Archive for the ‘earth spirituality’ Category

“You’re Doing It Right”   2 comments

One breath follows another. You’re doing it right. Keep going!

The air kisses you as soon as you step outdoors. No judgment!

camellia

Sun, stars, clouds, moon, rain, snow — they each greet you in their seasons. They’re with you, doing what they are, just like you do.

Fur companions in your life, their moist noses and soft, warm coats, a blessing. What I do is me*, they remind us. You do you. No one else can.

Trees do it every day, breathing out what we breathe in, breathing in what we breathe out. It’s a prayer-song — you may have already heard versions of it. If not, make one up right now. You can hum it to yourself around the trees, setting a tune, letting them know you know, telling them they’re doing it right. They know, but it’s good when we do, too, and we say so.

pond

“No one knows what will rise, when the pond is working” — Linda Allardt

Solstice, greatest of all the Feasts of Fire, beloved of the Faerie Folk

I don’t know about you, but I hear that and I’m there. It’s a line from OBOD ritual, and we’ll be saying it this weekend at our Alban Hefin/solstice celebration.

I whisper it now to myself, this word-charm, along with that earlier line about breathing, and I listen to the rhythm, the music, as I speak the syllables:

Greatest of all the Feasts of Fire, beloved of the Faerie Folk …
We breathe in what you breathe out, we breathe out what you breathe in …

And I imagine singing this as a round at our ritual.

The exchange between realms sustains both.

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*See my recent post, with Hopkins’ poem.

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Flaming Toward Solstice   Leave a comment

The heat is on — at least for a few days here in Southern VT, where temps yesterday and today reached 80 F / 27 C.

Do you feel it, that flaming toward summer solstice? If you’ve spent time outdoors, even at sunrise or sunset, you can sense the shift. The birds feel it, launching their first songs when the sun still lacks half an hour to cresting the horizon. Trees know it, their leaves finally fully unfurled and deeply green.

We’re two weeks out from the longest day — about the time I frequently sense a shift, turn my thoughts toward the next festival, and “listen harder”.

Just about year ago I posted 19 Ways to Celebrate Summer Solstice, and looking at it again, I see how many of the 19 Ways are for solitaries. Part of the appeal of Druidry is how any one of us can begin it, and deepen it, right where we are. We don’t need to find or start a group, though groups can provide fellowship and community, a hearth to cherish, a portable temple to support our practice, and also those chance conversations that can transform a ritual afternoon or evening, spark a friendship, mark a turning point, or open up a new direction for us to take. Yet most of the Ways could also fit group practice as well.

But I also want to yellow my nose with dandelion pollen as I sniff the flowers, stretch out full length in the grass, run my fingers over the bark as I listen to a favorite tree, anticipate the berries that will follow the delicate white flowers now on the berry vines, mark the slow dissolution of a fallen branch as the earth takes it back, ponder an anthill, study the mud-dauber wasp as it enlarges its nest. So many lives neighboring mine, why would I want to miss them? I have an appointment with the wild I will not miss.

The lore of the solstices is wisdom. Just as it reaches the heyday of its strength, the sun’s light yields, and the days once again start to shorten. And in the southern hemisphere, dark now rules over half of each day, but come winter solstice and the light will slowly begin to grow again.

From the traditions of OBOD, the Order I belong to, emerge older accounts of a three-part observance, a vigil till midnight (and for those willing, an all-night watch, interspersing periods of meditation with music, storytelling, etc.), a dawn ceremony to welcome the shortest day on Solstice itself, and a final noon rite several hours after that. Our local Vermont Druid group is hosting a full Solstice weekend, with a Friday evening mountain-top potluck, a sundown ritual Saturday evening, followed by night drumming, discussion and vigil, and a breakfast the next morning.

Harvesting and hauling firewood for the ritual a week ago, from the conservancy forest land where our “host for the Solstice” lives, we came on a large half-standing cherry, whose wood we cut and stacked, to await the bonfire.

cherrybonfire

Cherry bonfire wood stacked. Photo courtesy Bruce W.

