Archive for the ‘earth religion’ Category

“Not responsible for spontaneous descent of Awen”

treesun-smNot responsible for spontaneous descent of Awen or manifestation of the Goddess. Unavailable for use by forces not acting in the best interests of life. Emboldened for battle against the succubi of self-doubt, the demons of despair, the phantoms of failure. Ripe for awakening to possibilities unforeseen, situations energizing and people empowering.

Catapulted into a kick-ass cosmos, marked for missions of soul-satisfying solutions, grown in gratitude, aimed towards awe, mellowed in the mead of marvels. Optimized for joy, upgraded to delight, enhanced for happiness.  Witness to the Sidhe shining, the gods gathering, the Old Ways widening to welcome.

logmoss-smPrimed for passionate engagement, armed for awe-spreading, synchronized for ceremonies of sky-kissed celebration. Weaned on wonder, nourished by the numinous, fashioned for fabulousness. Polished for Spirit’s purposes, dedicated to divine deliciousness, washed in the waters of the West, energized in Eastern airs, earthed in North’s left hand, fired in South’s right. Head in the heavens, heart with the holy, feet in flowers, gift of the Goddess, hands at work with humanity. Camped among the captives of love, stirred to wisdom in starlight, favored with a seat among the Fae, born for beauty, robed in the world’s rejoicing, a voice in the vastness of days.

leaflanesm

Knowing, seeing, sensing, being all this, you can never hear the same way again these two words together: “only human”!

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Images: three from a sequence taken yesterday, 3 Oct 14, on a blessed autumn day in southern Vermont two miles from my house.

 

East Coast Gathering 2014

Camp Netimus path -- photo courtesy of Carolyn Batz

Camp Netimus path — photo courtesy of Carolyn Batz

[Here are reviews of ECG 12 and ECG 13.]

East Coast Gathering (ECG) ’14 just celebrated its fifth Alban Elfed/ autumn equinox in the wooded hills of NE Pennsylvania. Along with this year’s theme of “Connecting to the Goddess,” 114 people reconnected to each other and the land, the lovely land. New participants and old remarked on the kindness of place, the welcoming spirit of Netimus, a flourishing girls’ camp founded in 1930 that now plays host off-season to other groups, too.

[For another perspective on this year’s Gathering, visit and read John Beckett’s excellent blog “Under the Ancient Oaks.”]

After a wet summer in the Northeast, the camp showed richly green — mosses, lichens, leaves and light all caressing the gaze wherever you looked. And keeping to our tradition of inviting guests from the U.K., we welcomed Kristoffer Hughes of the Anglesey Druid Order and returning guests Penny and Arthur Billington, this time accompanied by their daughter Ursula, a mean fiddler with Ushti Baba (Youtube link).

For me what distinguished this year’s Gathering, my fourth, was the pure joy in so many people’s faces. And it just grew over the weekend. Over and around travel fatigue, colds, tricky schedules and stresses and waiting commitments — everything — they didn’t matter: the tribe was together again. To you all (from an interfaith week I participated in): “Thank you for the blessings that you bring. Thank you for the blessings that you are.”

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Dana’s Goddess Shrine in a tent on our ritual field was also a wonderful addition and a focus for many of us.

Goddess Shrine -- photo courtesy of Nadia Chauvet

Goddess Shrine — photo courtesy of Nadia Chauvet

Natural offerings accumulated over the weekend — mosses, lichen-streaked stones, acorns, leaves, a small sun-bleached animal skull — were returned to Netimus, and the other items packed up for next time. A workshop I led, on making a Goddess Book, drew me back to the shrine several times for reflection and inspiration. (Here’s the link I mentioned at Camp to a video on making the “Nine-Fold Star of the Goddess” — seeing the steps in 3D should help make my hand-drawn images on the handout easier to read once you practice a few times. A series of divinations and meditations were to follow which I never got to in the workshop — though over-planning is usually better than under-planning. Material for a subsequent post!)

I continue to meditate on a surprising goddess experience during Penny’s workshop, which I may be able to write about in an upcoming post. One of the potencies of such gatherings of like-minded people is the spiritual crucible that can form and catalyze discoveries in ways not always easily accessible in solitary practice.

