bowl to Dragon when Karla handed her the staff.  Some of the rite we’re improvising now, relaxed at what’s scripted and what arrives free-form.

Dragon steps forward to bless the circle with water.  He’s at ease, smiling slightly, as he sprinkles each of us in turn.

Western gods and spirits, lakes and rivers, blood in our veins, oceans circling, he chants slowly, turning to each of us, we call you here,  now. 

Dragon’s name, I’m beginning to sense, fits him well after all.  I remember how I rolled my eyes a little when I first heard him introduce himself, then scolded myself as a Pagan snob.

Now, briefly, I flash onto a serpentine form, awash in a frothy sea — a water dragon.  Its arcing wings shoot a cascade of cool, refreshing water over us.  I shudder involuntarily in surprise at the vividness of what I experience.  A confirmation, something to tell him after, if it feels right.

I look around again at the others.  All of us are in fact wearing ritual garb.  The point is comfort and ritual dedication.  We’ve changed into these clothes, but they’re modern, like our ritual.  Priyosta has never come close to discussing anything like a “ritual dress code,” let alone tried to make one a formal policy — nobody has the balls, nor could they get it to stick anyway — but over our eight years of existence, we’ve established our own unwritten sensibility.  One piece of jewelry you’ve dedicated and worn to many rites over time is almost always better than thirty pounds of robes and bling from “Auntie Gaia’s Mystyk Cauldron and Proud Pagan Emporium.”  In big circles and at major festival gatherings, some of us might dress up more.  For this and for our other local rituals, we dress “in” — that one piece of clothing or jewelry that helps remind us as we breathe the smoking sage, feel the water of the blessing, that solvas son yagnei — all things are holy.

We continue inviting the Quarters, and settle in to the Rite.  We tell what feels appropriate, and pass over the rest, belonging to the Grove alone.

It’s not a major festival that’s brought us together this time.  Priyosta doesn’t always manage to meet for every one of the “Eight Greats.”  You follow the Wheel as you can.  But it’s time for our own thanksgiving.  The papers are signed and filed, the last check cleared our now very small grove bank account, the land title arrived on Monday.  This little hilltop with its stand of birches is now officially “ours” to care for.  A former hunter’s camp, much of it had been badly trashed, but we got it for back taxes and not a whole lot more.  A trust, for our grove to hold and heal, and when the time comes, to pass on.  We keep its location private, to preserve it from further heedless indifference.

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Image: birch grove.

DRL — a Druid Ritual Language, Part 1

[Part 2 | Part 3]

Ritual Language and the Case of Latin

Many spiritual and religious traditions feature a special language used for ritual purposes.  The most visible example in the West is Latin.  The Latin Mass remains popular, and though the mid-1960s reforms of Vatican II allowed the use of local vernacular languages for worship, they never prohibited Latin.  For some Catholics, the use of vernacular reduced the mystery, the beauty and ultimately, in some sense, the sacredness of the rites.  If you visit an Orthodox Christian or Jewish service, you may encounter other languages.  Within an hour’s drive of my house in southern Vermont, you can encounter Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Arabic and Tibetan used in prayer and ritual.

tridmass

Language as Sacrament

The heightened language characteristic of ritual, such as prayer and chant, can be a powerful shaper of consciousness.  The 5-minute Vedic Sanskrit video below can begin to approximate for one watching it a worship experience of sound and image and sensory engagement that transcends mere linguistic meaning.  The rhythmic chanting, the ritual fire, the sacrificial gathering, the flowers and other sacred offerings, the memory of past rituals, the complex network of many kinds of meaning all join to form a potentially powerful ritual experience.  What the ritual “means” is only partly mediated by the significance of the words.  Language used in ritual in such ways transcends verbal meaning and becomes Word — sacrament as language, language as sacrament — a way of manifesting, expressing, reaching, participating in the holy.

chantcoverAnd depending on your age and attention at the time, you may recall the renewed popularity of Gregorian chant starting two decades ago in 1994, starting with the simply-titled Chant, a collection by a group of Benedictines.

Issues with Ritual Language

One great challenge is to keep ritual and worship accessible.  Does the experience of mystery and holiness need, or benefit from, the aid of a special ritual language?  Do mystery and holiness deserve such language as one sign of respect we can offer?  Should we expect to learn a new language, or special form of our own language, as part of our dedication and worship?  Is hearing and being sacramentally influenced by the language enough, even if we don’t “understand” it? These aren’t always easy questions to answer.

“The King’s English”

kjvcoverFor English-speaking Christians and for educated speakers of English in general, the King James Bible* continues to exert remarkable influence more than 400 years after its publication in 1611.  What is now the early modern English grammar and vocabulary of Elizabethan England, in the minds of many, contribute to the “majesty of the language,” setting it apart from daily speech in powerful and useful ways.  Think of the Lord’s Prayer, with its “thy” and “thine” and “lead us not”: the rhythms of liturgical — in this case, older — English are part of modern Christian worship for many, though more recent translations have also made their way into common use.  A surprising number of people make decisions on which religious community to join on the basis of what language(s) are, or aren’t, used in worship.

Druid and Pagan Practice

When it comes to Druid practice (and Pagan practice more generally), attitudes toward special language, like attitudes towards much else, vary considerably.  Some find anything that excludes full participation in ritual to be an unnecessary obstacle to be avoided.  Of course, the same argument can be made for almost any aspect of Druid practice, or spiritual practice in general.  Does the form of any rite inevitably exclude, if it doesn’t speak to all potential participants?  If I consider my individual practice, it thrives in part because of improvisation, personal preference and spontaneity.  It’s tailor-made for me, open to inspiration at the moment, though still shaped by group experience and the forms of OBOD ritual I have both studied and participated in. Is that exclusionary?

druidrite

Ritual Primers

Unless they’re Catholic or particularly “high”-church Anglican/Episcopalian, many Westerners, including aspiring Druids, are often unacquainted with ritual. What is it? Why do it? How should or can you do it? What options are there? ADF offers some helpful guidance about ritual more generally in their Druid Ritual Primer page.  The observations there are well worth reflecting on, if only to clarify your own sensibility and ideas.  To sum up the first part all too quickly: Anyone can worship without clergy.  That said, clergy often are the ones who show up! In a world of time and space, ritual has basic limits, like size and start time.  Ignore them and the ritual fails, at least for you.  Change, even or especially in ritual, is good and healthy. However, “With all this change everyone must still be on the same sheet of music.”  As with so much else, what you get from ritual depends on what you give.  And finally, people can and will make mistakes.  In other words, there’s no “perfect” ritual — or perfect ritualists, either.

