Archive for the ‘earth spirituality’ Category

The Daily Menu, and the Specials   Leave a comment

A good metaphor gives you a form, a shape to attach stuff to. If you have a free mantle or shelf, you can arrange pictures and other beloved objects on it. On Halloween, out come the black cats and the carved pumpkins. With a Christmas tree, you’ve got a place for the decorations that live most of the year in a box, in a basement, closet, or attic. Here’s a menu — a useful metaphor for any spiritual tradition.

Sometimes we need to pass through a portal in order to see a new menu. Or sometimes just turn a page. What metaphor works for you? Which ones “become real”? Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com.

Most traditions share at least one feature of their menus — they urge you to a daily practice. What shape that takes can be remarkably varied. But you generally know where you are with the daily menu. You’ve got your go-to’s. Like exercise, the morning or evening prayer or meditation or ritual or reading or other exercise or observance helps you keep in shape. Not only does each day tend to go better as a result of your improved spiritual and physical muscle-tone (you sleep better, you’re more flexible, you bounce back sooner), but you’re building a foundation for bigger things, too. You’ll be better able to handle the inevitable next set of changes.

That includes both challenges and blessings. Which is which can depend on my daily practice more than I anticipate. One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother, sing the Goddess-worshippers.

My wife and I do a short chant each morning to re-align and tune back in. (To what? you ask. Well, what do you want to connect to? There you go.) On those handful of days every month when we neglect it, we feel the lack. The reason doesn’t matter — the intrusion and bustle for a scheduled appointment, an unexpected phone call, a minor household emergency — something intervenes and calls us away from our routine. Both of us have our own individual practice, too — we just like to build couple energy as well. It’s something we’ve added to our lives, and now we can depend on what we call “positive inertia” to keep it up. Using our human habit-making tendencies to support a spiritual practice can be a winning strategy, especially if you tend toward laziness like I do.

The menu for my day is my regular practice, along with whatever longer-term project or planning I’m doing. A piece of that can be reading. It’s almost always writing, even if that’s just in the margins of my reading. Talking back to books, to other writers. Every few days, it includes posting here. (And thinking about and drafting posts, some of which will remain in draft form.) In cold weather, building a fire, which for me is both a practical and ritual act. In warm weather, hanging laundry on the line, which is likewise a form of concrete worship I’ve come to appreciate.

Sometimes the Specials are the “discoveries, insights and unexpecteds” that arrive in everyone’s day, if we give them even a little space to flower. A practice can help that to happen. The dream fragment, the chance comment, the meditation image or sensation or hunch, the phrase in my reading or in the day’s conversations gets into my journal, or not, depending. If it does, it’s one more help, one more gift. One and one and one and one and one do accumulate over time into a weight and a presence that have increasing value. And much of that value is how they talk to each other, echo and comment on and reinforce and confirm. Patterns, tendencies, directions, guidance, a path — a lifetime.

We encounter the Specials also in the larger events, like a full moon and a new moon every month, and every six weeks or so, one of the “Great Eight”, as I like to call them: the seasonal festivals of modern Pagan practice. They’re paired — the solstices and equinoxes that whole planet experiences, and the cross-quarter days of Celtic record, with their evocative names of Samhuin, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh — the four holidays of choice, you might say. Then all our individual and family birthdays and anniversaries, and the cultural holidays on the calendar of our nations.

These don’t come along every day, so their appearance pleasantly disrupts our routine in good ways. We human mysteries long for “something new” and “something familiar” in such varying and idiosyncratic proportions that no ritual calendar can wholly satisfy us. But let a friend message me with ideas for ritual, let a neighbour send a photo, let us hold a special Zoom with family far away or an online class or discussion or ritual, and the Special also takes shape. What’s on the menu? Ultimately, we are.

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Deepest Refreshment: Ninth Day of Samhain (31 Oct. 2020)

[Updated/edited 12:34 EST]

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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Why “deepest refreshment” (apart from its appearance in C. Matthews’ Celtic Devotional)? Before you read further, spend some time reflecting on why and how Samhain might provide such a thing for you. What can you do to help it manifest, at whatever scale matches this last day of October 2020?

Your reasons, hunches, nudges, inklings and flashes of insight can become part of your Samhain experience. Trust them. I’m blogging about Druidry today because Slowly, Idiosyncratically, Reflectively, Imaginatively, and somewhat Skeptically — SIRIS — that’s the track I followed. (I use acronyms a lot.) So I’m commending that as one possible option for you, too. Y gwir yn erbyn a byd “The truth against the world” really is a Druidic ideal for many, and now at Samhain is as good a time as any to try it out. In many ways, while visitors are welcome (after covid) at our circles and most events, Druidry isn’t particularly a spectator sport. Get your truth on!

front yard by moonlight at 3:30 am this morning

The Breakfast Six celebrating the last day of the season at our favorite spot. Sharing is the most human, communal and Samhain-y thing we do. Chef Michael is standing, masked. I’m in lavender hat on far left.

So here we are today, approaching Holy Evening, which is what Hallowe’en means, after all. Or alternatively, Hallows (all ultimately from Old English halga “saint, holy”) are the Saints that make it Holy. The Church certainly thought so, and overlaid its festivals of All Hallows Eve (Oct. 31), All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), and All Souls’ Day, or Day of the Dead (Nov. 2) on the older Celtic observance.

I’ll be spending a quiet Great Hallows tonight with two other Vermont Druids via Zoom. Together we’ll do a meditative reading of OBOD’s Solitary Rite, because it’s more flexible than the group rite for accommodating any latecomers on our mailing-list who didn’t reply or let us know they’re joining us. (Easier to change pronouns — and actions — from one to several!) And if it’s not snowing or too windy, I’ll light a backyard fire in our fire circle and enjoy a blaze under the full moon. I’ll also be meditating on and listening to a specific ancestor who came into my attention in contemplation yesterday morning. Last and next, if I’m still up at midnight, or I wake later while it’s dark, I’ll be making notes for this year’s Nanowrimo — National Novel Writing Month.

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The last words of the main OBOD rite come from the Ancient: “… a new time begins … may it bring us whatever things are needful, support our bodies, nourish our souls and give radiance to our spirits. May it show to each one their true path, by the light of the Oak, the Yew and the Silver Birch”.

The blessings of Great Hallows to you all.

Without Samhain-sight.
With Samhain-sight. (Actually, with night-vision camera setting.) From kitchen facing East.

Cauldron of Memory: Eighth Day of Samhain (30 Oct. 2020)

[Edited/updated 20:18 EST]

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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First snow this morning. Facing east.