We can read rituals and myths, imagine them enacted, choose a portion which we will enact and dramatize, or maybe leave in half-symbolic form. The Oak King reaches his greatest power at Summer Solstice, and we crown him with a chaplet made of his own leaves. Yet it is the Holly King who rises, going forward, as the Oak weakens. We pass the oak-leaf crown to each other, and perhaps some of us hold in our thoughts the ancient proverb: nomine mutato, de te fabula narratur. Change the names, and it’s a story about you. A little shiver in the heat.

May your Solstice burn brightly!

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“Attention is the Beginning of Devotion”   1 comment

[I first drafted this short post in early May, and I’m returning to it now, leaving its seasonal references untouched.]

rhododendron

part of our two rhododendrons that survived the winter, now blooming in June

Penguin/Random House provides this excerpt from the late Mary Oliver‘s 2016 book, a collection of essays called Upstream.

“Attention is the beginning of devotion”, she writes, at the end of a section.

Druidry, like other true practices, is devotion, a measure of life away from distraction and toward attention. What do I mean by “measure”? A choice, a predilection, a heeding of instinct, or as Robert Frost puts it, a “stay against confusion”. After all, it’s we who do the measuring. (Or else we yield that privilege to others less worthy, less qualified to know what’s best for us. Until we do the difficult work of reclaiming.)

Truth, I find, sorts itself out marvelously well, once we start paying attention. Love itself is a kind of attention, a focus on what matters to us. I look into my partner of 31 years and discover a being new, mysterious — she’s becoming more of who she is. Both of us are graying and wrinkling, our kinship with trees ever more visible in the likenesses between bark and skin.

Attend, and we encounter. We meet other beings, landscapes, presences, the place we’re standing, feet pressed against the earth, the air we breathe, our own bodies, breathing and pumping blood, sweating under the early summer sun, or shivering slightly in this May air that only days ago frosted the grass and blackened the first brave flowers. Just beyond our skin, the cosmos. Looking only at the proportions of existence that are me and not me, you’d think attention might be in fact a wholly reasonable thing, though much modern life tells us no. So it is that the “apparent world” named in Druid ritual is what we’ve created — a sometimes-useful bridge that may not accommodate all the cars we wish to drive across it.  At need, I remind myself, let that world fade away. Don’t worry — it’ll be there when I return.

There and back again, writes Tolkien. True voyage is return, writes U. K. LeGuin.

May you go there, and return — often.

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Craft   Leave a comment

For this post I’m returning to a thoughtful comment by Lorna Smithers from several years ago:

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.

boat

I can’t simply mechanically transcribe from my journal (or my id — sometimes the same thing) onto the page or screen and expect comprehension, let alone value, or anything remotely approaching art. We’ve all heard about how social media has enervated meaningful communication, gutted nascent relationships, obliterated thoughtful engagement with alternative ideas and perspectives, and helped fuel partisanship, indifference, callousness and a host of our worst impulses. But we also know how much of value we’ve all found online that we might never have encountered anywhere else. There might even be a clue in all of that about where else to look for a solution, a response, a direction, a path to take through the digital (and other) wildernesses we traverse.

leaves

Craft, like any choice, applies to our spiritual journeys, too. From the baseline of a regular practice, I find I can achieve greater insight, connection, growth than without it. Craft is care, attention, devotion, dedication to a standard I’ve taken to heart because I understand its value. We used to apprentice ourselves to a master in order to learn not only the technical points — what woods to use, how to mix the paint, what companion plantings work best, how to splint a compound fracture, what to do about obsessive thoughts during meditation, what a recurrent dream can reveal — but also to absorb a set of attitudes and stances and inner disciplines: how to persist in the face of discouragement, failure, boredom, lack of patronage, incomprehension, inner silence in the face of years of effort, and other joy-annihilating experiences.