(Re)Inventing Ritual Wheels

Let me cite another specific example for illustration, to get at some of these issues in a slightly different way.  In the recent Druidcast 82 interview, host Damh the Bard interviews OBOD’s Chosen Chief, Philip Carr-Gomm, who notes that some OBOD-trained Druids seem compelled to write their own liturgies rather than use OBOD rites and language.  While he notes that “hiving off” from an existing group is natural and healthy, he asks why we shouldn’t retain beautiful language where it already exists.  He also observes that Druidry appeals to many because it coincides with a widespread human tendency in this present period to seek out simplicity.  This quest for simplicity has ritual consequences, one of which is that such Druidry can also help to heal the Pagan and Non-Pagan divide by not excluding the Christian Druid or Buddhist Druid, who can join rituals and rub shoulders with their “hard polytheist” and atheist brothers and sisters.  (Yes, more exclusionary forms of Druidry do exist, as they do in any human endeavor, but thankfully they aren’t the mainstream.)

About this attitude towards what in other posts I’ve termed OGRELD, a belief in “One Genuine Real Live Druidry,” Carr-Gomm notes, “The idea that you can’t mix practices from different sources or traditions comes from an erroneous idea of purity.”  Yes, we should be mindful of cultural appropriation.  Of course, as he continues, “Every path is a mixture already … To quote Ronald Hutton, mention purity and ‘you can hear the sound of jackboots and smell the disinfectant.'”  An obsession with that elusive One Genuine Real Live Whatever often misses present possibilities for some mythical, fundamentalist Other-time Neverland and Perfect Practice Pleasing to The Powers-That-Be.  That said, “there are certain combinations that don’t work.”  But these are better found out in practice than prescribed (or proscribed) up front, out of dogma rather than experience.  In Druidry there’s a “recognition that there is an essence that we share,” which includes a common core of practices and values.

As a result, to give another instance, Carr-Gomm says, “If you take Druidry and Wicca, some people love to combine them and find they fit rather well together,” resulting in practices like Druidcraft.  After all, boxes are for things, not people.  Damh the Bard concurs at that point in the interview, asserting that, “To say you can’t [mix or combine elements] is a fake boundary.”

Yet facing this openness and Universalist tendency in much modern Druidry is the challenge of particularity.  When I practice Druidry, it’s my experience last week, yesterday and tomorrow of the smell of sage smoke, the taste of mead, wine or apple juice, the sounds of drums, song, chant, the feel of wind or sun or rain on my face, the presence of others or Others, Spirit, awen, the god(s) in the rite.  The Druid order ADF, after all, is named Ár nDraíocht Féin — the three initials often rendered in English as “A Druid Fellowship” but literally meaning “Our Own Druidry” in Gaelic.

A Human Undersong

Where to go from here?  Carr-Gomm notes what Henry David Thoreau called an “undersong” inside all of us, underlying experience.  “We sense intuitively that there’s this undersong,” says Carr-Gomm.  “It’s your song, inside you. The Order and the course and the trainings [of groups like OBOD] — it’s all about helping you to find that song.  It’s universal.”  As humans we usually strive to increase such access-points to the universal whenever historical, political and cultural conditions are favorable, as they have been for the last several decades in the West.

Paradoxes of Particularity

Yet the point remains that each of us finds such access in the particulars of our experience.  (Christians call it the “scandal of particularity”; in their case, the difficulty of their doctrine that one being, Jesus, is the  sole saviour for all people — the single manifestation of the divine available to us.**)  And the use of heightened ritual language can be one of those “particulars,” a doorway that can also admittedly exclude, an especially powerful access point, because even ordinary language mediates so much human reality.  We quite literally say who and what we are.  The stroke victim who cannot speak or speaks only with difficulty, the aphasic, the abused and isolated child who never acquires language beyond rudimentary words or gestures, the foreigner who never learns the local tongue — all demonstrate the degree to which the presence or absence of language enfolds us in or excludes us from human community and culture.  And that includes spirituality, where — side by side with art and music — we are at our most human in every sense.

In the second post in this series, I’ll shift modes, moving from the context I’ve begun to outline here, and look at some specific candidates for a DRL — a Druidic Ritual Language.

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Images: Tridentine Mass; OBOD Star and Stone Fellowship rite.

*Go here for a higher-resolution image of the title page of the first King James Bible pictured above.

**In a 2012 post, Patheos blogger Tim Suttle quotes Franciscan friar and Father Richard Rohr at length on the force of particularity in a Christian context.  If Christian imagery and language still work for you at all, you may find his words useful and inspiring.  Wonder is at the heart of it.  Here Rohr talks about Christmas, incarnation and access to the divine in Christian terms, but pointing to an encounter with the holy — the transforming experience behind why people seek out the holy in the first place:

A human woman is the mother of God, and God is the son of a human mother!

Do we have any idea what this sentence means, or what it might imply? Is it really true?  If it is, then we are living in an entirely different universe than we imagine, or even can imagine. If the major division between Creator and creature can be overcome, then all others can be overcome too. To paraphrase Oswald Chambers “this is a truth that dumbly struggles in us for utterance!” It is too much to be true and too good to be true. So we can only resort to metaphors, images, poets, music, and artists of every stripe.

I have long felt that Christmas is a feast which is largely celebrating humanity’s unconscious desire and goal. Its meaning is too much for the rational mind to process, so God graciously puts this Big Truth on a small stage so that we can wrap our mind and heart around it over time. No philosopher would dare to imagine “the materialization of God,” so we are just presented with a very human image of a poor woman and her husband with a newly born child. (I am told that the Madonna is by far the most painted image in Western civilization. It heals all mothers and all children of mothers, if we can only look deeply and softly.)

Pope Benedict, who addressed 250 artists in the Sistine Chapel before Michelangelo’s half-naked and often grotesque images, said quite brilliantly, “An essential function of genuine beauty is that it gives humanity a healthy shock!” And then he went on to quote Simone Weil who said that “Beauty is the experimental proof that incarnation is in fact possible.” Today is our beautiful feast of a possible and even probable Incarnation!

If there is one moment of beauty, then beauty can indeed exist on this earth. If there is one true moment of full Incarnation, then why not Incarnation everywhere? The beauty of this day is enough healthy shock for a lifetime, which leaves us all dumbly struggling for utterance.

Updated (minor editing) 1 April 2014

Of Bridges and Leaders, Part 2

[Part One here]

And so the tale unfolds, its apparent focus on the actions of men.  But what of Branwen, sister of Bran?  She is not merely passive, an unwitting pawn in the hands of her brother, her family.