The late author and teacher Raven Grimassi published a 2009 book* with the same title as today’s post, and among several techniques he discusses for connecting with the ancestors, lucid dreaming has particular advantages:

If you have trouble with visualizations, or with pathworking in general, there is another method of ancestor contact at your disposal. This is accomplished through the Dream Gate, which is a portal to a particular area of dream consciousness.

There are essentially two states of consciousness in the dream state. The first level is the one in which the dream dictates a series of events or a storyline. At this level we are subject to the dream and we react to whatever is taking place. In effect we are a drafted actor without a script. In the common dream state our subconscious mind is operational but our conscious mind is a passive spectator.

The second dream level is one where we take conscious control and shape the dream as we wish. This is often referred to as lucid dreaming. The advantage of lucid dreaming (in an occult sense) is that we can come into contact with inner plane realities with both halves of our consciousness fully operational. This allows us to function in the magical setting of the subconscious mind (where anything is possible) while at the same time having the benefits of the conscious mind (where everything has connection and direction) (Cauldron of Memory, pgs. 140-141).

Now your reaction may be “But I don’t remember my dreams, so that’s not gonna help”. This is where the dream chalice technique from an earlier post in this series can prove useful. For many people, the light trance that sitting around a night-time fire brings can also help provide another alternative practice. Through such access-points we can stand at the doorway, and decide if we wish to go any further. Another of the many functions of ritual itself can be a similar light trance that we induce through repeated words, chants, gesture and dance.

berries through the snow

Simple candle-gazing also works well for solitaries. You may wish to establish a quiet period, perhaps with few other lights, so that the semi-darkness helps with focusing on your candle-flame. As with any ritual, what we bring to it makes all the difference. How we feel about it, how we set it up, what props we include, what significance we assign to them, what we do with our experiences, whether we choose to record them, and where they fits in with everything else that we are — these things build our spiritual lives piece by piece. And as we learn to choose where we place our attention, rather than letting it be grabbed by whatever is shouting most loudly, we reclaim a priceless spiritual tool.

The metaphor of a cauldron is a potent one. Some of us may experience memory as a thread, or the roots of a tree. Exploring our metaphors can reveal new practices. If memory is a cauldron, bringing to ritual, to our bedside, to our imaginal lives, an object to represent memory can be most useful. Magic shops market small cauldrons for such purposes, and you can make your own from clay. Those with foundry skills may find making a cauldron a remarkable project. Found objects, gifts and other things may serve as cauldrons. A bowl, piece of driftwood, a sea-shell — my own cupped hands — can all be cauldrons in dream and in ritual.

Alternatively, if memory is a tree, then images of trees and their roots, working with a favorite “tree of memory”, drawing or photographing trees, and meditating on the linkages between “roots and recall”, between the solidity and stability of a tree, and the persistence of memory, even memories we have stored deeply, can turn the experience of remembering into a magical and imaginal exploration.

This same cauldron or tree of memory includes “memory of the future” — visions and dreams, hunches and nudges, all part of our largely untapped ability to gaze up and down the time-track. Most of us get glimpses, while some may get more. We live in a particular time and place in the physical realm, because such focus is powerful and has its special lessons to teach us, but we can also learn to look and attend elsewhere, and remember/(re/dis)cover what is needful, whatever things in our long lives we have set aside, and take them up again and use them today, leaving other things in turn for our tomorrows.

What do I wish to leave in safekeeping for my future self, and for my descendants of blood and spirit? What is the spiritual heritage I am building day by day? Making a practice out of consciously leaving things for the future helps shape the futures we both desire and earn.

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*Grimassi, Raven. The Cauldron of Memory: Retrieving Ancestral Knowledge and Wisdom. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

Gates of Welcome: Seventh Day of Samhain (29 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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At the start of this third triad of three in this series, I want to address briefly my conscious sidestepping of most current events. Plenty of Pagan and Druid forums are grappling with current events and the often polarizing conversations that have developed around them, and you can engage them there, where there are people much better informed than I am about up-to-the-minute developments, about the unfolding of events, about history and context. My practice of Druidry points me toward tools and strategies for insight, discovery, exploration and survival, so that’s what I’m choosing to focus on and share with you here.

That doesn’t mean Druidry is somehow values-neutral, that it equips you with a wand of power, then stands back as you wave and cast however you want. A wide range of political expressions may follow on Druid experiences and perceptions, but they won’t slot neatly into one or another political party. Extremes within either U.S. party, for instance, while they generate much of the current outrage and controversy, polarize opinions and attitudes, and grab headlines, aren’t especially productive places to find keys to human happiness and growth. It’s at points of balance and equilibrium between poles where creative tension often flourishes most successfully. Druidry reminds us that liminal spaces draw our attention for very good reasons, because that’s where worlds meet. And Samhain is a prime instance of the liminal or boundary experience.

Do the Gates allow me to look through in both directions?

“Gates of Welcome” is an excellent subject for exploration and meditation. A guide to practice: where do I feel welcomed? And where in turn can I make the things and people and experiences I want in my life feel welcome?

And what practices? Journal entry, prayer, wordless communion outdoors, an artistic response to “gates of welcome” in painting, music, sculpture, etc. Each of these can acknowledge the gates right for us, gates where we feel welcome, gates we may indeed already be passing through.

(What is my True Name? What is my Quest? Because this IS a spiritual quest.)

Snow in the forecast for tomorrow/Friday here in Vermont, with a low of 13 F / -10 C. We’ve had a fire in the stove for the past several days, mostly against the damp. The most daily things, preparing and eating a meal, building and maintaining a fire, washing and hanging up clothes (which we do outdoors in warm weather, indoors on racks by the fire in cooler weather) can become chances for epiphany — moments of spiritual transparency where we see that lived life is holy, that incarnation is a gift, that life is sacrament.

What are your triads today? What are the Three Gates of Welcome? What music do you find yourself singing?

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Grandmothers, Grandfathers: Sixth Day of Samhain (28 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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When I realize it’s not “about me”, my sense of “me” can often enlarge, and — paradoxes teasing us and breaking up our rigidity as they do, gift of the gods to ease us open — I may know myself a part of all that is. Most humans, if we judge by interviews, polls, sociological surveys, etc., have experienced such moments. Consciousness expands, barriers drop away, and we re-connect. The ecstasy that can accompany such moments underlies a surprising amount of experimentation with altered states of consciousness — through drugs and alcohol, ritual, chant, jogging, yoga, dance, and so on.

Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional offers a “Threshold Invocation for the Festival of Samhain (to be said at the front door of the house on the eve of Samhain, 31st October, in the evening)” that begins:

Grandmother Wisdom, open the door,
Grandfather Counsel, come you in …

This sense of living ancestors, of cultural guides and totems, of others with us who simply join in “without their skins on”, still flourishes among many traditional peoples. It’s one of the things much of Druidry has also striven to reclaim and re-animate in our lives.

