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“Both Cauldron and Wand”   Leave a comment

Devotees of Brighid, fans, and the simply “Brighid-curious” may enjoy John Beckett’s post “Solas Bhride: A Goddess Speaks Softly in Many Forms”, a reflection on his recent pilgrimage to Ireland.

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In 2015, I posted the still-popular “Beltane and Touching the Sacred.” In it I said (updated for the current next Full Moon at the end of April 2018):

Here we are, about two weeks out from Beltane/May Day — or Samhuinn if you live Down Under in the Southern Hemisphere. And with a Full Moon on April 29 (0058 GMT April 30) there’s a excellent gathering of “earth events” to work with, if you choose. Thanks to the annual Edinburgh Fire Festival, we once again have Beltane-ish images of the fire energy of this ancient Festival marking the start of Summer.

You may find like I do that Festival energies of the “Great Eight”* kick in at about this range — half a month or so in advance. A nudge, a hint, a restlessness that eases, a tickle that subsides, or shifts toward knowing, with a glance at the calendar. Ah! Here we are again!

I’m off again in a few weeks for the 2nd Mid-Atlantic Gathering — MAGUS 2018, with the theme “Sacred Time, Sacred Space”. Looking for a fore-/after-taste? Here’s last year’s post.

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Effective people, says Philip Carr-Gomm in his little book Lessons in Magic, “use both their cauldrons and their wands”.

Often a short quote like that is enough to launch me, set me off on reflection and contemplation and experimentation. (Echoing the near-endless spate of how-to books and guides to personal transformation, the idea of being “more effective” underlies the Protestant work ethic, its distortions in the American disdain for the poor as deserving their struggle, and much besides of bad and good.)

Put “effective” into the most crass terms: how to get what you want.

We often assume creativity — inspiration — comes first, and any manifestation second. But just as with so many things, it can be illuminating to examine assumptions as much for what they leave out as in. What can we learn, I ask, from both its truths and falsehoods?

The most famous creation story portrays both a creator and an “earth without form and void, and darkness … on the face of the deep”. Some translations suggest we can reasonably render the first few lines like this: “When God was creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and empty, and darkness hovered over the waters”. In other words, creativity needs material to work on. And the material in this version of the story is already present. Creation in such a case is a forming and shaping of cosmic substance already in existence.

You could say the cauldron is the scene — the stage for creation, the setting. Without it, no workshop, no lab, no tubes of paint and brushes and palettes. No place for anything to “take place” — an idiom itself full of significance and teaching. Everything hovering, like the spirit of the god over the waters in the Genesis account, but no entry-point into manifestation. Waiting in creative tension, but with no results. Brooding on the nest, but no eggs to sit and warm and hatch.

And here’s the wand — or a compass in this case. Some kind of magical tool or instrument helps focus our creative energy.

jesus=compass

French — ca. 1250

But Carr-Gomm rightly lists the cauldron first. Cauldron — Grail — womb of Mary in the Christian story — these precede creation. And they’re not passive, either, Mary is invited — not compelled — to nurture and carry the divine child. Her assent isn’t automatic, or pro-forma. Blessing our materials — inviting their participation — helps our creative process. Indeed, some kind of blessing is the key that makes creativity possible. We just often do it unconsciously. Ritual can help prod us to greater awareness. (As with all careless acts, ritual done badly can send us deeper asleep.)

For the Grail in the Arthurian mythos truly “has a mind of its own”. Though it may seem to be “just an object” — the goal of male knightly questing — it’s the Grail that chooses who ultimately satisfies its steep requirements, who may catch a glimpse, and when it will materialize and manifest.

The Wikipedia entry for “Holy Grail” notes that Chrétien de Troyes, the first to put the story in its Medieval form in the 1100s with Perceval as questing knight,

… refers to this object not as “The Grail” but as “a grail” (un graal), showing the word was used, in its earliest literary context, as a common noun. For Chrétien a grail was a wide, somewhat deep dish or bowl, interesting because it contained not a pike, salmon, or lamprey, as the audience may have expected for such a container, but a single Mass wafer which provided sustenance for the Fisher King’s crippled father. Perceval, who had been warned against talking too much, remains silent through all of this and wakes up the next morning alone. He later learns that if he had asked the appropriate questions about what he saw, he would have healed his maimed host, much to his honour.