In her story a second and hidden teaching lies in plain sight, so to speak.

“She tames a starling and teaches it human speech,” goes one version.  Such an innocent line.  Does she achieve this before her mistreatment begins at the hands of her new husband, Matholwch king of Ireland?  During?  In either case, her deed stands as a marvel.

The -wen affix in Welsh is one way to form feminine names: Branwen, no less than Bran, is a leader, a bridge. A Raven.  For if she tames the starling before she needs it so desperately, foresight and guidance are hers because she listened and acted on them.  And if after, to her belong inspiration and determination and a singular courage.  To win the trust of a wild creature, to teach it speech, even if it is mimicry, to impress on it the urgency of her plight, to teach or guide it where to fly to find Bran, and on finding him, to repeat the message — each is remarkable alone, to say nothing of all of them together, while being abused and degraded.  This is the power of the animal in us, of Raven wisdom.

I do a quick internet search for “raven wisdom” and through a marvel worthy of the story, within seconds “A Bit about the Raven” appears among the links.  What are some characteristics of Raven Wisdom, according to the site?

  • Rebirth without fear
  • Ability to tear down what needs to be rebuilt
  • Renewal
  • Ability to find light in darkness
  • Courage of self-reflection
  • Introspection
  • Comfort with self
  • Honoring ancestors
  • Connection to the Crone
  • Divination
  • Change in consciousness
  • New occurrences
  • Eloquence

Each of these is apt and fitting, without forcing the issue. Deserving of meditation. Fear would rule you if it could. In Branwen’s case, with abuse and pain and betrayal at the hands of your husband, trapped in another country, all your blood kin, except for your child, across the sea, out of reach. Raven brings rebirth without fear. Branwen realizes the gift of self-possession, and “possessing” the self, a kind of paradox, she — we — have all that is needed.

I’d take a good Black Ops team any day, or barring that, a revolver, you think. And in the short term, these advantages would serve. But how well would they serve?  Rescued, delivered, you return to your old life.  No change, no growth to speak of, only new sorrow, and harrowing memory.  A resolve not to be married off without your consent?  Maybe it started as a love match, not just a political marriage.  Who can say, from what the story itself offers?

raven2But if you “learn” from the experience, but do not also transform as a result, you learn not to trust your own judgment, not to trust the judgment of your family who supposedly love you, who launch you into such a disastrous marriage. Not to trust life to bring you home.

Raven offers more.  It asks us about our own consciousness, about our attitudes to kinds of wisdom we may not (yet) value, or which we may even disdain or abuse, but which remain as gifts given before we can see and claim them as ours.  Raven is nowadays ubiquitous as a Craft name, a Pagan nickname, or initiatory identity.  Raven was the first degree of initiation among the devotees of Mithras.  And Raven is the trickster and initiator par excellence among traditional peoples of many cultures.

For the story does not end merely in rescue …

Part Three coming soon.

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Image: Raven

Magpie Religion

magpieMagpie religion says pick it up if it’s shiny.  Add it to your collection.  Don’t worry if it “matches” or “fits” — shininess is its own category.  It stands out from everything else.

Magpie religion is normally practiced alone, though its origin lies in the genetic stamp all Magpies carry. Aloneness is not a bad thing — the Magpie, at least the Eurasian variety, passes the mirror test for self-awareness.  Magpie doesn’t need a flock to find its own way.  The world of shiny awaits.

Magpie religion says don’t worry so much about God, an afterlife, and so on.  Magpie religion means be a Magpie as best you can, and that means “do Magpie things.”  You’ll begin to see that God comes to you.  Sometimes wearing feathers.  Sometimes not.

Magpie religion means, while you sit on your branch, if you can, sing.

Magpie religion seeks no converts.  If you’re born a Magpie, you’re already a member.  You belong.  If you’re something else, BE that something else.  No copy-cats, or copy-birds.  Everything belongs, has its shiny.  Go find it, says Magpie religion.  Bring it back to the nest.

Magpie religion says beautiful exists on its own terms.  It needs no excuses.  It also doesn’t need a runway, an ad campaign, backers or models.  It doesn’t go in or out of style.

Magpie religion says “Magpie” doesn’t signify anything, even if death or bad weather happens to come along.  Other beings signify using “Magpie.”  Magpie doesn’t mind.  It could mean more shiny.

Magpie religion says the order is important:  magpie first, then religion.  Remember that when you sort your shiny.

Magpie religion says don’t worry if others call you Magpie, which is a silly name, after all.  By BEING Magpie, you make the name beautiful.  Ruffle those feathers, preen a little.  You’ve earned it.

Magpie religion says if someone wants to make an animal guide out of you, introduce the Trickster.  Then fly away.

magpieflyMagpie religion says you carry bright and dark in your own bodies.  No need to go far to seek them, to “understand” them.  You stand under them already.  Literally. Without trying.  Want a vision, check a mirror, see yourself — recognize it.

Magpie religion says “Magpie religion” is a set of sounds, a set of ripples and sparks in your nervous system.  Where are you flying today?

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Images: sitting; in flight

The Eurasian magpie, the variety studied more extensively, also appears to possess episodic memory — the ability to recall/distinguish “what, where, when.” Magpies have been observed using tools, and groups of Magpies showing what has been interpreted as grief over the death of one of their number.  The Magpie is not only one of the most intelligent of birds, but of all animals — an intelligence now recognized to have arisen independently in both corvids (crow and magpie-like birds) and primates.  See Eurasian magpie for more info.

Nanowrimo ’13

Yes, I’ve once again* entered that artificial arena of neurotic constraint and gratuitous creativity sponsored by the good (though by now addled) folks at Nanowrimo.  National (though it’s gone global) Novel Writing Month.  A 50,000 word draft of novel in 30 days.  Join nearly 300,000 other dreamers doing the same thing and keeping tabs on each other at the Nanowrimo website, its forums, messages, Q and A, and so on.  Giving out free advice, titles, sympathy, inspiration, horror stories and pep talks.  The whole project runs on a shoestring.  You can read a little more about the details here.

I’m at 10,500-something words right now, some 6000 words short of where I should be, if we were keeping score.  Which I am.  But not.  1667 words a day is nothing more than many novelists write all year round, so do not take too seriously the self-pity and the indulgent whining heard from your marginally stable neighborhood ‘Wrimo.  He or she need do only one thing:  keep writing.  Nothing else is acceptable.  “Someday I’m going to write a novel,” meet your moment (month?) of truth.