Cræft bið betera þonne æhta. A craft or skill is better than possessions, goes the Old English proverb. And further, Se cræft ðæs lareowdomes biþ cræft ealra cræfta. The craft of teaching is the craft of all crafts. If I manage to apprentice myself to a good teacher — bird, beast, tree, or even human — I learn not only the craft but the heart behind it. Craft begets craft.

And by a happy synonymy, OE cræft has the same additional meaning that its descendant does in Modern English of “boat, ship” — we’ve enlarged the reach of it with “spacecraft”.

Craft is the craft that will carry us across, to where we want to go.

 

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Image: Pexels. com

558/172 — Or, What It Is I Do All Day   2 comments

That — according to the statistics WordPress freely offers to the obsessed among each of its subscribers — is today’s proportion of published posts to unpublished drafts sitting on this site that never made it to your eyes. Except the number is misleading. All of the published posts were drafts at one point. (Many feel like they still are.) It’s all draft till you die, said one of my writing instructors. So you can always revise. A poem (a life) is never finished, simply abandoned. Then mix in the perspective of this Druid who sees rebirth as part of the process, and death as simply the end of a chapter, a stanza, not the book, not the Song.

bridge-arch

Original and image. Courtesy Pexels.com free images.

My chosen magic, I’ve discovered (What’s yours? Have you found it yet?), is to write myself into new spaces and truths. Yes, often an experience will boot me into new territory, but it’s reflecting on it, writing about it, trying on multiple understandings of it, that converts much raw experience into its subsequent effect on me — turns it into resource, compost, practice, training, the tenor and temper of my days.

How else to explain two people, same experience, very different outcomes? It’s what we do with what happens that matters. And what I “do” isn’t ever “done” — I’m what I’m doing, after all. (As you are you.) I keep adding, revising, re-imagining. Or I can, at any point along the way. The inexpressible freedom of this is something I keep encountering, flowering where I least expect it, hidden beyond the rise of the next hill, flickering through the screen of leaves in the woods around my house. An eye or ear or sometimes a whole face shows through the leaves, then disappears behind them again.

Gerard Manley Hopkins gets it, writes it:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

Am I really listening? Do I hear it? Listen harder, says one of my teachers. Each mortal thing does one thing and the same. I read the poem aloud to myself again, not troubling over meaning, just attending to the sounds and echoes of the words.

Other counsel: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid, says the Galilean master. Peace, a different kind of giving, no need for trouble or fear: immense gifts. Gifts Druids often claim. Gifts bigger, for the world today at least, even than any kind of salvation “down the road” — bigger to our current time-fixated mindsets, anyway, because they’re gifts for here, now. We need them today!

So am I called to receive differently — not as the world receives — in order to recognize and accept the gift? (If the gift is different, then — so my thought runs — my receiving of it must be different, too.) It sure looks like it. And that could explain much of our current sense of estrangement from “how things should be” — the sense of wrongness abundant in personal and public spaces, the partisanship, the distrust and anger and fear. “The time is out of joint”, exclaims Hamlet. But we may or may not share his corresponding sense of duty towards the situation: “O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!” (Not the whole show, Hamlet. Just your piece of it. Or at least start there.)

But how do I receive differently? As a Druid, I tell myself, I look to what I’m already doing. (Truth be told, as I’m still learning, we never start from scratch. There’s always a pilot light burning somewhere, at the heart of things. If I’ve lost sight of it, then that’s my practice: recovery.) I breathe, yes, but the air is also ready to come in and go out at the same time. Thus do many spiritual traditions counsel us to watch our breathing as one of the first and readiest and most powerful meditations or spiritual exercises. Do that attentively, regularly, and you’re halfway home.

Likewise my heart beats. (Through certain yogic practices, if you accept the evidence, it’s possible to achieve a level of physical mastery where you can stop and start the heart at will. Though for reasons that should be clear, I’m not spending my time learning that particular skill.) Can I receive the truth of how much of my life is a gift already, however I choose to honor or ignore it? Can I live the gift?