So much of value here to note: the importance of a middle way between extremes, applicable to easily perceived tools in hand as well as more subtle tools like language. Don’t talk too much, but don’t shut up entirely..

With the slipperiness inherent in non-physical things and experiences, and the names we give to them, the san graal or “holy grail” becomes in Medieval French also the sang real “royal blood”, launching one of the oldest conspiracy theories still popular today concerning the possible existence of surviving lineal descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Add to this the World War II legends of a struggle between Hitler and “the forces of Light” for possession of the historical Grail and its immense powers, and you set the stage for the flowering of a new generation of Grail myths and legends. Archetypes continually regenerate; indeed, the Grail is among many other things an illustration of just such archetypal power.

And as we know from our own experiences with creativity, there are indeed many grails each time we manifest something — even if you prefer that they’re all subsidiary to a single magical One and Holy Grail. (Which in a certain sense they are.) Another question to ask, practice to experiment with: “What is the grail in this situation?”

Now this is all well and good, you say. Good fun, diverting, the stuff of fat best-sellers and million-dollar movie scripts and much silliness in pop culture and media. What of the wand? And what does any of this have to do with me?

Fear not. The wand gets at least its fair share of star billing before the end.

To take a turn through pop culture, why does Harry Potter take Hagrid’s advice and seek out Ollivander’s, apart from Hagrid’s plug that “there ain’t no place better”? Harry needs a wand. He survived the attack on him as an infant, with the scar as mute but vivid testimony of its potency.

But for any serious and conscious creative-magical work (all creativity is inherently magical), he’ll need a wand. It’s simply a matter of time before we ourselves come to the same conclusion.

“I wondered when I’d be seeing you, Mr. Potter!” says Ollivander.

And as with active Grail, the wand, we learn from Ollivander’s, and elsewhere, “chooses the wizard”. [Note how tall the interior of the shop is in the video clip — the airiness and “head-space” appropriate to a wand. And it’s at Ollivander’s words “I wonder” as he goes for the third wand that we hear again the hallmark and mysterious musical theme.]

And of course, with the tradition of clusters of three long associated with things magical, the third wand’s the charm.

Franz Bardon, no slouch when it comes to personal experience, magic and occult instruction, observes in his fine text Initiation into Hermetics that

Everything that can be found in the universe on a large scale is reflected in a human being on a small scale” (pg. 31) and “A true initiate will never force anyone who has not reached a certain level of maturity to accept his truth” (pg. 55).

Again, as with so many things, truth is better treated as experimental — to be tested through our own direct experience, rather than either swallowed credulously, or rejected out of hand — both falling short of the magical quality inherent in threes. Either-or too often simply misses the point we seek.

A wand extends and sharpens the creative ability — the inspiration and clarity of East, the dawn, air, what a bird sees when it flies, the overview, the big picture, the influx of Light from the sun. Its time is spring — the perfect tool in the hand of a gardener, whose version may take the form of trowel or spade.

Consult the recent and masterly exposition Wandlore and you’ll discover a major key:

The most basic hidden secret of magic is that the wizard must go within … inside the mind, and there, encountering Hermes, lord of communication, be led into the otherworlds.

As Carr-Gomm notes in The Druid Tradition, talking of Iolo Morgannwg, the brilliant creative mind behind much of the Druid Revival, but with important teaching more widely applicable and relevant to today’s headlines,

… when it comes to working with the esoteric, we are to large extent under the influence of Mercury, or Lugh, the god of communication between human and divine worlds … But Mercury is also the god of thieves and of deception — of stage magic, and the manipulation of illusion as well as of high magic — the manipulation of consciousness and the causal world. Those who have not clarified their relationship with Mercury fall prey to both aspects of his influence, and it is then hard for the academic [or anyone! — ADW] to understand how the same person can combine genuine material with the fraudulent, how they can channel both divinely inspired insights into Druidry and complete nonsense, how they can be upright and honest and engage in deception or delusion (pg. 27).

