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Aladdin — Parts 2 and 3   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Parts 2 and 3]

This post really combines two sections, Parts 2 and 3 of a series, so it’s longer than usual. But I wrote them as a single document, so for now they’re staying together, because they feel closely linked.

Depending on your interest, you might want to focus on one section and skim the other. The first looks at a specific mini Aladdin-ritual I’ve been exploring, as I draft larger rituals. The second examines the remarkable wider cultural context and background of Aladdin.

ONE

https://i0.wp.com/www.robertphoenix.com/content/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/alchemicalmoon.jpgAll magic is polarity magic, intone some Mages who should know better. On the evidence of her novels The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic, Dion Fortune could easily rank among that magical fraternity. (Popularizations of the idea include Berg and Harris’s 2003 Polarity Magic: The Secret History of Western Religion.) It is true that much magic can manifest through working with polarities of many kinds — it resembles electricity in this regard.

The idea of mystical marriage, of two balancing figures, is an ancient and pervasive one. Christians speak of Christ as groom and the Church as bride. Alchemy is replete with images of kings and queens, marriages and dissolutions symbolizing alchemical and spiritual transformations.

Red King and White Queen: the Rosarium PhilosophorumThe 1550 Rosarium Philosophorum “Rosary of the Philosophers” includes images like the one to the right of the Red King and the White Queen, often used to represent sulfur and mercury, energizing and potential forces or modes. But polarities alone can settle into an equilibrium, or stasis. (We experience this in ourselves;  though expressing both forces at least in potential, we may fear or favor one or the other. In some sense, then, we often short-circuit ourselves on our way to manifestation.) The needed third principle, here represented by the dove of Spirit, energizes the alchemical pair. For this reason among others, Druidry develops the principle of the Triad, sometimes represented in ritual as earth, sea and sky, as a reminder that Three are needed for manifestation. (Polarity, by itself, isn’t enough.)

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One pole of a polarity learning to trust the other.

We can see in Aladdin a marriage of such magical currents. The Princess and Aladdin both catalyze each other. Aladdin’s “chance” meeting with Jasmine in the Agrabah market inspires him to pursue the connection they both experienced there. And Jasmine is able to demonstrate full Sultana authority through her association with this other “diamond in the rough” — she activates his potential, helping him become Prince Ali. As some critics have noted, in many ways the story of Aladdin, especially in the 2019 version, has become Princess Jasmine’s story. For she is the real center and heroine of the drama — a further manifestation and unfolding of the archetype.

Each character mirrors for the other the opportunity to transform and manifest who they already are. Aladdin would never have agreed to seek out the lamp for Jafar had the motivation to impress Jasmine not prodded him to act. And Jasmine would never have claimed her rightful identity without the unmasking of Jafar which Aladdin helps her achieve. Aladdin the skillful liar and “street rat” might never be able to tell the real story of himself without Jasmine. And Jasmine might remain “speechless”, without an equal and partner to help her be heard, to speak with the innate authority and force she already possesses.

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The Princess summoning both the movie character and also her Inner Hakim

Check out the double and related meanings of the Arabic word/name hakim: “physician, wise man”; “ruler”. Jasmine summons these forces after the song “Speechless” which confirms she will be heard.

I’ve been exploring a simple mini-ritual that appears to catalyze this on a subtle level. It involves the hands, those magical implements ready to distribute energy, which feature in all manner of social interactions, theater, and human technology, as well as magic. Think of all the idioms in every human language that involve the hands …

Simply put, using the magical understanding of physical polarity in the human body, I can work with the currents of energy that flow through the hands. The right hand is typically charged opposite to the left, so that a circuit of force exists when we take the hands of a person standing opposite us, my right in the other’s left, my left in the other’s right. We can align this way because we mirror each other, irrespective of biological gender.

The mini-ritual I’m practicing involves that link-up with archetypes from the Aladdin story: manifest a connection with those energies through visualization of such a polarity connection. (Versions of this ritual involving another person assuming the identity of another character archetype from the Aladdin story are something I’m still developing.)

I sit, breathing to center and ground myself. Welcoming the particular figure I wish to work with, I hold out my right hand palm downward, imagining the Other’s left hand in mine, palm up. Likewise, I hold out my left hand palm upward, imagining the Other’s right hand in mine, palm down. Together we form a magical circuit, into which I place my intention, spending equal parts of the ritual listening and visualizing. At the close, I offer the “praying hands” gesture of palm to palm as a salute and closing of the ritual. A further visualization and ritual detail: here I join my polarities into a single gesture, acknowledging how I’ve added to my capacity, however subtly, for manifesting the spiritual wholeness that is my true identity.

This mini-ritual has already proven useful in manifesting changes in behavior I have been seeking, including a break with an old habit that no longer serves me as I age. Having “initialized” the gesture as a magical one with a specific intent, I can now make the gesture whenever I find old thought-forms in my awareness, and tap into the magical transformation associated with the gesture to break down the habits of thought and emotion that accompanied the behavior.

TWO

Even as the magical potential of the Aladdin story took hold of my interest and imagination, some obvious questions came with it. Why look outside the Celtic/Northern European world for magical imagery and practices, when that world is so rich and still not fully explored?