And, to tell the truth (available in good novels everywhere), I’m on my second plot, after severe crash-and-burn a few days ago, but at last words and ideas are flowing.  All my strategies and tricks from three decades of writing went on strike and picketed my brain.  But now I’m back (breakdown averted once again) and I’m on it. And that first story?   Not stillborn, just arrested, delayed, challenged, developmentally disabled.  “Differently scripted.”  I still have hopes for it.  With surgery, therapy, time …  “Your children will disappoint you.  Love them anyway.”

Novelist and blogger Chuck Wendig waxes vulgarly eloquent on the pitfalls of The Nanowrimo Simplification (sounds like a title for The Big Bang Theory) in this 2011 post, “25 things you should know about Nanowrimo.”  For anyone interested, he’s dead on target, and the four-letter words underscore the realities of the writerly world.

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResStill, if you plant butt on chair and do the writing, in one month you will undeniably clutch in the form of hot little electrons what your dreaming-of-writing-a-novel-before-I die self did not have previously:  material to work with, to cudgel and trim, exercise (exorcise) and massage into a draft of what could become a novel.  With time and much more effort.  O Grasshopper, the draft is only a beginning.  But thou art now A Writer.

I’m off to drive my wife to a weaving workshop in Massachusetts.  Then it’s back home to move the story forward another 500-1000 words before Sunday turns into Monday and its 1667 additional words.  Wish me luck.

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

*Here’s one of several posts from my 2011 Nanowrimo experience.

Facing a Critique

capitalism_logo“Druidry is a middle-class phenomenon.  What with your workshops, books, weekends and camps, and especially the pricey study materials for groups like OBOD, who else but somebody middle-class could afford it?  It’s like so much of the New Age:  take away the cash cow that supplies the milk and it’ll collapse.  Your ‘nature spirituality’ or ‘green religion’ is just middle-class consumption of good marketing.  It’s not the real thing.  Where’s the outreach to all levels of society?”

capitalism-300x199OK, let’s listen to this mostly economic critique.  On the face of it, it may seem pretty damning.  If Druidry is simple good marketing and money-driven, it’s like so many other trends and fashions:  it depends on a manufactured need, or at least a market-boosted one.  Take away the marketing and it fades away.

Outdoors the October sky is gray.  I gaze out the window, sending a brief acknowledgement to the directions, thanking Spirit for the gift of this life, breathing and being aware of my breath, centering my attention before proceeding with this blog post.

If we look at ancient Druidry, through the filter of its classical recorders who did not always have its best interests at heart, it appears to be a distinct caste.  Druids had status and power, and were definitely not the mass of society.   They were an elite, with all the pluses and minuses that go with it.  There was little we would call “middle-class” about Celtic society.  Slaves, warriors, traders, farmers, craftspeople … but no one with that strange combination of material luxury, education, and political clout that looks remotely like what we mean by “middle class” today or for the last 100 years.  By our standards or even by Medieval ones when something like a middle class began to emerge, most ancient Celts were wretchedly poor.

As for the over-marketing of the New Age and spirituality and all our current hopes and dreams and fears, that’s one of the creeping plagues of capitalism.  If it can be packaged to make money, someone will package it.  The retreats and workshops and therapists and healers and “sacred” this and “spiritual” that fill a need, or they wouldn’t exist.  But they don’t touch the heart of knowing yourself for part of the world, feeling your body and the earth and trees, birds and insects and fish and animals, sun and clouds and stars all as kindred.  The awen that is always streaming out of silence and calling us to sing back does not go away when the money stops clinking and whispering at the cash register.  It only becomes more profound.  There we can find the heart of Druidry.

Let’s look at the cost of study materials like those of OBOD right up front.  If you decide to enroll in the Bardic course, you receive monthly course mailings, access to a tutor, online forums, a subscription to the OBOD magazine Touchstone, and supplemental materials throughout the year.  Many people take more than a year — sometimes several years — to complete the work of the grade, but there’s no additional cost.  The text-based Bardic study materials cost £215 — at the current exchange rate, that works out to $344 — a little less than a dollar a day.  Many people spend more on cigarettes and alcohol.  That’s the cost of joining one specific teaching and initiatic order.  Printing and mailing cost money.  But it is admittedly beyond the reach of many on tight budgets.

autumn imageOf course, you can be a Druid for free, starting at this moment.  You live on this earth, and you can follow your intuition and common sense and spiritual need and shape your own way throughout your own life, paying no one for any teaching, and bowing to no one and nothing except those you feel deserve it.  Yes, the support and encouragement of what others have discovered and thought and written is invaluable along the way.  Many valuable books and other materials are free online, or available at libraries.  But if you want to receive and study OBOD’s Druid teachings, they cost money to reproduce and ship.  If you want to study with ADF, or AODA, or the British Druid Order, there are fees because there are administrative costs and physical materials you receive.  If you think Druidry is the next big way to make money, form your own order, market your One Genuine Real Live Druidry, and have at it.

One of the joys of living Druidry is a sense in the West at least that we’re recapturing something lost, something beautiful and profound, but also something utterly vital and practical.  Many tribal peoples have preserved their traditional wisdom for living on earth without destroying it.  Such wisdom is hard won.  Tribes that practiced slash-and-burn agriculture, for instance, often found their land damaged after a few cycles and needed to move.  Poor farming practices meant not just environmental degradation but often starvation and death.

As one flavor of Druidry, OBOD offers itself as “a spiritual way and practice that speaks to three of our greatest yearnings: to be fully creative in our lives, to commune deeply with the world of Nature, and to gain access to a source of profound wisdom.”*  That may on occasion be good marketing, but it’s also uncommonly good sense to live in a way that makes our decades here all they can be, to walk lightly on the earth.

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Images:  enjoy capitalism; capitalism isn’t working; autumn.

*From the OBOD Website page “What is Druidry?

Updated 15 October 2013 22:30

Fake Druidry and Ogreld

I’m a fake Druid.  So is everyone else who names Druidry as the path they walk. And I’ve come to love it.

In a guest essay on the ADF website, J. M. Greer notes,

The very last of the ancient Druids went extinct in the ninth century, and the surviving scraps of their teachings and lore are so fragmentary, diffuse, and contradictory that they don’t form anything like a workable system. All modern Druid groups—OBOD, ADF, and everyone else—were invented in the last three centuries by people who used some mix of scholarly writings, personal spiritual insight, speculation, and sheer fantasy as raw material for their concoctions.

Thus if “real Druidry” is defined as the sort that was practiced by Druids in Celtic countries before the arrival of Christianity, all modern Druids practice fake Druidry. That can’t be avoided, since “real Druidry” hasn’t existed anywhere for more than a millennium. What differentiates one modern Druid tradition from another is the particular kind of “fake Druidry” each practices.