And rather than belabor the benefits of walking a spiritual path, and also to cover a truly immense amount of ground, the end result, recorded in T. S. Eliot’s grand poem The Four Quartets, in the last line of the final section “Little Gidding“, is that “the fire [of wand and purified will] and the rose [of the Grail and the perception of spiritual unity] are one”.

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Image: Christ with compass: “he set a compass upon the face of the depth” (Proverbs 8:27)

Carr-Gomm, Philip. Lessons in Magic. Lewes, East Sussex: Oak Tree Press, 2016.

Bardon, Franz. Initiation into Hermetics. Merkur Publishing, Inc., 2016.

MacLir, Alferian Gwydion. Wandlore: The Art of Crafting the Ultimate Magical Tool. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Books, 2011.

Carr-Gomm, Philip. The Druid Tradition. Rockport, MA: Element Books, Inc. 1991.

For an evocative single-page note of just some of the material behind Eliot’s poem, see here.

 

 

http://blog.sciencemusings.com/2011/07/setting-compass.html

 

 

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Earth Work: Illness, Fasting, and Samhain   3 comments

[Edited 20 June 2018]

Ah, Samhain, you’re here again. This solemn time to honor our dead and acknowledge the things that have passed from our lives. This joyous time to celebrate the harvest and the warmth of friends and loved ones to carry us through the dark half of the year. This reminder of the balance inherent in all transient things. Our work, if we choose, with the earth.

Halloween-time, to carve a pumpkin, set out the candy for the trick-or-treaters, remember to put the car in the garage the previous evening so next morning the windows aren’t all frosted over. Time for mulled cider, fallen leaves, bonfires, the possible gift of a few more mild, bright days before the snow comes. As a friend remarked yesterday, Halloween is the true start of our winter, here in the Northeastern U.S. where I live. The earth doing its thing. Earth-work.

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Ushtogaysky Square, Kazakhstan — immense millennia-old earthworks make headlines …

ushtogaysky-square

NASA photo at the New York Times link above

X marks the spot of a different kind of earth-work. (We’re always at the center.) I jump from this macrocosmic image to the microcosm of my personal work on earth. After you’ve finished groaning, come with me, to see whether whatever I can mine from it has any value for you, for this blog. Here goes …

Over the past several days a virus has been racking my joints and muscles and leaving me achy, feverish, weak. In other words, no gift to take along with me to an early Samhain celebration an OBOD friend was hosting last night. He lives “across the water” in New Hampshire, and the dozen or so folks he expected to join him included out-of-towners bringing kids and planning to sleep over. (The Samhain ritual took place later in the evening, after a typical Halloween party for the younger set).

forty-day-word-fastSo I stayed home instead, built up the fire, hydrated myself with tea and soups, and slept. Sometimes what we leave behind gets pried from us through mild (or great) suffering. Sometimes, of course, we can leave it more willingly. And we can try to make something of it, if there’s anything left of us in the moment, and turn to old spiritual technologies like fasting that may have slipped out of fashion but have never lost their worth.

We already fast when we refuse to accept the memes of fear and despair and business-as-usual of too much modern life. We purge. We deny some negative shard a foothold, most effectively by replacing it with a positive alternative. If you’re interested in anything, why not start where it’s actually already a part of your life? In my life, if I look around, this seems to be true of many more things than I’d ever believed possible. How many access-points and footholds and innate spiritual “flux-capacitors” (courtesy of the Back to the Future wiki) we have for almost anything we can imagine. Transform, transform, whispers the cosmos.

muslim-fastMany people think fasting belongs to Christianity. No meat — fish is fine! — on Fridays. Look Medieval, and maybe skeletal monks and nuns come to mind. Ascetics whipping themselves with a cat of nine tails.