Several reasons. First, the Aladdin story is very widely known in the West — its imagery and symbolism are readily available. Beneath the Eastern setting, the story is one already familiar in the West, because it reflects universal elements found worldwide: the Poor Boy Who Makes Good, rising to the level of his inner qualities, the Quest, the Ruler Constrained by Tradition, the Animal Helpers, the Prince-and-Princess love story, the Evil Sorcerer, the Spirit Guide or Teacher, the Magical Object.

In other words, we’re dealing with archetypes.

Second, one of the strengths of Druidry is how we can adapt it to the land where we’re living. Or more accurately, how the Land teaches us to adapt, if we’re listening. This is one of the signal characteristics of Earth Spirituality. British Druidry isn’t the same as American Druidry, which isn’t identical with Australian or New Zealand practice. Names and places change. The seasons often don’t match up from region to region, the land itself has a different history, with different memories, presences, energies, patterns. No reason to keep a practice that doesn’t fit. Good reasons to adapt practices that do.

Building on the previous point, because Aladdin has Middle Eastern and Asian origins, aren’t these posts also instances of cultural appropriation?

In a 2018 Vox.com interview with Susan Scafidi,  who authored Who Owns Culture?, Scafidi notes “there’s a spectrum of cultural appropriation, from harmful misappropriation to creative and often collaborative inspiration”. The interview offers several excellent examples and links, including controversies surrounding pop stars like Beyonce, Madonna and Bruno Mars that, not surprisingly, were sometimes misinterpreted, misreported, sensationalized and politicized.

Scafidi continues: “Source communities themselves are the best arbiters of what is or is not misappropriation … We would never [be able to] taste others’ traditional dishes, buy unfamiliar ingredients, or create fusion cuisines without this kind of permissive exchange”.

And that brings us to a most curious feature of the Aladdin story: the original 1001 Nights didn’t include the most famous stories associated with it — Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sinbad — until the first translation into a European language in 1704 by Frenchman Antoine Galland. Did Galland invent his own stories to add to the collection? Were his claims to hearing additional stories like Aladdin from the Maronite Christian Hanna Diyab truthful?

You can read historian Arafat Razzaque’s 2017 “Who Wrote Aladdin?”, one study of this fascinating history, here. And more generally, the stories that were mostly gathered into The Arabian Nights, or One Thousand and One Nights, have origins, antecedents and versions in Arabic, Chinese, Pali, Sanskrit, Farsi, etc., as well as a history dotted with forgeries, back-translations, reinterpretations, cultural exchanges between Europe and the Mediterranean, and all manner of intrigue, mysterious informants, lost and recovered manuscripts, and so forth.

Razzaque observes:

It is a shameful legacy of authorship that Galland never once bothered to name Hanna Diyab in his publications. In our haste to dismiss Aladdin as an Orientalist construct, we risk further perpetuating this erasure of someone who has been described as “probably the greatest modern storyteller known by name” (Marzolph 2012).

No doubt, it is important to see “the Arabian Nights as an Orientalist text,” as in Rana Kabbani’s classic critique, and to interrogate the ways in which the 1001 Nights has long been used to uphold absurd stereotypes, not least by Disney. Likewise, as even its Arabic printing history suggests, we must remember how the text’s modern production was often tied up in the power dynamics of European colonialism.

But these necessary critiques should not be at the cost of negating the agency and creative imagination of “Orientals” themselves.

For a racier take, here’s Ha-Aretz‘s click-baity titled but still worthwhile “1001 Lies: Everything You Know About Aladdin Is Wrong“.

If you’re interested in still more, consider the soon-to-be-published book cited at the end of this post. (Its price as listed is well beyond my means, but it should be available through interlibrary loans.)

Akel, Ibrahim, and William Grannara. The Thousand and One Nights: Sources and Transformations in Literature, Art, and Science (Studies on Performing Arts & Literature of the Islamicate World). Brill, 2020.

Publisher’s note: “The Thousand and One Nights does not fall into a scholarly canon or into the category of popular literature. It takes its place within a middle literature that circulated widely in medieval times. The Nights gradually entered world literature through the great novels of the day and through music, cinema and other art forms. Material inspired by the Nights has continued to emerge from many different countries, periods, disciplines and languages, and the scope of the Nights has continued to widen, making the collection a universal work from every point of view. The essays in this volume scrutinize the expanse of sources for this monumental work of Arabic literature and follow the trajectory of the Nights’ texts, the creative, scholarly commentaries, artistic encounters and relations to science. Contributors: Ibrahim Akel, Rasoul Aliakbari, Daniel Behar, Aboubakr Chraèibi, Anne E. Duggan, William Granara, Rafika Hammoudi, Dominique Jullien, Abdelfattah Kilito, Magdalena Kubarek, Michael James Lundell, Ulrich Marzolph, Adam Mestyan, Eyup Ozveren, Marina Paino, Daniela Potenza, Arafat Abdur Razzaque, Ahmed Saidy, Johannes Thomann and Ilaria Vitali”.

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Images: Princess Jasmine from Aladdin; fair use for commentary/derived work; copyright Walt Disney Corporation, 2019.