Let the fraction that is the title of this post remind me how much more I receive than I know or acknowledge. How else, indeed, is a life possible? So much flows through us to sustain us in every moment. Receive differently, tune into what’s going on this instant, then every subsequent instant.

OK, got it, I say to myself. But how to actualize this, to turn what is, after all, just a momentary perception into something useful and workable? Ah, there’s the need for a practice. Oh, we’ve attended the workshop, dived into the retreat, felt the flush of inspiration, had a mystic moment or two on our own, uninvited, or called by ritual, intoxication, chance, gift, an instant of vulnerability, openness. Useful, needful, helpful things. But to transform such a moment or interval into the richest soil where I can root and grow — that’s the work worthy of a life. And I know of no one who accomplishes that in any other way than by a spiritual practice.

That’s the magnum opus, the Great Work: to make of a life a gift in return. It is in giving that we receive, sings St. Francis.

Whitman sings in Song of Myself:

Stop this day and night with me …
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look
through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in
books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

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“Initiates of Darkness”   Leave a comment

The page is never blank, though it looks that way each time I click “new post”. Always the track of beast flares across the path, the flight or song of bird ignites the sky. All beings burn with life. Any blankness I may encounter is specific terrain I’ve chosen somewhere, sometime. Now to learn just where I took that quirk in the path. I tremble as I ask, I’ve sown it, so let me own it.

If “I have it in me so much nearer home/To scare myself with my own desert places” as Frost says in “Desert Spaces”, I also carry within me other worlds upon worlds, mirroring all the ones around me. I stand at a mid-point, and so much flows through me, through us all. Do I even notice? (Do I want to?)

Seamus Heaney observes of these lines that

… whatever risk they run of making the speaker seem to congratulate himself too easily as an initiate of darkness, superior to the deluded common crowd … they still succeed convincingly … [an] undeniable emotional occurrence which the whole poem represents.

I call it an emotional occurrence, yet it is preeminently a rhythmic one, an animation via the ear of the whole nervous apparatus …

If I’m looking for awen, for spiritual energy and music and delight, for movement into the wider self that includes but never stops with the apparent world, then rhythm and melody will take me there — the drums of Beltane beating on my inner ear, the hum and whisper of birdsong and newly-minted leaves. (Doubt just becomes boring, no use.) Once out of my head and into such prayer and listening, the recovery of life-giving vision can proceed. Lock myself into my own concerns, though, and that’s where I’ll remain. Meanwhile the cosmos keeps saying enlarge, enlarge — “an animation via the ear of the whole nervous apparatus”. Let me sync with what’s playing all around me. Ah, there it is again, that Song in all things.

Bagby

Bagby at play.  Photo courtesy NY Classical Review.

Follow me, friend, as I take this tangent: tonight I’m leading the second of two local discussions of Beowulf, Tolkien, and Benjamin Bagby, who performs the first third of the Old English poem in the original language, accompanying himself on a reproduction harp. Bagby’s coming to perform in Vermont next month — the surface occasion for tonight’s discussion.

We’ll talk, among other things, about wyrd, that old word that still half-lives in modern English weird, lives more fully in the Weird Sisters of Macbeth, and most fully in its original sense of the pattern of things which is both destiny or fate, and also the stage for meaningful human choice and action. Beowulf falls to wyrd, but also survives because of it.

Anglo-Saxonist author Stephen Pollington puts it this way:

The analogy of a spider web is usefully employed in considering wyrd. Each section of the web is a discreet part of the whole, yet the tiniest ensnared insect will set the entire web vibrating. Whether the spider wins her dinner depends on how skillfully she has woven her web, how quickly she reacts, and the chances of the captured insect to struggle free. The web is wyrd, but what the actors do upon it will decide the outcome.