Part of our experience of these things lies in any welcome we give or withhold. Last night I joined a Zoom discussion on inner guidance. We talked about trusting what we receive, about learning to recognize its signs, those nudges that aren’t merely fear or ego or desire, about staying alert for the confirmation that often comes in outer circumstances that we’re on the right track.

For Christians, Jesus says “I stand at the door and knock”. As far as we can tell, there’s a lot of knocking going on in our lives. Yes, sometimes the message is urgent enough we may receive a visit uninvited. But in either case, what we do or don’t do in response often forms a core part of the significance of the visit. My listening, my acceptance, my questioning or doubt — in sum, my engagement in some way — is a good half of most experiences of contact and connection. In the language of his day, Winston Churchill remarked, “Men [i.e., humans] occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened”. In Heather Hughes Cullero’s The Sedona Trilogy, one character says, “This is the gift of Spirit to you. What you do with it is your gift to Spirit”.

East Coast Gathering, 2017. Spirit may take any form to reach us.

If you’re fortunate to know the names of your ancestors, particularly beyond your four grandparents, you may more readily gain an intimate sense of the curious timelessness of forming part of an immense ancestral line. Though my wife and I don’t have children of our own, we stand in the middle of just such a Long Line, like everyone does. As I mentioned in a previous post, live to 70 or 80 and that puts us squarely in the lives of five to seven generations within our living memory and connection. I recall my late grandmother who died at 81 in 1977, and I know her living descendants down to her youngest great-great-granddaughter Ashley — five generations already.

Try out the implications of reincarnation, and you could easily be one of your own ancestors. Take stock, look at family patterns, and it can often help clarify things: who I was then is part of who I am now. Step outside this world and its particular laws, and others come into play. Lifetimes like beads on the string of spirit, linking this brief span of decades to others, backwards and forwards. (Do I want to know the future? I’m building it day by day.)

Rather than being that flaky guest at parties who insists he was Julius Caesar or Rasputin or Charlemagne — that she was Cleopatra, or Madame Curie or Queen Elizabeth I — why not explore the major themes at work in life today, and link them up to nudges and hints about “who we were before”, to help map out a larger spiritual purpose and vision? (It sure beats the hell out of watching and worrying over current headlines — though that has its place, too, if we choose — if it doesn’t choose us.) Even as a purely imaginative exercise, it can open up perception and awareness — which seems to be one of the purposes of reincarnation anyway. (Is everything a metaphor?!)

Grandmother Wisdom, open the door,
Grandfather Counsel, come you in …

Yes, you can purchase Matthews’ book — it’s a good one. You could also use this as a prompt for your invocations. Grandmother Wisdom, what message do you have for your descendants? Grandfather Counsel, how can I best move through the next year? Among other things, Samhain is about tapping into the larger Selves we all are. The rest is often “just” holiday bling, Halloween decorations. But like the family heirloom or old metal toy or yellowing photo, such seemingly small things can loom large, and offer a link between generations.

We hear about ancestors of blood and also ancestors of spirit. If I have a difficult family, or one divided for any reason, my ancestors of spirit, and the current family I make out of friends and loved ones — families of choice — matters just as much. Mentors, supporters, our own cheering section, school classmates, colleagues, “chance” acquaintances who become beloved, spiritual ancestors whose art or music or books matter deeply to us — all of us gather such ancestors in addition to the people in blood relationship to us. These too are our ancestors at Samhain, and can form part of remembrances and prayers and invocations.

Bard initiates with Kristoffer Hughes (left, back row) at East Coast Gathering. What is the awen saying?

Samhain is not, or not primarily, “darkness and death”, but the realities deeper than these, which may wear them as masks. (The masks themselves can be fun, depending.) One measure of our lives is how and when spirit works to get our attention, whether it can keep it this time around — and what we choose do next.

morrigan
The Morrigan personifies the challenges that prove and test us all. Photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty.

Thresholds, Doorways: Fifth Day of Samhain (27 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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Some of you may know author Leigh Bardugo and her recent (2019) novel Ninth House. Set in New Haven, Connecticut, it takes place mostly on the Yale University campus, where it re-imagines the school’s actual secret, elite “landed” societies or Houses like Skull and Bones, Book and Snake, Scroll and Key, Berzelius, Wolf’s Head, etc. as occult organizations, each with its magical specialties. Certainly those names are wonderfully evocative all by themselves!

Berzelius House or “tomb” at Yale University / Wikipedia.

Spoiler alert: one of the novel’s characters, familiar with portal magic, encounters what he thinks is just another magical portal, until he realizes — too late — that it’s a mouth instead.

A little Samhain shiver, of the kind that horror movies offer their fans.

The mouth of what? you ask. So do Bardugo’s readers, who await the sequel. But the metaphor is an apt one, outside the novel and at large in what we are pleased to call the “real world”. We resist change for this among other reasons — that the opportunity, doorway, portal will swallow us whole. Nothing left. Gone. Yanked out of our old life, which for all its problems and burdens is at least familiar. Sucked, tossed, flung into some new and terrifying realm where none of the old rules apply, and at the very best we have to start all over again. And at worst? Well, it just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Fear is a favorite emotion these days. It sells! And it rouses us from lethargy, it pulls in donations and ramps up political action. Right and Left both doing their level best to drum up every imaginable terror at the thought of the evil Others taking control at the next election. In the U.S., November 4 looms for far too many like a shape of fear brighter and darker than any Samhain hysteria.

At best these are distractions from something far more important.

In a 2015 post, “Reclaiming the Wild Self“, I quote Clarissa Pinkola Estés (author of Women Who Run with the Wolves), who writes:

The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a saner life, that is a door.

In part, the doors Estés refers to are a matter of human time. Live long enough and you’ll very likely acquire such scars, carry such stories, cherish such loves. One way to find common ground with others is to focus on these doors. And one of the best ways to access them is by careful listening to ourselves and to each other. (Yes, it’s a “slow fix” which, in case we haven’t noticed, is the only effective kind.)

Often enough, we may fear such a world and such a self as much as we yearn for it. A doorway means change. Even if it just opens onto another room, it’s not the room we were in a moment ago. Fears can outline such a door, too — including fear of a door itself. If you’re anything like me, you know or have been someone who at one time or another has walked into a cage and exulted as it clanged shut behind you, reassured that at least you wouldn’t have to walk through yet another damned door.

How many horror movies give us spider webs across the face as a sign we’ve passed a portal? Can we do it without fear for once?!