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Our fire-keepers outdid themselves this year, building enormous pyres (one with an awen worked in wood) to provide the centerpiece of each evening’s gathering after supper, workshops and initiations had concluded.

Awen bonfire ready -- photo courtesy Nadia Chauvet

Awen bonfire ready — photo courtesy Nadia Chauvet

evening bonfire -- photo courtesy John Beckett

evening bonfire — photo courtesy John Beckett

 

As always it’s people who carry the spirit of Druidry. Here as they tour New York City, just prior to the camp, are Kristoffer, Renu, Ursula, Penny and Arthur.

Renu with our UK guests in NY — photo courtesy Renu Aldritch

Shinto and Shrine Druidry 3: Spirit in Nature

[Related posts: Shinto & Shrine Druidry 1 | 2 | 3 || Shinto — Way of the Gods || Renewing the Shrine 1 | 2 || My Shinto 1 | 2 ]

Below are images from our recent visit to Spirit in Nature in Ripton, VT, some eight miles southeast of Middlebury as the crow flies.  An overcast sky that day helped keep temperature in the very comfortable low 70s F (low 20s C). At the entrance, Spirit in Nature takes donations on the honor system. The website also welcomes regular supporters.

spinentry

As an interfaith venture, Spirit in Nature offers an example of what I’ve been calling Shrine Druidry, one that allows — encourages — everyone into their own experience. Everyone who chooses to enter the site starts out along a single shared path.

spinpath1

The labyrinth helps engage the visitor in something common to many traditions worldwide: the meditative walk. The labyrinth imposes no verbal doctrine, only the gentle restraint of its own non-linear shape on our pace, direction and attention.

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Beyond the labyrinth, a fire circle offers ritual and meeting space. Here again, no doctrine gets imposed. Instead, opportunity for encounter and experience. Even a solitary and meditative visitor can perceive the spirit of past fires and gatherings, or light and tend one to fulfill a present purpose.

firepit

Beyond the circle, the paths begin to diverge — color-coded on tree-trunks at eye-level — helpful in New England winters, when snow would soon blanket any ground-level trail markers. When we visited, in addition to the existing paths of 10 traditions, Native American and Druid paths branched off the main way, too new to be included on printed visitor trail maps, but welcome indicators that Spirit in Nature fills a growing need, and is growing with it.

pathsign1

The Druid Prayer captures a frequent experience of the earth-centered way: with attention on stillness and peace, our human interior and exterior worlds meet in nature.

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The trails we walked were well-maintained — the apparently light hand that brings these trails out of the landscape belies the many hours of volunteer effort at clearing and maintenance, and constructing bridges and benches.

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A bench, like a fire pit and a labyrinth, encourages a pause, a shift in consciousness, a change, a dip into meditation — spiritual opportunities, all of them. But none of them laid on the visitor as any sort of obligation. And as we walk the trail, even if I don’t embrace the offered pause, the chance itself suggests thoughts and images as I pass that the silence enlarges. I sit on that bench even as I walk past; I cross the bridge inwardly, even if it spans a trail I don’t take.

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Sometimes a sign presents choices worthy of Yogi Berra’s “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

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Perhaps it’s fitting to close with the North, direction of earth, stone, embodiment, manifestation — all qualities matching the interfaith vision of this place.

moss-stone

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This is the 200th post at A Druid Way. Thanks, everyone, for reading!

Shinto and Shrine Druidry 2

[Related posts: Shinto & Shrine Druidry 1 | 2 | 3 || Shinto — Way of the Gods || Renewing the Shrine 1 | 2 || My Shinto 1 | 2 ]

Spider web

The continuing interest among visitors here at A Druid Way in the posts on Shinto says hunger for the Wild, for spiritual connection to wilderness and its rejuvenating spirit, and potentially for Shrine Druidry, remains unabated.  No surprise — in our hunger we’ll turn almost anywhere.  What forms our response to such hunger may take is up to us and our spiritual descendants.  Spirit, the goddesses and gods, the kami, the Collective Unconscious, Those Who Watch, your preferred designation here _____, just might have something to say about it as well.