Wyrd, says the poem, oft nereð unfægne man þonne his ellen deah. Taking Pollington’s analogy to heart, I render this as “The Pattern often saves an undoomed man when his courage holds” (Beowulf line 572). And I repeat to myself the charm: What the actors do upon the Web will decide the outcome.

We’re all “initiates of darkness”, of fates and destinies set in motion and still unfolding, yes — but that doesn’t define us. It just leavens the crusty bread that we are. Without a taste of that Old Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, what after all could we manage to accomplish? The first breath of any opposition would blow us away like dandelion fluff, like breadcrumbs. (No inner resources, I can hear my grandmother sniff.) We didn’t start the fire, sings Billy Joel. It was always burning/Since the world’s been turning.

Part of the journey beyond Druidry 101, as on any path worthy of the name, is the discovery of the usefulness of opposition. In careful measure (wyrd measures out some, yes, but so do I, each day), it gives us something to push against, a resistance, like weights in the gym, the settings on the stairclimber, the hills that are part of my dog-walk. I find out where I am, in the face of it — it’s potent in dispelling my illusions. It’s part of our training for what a world of polarities means. Armed and tested with this hard-won wisdom, we’re ready for realms of light. A Druid can aspire to live, serve and create anywhere. (And until that day of fuller mastery, there’s today with its choices and challenges. The poor, says the Galilean master, you will always have with you. What is my poverty?)

Some days, of course, I long for a cosmos that’s easy, or even just easy-er. But, I notice, after some time there, I’m restless again, eager to jump back into the fray and play of a more demanding laboratory world, where just about everything is subject to change and experimentation. So what happens if I take this tangent?

wantastiquet trail

Mount Wantastiquet trail.

Meanwhile, I pray with the Leaf-Lords and Ladies around me:

Oak, shade my path. I welcome your wisdom.
Birch, green my way. I call on your courage.
Hemlock, heal my heart. I fast under your foliage.
Pine of all lands, I gather your gifts.
Tree companions all, I seek the shelter of your boughs.

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Images: Bagby.

Druidry 201, and Spiritual Dryness   Leave a comment

So you’ve made your way as a solitary practitioner, to the point where you know your land, the compass directions you salute, the spirits you greet and work with, the seasons, sun and moon, and the local weather-signs that signal storm or heat or simply change. You may well hold to an idiosyncratic practice that nevertheless works for you, drawn from dream, instinct, wide reading, the place you find yourself, discoveries that have proven to work, chance, ancestral memory, trial and error, divination, or direct instruction from a tree, guide, spirit, the land, another person.

If none of the foregoing sounds like you or your path — if you’re not a Druid, but Druid-friendly, or Druid-curious — nevertheless you can describe your path (and might benefit from putting such an overview into words, if only for yourself, as a record, a milestone, a signpost, a witness).

pinktreemay

Spring, says Kipling in The Jungle Book … “the time of New Talk”

Or you’ve joined an order or grove or ritual group, you meet intermittently or regularly, you’ve settled on a basic ritual format that you spin variations on, you have your favorite festivals and ritual locations, and after a time you may start leading or writing your group’s rituals, or holding informal talks, or teaching divination, healing, permaculture, magic, and so on.

In either case, how many things can a Druid study or practice? Yes, you get the idea: the reach of it all widens far beyond the circle of the horizon.

In other words, you’re no longer a beginner at this stuff. You’re at least a “201-er” (following the numbering of university courses in many places, with 100-level classes signalling no prior knowledge or prerequisite coursework, and 200-level and above indicating intermediate and more advanced levels). You may not (ever) feel ready to write a book on what you know (though you could do so, nonetheless). You may never be approached by students eager to learn what you’ve painstakingly put together on your own (though that could happen, too). But you know enough, have learned enough, that when you act (or refrain from acting), things ripple from that choice, and you know it.

What’s next? Or what work lies ahead? And how do you figure that out?

The challenge of naming such next steps partly explains why there are so few non-beginner books and guides.