How to recapture the sense of the preciousness of these doors, as Estes calls it? For in the end our own longing compels us to find them and walk through. Ritual is one way, though by no means the only. By defining boundaries in ritual we can make a door easier to see and peek through. If the past is difficult country for me, I can approach it with safeguards in place. Ritual can help with its prescribed beginnings and endings, its containers of energy and wisdom we can safely draw on at need for balance and perspective and protection. A holiday like the upcoming Samhain, like Halloween, a holy evening for remembering who and what has passed from our lives, offers a safe space to honor and to say farewell to what is gone. Sometimes all that is needed is for us to agree that we can finally let go.

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Samhain can be good “portal practice”. Every year we already walk through many doors, whether we choose to or not, so why not practice doing it consciously? (Or if we choose not to walk through a door we face, that too is valuable.) By ritualizing our experience, we get to explore it, viewing it from several perspectives, and if we’re part of a community, a ritual circle, a group of friends, we get to do this together.

One of the advantages of Samhain (a fruitful subject for meditation all its own) is of a holy day “outside of time”. During Samhain we can gaze up and down the time track, the pathways of our lives and those of our ancestors.

The ritual words of the OBOD Samhain ceremony address the uncertainties and doubts that we may face:

“Is it then possible, during the celebration of Samhain, to pass without risk or fear from one world to another: the living to the realm of the dead, the dead to the span of the living?”

(Those with recall of past lives whisper to themselves “It sure ought to be — after all, how many times have I already done this before?!”)

One good answer: if we do it with love, the answer is yes. Many of us have made the journey already in meditation and dream, meeting loved ones where the boundaries are less daunting, unless we close ourselves off to such experiences. No rush, no need to force these things: we will know when the time is right.

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Unchanging Wisdom: Third Day of Samhain (25 Oct. 2020)

[Edited/updated 13:53 EST]

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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One reason the Old Ways still call to us is that they’re replete with earth-wisdom and heart-truth. For dogma, read experience. For doctrine, read rule-of-thumb. Our favorite childhood stories, our fairy-stories, legends, myths and tall-tales all seem to take place in such a cosmos, where the smallest actions spin out their consequences, where magic flourishes, and where hopes and dreams come true. Samhain wisdom.

It’s a revealing expression, come true. This world of change and manifestation is constantly arriving, shaped as much by our misunderstandings and mistakes as by our grasp on truth, all tangled up in the physics of a cosmos that’s often far weirder than we imagine. Samhain cosmos.

[Here’s John Beckett’s post today on the Veil Between the Worlds.]

Often we’ve jettisoned belief in a single truth-with-a-capital-T, but in the process we’ve also often forgotten that cause and effect still play out in our lives, and not all of our personal truths are equally viable. (That’s how and why we keep learning and growing, after all. We test our understandings against our lives. I don’t know about you, but I’d not want to jump back to 14-year-old me and my beliefs, doubts and fears of that time.) Samhain truths.

In place of our traditional and healthily provisional/experimental perception of what spirit is and how it works, we’ve turned to all manner of beliefs and disbeliefs, forgetting that spring keeps coming every year, that the power that underlies and sustains things still pulses through them regardless of our human awareness or obliviousness. Rather than bothering so much with belief, it might help us to find out where and when and how things are true, under what circumstances they can be true, and so on. Less church, more laboratory. Samhain practice.

Even words like wisdom and truth and evil have fallen out of fashion, because we think we don’t believe in them any more, until they bite us where it hurts. (Well, wisdom still manages to stick around in a few places — especially if it comes from somewhere exotic, and can be bottled and marketed as hidden or never-before-revealed or traditional.) Sometimes we even notice that most of the “new and improved spirituality” on offer is our traditional wisdom with a hip contemporary makeover. Samhain fashion.

But catch the spirit of Samhain and I get plugged back into a cosmos alive under my skin and in my blood and flaming in the autumn leaves. Get out in the cooling air and I smell the old earth-year. I watch the moon swell to fullness this time coinciding with the last day of October. Samhain reminds us we are alive in time and space, here and now, but also that the world turns, whether we will or no. The chorus of the old goddess chant deserves meditation: “Hoof and horn, hoof and horn/Those who die shall be reborn./Corn and grain, corn and grain/Those who fall shall rise again”. Where and when and how is this true, under what circumstances can it be true …? Samhain questions.

And what of Samhain music? It’s in our blood, a human heritage. Wisdom makes a song we all know by heart. We hear echoes all the time — a fragment of a melody that arrests us in the middle of whatever we’re doing when we hear it. A phrase in a speech or book or conversation that makes us sit up straighter, or slip into reverie. All the things we tend to discount in our humanness, things we rarely talk about. Samhain stuff.

Earth of Samhain, bone and boulder. Air of Samhain, breath and breeze. Fire of Samhain, ______ . Water of Samhain, ______ . What draws us to fill in those blanks we might call the gravity of Samhain, the tug of the time on us. Things have a particular shape, fit into a certain space and no other. Aptness. Identity. Fire of Samhain, heart and hearth. Water of Samhain, blood and brook.

Turn those phrases toward however they work best for you. Then do it. (For counsel on what your particular it is, consult the season of Samhain, your left ventricle, your right hemisphere, you animal guides, and the blessed time you spend outdoors under trees, listening.)

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The Beltane Fire Society will hold a digital Samhuinn this year, with live events posted to Facebook and Youtube.

Shrine of Sleep: Second Day of Samhain (24 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

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What offerings do I bring to the shrine of sleep these days?

In some ways we resist the dark on a national level. In most of North America and much of Europe, the season of time changes is upon us, where we turn back our clocks one hour to bring more daylight to our mornings. But much of the rest of the world doesn’t do this, and some regions even within the time-changing nations don’t change either.

Mystic River Grove ritual

Samhain, like Beltane, is a time when “the veil thins” — when the distinctions and barriers between levels of reality are less sharply defined, and it’s often easier to move back and forth between realities. Many of us have had dream experiences that open us to such possibilities. (Whether and how we choose to respond to these opened doors and gates and windows is another matter.)

Twice a year, potential experiences of a larger cosmos unroll into our awareness, unasked. (The rest of the time we may need to make more effort.) The mingled fear and curiosity we often hold for such enlargements tell us much about the social controls at work in our lives. While some explore lucid dreaming, yoga nidra and similar practices, for many of us the twice-yearly opportunities of vivid and insightful dreams, if we invite them, offer plenty to work with. Anyone who has kept a dream journal, and worked with recurring dreams, dream sequences, symbols, guides and ancestors, knows the value of dreamwork. As with so many practices, what you reap mirrors what you sow.