Of course, Greer writes here as an outsider might see it, to try on a truth many still feel uncomfortable to admit.  As Archdruid of AODA, he obviously doesn’t habitually dwell on his particular flavor of Druidry as “fake.”  And when I practice my Druidry, it doesn’t feel like a “concoction” at all.  It coheres, because like anything used — steps, coins, dishes, skin, planets — the edges get smoothed, a few chips and dents show up, and everything takes on that “lived-in” look, that patina that makes antiques look antique, that gives worry-stones their shine, and faces their habitual smile or frown lines.  I make an offering at an altar, I join my Druid brothers and sisters at a festival, I sit for an hour in moonlight meditating, and whether a group of people 300 years ago rediscovered things most traditional peoples have long known doesn’t really concern me.  Clearly, the moment itself offers me better things to do.

Greer continues:

The Druid community has on occasion been racked by squabbles between traditions, caused as often as not by simple misunderstandings that could have been quickly cleared up by people familiar with more than their own tradition. Since none of us have any right to claim possession of the One Genuine Real Live Druidry, a willingness to share the world with other Druid traditions, and to participate with them in celebrating the cycles of nature and the miracle of the living Earth, is a virtue that may well be worth cultivating by Druids of all kinds.

Ah, “One Genuine Real Live Druidry” — Ogreld, I’ll call it. My new tradition, founded right now as you’re reading this.  Here we go … unlike every other practice and belief on the planet, Ogreld sprang into existence full-grown and perfect, without parents or kin.  To get that essential temporal edge over other faiths and practices, Ogreld is the original “source faith” of humanity, practiced when people first became human. In fact, to top it off, it was Ogreld that made them human.  Now we’re cooking!  … This is faking with a vengeance.  “I’m faker than you are.  Na-na-na-na-na!”

In the Egyptian afterlife, the human heart is weighed against the feather of Maat, who personifies truth and justice.  The Wise among us understand that whether I acknowledge three elements of earth, water and air, or four elements of earth, air, fire and water, or a god whose elements are bread and wine, my rituals will still work in accordance with the reverence and love I bring to them, and the holy presences that empower them.  Whether I have helped or hurt the earth and its inhabitants will matter a lot more than the color of my robes, the rank I’ve achieved, or the number of gods I pray to.   The only real Druidry is a “path with heart,” a way of walking the earth that wisely honors all paths with heart.  I’m busy faking that wisdom, practicing till I get it “righter” than before.  Insofar as faking is doing something, it’s generally better than not doing anything at all.  So yes, I’m a fake Druid.  Have you met any other kind?!

Notes on Magic

sunset

What follows are brief notes from a short talk I recently gave on magic.

Dion Fortune’s definition of magic: “the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will.”

“… most of us, most of the time, are content to use the imaginations of others to define the world around us, however poorly these may fit our own experiences and needs; most of us, most of the time, spend our lives reacting to feelings, whims and biological cravings rather than acting on the basis of conscious choice; most of us, most of the time, remember things so poorly that entire industries have come into existence to make up for the failures and inaccuracies of memory” (J. M. Greer, Circles of Power, 52).

We can, however, choose to imagine – & remember – ourselves differently. When we do so with focused attention, changes happen, both subjectively & objectively.

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Magic stems from an experiential fact, an experimental goal, & an endlessly adaptable technique.

The fact is that each day we all experience many differing states of consciousness, moving from deep sleep to REM sleep to dream to waking, to daydream, to focused awareness & back again.  We make these transitions naturally & usually effortlessly.  They serve different purposes, & what we cannot do in one state, we can often do easily in another.  The flying dream is not the focus on making a hole in one, nor is it the light trance of daydream, nor the careful math calculation.

The goal of magic is transformation – to enter focused states of awareness at will & through them to achieve insight & change.

The technique is the training & work of the imagination.  This work typically involves the use of ritual, meditation, chant, visualization, concentration, props, images & group dynamics to catalyze transformations in awareness.

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Magic is also “a set of methods for arranging awareness according to patterns.”

We live our lives according to patterns.  Some patterns are limiting & may be unmasked as restrictive.  Other patterns can help bring about transformation.  “[T]he purpose of magical arts is to enable changes within the individual by which he or she may apprehend further methods [of magic & transformation] inwardly.”

“… [O]ur imagination is our powerhouse … certain images tap into the deeper levels of imaginative force within us; when these are combined with archetypal patterns they may have a permanent transformative effect.”

– R. J. Stewart, Living Magical Arts

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Image source:  sunset.

A Ghost-Druid Dialog

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

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

That kind of seeing and holding requires a special focus, a clear attention, I think, as I hurry to lunch, distinctly UN-focused, a dozen thoughts jangling, after two very different conversations with students during conference period.  My freshman advisee Walt has asked about the intricacies of some scheduling for sophomore year, while Ann, a junior and a former student, has come to talk about polishing a remarkable piece of journal writing from her freshman year for possible publication.

At the dining hall table where I often sit, Mr. Madden, Mr. Ritter and Mr. Delahunt are chuckling about an old piece of school gossip concerning the previous administration.  Ms. Valenti  joins us, and the conversation soon shifts to the deer that appear early almost every morning in the yards of the faculty residences on the campus periphery, where Ms. Valenti and Mr. Madden live in senior faculty houses.  Ms. Valenti describes the ten- or eleven-point buck she saw standing motionless in her driveway earlier in the week.  Mr. Delahunt mentions that he’s learned a small herd of deer beds down each night in a wooded gully between the new science building and the peripheral faculty housing. I cheer silently for these animal lives thriving, often just beyond our knowledge, in this apparently suburban part of the world.

At first I think all of this is mere distraction, but Blake reminds me yet again there’s a whole world here, eternity and infinity too, if I only see and touch them.  We all gobble our food, and I hurry back to my first afternoon class with my seniors.  So many grains of sand: underfoot, on the stairwell carpets of the English building, in my second-floor office when I reach down to pick up a fallen paperclip from the floor.  Each one a world, if I had time to see it.  Next year I will have time, because this is my last here.  Voluntary poverty, or insanity, or more than a little of both.