What we know right now is that we long for spirit, however we forget or deny it, papering it over with things, with addictions and with despair in this time of many large challenges — a hunger more alive and insistent than ever.  And this is a good thing, a vital and necessary one.  In an artificial world that seems increasingly to consist of hyped hollowness, we stalk and thirst for the real, for the healing energies the natural world provides all humans as a birthright, as participants in its “spiritual economy” of birth, growth, death and rebirth.

As physical beings we live in a world where breathing itself can be a spiritual practice, where our heartbeats sound out rhythms we are born into, yet often and strangely have tried to flee.  Even this, my sadness and loss, can be prayer, if I listen and let them reach and teach me, if I walk with them toward something larger, yet native to blood and bone, leaf and seed, sun and moon and stars. Druidry, of course, is simply one way among many to begin.

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If you know Kipling‘s Just So stories, you’re familiar with “The Cat That Walked By Himself.”  The cat in question consistently asserts, “All places are alike to me.”  But for people that’s usually NOT true. Places differ in ease of access, interest, health, natural beauty, atmosphere — or, in convenient shorthand, spirit.  Shrines acknowledge this, even or especially if the shrine is simply a place identified as Place, without any sacred buildings like Shinto has — a place celebrated, honored, visited as a destination of pilgrimage, as a refuge from the profane, as a portal of inspiration.

Here’s a local (to me) example of a place in Vermont I’ll be visiting soon and reporting on, one that sounds like an excellent direction for a Shrine Druidry of the kind people are already starting to imagine and create. It’s called Spirit in Nature, and it’s a multi-faith series of meditation trails with meditation prompts.  Its mission statement gets to the heart of the matter:

Spirit in Nature is a place of interconnecting paths where people of diverse spiritual traditions may walk, worship, meet, meditate, and promote education and action toward better stewardship of this sacred Earth.

Spirit in Nature is a non-profit, 501 (c)3 tax-exempt organization, always seeking new members, local volunteers to build and maintain paths, financial contributions, and interest from groups who would like to start a path center in their own area.

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So much lies within the possible scope of Shrine Druidry it’s hard to know where to start.  Many such sites (and more potential sites) already exist in various forms. Across Europe, and to a lesser degree in North America (public sites, that is: private Native American and Pagan sites exist in surprising numbers), are numerous sacred-historical sites (some of which I’ll examine in a coming post), often focusing around a well, cave, tree, waterfall, stone circle, garden, grove, etc. Already these are places of pilgrimage for many reasons: they serve as the loci of national and cultural heritage and historical research, as commemorative sites, spiritual landmarks, orientations in space and time, as treasures of ethnic identity — the list goes on.  Quite simply, we need such places.

Lower Falls, Letchworth St. Pk, NY. Image by Wikipedia/Suandsoe.

Lower Falls, Letchworth St. Pk, NY. Image by Wikipedia/Suandsoe.

The national park system of the U.S., touted as “America’s Best Idea” (also the title of filmmaker Ken Burns’ series), was established to preserve many such places, though without any explicit markers pointing to spiritual practice.  But then of course we already instinctively go to parks for healing and restoration, only under the guise of “vacations” and “recreation.” And many state parks in the U.S. extend the national park goal of preserving public access to comparatively unspoiled natural refuges. Growing up, I lived a twenty-minute bike ride from Letchworth State Park in western NY: 14,000 acres of forest surrounding deep (in places, over 500 feet) gorges descending to the Genesee River.  Its blessing follows me each time I remember it, or see an image of it, and in attitudes shaped there decades ago now. May we all know green cathedrals.

I’ll talk more about shrines on other scales, small and large, soon, and tackle more directly some of the similarities and differences between Shinto and Druidry.  I’ll also look at some of the roles practitioners of earth-centered spiritualities can — and already do — play in connection to the creation and support of shrines.

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Images: spider web; Lower Falls at Letchworth State Park, New York.

“What Remains in the Journal, What to Communicate”

handbirdIn her comment on a post from August ’13, Lorna Smithers makes a distinction particularly vital for “Bardic types” that I want to take up here, especially in light of my last post:

The division between what remains in the journal and what to communicate is a question I confront continuously as a Bard, for unlike with a path that focuses solely on personal transformation through magic, Bards are expected to share their inspiration.