If you’ve stayed with any path long enough, and kept growing, you’ve learned how to begin taking those next steps, or — if they haven’t yet come into view — at least how to look and listen for them. You’ve also probably experienced “spiritual dryness” as well, those periods of inner drought where nothing’s kicking, and you just go through the motions like a wind-up toy. Patience is our greatest discipline and practice, says more than one spiritual teaching. Like trees and mountains, sometimes we need to weather for a while. And that can be the hardest work we do.

From the outside, even to close friends or family, it may look like we’re doing precisely nothing, when in fact we’re holding on and letting go all at once, questing for doors, gates, guides, signs, hints and clues, treading water, running in place, flexing all our limbs to stay as supple as possible, or — sometimes — dissolving into a complete funk and thinking we may just chuck it all. Heave a lifetime into the garbage bin and start fresh. Or abandon the whole project of having a project in the first place. Go fishing. Get and stay drunk, maybe for a few years. Have a midlife (or late-life) crisis. You’d run away, if it didn’t take so much energy. (Find a quiet corner and huddle there for a while, muttering to yourself. Yes, you’ve become one of those people now.)

201 is a point, or interval, where diverse spiritual traditions find considerable overlap, and the insights from one tradition can aid people in another. The most dogmatic and inflexible practitioners of any tradition usually haven’t wandered away from the home fires of their own hearths to the edges of the Forest, or into it. (You know what the capital letter stands for.) Or if they have, what they experienced there so terrified them that they fled and returned, hearts thumping wildly in their chests, determined to erect barriers, rules, ideologies, locks, guardians, gatekeepers to prevent others from enduring the same.

201 takes us into myth, archetype, confronting the self. 201, to borrow from Tolkien for a minute, drops us between the worlds of Man and Elf:

The real theme for me [in my fiction] is about something much more permanent and difficult; Death and Immortality: the mystery of the  love of the world in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ to leave and seemingly lose it [Men]; the anguish in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ not to leave it [the Elves]. — Letters, no. 86.

To paraphrase and summarize a conversation between Elf and Man I can’t locate right now (probably from the Silmarillion, or from Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, the Discussion between the Elven King Finrod and the Mortal woman Andreth), “Which of us should therefore envy the other?”

Meanwhile, the Renewers of the cosmos, whoever they are, send us challenges to sweep us beyond such dichotomies. What does Life or Death have to do with the Song of Awen endlessly pouring forth through everything? To one stifling in spiritual dryness, the endless streaming of Awen all around can form part of the suffering that may accompany us during such periods. “Why is so much happening and flowing and flourishing all around me, while I sit here, a husk, waiting, endlessly, for something — anything?”

But write such things in a 201 book, and most readers would burn the damn thing, if they read it at all. Sometimes it can seem our patience and persistence have merely enlarged our capacity for suffering. And that’s really not what you want to share with anyone who casually inquires “So how’s it goin’?”!

Ubi sapientia invenitur? goes the old query. Where can wisdom be found?

If you know Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour” (and if you don’t, go read it right now — it’s very short, a matter of just a few minutes rather than an hour — so that the very next few phrases and sentences aren’t spoilers for you), you know that the main character, with a weakened heart, faces freedom and dies.

We’re called to live, instead.

newgrowth

New growth at the tips will be the most tender and sensitive, counsels the Green World.

Often the best cure is service. Not unwilling drudgery. But something worth doing. Find some way to give back, to unblock the flow of awen, of deep spirit, that has steadily been growing, pooling and accumulating, and now is a torment, because we can no longer give enough of it away, fast enough. (The cauldron is full to bursting. The weight of water in the reservoir builds and builds. Give more away, for the love of the sweet green earth!)

Instead of following a scripted plan for service (unless that appeals to you), ask for how you can serve. (Our talents can be used in ways we enjoy.) Then trust what comes, even as you test it step by step.

That, I’m still learning, turns out to be one of the bargains the universe, or the Gods, like best.

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