Class goes fast with my fifth period Brit Lit seniors.  Many of them read from the satires they’ve written in imitation of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.”  We don’t work on Blake, but here is eternity, too.  For a few moments we’re all paying attention, laughing at a satire of college admissions, or the sleep deprivation so many students face, not thinking about anyone or anything else — about the test next period, the sick friend, the college rejection letter, deadlines, schedules, midterm tomorrow, the weather, or whether a visionary dead white male Romantic poet may or may not have anything useful to say to us.

blake

Mr. Blake, we survived the 2012 fake apocalypse, I feel like crowing.  His ghost seems to nod, looking out the window at the light fog that huddles over the nearest quad.  Maybe that’s the best we can do, right now, our version of eternity: bad apocalypse.

Unwilling to share their satires, the sixth period seniors struggle with Blake.  We work through a couple of the easier poems, and soon I can tell it’s “drag” time.  I drag them through a few more, trying to open up the sometimes seeming-simplistic usually-complex lines.  Blake’s ghost sighs heavily.  An uphill climb for everyone, even though I’m working harder than usual to exhume the poet from two centuries of cultural and historic static that seems to buzz between the words on the page and the lives of my students.  I give them a creative writing exercise, and one soft-spoken girl produces a lovely poem inspired by the lines at the top of this post.  Her lines offer almost all sensory detail, a lovely lyric, with none of the teen angst that normally trails after much adolescent poetry like a homeless dog.  I give thanks for such things.

Blake, old sage, tyger-burner, Jerusalem-singer, painter and poet of the 19th century as strange and full of possibility as our 21st … what else do you have to tell me?  I listen as I write, content for a moment to hear the voice of silence in and around the clicks and taps of the keyboard.  “Hear the voice of the Bard, who past, present and future sees …”  With the view out my window circumscribed to the present only, I can tell I have my work cut out for me.  Blake’s ghost nods encouragingly.  Time to begin again.

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image:  “Beatrice addresses Dante”; William Blake

Updated 23 April 2015

The Druid Dialogs: Aithne, Part 3

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

In our last conversation, Aithne had said nothing about needing my help.  All this stuff about ancestors and bloodlines, and now I was wondering about that piece.  Had she forgotten?  But even if she did need me in any way, how could I really help?  After several decades of living, I have a pretty clear sense of my talents and abilities.   It wasn’t false modesty that told me both Rosmert and Aithne could certainly handle challenges and obstacles I couldn’t.  Wasn’t that why they were teaching me, and not the other way around?  There’s an innate order to things that we ignore at our own peril but that we can also learn to our advantage — that’s one of the foundations of my worldview.  I guess when I thought about it that I saw helping others along the path is a form of payback, or maybe paying it forward.  It’s a way to show gratitude, a way to keep the heart open.  Gratitude feels good.  Just do it.

So it was when all of this was still spinning through my brain that Aithne appeared again.  It had been more than a few days since  I’d tended to my Sacred Grove.  The excuse doesn’t matter; it’s a poor one.  But shortly after I returned, there she was.   But she certainly was not dressed the same this time.  Biker chick was all I could think:  leather jacket, torn and faded jeans, bandanna, dark glasses, snake tattoo on her neck, even chains.  Again she was gazing off into the distance, and when she turned toward me she took off the sunglasses and winked.

“You ready?” she asked.

“For what?” I replied.  That was Aithne, I was beginning to understand.  Small talk rated low among her priorities.  And it was rubbing off.

“A ride,” she said.  “I’ve got an ’86 Harley Sportster, 1100 cc’s.  Want to try it out?”

And that was how, maybe an hour later, Aithne and I were roaring down a little-traveled country road that arrowed flat and straight toward the western  horizon.  After a series of lessons, practice runs, one spill and a bruised right knee, I felt reasonably confident handling the heavy machine.  I wasn’t ready for a lot of traffic yet, but the basics were coming along nicely.

“We’ve got clear road,” she said.  “Let’s open it up for a couple miles.”

The big bike still ran smooth when we topped 80 mph.  I eased back on the throttle, listening to engine as it lost the high-pitched whine of speed. A few minutes later we were sitting on the side of the road, sipping Gatorade.  Aithne was studying a ladybug on a blade of grass she held in both hands.

“You can help me, you know,” she said.  “We need you healthy for the work, and for your part which only you can do.  That’s your focus for now.  Get healthy, and balanced.”

“I wanted to ask you about that.  What can I do?”

“You can begin again.”

“Begin what?”

“You’ve completed another spiral.  The next months may look familiar, but they aren’t the same thing that’s come before. Pay attention to what they can show you.”

“But what am I supposed to be looking for?” I asked.

Aithne paused and looked at me for a moment.

“You’re thinking about quitting your job after this academic year.  You’re wondering how little you can live on if you do, how much food you can grow for yourself back in Vermont.  Those aren’t bad things by any means, but your principal focus needs to go beyond that.  Those aren’t ultimately pathways to the next two decades.  You’re looking at surviving.  I’m talking about thriving.”

“After the last couple of years, surviving looks pretty good to me.”

“And it is,” she said.  “We had to work with your wife to get you to that surgeon in Baltimore.  You weren’t listening when you most needed to.  Fortunately, she was.  So you survived the shift, you kept this body through the turn.  You’re still here, and the ancestors aren’t finished with you in this life yet. You’re on commission.  Did you know that?”

“Commission for …  for what?”  I stuttered. “Can I have some clarity just once about what I’m supposed to be doing?”

“You’re confusing clarity with looking back on a path you’ve already walked,” she said.  “So often you can know by going.  And for as long as you’re here, you’ll find that’s one of the things time’s for.”

And then I was back in my living room.  The clock said 9:48 pm.  It had been a long day, and I had much to think about.

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Updated 23 April 2015

The Druid Dialogs: Aithne, Part 2

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

“The  Blood of Veen is a key to new insights for you,” said Aithne.  “Your ancestors reach you through the body — your body.  You carry them with you wherever you go, in your cell memory, your DNA, your genetic coding, and the energy signatures scientists are just on the edges of discovering, which are part of the bonds that link the physical body to the other worlds.”

“So how does the Blood of Veen connect with me personally?”

“If you visit a place where your ancestors lived, you may have a dream or vision that teaches you something you need to know.”  Aithne stood gazing a little above my left shoulder, or head, as if she was watching something move there.  “Veen is in the province of Brabant.”  She paused, apparently studying empty air.  “And some of your mother’s ancestors came from that region,” she added.  Aithne’s knowledge startled me.  One of my mother’s aunts had traced much of the family line back to medieval France and Belgium.  Some of her ancestors came from Brabant, including a noble named Joscelyn de Louvain, when Brabant was a Duchy.  (Don’t get the wrong idea here. I have my full share of black sheep in the family, too!)  And Louvain is a city in Brabant — its capital, in fact.