I find that some experiences are ok to share immediately, others need time to gestate for the meanings to evolve and take on a clearer form, and a select few may always stay secret.

I see good craftmanship to be the key [to] sharing experiences. In contrast to the vomit of ‘compulsive confession’, well-wrought craft lifts the raw material into the realms of art, creating works that affirm the awe and wonder of the magical world.

That Bardic instinct to share inspiration that may or may not have been shaped by art can get us in trouble.  The desire to bring into physical expression something that’s going on in your inner worlds can lead to what Lorna accurately calls vomit.  Sometimes, of course, awen really does drop a piece of loveliness in your lap.  It arrives fully-formed, and you run with it, dazed and delighted and puppy-like in your enthusiasm to share the wonder of it with all and sundry, but that (the gift of inspired loveliness, not the puppy-like response) usually only happens when you’ve done plenty of the hard slog of shaping already, alone or with only yourself and your gods for support of a vision no one else may even know anything about.

Sometimes the time and energy your pour into nurturing your creativity can make you defensive if you haven’t “produced” anything visible.  If you’re a writer, for instance, you’re not a “real” writer till you’ve “published.”  Few will care about the months, years or decades of work that may lie shelved in boxes or occupy megs of space on a computer.  The same holds true in comparable ways for anyone who’s devoted time and energy to a craft or art.

Lazy-at-workArtists who should know better sometimes like to hint, or let it be inferred, that this business of “awen on command” is how they work all the time, both mystifying us “ordinary mortals” and also doing a disservice to their craft and the nature of inspiration.  Talent, oddly enough, responds well to practice, and no one works most of the time without effort.

The Anglo-Saxon bard was called a sceop, pronounced approximately “shop,” “one who shapes” inspiration into language and song.  And the word bard comes from an Indo-European root *gwer- that means “to praise”  or “to sing,” indicating two of the roles of the Celtic bard. The same root appears in Latin gratia, and English grace — a whole cluster of relationships — the gift and our response, our gratitude, and the quality in things blessed with awen, the loveliness and fluidity and rightness they often evince.

But if I opt to share something that’s not ready or right to share, I’ll usually regret it.  Let me enthuse or gab about a story or an inner experience before its proper time, and it may lose its luster.  It no longer thrills me enough to work with it, and I take what was a gift and cast it aside, its charm lost.  The spell is broken, and I am no longer spell-bound, or able to do anything with it.  Like the old fairy story of the goblin jewels, in the daylight of the blog, or the careless conversation with another, the one-time treasures that sparkled and shone under moonlight have turned to dead leaves.  One or two such painful experiences is usually enough to teach anyone the virtues of silence, restraint and self-discipline.

walkingAnother half (there are almost never just two halves, but three, four, five or more) of the whole, however, is that keeping the flow going, trusting the awen enough to go with what you get, and allowing the work to manifest, brings in more.  Jesus did know what he was talking about when he said (paraphrased to modernize the language), “To people that already have, more will be given, and from people that don’t, even what they have will be taken away.”  While this may sound at first like contemporary government policy and destructive legislation and current economics, it holds true on the inner planes, in the worlds of inspiration and imagination.

Lorna herself is an exemplar of this Bardic trust and inspiration.  As an Awenydd, one who receives and shapes the gift of awen, she demonstrates in poetry and photography on her blog and in performance the mutual bonds with the Otherworld and spirits of place that make up her path.

And so it was with considerable interest that I read her account “Personal Religion?”  well into writing this post, while I was checking that the URLs were right for the links to her blog.  She experiences a strong reaction on hearing about the OBOD Golden Anniversary celebrations, and launches into a series of probing personal questions without immediate answers which I urge you to read directly.  The challenges she faces are those of one attempting to be faithful to a call, and she follows a path with honor.  Her struggles illustrate the living nature of the Pagan path, with its many branches and trails.  Her practice flourishes precisely because she strives to be faithful to her own vision, which may not always grow and bloom under the “big tent” of orders like OBOD.

Making that struggle visible is valuable — posting it for others to read, ponder and benefit from.

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Images: handbirdhard at work; walking.

 

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.