There’s the Yom Kippur fast. Or, if you have a Muslim co-worker or friend, you’ve possibly heard them talk about keeping the fast for the month of Ramadan. Not to pick on Muslims, as the ubiquitous Gene Wilder memes like the one to the left would wrongly imply: anyone can be obnoxious and obvious about such practices, which is one reason they go through cycles and fall out of favor for a while. Mirror, mirror on the wall.

For about a decade I fasted once a week. This was a significant practice of the other spiritual path I follow. Like many disciplines, fasting’s less daunting after you actually do it a few times. You learn how your body reacts, how to ease into it the day before, how to come off a fast, what food and drink work best for your own particular circumstances and body chemistry and goal. Partial fast, water or juice fast, complete fast. (Ooh, you’re hardcore.)

Headaches from dehydration? Sure. Greater susceptibility to cold, since you’re not stoking the furnace several times during the day? Yep. Bad breath? Perfectly possible. Absolute joy at breaking a fast — how delicious almost any decent (or indecent) food tastes, how much the fast may have subtly reset some of your programming, how your dream recall can be improved, how an old habit may loosen its hold, how you have more faith in and less fear of your own body? Check, check, check.

come-at-meA fast can be difficult, sure. But not, I usually found, because of hunger. That comes and goes, and it’s often the least challenging aspect of fasting. No, to many others besides just me, one of the truly interesting parts of a fast is what it may reveal about attitudes, attachments and mindsets that deserve a careful look. And it’s just the scrutiny they don’t usually get in the scramble to ingest the daily three squares, plus the obligatory snacking an overfed Westerner like me makes sure to practice as faithfully as any religious devotee. Food Yoga, anyone? Follow the Calorie Sutra? Junk-food Gita? The venerable Maha-salsa-and-chips? Down with that.

A physical fast also begins to open up unforeseen and potential valuable energies for other things than preparing, consuming and digesting food. Plenty of books and other resources address those advantages.

And for clarity and vision-questing around Samhain, a fast can offer one more valuable tool to those who want to look beyond the usual boundaries and curtains over our awareness.

As I’ve aged, and as accumulated physical issues make a food-fast a cause of more problems than benefits, I’ve turned more to mental fasts. (This could be one alternative to people struggling with food issues like bulimia and anorexia.) In addition to its purpose as a ritual offering, a devotion which deserves its own post, keeping the attention on a chosen object, image, mantra, deity, etc., for a twenty-four hour period drops all kinds of issues front and center stage. Lacking things to work on? Feeling like I fully qualify for Ancient Honorable Thrice-Sanctified Adeptus XI? Nothing quite like a fast to reveal my crap-of-the-day and put me in my place.

So I take inventory every hour and return, return, return the attention to its focus. Technology helps. (Got the latest fast-app?! A simple e-timer can help a lot. Try a “tasteful chime,” as one friend calls it.)

How good is my concentration? Is my chosen focus for the day even worthwhile? What is devotion, anyhow? What distracts me the most? What claims to be more important, or insists it’s a valid priority? How do I respond to others who ask why I may seem a little absent-minded or distracted today? Do I listen carefully enough to perceive who really wants to know, and who — if I tell them — may mock what they don’t understand? How much of this particular fast is just an exercise of ego or will-power, and how much is meaningful devotion?

OK, you get the idea. Illness can provide a natural push toward a mental fast. You can’t jump into your normal routine, you may find yourself in bed, and rather than relying on cable, Netflix, Hulu, net-surfing or some other drug of choice to fill every single minute you’re not moaning for sympathy, soaking in warm water to soothe your unhappy bone-house*, tossing and turning because you can’t sleep, or downing pills, extracts, roots, powders, potions or elixirs, why not use even a fraction of the time to experiment … on yourself? Best laboratory ever! No? Still not convinced?

I’m a sucker for squeezing every experience for what I can gain from it. (At least that’s what I tell myself. Some future fast will without a doubt show me where that’s no longer true, or never was.)

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to a holiday fest this evening with some friends and neighbors. Just the four of us.  A mostly veggie potluck meal, because that’s what’s come from our gardens. A short blessing (probably the one that opens my About page) in lieu of a longer ritual. And the fasting I did yesterday, imperfect, illness-prodded, leaves me grateful to today to be feeling better. No small thing.