Aladdin as a Source of Magical Practice — Part 1   Leave a comment

[Updated 27 April 2020]
[Part 1 | Parts 2 and 3]

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Princess Jasmine as archetype and spiritual guide

In this post, I’ll be looking at the 2019 version of Aladdin as a source for magical images and practices. [WARNING: Spoilers abound!] On the surface, that may seem a strange and doubtful choice as a source for any kind of magical practice. You may well be asking the same question Jasmine asks in the screen capture above, just a few minutes into the film: Where are we, exactly?

After all, both the 1992 cartoon and the 2019 live-action remake issue from what Wikipedia calls an “American diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate headquartered at the Walt Disney Studios complex in Burbank, California”. On the face of it, you can’t get much less Druidic. Trees, introspection, fire circles and reverence for the Land would all seem to fall away before such a commercial and capitalist onslaught.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you start to discover remarkable things.

A–First Level: Questions and contemplation seeds from the script.

Even if you can’t bring yourself to consider a cartoon and then its subsequent commercial remake (what cynics term one instance in a series of blatant cash-grabs as Disney mines its old hits for reboots) as a source of powerful images and prompts for spiritual practice, it still contains some remarkable lines that deserve repeated attention. Here’s an obvious sampling, making up a symbolic initial set of Nine:

1. How do you find (and polish) – a “diamond in the rough”? (The Cave of Wonders during the opening, and later, and also Jafar’s obsession. Of course, he never applies it to himself. Can I?)
2. Where am I, exactly? (Princess Jasmine, on the walk to Aladdin’s ruined tower after they meet in the Market. How would I answer?)
3. Can you be bought? (Aladdin/Prince Ali’s fumbling suggestion in the Palace scene that he can buy the Princess — or her affection — with the gifts the Genie provides.)
4. Have you lost your country? (Jasmine’s provocative challenge to Aladdin/Prince Ali when Ababwa doesn’t show up on her maps. What is my “native land”? Where am I most “at home”?)
5. Are you who you say you are? (Jafar and Aladdin trade versions of this. Is Aladdin’s attempt to be Prince Ali a deception or an inspired piece of self-invention?)
6. Who/what is worthy of your admiration and sacrifice? (From Jasmine’s speech to Jafar and the assembled Court, and her challenge to Hakim.)
7. Where does your loyalty lie? (Jasmine’s direct challenge to Hakim, as Jafar seizes power. A revealing question!)
8. When did you last let your heart decide? (Aladdin’s famous question to Jasmine in the song “A Whole New World”. Can I answer this?)
9. How could I not recognize you? (Jasmine’s vulnerable — and valuable! — question to Aladdin near the end of their carpet ride, when he convinces her he is indeed “Prince Ali”. Is he? A question also to ask of our experiences: do we recognize them for what they actually are? How can we begin to do so? Being able to ask such questions is in itself a wonderful sign of readiness to grow.)

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Princess Jasmine as a figure of transformation

If I take any one of these for a spin, applying it to myself, I have material for rich reflection and insight. These questions can also form hinge-points in a magical rite, offering ritual challenges for participants, opportunities for ritual responses and actions, and thus cues for writing and shaping ritual that leads outward from where I am right now.

B–Second Level: Companions and Doubles

Each of the three principal human characters has an animal familiar — Jasmine and Rajah, Aladdin and Abu, Jafar and Iago. Jasmine and Aladdin each have a further human counterpart or double: Dalia and the Genie, respectively. Their companions, human and animal, mirror their natures. Rajah channels Jasmine’s regal nature, her unexpected capacity for affection (Rajah stalks Aladdin, but then unexpectedly licks his face), and her fierceness. Abu reflects Aladdin’s own capacity for agility, thievery, initiative and improvisation. And Iago is cynical and sneering, as well as clever and observant. As a creature of Air, he goes up against the Carpet, Aladdin’s magical implement granting him the freedom and mobility of Air. The Carpet is torn, then repaired; Jafar-as-Genie sweeps Iago into confinement in his lamp.

Dalia is a servant to the Princess; Jasmine herself is a servant or captive to inflexible tradition, but also aspires to serve her kingdom as its compassionate leader. The Genie expresses (among many other things) the magical nature of imagination, the power of desire, the importance of openness to wonder and the imagination, and the magical riches available when we begin to explore our own diamond-in-the-roughness. He too is a servant, and like Dalia, in the end he is released from servitude — and made human in the bargain.

C–Third Level: Ritual Assumption, Interaction, Pathworking

(For an “auditory overview” of Pathworking, in case you’re not familiar with it, check out Damh the Bard’s current Druidcast episode 157, and the first interview with Peter Jennings.)

With some time spent in contemplation, divination, imaginative practice and experimentation, it’s possible to derive multiple rituals we can name for the principal characters: Agrabah itself, Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie, Jafar and Sultan. What follows are condensed notes on each one of these.

For elemental balance within rituals, Agrabah as a port city representing and invoking Water (or Earth and Water), the stage and setting for a spiritual drama of transformation; the Genie/Jinni as a spirit of Fire; the Carpet as a vehicle and implement of Air; the Cave of Wonders, the markets, and the desert surrounding Agrabah as Earth.