Revisiting Old Magic(ian)s

rjstewartIn this post I enthuse about an early and continuing inspiration in my practice, and inevitably drag in other more idiosyncratic but hopefully still relevant associations along the way.  So first, the “old magician” of the title.  Scottish-born R. J. Stewart (b. 1949), a composer and author, is among the handful of contemporary practicing magicians whose work has done much to clear away accumulated Medieval and Victorian superstition and obscurity from magic.  Why, for instance, should I intone or vibrate a particular name during a ritual, unless I know what it is and what it’s meant to accomplish?

Inspired by Celtic tradition and the teachings of his mentor Ronald Heaver (1900-1980), Stewart has developed practices designed to heal both magician and environment, among other reasons Druids may be interested in him.  (His website deserves a visit if you want to learn more about him and his magic.)  Along the way, with his Inner Convocations and Inner Traditions practices, he’s also helped to articulate a comprehensible theory of how magic works and can be effectively practiced, reflected in workshops, audio projects, and books like Living Magical Arts (hereafter LMA).  That book was my first deep introduction to magic more than two decades ago, and I sit with my dog-eared copy in front of me now.

I value LMA in part because in it Stewart states basic truths succinctly and clearly — truths I find I need to come back to again and again. His work derives from personal experience.  That means that unlike too many texts on “magic,” it is no pastiche of the work of others, or a mere catalog of magical correspondences that do little by themselves to advance actual magical practice.  On the page, correspondences may look  nice (or scary, depending on your own personal fear factor) and decorative for the armchair magician — and who isn’t one of those, with all the books on magic you could read and leave lying around to impress or intimidate guests?!  But anyone half-way into a serious first-year study of magic can (re)create from experience their own list of equally effective correspondences.  That doesn’t render them somehow invalid or useless, but shows that they’re dependent variables rather than constants.  I wanted the constants, “unrealist” that I can sometimes be.

The fact that magical traditions worldwide share much common ground in things like tables of correspondences, while annoyingly refusing to agree on some presumed “basics,” like which direction is associated with which element, should of course give us a clue about what “matters,” what’s convention, and what the difference is.  (For more on this, see Mike Nichols’ wonderful “13 Reasons Why Air Should Be North,” now promoted to the status of a “Sacred Text” at ISTA, the Internet Sacred Text Archive, which if you don’t know, you should know, if only to “waste” large amounts of time exploring.)

spiralimgIn LMA, Stewart offers overviews, rationales, and a coherent and profound magical philosophy for what he presents. As he defines it, “magic is a set of methods for arranging awareness according to patterns.”  Worked with consciously, these patterns can help catalyze a transformation: “the purpose of magical arts is to enable changes within the individual by which he or she may apprehend further methods [of magic and transformation] inwardly.”  This transformation can come about because “magic attempts to relate human consciousness to divine consciousness through patterns inherent in each.”

One reason for the magical dimension of human reality is simply that, as biologists have been discovering, we’re pattern-seekers and pattern-makers in profound ways. That’s how we make sense of the world, the “one great bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion” of things*.  Find the pattern — or impose one, if nothing helpfully steps forward as a clue to whatever’s going on in front of our noses.  Note that this predilection towards pattern-making is neither “good” or “bad” by itself — though it makes sense to assume, as at least a provisional view of reality, that if pattern-recognition is so successful as a survival strategy across so many species, it may actually have something to say about what “reality” is like, or how it comes across to consciousnesses still evolving to “grok” it.

fmofhrFor we share this “blueprint of consciousness” with other mammals, which is why I suspect we were ever able to domesticate animals like dogs, cats, sheep, geese, ducks, chickens, cows, horses, and pigs that have contributed so hugely to human civilization.  They’ve served us as sources of food, clothing, transportation, power for machines, defense, pest control, and companionship.  (Growing up, I remember a picture my dad displayed prominently in our house of five cows, each one representing a different breed of dairy cattle, with the caption “Foster Mothers of the Human Race.”   We kept a herd of the familiar black and white Holsteins, the most common breed in the U.S., the breed most people think of when they think “cow,” but the other four breeds were still important enough to our farm family that as a child I also knew Brown Swiss, Jersey, Ayrshire and Guernsey cattle on sight.)  If domestication isn’t a marvelous and far-reaching act of magic, what is?