Animal companions can often walk with us to help us with comfort and reassurance, if we’re exploring other worlds. A familiar object — a photograph, seashell, feather or stone, handled before sleep over several nights, can travel with us into the dream, appearing within our dreams to remind us of our intent and our desire, and help shape the dream experience. Some people find that gazing at their hands, as a reminder of our capacity to effect change, to accomplish tasks, to shape our lives, can be another dream tool.

Personalized affirmations, repeated verbally, written in a journal, kept in the attention during the daylight hours, can also help incubate a dream. Here are a couple of examples:

At the shrine of sleep I dedicate my intent to ___, this object/animal companion to ___, my hands to ___ . Change whatever needs changing for your personal circumstances.

As this candle comes alight, so I seek a dream tonight, a holy gift of deep insight. Meditate with the candle, then extinguish it, knowing you carry the light of your intent into sleep for blessing during this time of Samhain.

Likewise, many have found the dream chalice practice an effective one:

Dedicate a goblet, glass or other cup as your dream chalice, placing it on your nightstand or otherwise near your bed before you sleep. Each morning when you awake, drink from the chalice, knowing you are drinking in the wisdom of your dreams. Keep a record of your impression, thoughts, feelings, memories, and images that occur to you over the next three (or seven) days.

May you dream richly at the Shrine of Sleep!

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Samhain: Season to Taste

[1st | 2nd | 3rd | 4th | 5th | 6th | 7th | 8th | 9th]

Unlike that high school or college or professional exam or road test or other ego-destroying experience of assessment, your first or hundredth ritual needn’t achieve a certain score before you “pass”.

If you bought candy to distribute, you’ve performed a small ritual. If you have decorations you’re thinking about putting up (or you already have them up), you’ve performed a ritual. If you plan to sit quietly and reflect on the season, you’re doing ritual.

As John Beckett remarks on his blog, it’s the Samhain season, not just a single day.

I invite you to join me in celebrating Nine Days of Samhain. I’ll be posting every day for the nine days starting Friday the 23nd through the 31st with contemplations, any insights, ritual gestures, and whatever else comes through, so if you’re looking for meditative company in the days leading up to Great Hallows, check in as it pleases you:

First Day, Friday the 23rd: Tide of Winter
Second Day, Saturday the 24th: Shrine of Sleep
Third Day, Sunday the 25th: Unchanging Wisdom
Fourth Day, Monday the 26th: Dedicated Waking
Fifth Day, Tuesday the 27th: Thresholds, Doorways
Sixth Day, Wednesday the 28th: Grandmothers, Grandfathers
Seventh Day, Thursday the 29th: Gates of Welcome
Eighth Day, Friday the 30th: Cauldron of Memory
Ninth Day, Saturday the 31st: Deepest Refreshment

Note: the themes and seeds for the Nine Days loosely derive from Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional.

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Cat of the South, Horse of the North

The Sunday Guardian included this article on a large feline figure among the Nazca lines in Peru.

Nazca feline figure / Andina

Now we have two out-sized figures — the Nazca Cat and the Uffington Horse — to use when we call the Quarters/welcome the Directions/invoke the Watchtowers/hail the Archangels/commune with the Guardians.

Uffington White Horse / Wikipedia

Let our Druidry span the planet!

But wait! What is it I’m invoking, or at least imagining here?

We have marked the images of animals on our landscapes, both physical and psychic — marked them visually, emotionally, energetically. It feels like part of the same impulse that leads us to put pictures of friends and family on our walls and mantles and desks. Image evokes presence, welcomes the energies of the imaged being (or place). We go where our attention takes us, so it’s prudent to be conscious about what we allow into our attention — a potentially profound practice over time, over an entire life. Image, icon, logo, meme, visualization — we use this human ability in so many and such varied ways, for our enervation and also for our betterment.

It can be a practice to meditate with these images, to inquire what they can teach us, what we should be attending to, how to regard them, what energies they mediate into the landscape where they are located, and into our consciousness when we think of them, recall them, bring them to mind, see them with the mind’s eye. Those of us who feel “I can’t visualize” may in fact be profound visualizers, since visualization is as much about feeling and sensing as it is about “seeing.”

When we plan a trip, go to the grocery store, think about dinner, bring up a memory, the associated images can pass by the screen of our inward attention so quickly we think we’re not seeing them, when in fact they may merely be passing faster than thought can separate them. We’ve done this since we arrived in this life, so it’s little wonder the images we practice are fast. Often we “flesh out” or incarnate an anticipated event by just such an inner run of images. We may not necessarily “see them” in a “daily life” way, but a part of us notes whatever is missing from the sequence, and that’s what we add to the grocery list, or remind ourselves to attend to after we return home.

Some practice with this can be revealing, if we start from the assumption that visualization isn’t our “problem”, but rather a skill we’ve already perfected, one we do so automatically we no longer notice it, like walking without falling over like when we were toddlers, any more than we notice our cerebellums telling our hearts to beat, or our stomachs to digest. Bringing these semi-voluntary and involuntary actions under conscious control is a different matter — some branches of yoga teach this — but we all visualize constantly, and usually faster than thought.

As above, so below — yes. But as within, so without, also. Our inner and outer worlds can start to work together rather than fighting each other, with loving practice to what our attention is doing, and where we’re placing it, and how we feel about what we’re attending to.

Attitude and attention — two of the greatest powers we have.

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“Nothing in my spam queue” as a Guide

Log in to WordPress, check your site, and with luck you read a notice that announces “Nothing in your spam queue”.

Imagine: even spam has been lining up to see you! You’re not as small and insignificant as you thought!

Spam — the stuff that clamors for my attention whether it deserves it or not. First cousin to Fake, Faux, etc. Cut down actual trees, put models of ’em in a Tree Museum*.

A whole Spam world? Sign me up! Take the Blue Pill …

The subtitle of this post could well be: What’s So Bad about the Apparent World, Anyway?

IMG_1961

Finding hollow spaces to celebrate richness. Mt. Ascutney State Park, Vermont.

The “Apparent World”, you’ll recall from previous posts, and as OBOD ritual reminds us, is this one, this world of apparently firm surfaces that consist of little more than the orbital shells of electrons surrounding atoms — nothing “substantial” at all. Spam. This world of matter, energy, space, time, friends, relatives, partners, pets, car, house, job, neighbors, Current Political Crisis #437, aliens, the solar system, all the galaxies beyond it — apparent. Yes, all these things really do “appear”, which is what apparent means. What else, after all, would anybody expect them to do?