Aladdin: Invoking the element of Air for inspiration, clarity, lightness and improvisation, I work with seeing these things as external to myself, and needing vehicles like lamp, carpet and Genie to manifest what I lack. Then a ritual transition and manifestation, where I can begin to express these things as aspects of myself, no longer props outside me that I need to acquire.

Jasmine: Invoking any one of the elements — perhaps in a series of Jasmine rites — for the stability of Earth against forces that would minimize, discount and dispossess her; Air for the inspiration and imagination to lead, and the vision that leadership asks; Fire for passion and will — things she reveals most powerfully in the staging of the new song written specifically for the 2019 film, “Speechless” (link to official video featuring Naomi Scott), that has earned over 170 million views since its release less than a year ago. (Still think Aladdin is nothing more than a commercial grab? What need does the song respond to?); Water for the port city and country, and for emotional balance and intuition in handling the new power and love that are coming into her life.

Genie: in early versions of the Aladdin story, there is no limit imposed on the number of wishes the Genie grants: own the lamp and the Genie’s magic is yours for the duration. Likewise, in earlier versions the Genie has no desire to escape limits on his existence and action — he doesn’t yearn to no longer be a Genie, or to become human, or to earn his freedom. He simply does what he is. How can I transform my assumptions and expectations and self-imposed limits on my magical nature? What is my Genie ritual? What would my three wishes be? (Or nine, or some other number?)

Jafar: as another figure representing a stage on the spiritual journey, Jafar is also me. Where can I claim power appropriate to my needs and purposes? Alternatively, Jafar could feature in a “Diamond in the Rough” ritual. How does my animal companion mirror to me what I am doing right now? Where am I imprisoned? What are the lamps that now contain me? What is my Shirabad, the city that made me suffer, and where I long to take my revenge? Is my marriage or linking up with other persons, things or attitudes an opportunity to demonstrate something other than the bonds of love (like Jafar’s almost-marriage to Jasmine would have done)?

Sultan: as a figure of maturity and renunciation, the Sultan is an excellent ritual figure for seeing to the heart, for renouncing power that has passed from me but which I may still be clinging to; for recognizing and honoring the emerging feminine forces in my life; for resistance to manipulation, magical or otherwise.

In the next post in this series, I’ll look at some wider issues that touch on magicking something like Aladdin, including cultural appropriation and Orientalism, casting, character names, and additional pieces of the surprising background of the Aladdin story.

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Images: Princess Jasmine from Aladdin; fair use for commentary/derived work; copyright Walt Disney Corporation, 2019.

The Name’s the Thing — 3   2 comments

[Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3]

If you think about it, of course, you soon realize that words and names in every day use very often don’t have a single or “true” meaning. In that case, what becomes of the “right” or “true” name of a thing?

Bards reply with at least one answer to that: they show us how the sound of a name is a chief component of its fit or rightness. Almost all of us have had the experience of encountering a name that just doesn’t fit the person or thing it names.

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In that sense, a rose by any other name obviously isn’t a rose — it can’t be — because the sound of the word rose is an essential part of the name of the thing. That’s where the magic comes in. Through the use of word, sound, song and chant, a magical space and state of consciousness transforms our experience of “the everyday”.

Everything She touches changes, sing the Goddess-worshippers. Jesus is Lord, and at his name every knee shall bow, celebrate the Christians. Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō, recite the Shingon Buddhists. Lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh, proclaims the voice of the muezzin. Om mani padme hum, chant the Tibetans. Four score and seven years ago, writes Lincoln, on his way to the Gettsyburg Address. I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way, choruses Lady Gaga, assuring herself and us. We both seek out special language to express what we’re experiencing, and we rely on such heightened language to help us move into states of awareness that match the experiences we seek. (In what ways are these sets of words “the same”? What would — or could — we do with an answer to that question?)

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Though the rose, or more specifically the word/sound that is approximately rosa, roh-sah, is a widely-shared name in many European languages, in part because of its rich cultural associations over hundreds of years in European religion, literature, painting and music, we also have many other names on the planet for the flower, including Chinese méiguī, Turkish gül, Arabic warda, Swahili ilipanda, and many more. Are these still “roses”? Are any of them more “rose-like” than “rose”? And what do any answers to those questions like “yes” or “no” even mean?

You’ll have your own and better answers to that question after you chant warda or ilipanda or gül or méiguī for ten minutes. Does it make sense to ask whether an ilipandais” a warda or a méiguī?

In that case, what happens to a question like “Who am I?”

Especially in the presence of trees, Spirit, whatever god(s) we look to, and our own wonder, this can be a powerful theme for meditation, if held lightly in the attention, and turned like a gem or a flower in the sunlight, or a candle-flame in the dark.

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Animals live in a largely pre-verbal world, and get along quite well without formal language. True, the more intelligent animals can interact with human symbol systems like language, because they have finite sets of symbols themselves, with calls, cries and intentional patterned behaviors. From time to time we read about apes able to manipulate quite complex symbol systems of hundreds of elements. And studies of bird intelligence suggest impressive equivalent capacities among the smartest birds. Perhaps the best current understanding sees animal communication existing along an evolutionary continuum, sharing some but not all of the key features of human language.