“But I can’t just pick up and visit Brabant or anywhere else in the world at the drop of a hat! Most people don’t have the time or money to track down their ancestors in other countries or take some sort of reincarnation tour.”

“You don’t need to,” said Aithne, ignoring my flash of irritation.  “Pictures can help.  And there are online forums where you can ask questions and find out detailed information about almost anything you want to know.  Let your curiosity work for you. After all, how much time do you waste online as it is?!”  Her sudden smile was teasing.  “Make the first move, and the ancestors will respond.  You’ll have a dream, find a book, ‘happen’ to meet someone, make a connection.  They will guide you.”

Somehow it surprised me that Aithne knew these things.  While I’ve come to expect my inner experiences to bring me general insights and hints and nudges on occasion, whenever I receive specific information it still surprises me.  A few years ago in a dream I got the name of a small British town in Devon where some of my father’s family originated.  I’d never heard of it before, and it no longer exists today.  For that reason I know that no one in my family had ever mentioned it.  But there are archaeological records and mentions of the town in chronicles and censuses of the period showing that it once did exist.

That was the outer confirmation of an inner experience.  Such validation doesn’t always come, but when it does, I feel a shiver of awe and wonder.   These things are real.  The worlds link however briefly, and lives change as a result.  I know this, I’ve experienced it before enough time to silence any doubt, but my inner doubter doesn’t care.  He’s achieved pro status by this point, and just goes about pointing out sly new possibilities of self-deception.  I guess my ancestors have to be pretty patient with me to get through at all.  I often think they must find other descendants more worth their time.  Then I remember they’re working outside of time — at least outside of my time.  They can afford a little patience with the stubborn and half-deaf ones like me.

Aithne seemed to be following my thought.   She was nodding slightly, and then she said,  “Sometimes the act of inquiring leads you to new people and experiences that are beneficial for everyone involved.  You know this,” she said.

“I’ll return one more time,” she said.  “We have a few more things to discuss.”

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Updated 23 April 2015

Re-vision

This unretouched image of trees and sky, courtesy of Druid Debbie Brodeur, was taken from a moving car.  How much glory lies just behind the “ordinary.”  Our eyes insist there’s “nothing new,” while all the time endless wonders dance past us.  It’s possible to remember to “look again,” to re-vision things, even a few more times a day.  Small steps, to see the world new again.

A Time of Rebalanced Energies

The Equinox is upon us.  Still the Druid Prayer of the Revival echoes from last weekend at the East Coast Gathering:

Grant, O God/dess, thy protection,
And in protection, strength,
And in strength, understanding,
And in understanding, knowledge,
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice,
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it,
And in that love, the love of all existences,
And in the love of all existences, the love of God/dess and all goodness.

The lake in the picture (photo credit Sara Corry) is at the base of Camp Netimus, where the East Coast Gathering assembled for its third year this last weekend.  In the presence of such moments, it’s easier to perceive that the physical world is one face of the holy, or as Jung expressed it, “Spirit is the living body seen from within, and the body the outer manifestation of the living spirit—the two being really one” (253).  Humans respond to beauty and to such transparent intervals as this, often in spite of what they may consciously believe or claim about reality.  We cannot help but be moved because we are part of what we witness.  We may witness a score of hierophanies, visions of the divine, each day.  Whatever our beliefs, these openings to the sacred nourish and help sustain us.

The rebalancing we hope to accomplish depends on our state of consciousness, on our ability to accept a gift given.  And so in a workshop last weekend, “The Once and Future Druid:  Working with the Cauldron of Rebirth,” we repeatedly turned to another seed-passage, this time from Neville’s The Power of Awareness: “The ideal you hope to achieve is always ready for an incarnation, but unless you yourself offer it human parentage, it is incapable of birth.”  I carried that with me for several days, marveling at its ability to focus the attention.  Whenever I found myself falling into old patterns of thought, I return to its simple truth. The power of such meditations and seed-exercises reaches beyond their apparent simplicity or even simplisticness.

In one sense we are consciously meme-planting, even if it’s on a personal level.  Why not plant our own, rather than be subject to others’ constructs, which may not suit us?  Yes, these seed-thoughts and heart-songs may remain lifeless if we do not ignite them with our attention and desire.  But properly sustained, like a campfire (sorry … the camp images stick with me!), fed and banked and tended, it can pour out a healing and transformative warmth all out of scale to its visible size.

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Jung, Carl.  Modern Man in Search of a Soul. London:  Routledge and Kegan Paul/Ark Paperbacks, 1984.

Updated 9/28/12

In the grove the Druid sits — Part II

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

The day was fading into twilight, and I could feel the dew settle around us like a third party at this meeting.  “What is your name, master?” I asked him.  In a grassy spot near us I made a firepit, seeing and touching the rough gray stones, feeling their weight to make it real.  Then I gathered a bundle of sticks and lit a fire, because now there was an evening chill in the air.

“I’ve been given many names.  Some of them I even like,” he said in a wry tone, smiling at me.

Suddenly I knew his name.  “Wadin Tohangu,” I said.  “That’s an African name?”

He nodded.

“You’re an African Druid?  Is there even such a thing?!”

He chuckled at my surprise.  “I travel a lot. And you’re as much a Druid as I am.”

This wasn’t exactly the answer I expected.  And I wondered what he meant.

“Yes, you may call me Wadin Tohangu.  Call on me when you need help,” he said, “or if you wish to talk, as we are doing today.”  He spoke English clearly and very well, but the way he said his name, with the slightest accent, set off echoes in my head.  A familiar name.  I knew it somehow.  How?

“It’s a name you can use,” he said, as if in reply to my thoughts.  He put his hands out toward the heat of the fire.  “It’s as magical as you are.”

“Some days I don’t feel very magical,” I said, and paused.  Time always seemed to pass differently in the grove, both slowly, and faster than I expected.

“That’s one key, of course.  How you choose to feel,” Wadin answered.  “Which things are your choices and which are simply given to you would be helpful to contemplate.  We confuse those two quite often.  And which to be grateful for, we misunderstand even more!”

“How much can we be grateful for?” I asked.

“That’s a question to answer by experimenting,” he replied.  The pile of burning twigs and small branches shifted, settling.  “Gratitude is another key.”

“Choices and gratitude,” I said, half to myself.

The dog started barking again somewhere in the distance.  I swallowed a flash of annoyance.  This was important — I wanted to hear everything Wadin was saying.

“Yes,” he said.  “And a third point is attention, as we’ve seen.”

I looked at him.

“For you that dog is a most useful guide,” he said, laughing at my expression.  “Why not find out his name, too?”