“As the Apparent World fades …” says the ritual. Well, maybe I like this Apparent World. After all, I’ve spent 2-3-4-5-6-7 decades acclimating to it, acquiring skills to deal with it, maybe even occasionally thriving in it. I’m invested in it, even if those annoying Others have paved paradise and put up a parking lot*. Yes, I know I have to leave it all too soon. How could I forget that? Reminders all around me every day, even in the best of times, as if I’d forget otherwise! Sometimes ya gotta deny the end just to notice and enjoy everything that comes before it. Smell the flowers, they tell us. Hey, sometimes denial is one of the best and most adaptive survival strategies of all!!! “Some of the happiest people I know …” and so on.

Because just when I think it’s (only) apparent, it shifts on me and becomes fabulously, dangerously, pulse-quickeningly real.

“But wait. There’s more!” Paradoxically, many of the same people reminding us about The End also keep telling us there’s so much beyond it. Huh. What? How’s that work?!

Thoreau has something to say about that. Love him or hate him, he’s on the money often enough to deserve our clear attention:

Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one.

“Counting one” can be a ritual. Maybe the ritual I’ve been longing to do, but for any number of reasons I haven’t yet done. Yes, fishing’s also a grand ritual, as any devotee knows. So is drinking, too. And seeing the sandy bottom, detecting its shallowness. Noticing eternity. Daydreaming of fish in the sky, pebbles like whole planets and stars. Longing to drink deeper.

Our Apparent World, for all its richness, is paper-thin, and with eternity banging at the door and peering in through the windows, and always beginning right now, why deprive myself of that glorious abundance, especially when I don’t have to? In another paradox, it turns out that the true Masters of self-denial, the rabid ascetics and flagellants [warning — link to rites of self-crucifixion in the Philippines!] are those who restrict themselves to the Apparent World, never bothering to drink and detect and long and notice and count. But only a few of us are really cut out for the Apparent World, though almost everything’s set up for their convenience. Most of the rest of us run around vainly trying to arrange “something more”. I’m speaking to the latter group. Because if you’re content with apparent, why do anything different? You’ve got what you need, and I don’t need to photobomb your perfect selfie. Delete this blog from your feed immediately. Otherwise, I’m your spam.

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A post appeared this morning on an OBOD Facebook page from a new bard uncertain about where she could find in the published course rituals any kind of entry point for herself. The rituals she’d encountered so far felt too grand, too dramatic. She wasn’t sure where or how she fit, or how they fit her. She also noted she was a Solitary, with no group nearby to experience that form of ritual with.

mantis

Who else is solitary and may have something to teach me? Do I know?

One of the replies to her post took an interesting tack. Yes, ritual can exist to impress others, the commenter noted, taking them to places they might not go on their own. The dramatic gesture, the theatrical staging, often matter more in such cases where people can beneficially be surprised out of skepticism or ironic detachment or a long-established cool by an honest-to-god encounter with a god, or a spirit, or themselves, or another world, or even this one. But ritual can also be for ourselves, and take any size or shape we wish.

We all do ritual every day, all day long, anyway. Why not make these moments work more beautifully and magically for us, rather than spamming our attention with thoughts, opinions, images, emotions, possibilities and so forth that just don’t fit us and who we are and where we want to go?

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*with thanks to Joni Mitchell and her “Big Yellow Taxi”.

 

Beyond 101

lichenrock

moss and lichens claiming my backyard altar stone

What might moving beyond “Paganism 101” or “Druidry 101” look like?

(The number refers to one common identification system at colleges and universities for introductory courses. Higher levels — with their prerequisites of knowledge, experience and ability — come with higher numbers.)

Part of the difficulty stems from our diversity. The Druid and Pagan circle is an apt metaphor. We stand together facing a small piece of turf, both literal and figurative. That’s our common ground. Our group, our grove, our gathering of friends shares a common goal. We’ve come together to celebrate the harvest or a particular phase of the moon, or hold a handfasting or croning or saging. We’ve got “Purposes”. Turn outward from the group circle, though, and start walking, and we grow farther and farther apart.

That’s not a bad thing in itself.

salamander--annaoakflower

eastern newt / eft in pine woods

Jason Mankey also gets at some of the issues of the “beyond” factor in his post “The Trouble with 101 Books“. Partly it’s a consequence of living in a world of time and space — things keep changing, and so do we.

For Druid bloggers and polytheists like John Beckett, moving beyond 101 means deepening your relationships to the deities you connected to, among other things.

For an herbalist or gardener, it may mean developing your craft by studying nutrition and alternative healing, perhaps offering your skills professionally. It may mean getting a certificate in permaculture, or developing a hardier species to thrive where you live, challenging your ability to grow a larger percentage of your own food, teaching others, and so on.

For some of the members of the Druidry and Christianity Facebook group, the challenge is to find ways of being Christian that honor their spiritual discernment, while also acknowledging the powerful call of spiritual realities and opportunities of the natural world which are often ignored or considered actively suspect in the eyes of mainline churches and congregations and pastors.

Painters, sculptors, musicians work to sharpen their skills and develop their individual styles, and with enough talent coupled with a knack for marketing may even generate some income from their abilities. Some, but usually not enough to quit the day job.

If you don’t recognize yourself and your own experiences in this small handful of descriptions, you understand intimately how far you’ve walked from your own circle or community, just as much as if one of these descriptors more or less captures where you are right now and what you’re doing. Praise for the keepers and participants of circles, for the communal centers they offer!

For a mystic and walker of boundaries, it can mean exploring realms others don’t visit very often, including states of consciousness, ritual approaches, and a growing personal vocabulary to talk about such experiences, along with attempts to find parallels in other traditions and in the work that centuries of Bards in so many cultures have gifted us with. If a Bard somewhere seems to know about what I’m experiencing, I take that as a helpful guide to the terrain I’m walking. But if readers aren’t familiar with that particular association or reference, or if it doesn’t resonate for them, it may not help clarify what I’m talking about very much.

Often the work is so idiosyncratic and personal that it’s hard to share. Or when we do, others don’t quite know what to make of it. I found I learn best when I ask questions. As a ready way to minimize spiritual deception, especially self-deception, I find it unsurpassed. But long ago I also learned that the kinds of questions that interest me most often make other people prickly and defensive, or cause them to look at me strangely, or throw things, or turn away and find somebody else to talk to. So to avoid ostracism and rebuffs and a generalized loathing of my presence, I mostly turn my questions on myself and on my experiences and understandings of the world.

It’s true that such preoccupations can lead to a markedly reclusive lifestyle, so I bless my guides and mentors for nudging me into a career in education and teaching, thereby avoiding even greater eccentricity. If twenty-five years of teaching at the secondary and university level has shown me anything, it’s demonstrated that students like to ask questions of their own on occasion, rather than always answering other peoples’. The same holds true for groups and structures. Young adults are always forming their own groups, with structures that make sense to them, rather than answering to or serving the needs of adult administrators trying to justify their salaries.