With the Druid love of threes, we can ask, if there’s a pre-verbal world and a verbal world, then is there a post-verbal realm? Intelligence, literally the ability to pick out or select (Latin legere) from between (Latin inter) things, to notice and make distinctions, is closely linked to language and awareness. Among other spiritual practices, Zen attempts to point to realms beyond words with its koans like this one: “What’s your original face, the one you had before you were born?” (You might find this insight productive if you attempt to draw, paint, etc., one or more responses to this question. That is, get out of your verbal head-space and try a different mode.)

For we know of other kinds of intelligence besides verbal intelligence, and these point to some of the possibilities of a post-verbal world. If, in some worlds, we don’t have physical bodies subject to time and space and the laws of physics, analogues of human language — and naming — may work quite differently, or not be needed at all.

All of us have had intuitions and hunches enter brain consciousness and only then arrive into some kind of language, even if it’s “I’m not sure, but I have a feeling that …” or “I don’t know why, but …”. In such cases, the non-verbal perception comes first, and only afterwards makes its way into words. Simultaneously such experiences point to the profound value of naming as a way of understanding and clarifying our choices and best directions, but also the impossibility of discussing things we cannot name. (For a related link, see apophatic thought — the idea that some things can only be hinted at in terms of what they are not — in the world’s major spiritual traditions.)

On a related theme, if you haven’t watched brain researcher and neuro-anatomist Jill Bolte Taylor’s marvelous TED talk about her experiences during and after a massive stroke, take a look at My Stroke of Insight. Here’s the 20-minute video:

 

 

Many spiritual practices are intended to open up consciousness to experience some of what Taylor talks about in her video — without the unwanted side-effects!

In the next post, as a way of illustrating some of what I’ve talked about in these posts, I’ll look at deriving magical and spiritual practices from a popular film from last year.

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Image: rose — pexels.com

That Fire Festival   Leave a comment

There it is again, the nudge of an approaching Festival. Like the light of a full moon, it engenders a subtle wakefulness. The gods are stirring the embers, raking the coals, adding kindling and blowing across the hearth their living breath. Who wouldn’t spark into flame?

May, Beltane month, reminds us how every time is a liminal time. (Samhain certainly stands equal to the task of reminding us, if instead of Beltane, you’re Down Under.) Liminal, from Latin limen “threshold”. E-liminate something and you take it across a threshold and outdoors, and presumably leave it there. In that sense, Druids are always trying to eliminate themselves, crossing over and coming back, seeking expanse and connection with whatever is without, in the older sense of “outside, not within”. Several churches across Christendom have as part of their names “without the walls” — outside, e-liminated. If you’re outside, you make your own threshold.

Of course, once you’re outside, it’s the Within that may suddenly become attractive again. By a kind of spiritual gravity, what goes out comes back inside, and vice versa. Like a cat or dog that can’t decide which is better, and meows or barks to be let in and out and back in again, we look longingly at wherever we aren’t. Jesus gets it, knowing Self is the Gate: “They shall go in and out and find pasture” — on either side.

The grass is, in fact, always greenest wherever I am right now. “As above, so below; as within, so without”. It just often takes ritual to know it. We say the words, often without hearing ourselves, but do we mean them? Not to say that everything’s the same on both sides of the limen, but that they constantly talk to each other. And the limen is so often more interesting than the sides.

In some sense, festivals and ritual generally are opportunities and attempts to have it both ways. We get to make an inside and an outside wherever we are, out of the Möbius strip of reality, which has only the one side, though consciousness insists on two. And we get to be the boundary, the place of transformation, our native place. Practice it enough, and we get good at it. Become the exchange point, the crossing-over, the hinge. Then when a big event comes along like death or birth, disaster or first love, we don’t get thrown quite as hard. (Or maybe, we get better at throwing ourselves, so the cosmos doesn’t have to.)

By the power of star and stone, says the Herald at the opening of the standard OBOD ritual format. By the power of the land within and without, by all that is fair and free, be welcome! E-liminated at birth from the Land within, I emerge onto the Land without and stay awhile. At death I get re-liminated from the Land without, and turn back within. So it goes, till I can stand at the Hinge and look across births and deaths, springs and autumns, to What’s Really Going On, whatever that turns out to be. I aspire to be a hinge-Druid, bending rather than breaking.

Ritual is hinge-work. You and I write the ritual of our lives.

At Beltane, the hinges heat up in the growing sun. We long to touch, to connect, to be in communion. Virus or no, we still nurse at the breast of the cosmos. “Where the bee sucks, there suck I”, says Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Oh, who wouldn’t?!

Or take the case of Job in the Hebrew Bible. God dresses him down, and challenges him. The old King James/Authorized Version catches the flavor well, for all its increasing linguistic distance from us:

Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?
Canst thou put an hook into his nose? or bore his jaw through with a thorn?
Will he make many supplications unto thee? will he speak soft words unto thee?
Will he make a covenant with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant for ever?
Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?

The ritual answer to these insistent questions is “Yes!” That’s one of the things ritual does: it lets us answer “yes” to a cosmos whose very strangeness and majesty and terror otherwise impel us to answer “no”. Who, me? Of course not! No!