So pattern-making is a “keeper” in our toolkit of magical strategies and techniques.  I sense the shades of my born-again and otherwise Christian ancestors flinching and cringing and flagellating themselves.  But magic is not a religion, and is certainly not anti-religion, but rather “a coherent set of traditions regarding human potential.” Or it’s becoming one, in the hands of competent modern magicians like Stewart.  And he goes on to assert that the god and goddess images of religion are imaginative images “engineered to a high standard of performance.” What that means is that magicians, without ever denying the power or value of such images, work through and beyond them because they want to experience and work with the reality which lies behind images and which energizes them.

Stewart’s style both in LMA and later books is educated and not a breezy, colloquial one.  If you’re hearing worship in my words, try again.  I don’t expect everyone will (or should) agree with Stewart. I don’t always. But his common-sense, grounded, characteristically practical outlook is refreshing and unusual when you look at the sometimes careless, unscholarly, irresponsible and misleading books on the market which promise a lot and don’t deliver. Use your reason and intelligence fully, as Stewart would urge, because they’re tools too. He remarks late in the book, “if the intellect can be turned to prove to itself that conditioned life patterns are false, it becomes a useful tool towards liberation.” No quick fixes here (I’m usually suspicious of books which promise those anyway), but a path worthy of prolonged dedication.

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Stewart, R. J.  Living Magical Arts.  Blandford Press, U.K.  1987.

*attributed to author and psychologist William James (1842-1910)

Images: R J Stewart; magicHoard’s Dairyman “foster mothers”

Of Orders and Freedoms, Part 2

[Part 1]

newgrangespiralIn the Celtic worldview (and also for anyone in the Northern Hemisphere it’s abundantly clear), we’ve entered the “dark” half of the year.  “Dark” drags in its wake many associations, many millennia old in primate consciousness, of fear, death, danger — all things we instinctively flee, unless we pause to examine cultural conditioning to see why this should be so.  If you’re still moved to flee after such a pause, at least you’ll be running with eyes open.  Watch out for the lemmings up ahead.

And here is another lesson about Orders and freedoms.  The planet we live on follows its own rhythms, regardless of our druthers, and as natives here, willy-nilly we move with the earth under our feet.  Earthquake, hurricane, flood, volcano; spring, summer, fall, winter.  We’re tenants, not landlords. As much as we try to banish winter cold and darkness, they abide just inches beyond our noses as we peer out our triple-glazed windows.  And that’s fitting, of course.  Among all its other wonders, the planet grew this wonderful fore-brain of ours that makes childbearing a challenge when it’s time to pass a large skull through a small birth canal, but that same large brain helps us live in temperate and even arctic climates, as well as virtually everywhere else there’s legroom.  A balance between order and freedom, limit and innovation, change and stasis.  We’re a part and apart, at the same time, courtesy of a species the planet’s still experimenting with, and probably always will be, till we die out or evolve, some of our descendants, into something else.

OK, you say.  Got it.  Had it before I came here.  Heard the lecture, took the tour.  Tell me something I don’t know.  And these are precisely the challenges to throw at all our ways of thinking, not just the privileged few that happen to irritate us because the horrid Others say them.  First assignment, due on your next day of reckoning, at your local time, or whenever is most inconvenient.  All our assumptions need a stir on the compost heap.  Political affiliations, marriages, jobs, habits, hobbies, what’s vulgar or profane (Miley Cyrus?  Death camps?  CEO incomes?  Ignorance?  Missed chances to use petroleum to prepare for a world without it?  Endless lolcats?  Taupe and mauve and puce?).  The once-over should include everything — especially whatever’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of your left hemisphere.  What don’t we know?  Got a hunch about that.  Isn’t our ignorance one more miserable discomfort, to join the ignoble quartet above — death, dark, fear, danger?  We don’t look because it’s hard.  It asks us to start over.  Not to reinvent ourselves, but to return to what we threw away because it seemed old, to pick it up, and see it again for the first time as utterly, endlessly new.  One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother.  Look it up, or consult the nearest young thing growing.  The Goddess makes all things new.