When I write about my preoccupations here, I realize I’m writing first for myself, and only secondarily for others, because otherwise I wouldn’t know what to say. Your Druidry 201 and or Paganism 450 Honors will not always overlap with mine. That’s as it should be. Thoreau addresses this phenomenon in the first chapter of Walden with characteristic dry humor:

In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.

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Thank you to all my readers for helping this blog reach 100,000 page views. While I write first for myself, I wouldn’t have kept going without knowing you were also reading and thinking about these things.

Gates to the Otherworlds 2

[Part 1 | Part 2]

Putch3-close

One of the Putney, VT stone chambers

Unknowingly, we also shut most of the gates to Otherworlds ourselves. Hence religion — literally, “re-linking”. Both bad and good news here, for the keys (hidden, discovered, at the end of the quest — pick your legend) are in our hands.

As children all of us spent at least some time peering from the gates of an Otherworld into this one. That’s almost a definition of childhood. Imagination came so readily then that we thought nothing of it — it was our native tongue, our common language. We thought nothing of it because our journeys back and forth between the worlds felt completely natural, for the simple reason that they are. How many of us have heard children endlessly repeating a word or phrase, self-enchanting, practicing one form of word-magic to launch themselves into another world, another state of consciousness? Or the youngster who asks for an adult to read the same bedtime story over and over again, never tiring of it, making it part of the before-sleep ritual, that transition to another world, another state of consciousness? Or watching the same children’s movie day after day, delighting in the ritual of sequence, of beginnings and endings, of transport out of one state of awareness and into others? Or childhood games, with their frequent patterns of losing and finding, of repetition and transformation together. Anyone can be “it” — until the next round. (For whatever “it” may be this time, consult your right hemisphere.)

Almost effortlessly we arrive into this life, knowing firsthand, instinctively, how to make such journeys, only slowly letting go of that precious knowledge as we acclimate to this world.

With enough practice and experience here in this life, we’re able to mock up difficulties and obstacles of all kinds for ourselves in the opposite direction. In fact, we get r e a l l y good at it — when I have time, when I’m not so stressed, later, next weekend, when I finally get a break from work, when the kids are asleep, after the virus retreats, when I’m not so strapped for cash — never perceiving that it’s exactly such priorities which too often shut us off from the very wonder, healing and rebalancing we long for and so desperately need. Rather than slipping in and out of worlds with ease, we root ourselves deeply in just one, then struggle to connect to any others. Rather than tapping into sources and fountains of rejuvenation that would make this life easier, less stressful, more magical, we resolutely “put away childish things”, then wonder why we feel empty and unfulfilled. If we want a clear demonstration of elemental earth out of balance, we can look at its grip on us, holding us back from mingling with the other elements and with spirit. Hence the needful work with elemental ritual.

Through ritual we can let this “apparent world” fade, as OBOD rites describe it. And one strategy for doing that, given our busy lives, is to slip into such ritual spaces and places in the middle of whatever else we’re doing. This practice in itself mimics the between-the-worlds quality we seek, so it models what it induces. Make the intervals and practices small enough we can’t not enter them. They can also become components of the larger rituals we practice.

We don’t need robes, candles, incense, banners, deity and elemental figurines, gongs, bells, swords, wands, altars. True, things like these can help, but they’re not necessary. Sometimes a single short prayer-chant, practiced once an hour through the day, or on some other schedule (every 15 minutes, or each time you get up from your chair, or at each break, etc.), can begin to open doors.

With each breath I take I walk between the worlds.

The previous post offered a somewhat longer prayer: I invoke the three gifts of Mon …

And the usually brief triads are another short piece of poetry and singing, of verbal magic to enchant ourselves into other worlds.

200px-InfiniteOr if you’re more kinesthetic, and words don’t do it for you, a ritual gesture or kind of movement, or for other sensory orientations, sound, color, smell, and so forth. The previous post offered the infinity symbol as gesture or sign, a way of signaling the openness that always walks with us, the ability to slip in and out of other worlds in an instant, and then return. Drawing it might help. (Doodling is one way many of us enter daydream, another world, and to shift consciousness, etc.)

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In another few days this blog will hit 100,000 views — one indication that in the nearly nine years of its existence it’s continued to serve those who read and return to ponder the kinds of things I write about here. The international readership it’s acquired heartens me as well — it’s not speaking merely to a North-American base.

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Shardik_cover_1974

cover of 1st edition, Wikipedia/Allen Lane

I do a lot of re-reading (“if it was worth reading once, it deserves at least a second go”), and right now I’ve returned to Richard Adams’ Shardik, his 1974 novel about “the power of God in a bear”. Adams, though better known for Watership Down, felt that in Shardik he had written his best work.

We have echoes of bear-and-human connections in the bear-cults of early Europe, and in the Korean Dangun legends of the bear-ancestors of humans. Jean Auel’s series that began with The Clan of the Cave Bear picks up on this, and there’s more than one Facebook page devoted to the phenomenon.

Some flavours and expressions of Druidry devote attention to the shape-shifting that can open doors, to the more shamanic aspects of our past and our potential, to the animal-human links that can help restore us to balance and fuller experience of humanity. Books can often point us in such directions.

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Porth i’r Byd Arall — Gate(s) to the Otherworld

[Part 1 | Part 2]

So reads a sign at Llyn Cerrig Bach, a small lake on the Welsh isle of Anglesey or Môn.

porthirbydarall

photo courtesy Kristoffer Hughes

Porth “door, gate”, related to portal; i “to”; (y)r “the” byd “world”; arall “other, another”.

(Incidentally, one of the best online Welsh dictionaries is maintained by the Prifysgol Cymru/University of Wales.)

How to find and pass through such a gate?

In addition to the photo above, Welsh Druid chief and author Kristoffer Hughes [Facebook link / Voices of Modern Druidry entry] offers this bilingual triad on his Facebook page:

Dyma dri o roddion Môn,
Traed y Derwyddon ar y Tir,
Cylch tragwyddol y Môr,
Coleuni diderfyn yr Awyr.

The three gifts of Môn,
The feet of the Druids upon the Land,
The eternal circle of the Sea,
The Sky’s unbounded illumination.

Here are the Three Elements of Earth, Sea and Sky — Tir, Môr and Awyr. The Welsh names work very well all by themselves as a chant and prayer: tir [teer], môr [mohr] and awyr [ah-weer].

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In 1942, a hoard of some 150 objects was discovered near the end of the lake, apparently deposited there as votive offerings. Among them is this splendid bronze plaque, now held in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff:

torc-LCD

crescent plaque / Wikipedia

How do we find and pass through portals to the Otherworld?