Stand at the hinge, and we come into our own as Children of the Most High. For Christians, Jesus is that Hinge, that Gate. The advantage of Person-as-Hinge isn’t exclusive to any one religion or spiritual practice, of course. Talk to the cosmos and it talks back. Persons everywhere, spirit incarnating, doing its thing. We’ve just fallen out of the habit. Ritual is one way that re-awakens us to possibility. But so many us are un-hinged, lost, disconnected.

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the “Mother Stone”, Four Quarters Sanctuary, Pennsylvania

Through the windows and doorways of ritual, we can see again what we lost sight of.

ancestor altar in circle -- W Flaherty

Four Quarters Sanctuary stone circle and altar

Sometimes the Face that Cosmos wears to reach us is familiar, sometimes not. Sometimes an Ancestor, sometimes an Other. We’re particularly bothered by things that speak to us that don’t have faces. Ritual can give a face to Things without them.

Ritual also opens an opportunity to organize my altars. Yours may look like this shelf of mine, all hodgepodge. Stones, peach pits, coins, figures, feathers.

shelf

Yes, the Wiccan chant reminds us, One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother. But not every thing, not all at once. Ritual says go with one thing, watch it change, celebrate the transformation. Be the hinge.

So we’ll gather (Zoom-Beltane, May 2 for us here in VT), and say the words: By the Power of Star and Stone …

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The Name’s the Thing — 2   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3]

An understanding of the power of naming is ancient and world-wide. During his lifetime, the Chinese sage Confucius was asked what he would do if he were a ruler, and he replied that he would “rectify the names” (Chinese zheng ming). He explained that words need to correspond to reality.

Damage that alignment, destroy the match-up between word and thing, he continued, and social order collapses. Or to jump ahead millennia and borrow from Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy, “enterprises of great pitch and moment,/With this regard their currents turn awry,/And lose the name of action”. In other words, to jump still further ahead in time to almost our century and to the much-quoted words of W. B. Yeats, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …”. Bards get these things, and warn us sometimes centuries in advance of when we’ll need them.

Or to put it in the unpoetic jargon of our times, things suck cuz our names for them are wrong.

It’s not always wholly that simple, but it’s also not so far off.

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“A rose by any other name
Would get the blame
For being what it is–
The colour of a kiss,
The shadow of a flame.
A rose may earn another name,
So call it love;
So call it love I will,
And love is like the sea,
Which changes constantly,
And yet is still
The same” — Tanith Lee
A test for each of us: does this poem clarify, or obscure?

Likewise in ancient Egypt, where knowing the true names of people and things gave you power over them. U. K. LeGuin develops this idea in her Earthsea books. There her characters have “use names”, and hold their true names secret. For mages as persons of power, this practice is even more essential. And aren’t we all “persons of power”, however unclaimed? (Disempowerment is the magic too many wield today, against themselves as much as against anyone else.)

Sparrowhawk, the use-name of the wizard hero of the Earthsea books, goes through a naming ceremony on the cusp of adolescence. The mage Ogion “reached out his hand and clasping the boy’s arm whispered to him his true name: Ged. Thus was he given his name by one very wise in the uses of power” (A Wizard of Earthsea).

Egyptians in the times of the Pharaohs as well as Native Americans and many other peoples took on new names after defining events or achievements. To cite just one example from contemporary culture, Lily Collins’ anorexic character in the 2017 film To the Bone is given a new name by her therapist to help her imagine and discover her identity as someone other than a sick young woman.

Some of us pick up nicknames from others (including ones we may loathe), as well as give them to beings that matter in our lives. Dog and cat owners know this well. We give our loved ones “pet names”. And again, among the Egyptians, if you can name someone or something accurately, write its name on a pottery shard or piece of parchment, and then destroy the object that bears the name, you lessen the power of the person or thing.

A common rationalist view (an egregore at work there, too, one claiming that reason alone is exempt from all bias) calls this the rankest superstition. But insofar as words and names matter — and you need only scan current headlines to see a myriad of examples that names do matter, and deeply — that’s exactly where we’re living, whether we think we participate or not. “Superstition” literally stands (Latin sta-, stit-) over (Latin super) us. Are government stay-at-home orders “safety precautions” or “tyranny”? What we call them matters in concrete, “real-world” ways.

Next door in New Hampshire, protesters against the virus lockdown rally in the state capital. An added poignancy or irony: the NH state motto is “Live free or die”. People are hurting, both from the virus directly, and from restrictions around it. Does the binary of “live free or die” offer a good path forward, or might the Druid practice of transforming a binary into a ternary prove beneficial?

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Breitbart News, 18 April 2020

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In the previous post in this series, I asked these questions:

What is your best name? (Do you have more than one?) How can you invite it into your awareness most beneficially? What reminders of it can you build into your days?

With some time spent in meditation, you can answer the first question for yourself. Make a name-giving ritual that’s meaningful to you — an opportunity to manifest your creativity. Consider both the power of writing down your name, or wearing it, perhaps in a locket or pouch around your neck, and also of keeping it secret, guarding its energy even as you build it, and never committing it to writing.

Maybe you take on a different name for each day of the week. More elaborately, you dedicate yourself to a month of name work. A different name for each day of the month. Watch for names you are taking into your awareness. What names are you giving to things? What names do you have for the events and circumstances and people you encounter during the day, week, or month? What power do you give them (or take from them) as a result of your naming?