No Order can “teach” us such “wild wisdom.”  All it can do is point the way back to our bones, blood and sinew that always held it, gift that doesn’t turn away from us merely because we turned from it.  Change, cycle, spiral.  We see it celebrated, repeated (doing what it’s being) in Celtic art.  We can feel it in the flow of Tai Chi, the circular movements of dance and swimming, the serve and volley and return of tennis, sex, night and day, birth and death.  What goes around comes around.  What you do comes back to you.  Is this not a great gift, that we see the results of our actions?  Nothing is lost, and all is stored like seed in the earth, and returned at the next springing forth.  Only a short-sighted people would fear the fallow time, forgetting the blossom time after.  Only blind people would act as if this is all there is.  “This” by definition is never all there is.  Reconnecting with the natural world “lengthens” the sight.  Vistas re-established.  Perspectives re-balanced. Cure at hand for too much left hemisphere, too little humility.  When was the last time we praised a world leader for that trait?  And why is that?  OK, call me Groucho.

At the recent East Coast Gathering, Damh the Bard told a version of the fine story of the Hare and the Moon.  The Moon had a choice piece of wisdom to impart to the people of earth, and asked the Hare to carry the message.  “Tell them this:  you are all going to die,” said the Moon, and like a shot the Hare was off, bearing the Moon’s message to the people of earth in great leaps and bounds.  Of course, Moon had been showing the lesson each month, passing through darkness to fullness, waning and waxing, shrinking and growing, endlessly, patiently teaching.  But the people had forgotten, and when they received Hare’s partial message, they wailed bitterly at their wretched fate.  “We’re all going to die!” But the Hare, impetuous fellow that he was, had not stayed to hear the second half of the message, which was delayed in reaching the Earth:  “… and you all will be reborn.”  For Hare’s over-haste and obliviousness, when he returned, the Moon split his lip, and to this day the harelip is a reminder to hold in the heart the whole message, to find wholeness in the many pairings that a true cycle treats as “One Thing, moving” — a Uni-verse.

winterbrookSo what are Druids to do who feel Orders may not be for them, or at least not right now?  The whole world beckons.  If, as Robert Frost says in “Carpe Diem,” which must by all signs be the true religion of America*, “The present / Is too much for the senses, / Too crowding, too confusing— / Too present to imagine,” a few years later, his splendid poem “Directive” urges:  “Drink.”  This too can be religion, can be spirituality, can be a saving and healing practice that does not split the two, if you will have it: “Drink, and be whole again beyond confusion.”

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*Carpe Diem:  (Latin) literally, “seize the day”; Nike’s Just Do It; YOLO — you only live once; “in heaven there is no beer; that’s why we drink it here.”

Images: spiral at Newgrange, Ireland; winter brook.

Updated 6 Nov. 2013

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

Earth Religion and What We’ll Miss

blueberry-pie-cut-2-smIn I Remember Nothing*, one of the last things screenwriter Nora Ephron wrote before her death in June 2012, the final short chapter is titled “What I Will Miss.”  It’s simply a list, tinged with an anticipatory nostalgia that became clear in retrospect after her passing — and testimony to a life in which the most memorable things aren’t really things (unless you count people as mere objects — if you do, go away) so much as experiences.  Here’s the entire list:

My kids
Nick [her husband of twenty years, Nicolas Pileggi]
Spring
Fall
Waffles
The concept of waffles
Bacon
A walk in the park
Shakespeare in the Park
The bed
Reading in bed
Fireworks
Laughs
The view out the window
Twinkle lights
Butter
Dinner at home just the two of us
Dinner with friends
Dinner with friends in cities where none of us lives
Paris
Next year in Istanbul
Pride and Prejudice
The Christmas tree
Thanksgiving dinner
One for the table
The dogwood
Taking a bath
Coming over the bridge to Manhattan
Pie

The wonder and beauty of this list is that however different your list is, you get the love here.   Yes, Ephron’s financial success means that among her items are Paris and Istanbul and more dining out than many of us can afford.  But there’s no disagreeing about what should or shouldn’t be on Ephron’s list, because we each have our own list.  Her list doesn’t negate mine.  It celebrates her life while it leaves room for everyone else’s — it positively invites me, in fact, to celebrate mine, just by being a list, a tally, a memoir of pleasure.