I invoke the Three Gifts of Môn,
and seek entrance to an Otherworld,
to where it is right and fitting for me to journey.
Feet of Druids, guide my steps.
True return I seek, for I have been there before,
not merely in dream and vision, and in desire,
but fully, born out of it into this life,
in the eternal circle of the Sea,
returning to it after time and times have ended here.

In this air I make the sacred sign
[with the forefinger of your dominant hand,
draw an infinity symbol in the air].

By the power of Earth, Sea and Sky,
assist me to make the journey anew,
and recall what I discover there,
so that I may share it after
for the good of the whole.

Recording the experience, whatever comes, is a valuable tool for making any subsequent journeys, and as a landmark of our practice. By making a record, I learn how I journey, which may be very different from the path others take. It may be that I recall with different senses active. Some see, but others hear, or touch, or return with no distinct impressions until they lift a musical instrument, or write a poem, or paint or draw. The more different kinds of outlets we provide in our lives and practice, the more the Otherworld can touch us here, and we can locate and recognize and draw on its inspiration.

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For more information, and images of other signposts like the “Gate to the Otherworld” mapping the region, visit “Anglesey Visualizations installed” at Monumental UK.

For an 8-minute Youtube interview with Kristoffer Hughes about the history of Druids in Wales, and their shamanic background, go here.

 

Boasts, Toasts, Oaths, and Growth

I wrote a few years back about toasts, boasts and oaths as part of a Lúnasa ritual at Mystic River Grove in Massachusetts, and I’m revisiting the topic here, because it’s a rich one to explore further. Anyone interested in Lugh, his Welsh counterpart Lleu Llaw Gyffes, and associations with Lunasa need only Google for more info than any ritualist could use in 50 rituals. Use the search box on this site for my other posts on the subject.

lugh1

This triad of ritual actions is especially fitting now, because Lugh is the god whose nasadh “assembly” gives us the name of our current seasonal festival Lughnasadh, or Lúnasa in reformed Irish spelling. Lugh is described as samildánach — “equally skilled in many arts” — certainly reason enough for boasts, toasts and oaths as components of Lunasa ritual. Emulate the god and celebrate the pluses in our lives. His festival includes games of skill, a kind of Celtic Olympics.

Without much squeezing or distortion, we can also see each action as associated with a specific time: past, present and future.

Boasting generally looks to the past, to something already accomplished. “I’ve done it before (and so I’ll do it again)”. We could even see the modern job resume as a kind of contemporary and restrained boast — it highlights our relevant employment history, our training and experience. Likewise, a good job interview is a delicate balance between touting our accomplishments and demonstrating our self-awareness, an understanding of our weaknesses — cleverly transformed, of course, into opportunities for growth in the service of our next employer.

lokasenna

The Flyting of Loki

A boast naturally seeks recognition and praise, or acknowledgement at the very least. (A suspicion of pride and an awareness of its dangers pervade the Judeo-Christian moral heritage of the West, so a Pagan restoration of justified pride is long overdue. The point, after all, is to do something praiseworthy, something that fully deserves boasting about.) As a result, it can also be an occasion that calls for responses from others that tease the boaster, as much as for compliments on an achievement done well. A roast, another rhyming theme that fits well here, is an invitation for just such teasing and carefully-tuned mockery. Through it we test the self-confidence of the boaster, their ability to “take it”, and check their anger, and sometimes to respond in kind. African-American playing the dozens and the Norse, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon flyting each ritualize an exchange of insults. The Norse Lokasenna, sometimes called the Flyting of Loki, is just one historical and literary example. In one form or another, the “rap battle” has long been alive and well.

Toasts are often expressions of gratitude or celebration for something that’s happening now in the present. We salute and celebrate another, whether person or object, event or location. In some way it’s a form of blessing. We toast a newly-married couple, we christen and launch a boat, we hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a completed factory or auditorium or museum. As with boasts, toasts often ask for toasts in response, and some cultures formalize such exchanges. Further highlighting the link between boasts and toasts, it’s often considered “good form” to lightly tease a person or couple we’re toasting, as a way of showing affection.

Oaths usually look toward the future, to something we intend to achieve. As a promise or vow, an oath can be an acknowledgement of a debt we’ve garnered in the past, but oriented towards a general time to come. Or it can be more like a promissory note, specifying terms of repayment, the conditions for fulfillment, etc. In the oral cultures where they mostly originate, oaths are a matter of public memory. We make them publicly so that others witness them. A sense of a commitment made with others’ knowledge often helps the oath-maker to fulfill the oath. It’s a way to utilize any shame, any fear of loss of face if we fail, to motivate us, just like we imagine the praise if we succeed, the enhanced reputation and public standing.

This triad of ritual behaviors can feel somewhat contrived in the West, because each is a ritual action less common today than in the past. As an opportunity to revive ceremonial forms and a chance to explore a triad of potent group ritual gestures, boasts, toasts and oaths deserve to be incorporated in our rites and celebrations.

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These ritual acts are also chances for growth. Part of the cultural change we’ve undergone in the West over the past several centuries has been a shift toward internalizing these three rites. Rather than boasting publicly, we read books on motivation and struggle to deal with self-esteem issues. We take workshops on resume-building and interview skills and networking. We internalize our weaknesses and strengths, though we now hand over to social media an increasing share of our once-private lives, in a curious reversion to the older cultural patterns of turning towards a community for much of our identity.

chickensThe pecking order of birds, the ranking among herd animals, a usually stylized aggression to establish social position, can shade into bullying among humans, a specific form of cruelty. Animals generally stop once one of them establishes dominance over the other. We see animal rituals in the submissive gestures of wolves, stags, chimps, etc. who yield to a stronger opponent. A human bully doesn’t stop, and equivalent gestures of submission may simply encourage greater cruelty. The point of bullying is not merely to establish dominance, which is the goal of most alphas, both female and male, but to cause pain.

Specifically Druidic responses to bullying are often rooted in community. We look for our values to nature and to what we have in common, and a response to a bully is often a communal one. Isolation, banning, shunning, communal expressions of disgust and repulsion, all can have their effect in awakening shame and regret, or at the minimum ending the behavior and any opportunities for it to continue.

Just as important, however, are opportunities for clearing one’s name, for redemption, for forgiveness, for reparations and restoration. Ritual has a place in this as well. The fear and anger that often underlie bullying behavior can be dis-empowered. Elemental re-balancing can play its part — earth can eat the heaviness and sense of blockage and obstruction that comes from wrong-doing acknowledged. Water can cleanse and purify, air can lift and lighten, and fire can purge and burn away.

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