If your birthday or another significant day is near, how can you consecrate that day and the names you’ve given it? “Oh, that’s the day that I ___ “. So what difference does that name make in your memory and experience? Try it out, with serious and also silly names.

Sticking with these practices, even if only for an hour at first, and then a whole day — or week — can demonstrate their efficacy and value better than anything I can write here.

What prayers can you create for your (new) name? Does that sound strange at first? Maybe a simple triad: “I shine the power of today’s sunlight on my name. I give the love of my ancestors to my name. I feed my name with the pungency of nutmeg” and so on. Work with this name, and spend time using it in contemplation. “By the power of my name, I ____ ”

May you find names of beauty, wisdom and freedom, and welcome them into your lives.

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Images: Breitbart photo of NH protest;

The Name’s the Thing   4 comments

Updated 24 April 2020

[Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3]

Novelist M. M. Kaye, who wrote so vividly about Indian life in the days of Her Majesty’s Raj, opens her novel Shadow of the Moon with this exchange about the name of one of her main characters:

Winter! Who ever heard of such a name? It is not a name at all. Do pray be sensible, my dear Marcos. You cannot call the poor mite anything so absurd”.

“She will be christened Winter”.

“Then at least let her have some suitable second name. There are so many pretty and unexceptionable names to choose from”.

“No. Only Winter”.

hmni

Time change, as they used to say with less irony. These days, when we have actors with names like River Phoenix, and singers like Lady Gaga and Madonna and Prince, and thousands of Pagans named Raven, a name like Winter no longer stands out. (Here in southern Vermont lives the writer Crescent Dragonwagon.)

If like me you’ve puzzled at times over other people’s choices for religious or magical or craft or “inward-facing” names, we need look no further for diverse examples than the venerable tradition in many of the major religions for often unusual religious names. From Catholicism alone we get less-than-common saints’ names like Adjutor, Drogo and Lidwina. Buddhists also have cultural names to choose from, with Tibetan Chogden and Lobsang, and on to possibly multiple dharma names, if they practice in the Mahayana tradition.

Give yourself an unusual name and it sticks out, making you stick out, at least a little more. Not letting yourself be just a number, not permitting yourself to disappear into the background. You live with a chosen name differently than with one someone else gave you. More so when other people also know it and use it. More so when it bears rich associations, or ideals you now accept as goals to live up to. (For some useful insight, try chanting your own name for ten minutes. No one else needs to hear you. What do you discover?)

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Camellia, April 2019, Charleston, NC. Flower names are popular for obvious reasons!

If like me and other Druids you look to the languages of your tradition for inspiration and examples, you happen on names like Welsh Twrch for the wild boar, one of the animals I work with. And since most people don’t know Welsh spelling conventions, they end up reading it something like twertch — decidedly not “the magical name I was looking for”. Yes, Twrch (with -ch as in Bach, something like toorkh) remains a name I might use in ritual, but not otherwise. The spiritual realm, I’ve discovered, can track me down well enough whatever my name is.

If we want to see the inverse of this, we need look no further than some people’s obsession over the pronouns others use for them. “My pronouns” only extend as far as other people’s willingness to indulge me. How far do I expect that to reach? Will my government legalize my choice of identity and pronouns? Perhaps. But why would I want to put one more piece of my freedom and identity into others’ hands? As head of the Anglesey Druid order Kris Hughes likes to say, “What other people think of you is none of your business”. You’ve got far better, more worthwhile and fun-ner things to do than beat your head against centuries of arbitrary linguistic habit.

Yes, of course oppression can often be encoded in language, but many languages that lack gender distinctions in their pronouns belong to cultures far more repressive than those in the West, where we may indulge superficial linguistic variations in the name of political correctness and identity politics. To offer just one example, Chinese has the invariant syllable ta* meaning either “he” or “she”: anyone who seriously imagines their identity will be respected and accommodated better in the People’s Republic of China is welcome to go live there and find out how far a unitary pronoun changes things on the ground.

(*As Bogatyr points out in his comment, the written language does distinguish between the characters 他 “he” and 她 “she” — both pronounced the same, but visually distinct.)

It is for these reasons that some people create an entire magical language to encode the meanings they desire, rather than merely accept those they inherit. For one (in)famous example of this, see the Enochian language and alphabet. Better still is an understanding of egregores and the work necessary to avoid their undue influence — see the previous post.

If in language we encode energies of oppression, can we also encode energies of liberation?

Among other ways, we do this with mantra, with holy words and names. Instead of troubling yourself that you “don’t or can’t believe” in a particular deity, try chanting that deity’s name one thousand times. (A rosary of some kind helps with the count.) After the fifteen or so minutes that this practice asks (depending on the name or word, and your rhythm), if you attempt it with even a moderate intention for true discovery, you will very likely come into a different understanding of “belief”, one more rooted in experience and less in mental formulation. Mantric power affects us in much the same way as music. We take the vibration into our atoms, and probably echo with it for some time after finishing the chant. Those of you with clairvoyant and clairaudient abilities may be in a position to confirm this.

What is your best name? (Do you have more than one?) How can you invite it into your awareness most beneficially? What reminders of it can you build into your days? The next post will take up these and similar topics.