The darkening sky behind him showed several stars.  He stood up.  “Each moment offers what we need, both for itself, and for moving on to the next one.  How else can time pass?”  As I watched the firelight flicker on his face, he said, “Remember these things.”

I looked around at the grove one more time, and when I turned back, Wadin was gone.  I stood up.  Then I moved to touch the altar and said goodbye to the trees.  The fire had died down to glowing embers. I stirred them with a stick, pushing them into the sand of the pit.

The dog was still barking.  So I followed the sound back to my room, where it was coming in through a screened open window.  I heard a car door slam at Jim’s place, and voices.  Then everything was still again, except for crickets chirping in the dark.  I turned on a light, and sat there quietly for  few minutes, thinking about the experience, and writing it down in my journal.

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Updated 23 April 2015

Dirty Words, Green Thoughts

Compromises.  They get bad press. In this time of American public life, compromise is among the worst of bad words.  It’s true that we often seem weakest where we make one.  That’s OK, as long as we aren’t blindsided by them, as long as our compromises aren’t destructive to us, as long as we can make them and live with them as conscious acts.  But any one of those challenges can pierce us to the core.

As a case in point, I want to address a “local” issue that echoes everywhere.  Last December, over a thousand residents in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts gathered to protest the continued operation of the Vermont Yankee (VY) Nuclear Plant beyond its original 40-year licensing period. There were over 130 arrests, though the protest remained orderly — both protesters and police had prepared months in advance.

As Vermont transplants rather than natives, my wife and I inherited the controversy when we settled here over a decade ago.   So first, some details — as unbiased as I can make them, from sources on both sides. A Druid tries to find the multiple tertiaries or neglected alternatives between two opposed binaries, so bear with me here.

First, the pros:  VY has been through $400 million of upgrades since it was first commissioned in 1972.  These include a 2006 retrofit that allows the reactor to generate approximately 20% more energy than its original design specifies, obviating the need to build other plants or increase fossil fuel use.  Vermont relies on the plant for about 30% of its current energy use, and when VY is down for refueling, increased consumption of gas and oil must make up the difference.  Decommissioning the plant would require finding other (and mostly more expensive) energy sources to make up the shortfall.  Published estimates put the pollution savings over the past four decades  of operation at 50 million tons of carbon that VY’s nuclear capacity has avoided dumping into our atmosphere.  That clean operation contributes heavily to keeping our famously pristine Vermont air famously pristine. Employment statistics put the number of jobs directly connected with the plant and its operation at around 650 people, and the impact on the state economy in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Obviously, shutting down the plant isn’t just a matter of pulling the plug.

Second, the cons:  VY’s design closely resembles the Fukushima reactor in Japan that failed in the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.   The 2006 upgrade that allows VY to generate approximately 20% more energy beyond its original design specs imposes unknown and unstudied stresses on a reactor structure deteriorating in spite of repairs — uncertainties the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) admits.  The plant stores its spent fuel in containment tanks that are now already at 95% capacity, yet the scheduled recommissioning is for another 20 years.   VY sits on the Connecticut River, whose waters ultimately empty into Long Island Sound.  An accident to either the reactor or fuel containment pools would not only affect the immediate area of mostly small towns, but carry radiation and waste downstream directly into the middle of  major centers of population like Springfield and Hartford, and numerous smaller towns like Greenfield, Deerfield, Northampton and Holyoke, MA, and Enfield, Middletown and Old Saybrook, CT.  It would then spread into the Long Island Sound and quickly impact eastern Long Island.  Tucking the spent rods and other waste away in “remote locations” like Yucca Mountain is no real solution, only a poor stop-gap measure.

Critics cite a string of mostly minor incidents at the plant over the years — small leaks, structural failures, and accidental discharges, as well as cover-ups, lies, bribery and arrogance in responses by the parent company Entergy, which runs eleven other nuclear plants around the country. Vermont governor Peter Shumlin openly says he wants VY shut down.  Entergy’s own website for VY (at www.safecleanreliable.com) addresses safety, somewhat obliquely, with a list of emergency contact numbers and the statement:  “The area approximately 10 miles around the Vermont Yankee is called the Emergency Planning Zone. Plans have been developed for warning and protecting people within this 10-mile area.”  Within this 10 mile radius live approximately 35,000 people. Yet after the Fukushima reactor meltdown in Japan, the NRC recommended that Japan extend its emergency safety zone radius to 50 miles.   The number of people within a 50 mile radius of VY is 1,500,000.

Here’s an aerial view of VY, courtesy of Entergy:

VY may well be shut down in some future election cycle, or it may face a spate of incidents that call into question its safety.  It may even run safely (for a nuclear plant) until its all of its operating extensions expire.  Until then, unless I and everyone else who benefits from the plant volunteer to cut our energy usage by that 30% that VY generates, and help subsidize a transfer to alternate sources of energy, can we justify our self-righteous claims to “shut it down” with no further personal sacrifice?  What are we willing to give in order to get what we want?

Though some people deride our Druid rituals and mock our perspectives about the earth, what we do to the world we do to ourselves in very real ways.  The facts can be disputed — the principle operates in full force as it always has.  What goes around comes around: we know this, which is why such sayings have penetrated the common language and consciousness.  We alive today are part of the world’s karma — our karma, the choices we make and actions we take every day.  I turned on the oven to heat my lunch earlier today.  Would I be willing to make do with a solar oven, or eat my meal cold, or … any of a number of alternatives?

A Wise One observed that in the last decade the entire world had the opportunity to accept a major initiation — a step forward in consciousness, based in large part on our accepting greater responsibility for our actions and their consequences.  As a single aware corporate entity, the world consciousness refused this opportunity.  (Was it majority vote?!) Individually we still all grow at our own paces, but we also take part in a world shaped by planetary consciousness as a whole, to which we each contribute a part.  We can plainly see the results all around us right now, and whatever we may think of the ultimate causes, they began in human choices. As Gandalf observes (and why shouldn’t a decent movie Druid get his share of press?), if we regret the choices we see and the consequences of those choices which we know many will suffer, “so do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”  And that is enough for any film character, or four-dimensional beings like ourselves.  Each life improved is a life improved, and within our circles we can accomplish much of value before we leave this world.  It is not our task to redeem the planet.  World-saviors appear in flesh and myth to do such tasks.  (Unless you’re signing up for the job, in which case you should have been told where to go and what to do.  Just don’t ask me.)  The time that is given to us is enough to fill with the best that is in us right now — not in some imagined future “when we — or our people — have the power.”  To leave the last words again to Gandalf:  “[I]t is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

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