Earth religion calls us to celebrate and cherish the things of this world because this is where and when we live.  The brute acid irony of the present age, filled as it is with increasing numbers of people who say this life is the only one we get, is that it is also an age of the greatest ongoing and criminal destruction of the planet.  If we will miss the things on our lists, and the quality of our fondness, if not the exact identity of our items, closely resembles that of everyone else alive now, it should make the same kind of deep visceral sense that a warm breeze on the skin or a cool drink in the throat does to help each other increase our fondness and spread the capacity for delight, and to preserve their sources, instead of denying joy to others while simultaneously pissing in the common well.  If we were even one tenth the materialists we think we are, we’d worship the material, revere the physical, treating it lovingly and respectfully, rather than bitch-slapping it like an abusive spouse.

Now it’s true that if my wife and I indulged more often in even some of the things on our own lists, we’d be what her grandmother used to say of others with a sniff: “fat and happy.”  And the sum of earth religion doesn’t mean merely to stuff ourselves silly with everything Dr. Oz says is bad for us,  or vacuum up experiences like we’re snorting coke.  But not enjoying the world is along the lines of holding your breath to get what you want.  After you wake with a touch of headache, you may be no closer to getting what you want, and you’ll have missed out on pie, or butter, or bacon, or time spent with friends, or whatever your pleasure of the moment was, while you went ahead and had your tantrum.  And you’ll have denied pleasure and joy to others, one of the cheapest and deepest forms of joy out there.

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When I consider what if anything may survive my death (yes, even here the possessive creeps in, as though I own my death, one among the many other objects to bequeath to my heirs and assigns), it’s very likely that a love of these things won’t be among them.  While I adore blueberries, and that love connects me to a weekend when I was five and I stayed with my grandmother who fed them to me while my parents attended the World’s Fair in New York City, it’s not an essential piece of me.  Even my love of silence, which we might reasonably expect to run deeper, is in part a reaction to the noise of nearly two decades of working with adolescents in groups.  So what IS essential?

A leap and a turn:  stay with me.  Much is made of finding one’s True Will in magic, the Hermetic equivalent of salvation or realization or enlightenment people seek elsewhere.  As Frater Acher remarks in his introduction to Josephine McCarthy’s Magic of the North Gate, “Isn’t peeling away layer after layer of ego-driven wishes and desires to finally find and fulfill my True Will what drove mages for at least … well, at least since Crowley succeeded in establishing the highly ambiguous term “True Will” as the most successful fig leaf since the philosophy of hedonism to turn your life into a self-centered journey of narcissism?”**  We can take a clue from Blake (as long-time readers know, one of my go-to figures among the Wise) who said “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.”  This life matters.  It’s not a rehearsal, though it is practice, in the sense that musicians and artists practice to keep growing and to continually refine their art.  Infinity in the palms of our hands, eternity in our hours:  we’ve all had a taste, a hint, the briefest glimpse, though it slips away again into yesterday and tomorrow.  Here and now is where and when we always begin again.

In his poem “Love calls us to the things of this world,” Richard Wilbur echoes St. Augustine, who with Christian diffidence in his love of the physical, exclaims of his awareness of the divine, “I have learnt to love you late, Beauty at once so ancient and new! I have learnt to love you late! You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself. I searched for you outside myself and, disfigured as I was, I fell upon the lovely things of your creation. You were with me, but I was not with you. The beautiful things of this world kept me far from you and yet, if they had not been in you, they would have no being at all.” (Book X, paragraph 27), trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin.  Augustine struggles to reconcile the paradox of the physical as both distraction and divine presence — incarnation.  Here is Wilbur’s poem in response, in conversation, a fine coda for this entry:

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Image:  blueberry pie.

*Ephron, Nora.  I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections.  New York:  Vintage Books, 2010, pp. 134-5.

**McCarthy, Josephine.  Magic of the North Gate.  Oxford, UK: Mandrake of Oxford, 2013, pp. 7-8.

Updated 5 October 2013; corrected works to productions in Blake quotation “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.”  Same idea, faulty memory for exact wording.

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