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Moon Ritual Scrapbook   2 comments

Two Questions to Ask

“What’s your ritual goal?” Celebrating on a beautiful evening? Performing moon magic? Attuning to the rhythms of earth’s nearest neighbor? Healing, banishing, blessing? Charging a ritual implement? Making the most of heightened sensitivity and emotion at this time? Singing a song, or writing a poem? Painting? Finally writing a difficult letter? Making love? A blend of several of these? Which ones are primary for you?

BAM Druid Gather

BAM Gathering, Full Moon, Sept. 2019

“What’s your moon?” Is it New, Full, Waxing, Waning? You can see the moon as a guide and also as a “map to manifestation”. What do each of its phases suggest to you?

With some preliminary answers to these two sets of questions, you’re already better prepared to proceed. Journal, do divinations, watch your dreams, doodle, pray, listen and watch the natural world holding your intent in your heart as ways to refine your preparation, and you’ll be rewarded with deepening insight and more possibilities that will come to you.

Moon Names

Different sources of lore will suggest a range of names and associations for each moon and month, depending on the tradition they draw from. One name for the April full moon just past is Pink Moon. Native American names can be evocative, and may help point you toward specific conditions and qualities present in your locale — if you live in North America. But Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia each have their own varied traditions and imagery that do the same thing. Images and stories give you material for your rites: they help you focus attention and emotion and imagination in the service of your ritual intent. They’re also fun!

Melody and Harmony

Just as important in a ritual as the words you choose are any musical instruments, dances, enactments, costumes, gestures. Or try an entire ritual without words. What can you do, rather than say, to perform your ritual? When I performed my Ovate self-initiation, by far the most significant components were flickering candlelight in my dark living-room, my ritual nakedness marked by charcoal runes on skin, and the silence. OBOD materials suggested a ritual. But it was the personal experience, including the details I just mentioned, that made mine memorable and transformative.

A Basic Script

Here’s a sample “barest-bones” mini-script you can elaborate with your own intent, setting, companions and creativity. Treat it as you would the grain of sand that becomes a pearl in an oyster — an irritant that can grow and take shape and become a thing of beauty. Don’t like part or all of it? That’s fine! Change it!

Full/new/dark Moon of (month name), I/we greet you here and now.

I/we bring (specific offering, intention, dedication, vow) as token(s) of my/our intent.

Bless/heal/enlighten (you, your gathered group, a project, an object, the coming day).

You could, for example, fit in non-verbal ritual elements before and after each spoken part. How will you signal your rite has begun? Bells, drums, horns, etc. each have distinctive voices to contribute. Lights, incense, candles, torches all have roles they can play. “Moon foods” — the ancient mangiare in bianco (literally, “to eat in white”) of Italy — comes to mind. White wine, pale fruit juices, bananas, nuts, pasta, pears, apples, beans, bread, other pastries, etc. can all serve — and be served at your rite! “Season to taste” in addition to being a cooking instruction is a wonderful piece of ritual advice.

A Local Lunar Calendar

Consider making a list of each moon for the current year — your own lunar calendar, with room for notes, pictures, additions, poems, etc. Note the dates of the moon phases each month, and also your local season. June in North America is sometimes called “Strawberry Moon” for the fruit coming into season then, but of course that doesn’t work in the Southern Hemisphere — it’s the middle of winter then!

Personalizing

What personal events and associations might you include in your rituals for each moon? May, for instance, is the Moon of my birth, and it’s also Beltane Moon, so any moon ritual with that moon will feel different to other moons, even if I used the “same” script each time. What’s the local weather during each moon? How might land and sky spirits be included? What other rites and celebrations happen where you live? Who do you want to invite to celebrate with you? If you’re typically “alone” for such things, what ancestors feel right to include? When will you walk/dance/play with your animal guide, guardian, etc?

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“backyard birch” bark for ritual writing

What props do you already have that can be included, or perhaps dedicated, in a rite? The quartz you picked up on a walk, the statue or bowl or cup that caught your eye in a shop or at a flea market or antique auction and now rests on a shelf? That gift from a relative or friend you’ve had for ages? A ring you’ve inherited from an aunt or grandmother?

The strips of birchbark from our backyard tree, in addition to providing great kindling, are excellent for writing during a ritual: ogham, runes, blessings, “give-aways” of things participants don’t want, commemorations (stitched/bound while still supple into a booklet). These strips can be burnt, composted, or saved as appropriate.

hazelnecklace

hazelnut necklace

Our Vermont seed-group, the Well of Segais, features the hazel among its mythic associations and symbols — the nut that feeds the Salmon of Wisdom, which some OBOD groves use to represent the Power or Guardian of the West and of Water. Ground symbols in objects and you make the ritual that much more accessible to the senses, imagination and memory. As a group gift, Mary Anna drilled hazelnuts and made up packets with thread for us each to make our own necklaces: “nine hazels of wisdom”. An appropriate and personal piece of ritual gear for a moon ritual!

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I bless you in each of your moons,
your fullness and your dark nights.
I bless you in your changing faces,
in the pearl shadow of your twilight.

In between, when I dance or dream,
both or neither, I trade places
with tree, beast, spirit of the grove,
soon or late uncovering
another doorway to your sky.

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