Here for your delectation is a short Youtube clip from the 2014 Edinburgh Samhuinn Fire Festival:

Happy Samhain/Halloween to you all!

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Images: 40-day word fast; Gene Wilder fast-meme picCome at me, bro!;

*Old English bán-hús: body, chest; literally, “bone-house.”

Beltane 2015 and Touching the Sacred   1 comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4]

Here we are, about two weeks out from Beltane/May Day — or Samhuinn if you live Down Under in the Southern Hemisphere. And with a Full Moon on May 3, there’s a excellent gathering of “earth events” to work with, if you choose. Thanks to the annual Edinburgh Fire Festival, we once again have Beltane-ish images of the fire energy of this ancient Festival marking the start of Summer.

beltane
You may find like I do that Festival energies of the “Great Eight”* kick in at about this range — half a month or so in advance. A nudge, a hint, a restlessness that eases, a tickle that subsides, or shifts toward knowing, with a glance at the calendar. Ah! Here we are again!

For me, that’s regardless of whether I’m involved in any public gathering, or anticipating the time — because it’s never anything as rigid as one single day, but rather an elastic interval — on my own.

Yes, purists may insist on specifics, and calculate their moons and Festivals down to the hour, so as not to miss the supposed peak energies of the time. And if this gives you a psychological boost to know and do this that’s worth the fuss, go for it.

Below is Midnightblueowl’s marvelous painted “Wheel of the Year” (with Beltane at approximately 9 o’clock). With its colors and images, it captures something of the feeling of the Year as we walk it — a human cycle older than religions and civilizations. Or the cycle helped make us human, changing us as we began to notice and acknowledge and celebrate it. Try looking at it both ways, and see what comes of that.

Wheel_of_the_Year

Painted “Wheel of the Year” by Midnightblueowl. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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For today I take as divination the message below, which got promptly diverted to the spam folder: “This page decidedly has whole of the information I precious astir this dependent and didn’t make love who to ask.”

O crazy spam-scribe of the ethers, you stumbled onto one of the Great Paradoxes, best stated by William Blake, with his “infinity in the palm of your hand, eternity in an hour.” In that sense, yes: this page “decidedly has whole of the information” though it is also what it is, a finite thing. Like each of us, like the tools we use to connect to What Matters, like the sneaking suspicion that will not go away that there’s Something More. (Even if it’s just an explanation of what’s up with all these capital letters, anyway?)

And since Beltane’s approaching, there is indeed a “precious astir” at work as the energies swirl.  Who or what is “dependent”?! The writer of the spam, not knowing “who to ask” and even acknowledging he “didn’t make love.” And all of us, dependent on the earth and each other.

I bless you, oh Visitor to this e-shrine, workshop, journal — the many-selfed thing that blogs can be and become. Who to ask? you inquire. Your inward Guide, always present and waiting for you where you are most true. Or the face of the Guide as it manifests again and again in your life — stranger at the market who smiles at you, bird that catches your eye, tune you find yourself humming.

How to get there, that place we all long for, that colors our thinking and follows and leads us in day- and night-dreams? Place that Festivals and holidays and time and pain and love and living all — sometimes — remind us of? Ah, you mean The Question! Love, gratitude, service — all things any of us can begin today; all things, it’s important to remember, we already do in some measure, or we would die. Too easy? Or you already know that? There’s also ritual — finite, imperfect ritual, our human dance. Mark, O Spirit, and hear us now, confirming this our sacred vow … 

What’s your sacred vow? Don’t know yet? Got some work to do? Tune in to the next post for more.

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4]

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Image: Beltane Edinburgh Fire Festival; painted Wheel of the Year by Midnightblueowl

*The “Great Eight” yearly festivals with their OBOD names: Imbolc, Alban Eilir/Spring Equinox, Bealteinne, Alban Hefin/Summer Solstice, Lughnasadh, Alban Elfed/Autumn Equinox, Samhuinn, Alban Arthan/Winter Solstice. Many alternate names exist, and almost every one has a Christian festival on or near it, too.

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