Archive for the ‘equinox’ Category

Your Equinox

[Update 12:47 EST]

Visit Penny Billington’s blogpost Gifts of the Equinox for inspiration and ritual ideas.

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Looking for an Equinox Ritual? Searching for one that fits your experiences and perspectives?

If you’re not a member of a practicing group, it can be a challenge to know where to begin.

Fortunately, I’ve got you covered. That’s why you’re reading this post, right? With some thought and creativity on your part, you’ll be on the way.

If you visit my Ritual page, you’ll find an outline at the bottom of the page for composing your own rituals. I’ll be expanding on that outline here. The advantage of any model or example is that almost immediately you’ll see things you want to change, drop or add. That’s a good thing.

If you’re anything like me, give me something to work with, to push against, and my imagination kicks in, offering its gifts. Vision and desire and dreaming crave form — that’s one of the magical “secrets” we all practice in our own ways, but don’t think about very much. Working with them even a little and good things can spring forth.

The ritual you write and perform has something of you in it. That becomes part of the offering you make, and part of the hallowing the ritual achieves.

1–INTENTION — what do you want in an Equinox ritual, or out of it? The whole ritual follows from this. A clear intention, large or small, leads to effective and enjoyable ritual. You know what you’re doing, and why. You want to celebrate the season, you feel a need to be more grounded, you wish to honour the presence of spirit, in large and small ways, you’re grateful for good things in your life — all excellent reasons to ritualize your experience. There are plenty of additional reasons, too. More than one is fine, but let one be chief.

Write down that intention. Sometimes we resist this simple step. (Why we resist is a fruitful subject for meditation — at some other time!)

my intention occupies space, even before I light in up …

Getting it into words helps a lot. “Oh, you’re celebrating the Equinox?” says a friend, neighbour, relative, passerby. “Why? What’s your ritual for?” Now you have an answer. “I’m grateful for my garden, my pet, neighbours, family, life, the beauty of the season, the promise of renewal, the strength to continue, the conversation with a classmate I hadn’t connected with for years …”

Let gratitude become a ritual habit, and you’ll want to celebrate more often. Ritual can deepen gratitude.

“I come to give thanks for the gifts of this season”.

Where are you? “In this sacred space …” if you’re in a place you’ve held ritual before. Or if in a new space, your attention and anything else you add can help sanctify it, making it sacred for you and your intention. If it’s sacred, why not say so, and do something that signifies that truth.

Sometimes, every space is new and sacred too. You may need more words or deeds, or none at all, to know it as the truth.

2–MATERIALS NEEDED — As soon as you’ve written down your intention, the things you may want to include will start occurring to you. If you’re grateful for something, bring it — or a representation of it — into your ritual. Let it be part of your ritual focus. I love to have a fire, as I mention in many of my posts, if the weather allows it. Otherwise, a candle is an excellent equivalent. Our woodstove in winter is a daily fire, and a heartening meditation-companion all through the cold weather. Who knows how many great things have come from fire-dreaming?

Cycle back to add to your list as you develop your ritual. Remember to include the actual list at the beginning of your script as a reminder, so when the day and hour come for your ritual, you have it on hand and can pack the car, carry the materials to your yard, set up your living room, etc. If you’re doing ritual with a friend or friends over Zoom or Skype, a copy of the list for them helps everyone get read. (Share it on the whiteboard for any who arrives early!) If you’re meeting in person, will you or somebody supply masks for everyone? How can you make social distancing part of your ritual in some way?

“Keep it simple” is a good principle. “Ritual stuff” isn’t the main event, any more than ritual bling. But lacking the one or two things you DO need in the middle of the ritual, once your script grows to include them, is a real downer. That ritual knife, candle, bell, bowl of water, smudge stick now needs to be there. Do you need ritual clothing, body marking, etc.? If you do, make sure it gets on the list.

3–PARTICIPANTS and ROLES — how many does the ritual need? In these Zoom-days, you may find yourself more solitary than usual. Again, cycle back to update your “cast of characters” as your ritual plans develop. In the event of missing participants, how can you double up on roles?

Can you include objects — dolls, dressed figures, symbolic objects — for some of the roles? A tarot card, for instance (enlarged on a photocopier?) may serve as a stand-in for a role. Miniaturized ritual could be another fruitful area for experimentation and discovery. Think of the kinds of spontaneous role-play that children often do, and you’re halfway there already. Quite literally, they talk themselves into it, imagining it unfolding all around them. And it does.

Is there something for guests to do who aren’t speaking or performing major ritual actions? Can there be? Do participants — or visitors — need to prepare in advance in some way? Learn a short chant by heart? A melody? A ritual gesture? Vigils, fasts, prayer, meditation, questing, etc. can help participants bring their full ritual selves to the rite from the beginning. Work with the limits and possibilities of Zoom and Skype to bring some of the experience of ritual online.

4–PLACE and TIME — flexibility is key, especially if weather, others’ reservations, or schedules have other ideas for your ritual. A solitary ritual can happen in a fifteen-minute interval of sun on a rainy day. But group ritual benefits from pre-planned alternative locations, announced in advance. These things keep confusion and disappointment to a minimum. Is accessibility an issue for any participants or visitors? Again, will you provide masks in these Covid times?

5–RITUAL HOUSEKEEPING — “Please turn off your cell phones!” Run through any details guests need to know. “This is what we’ll be doing. Don’t break the circle, or remember cut yourself a door in it, or ask a ritual celebrant to do so for you. Restrooms are at the end of the hall, or 20 miles away; find a tree. That’s north, so this is west.”

Doing ritual online may mean reminding participants to mute themselves if a phone rings, a motorcycle roars past, etc. When each of us takes a portion of responsibility for ritual conditions, ritual works well. Help others, and yourself, avoid NINO — nothing in, nothing out, ritually speaking. What we bring contributes to the rite, so let us bring our best. And this, too, could be a line to add to the script.

6–FORMAL OPENING — you probably want some combination and sequence of purification, grounding, centering, welcoming, proclaiming ritual intent, honouring and inviting Others to be present.

How will this happen? Write it down. It can be simple. But come back to it when and as you need to in order to tweak it, add or take away, include a rhyme or poem or song, etc. Achieving an opening online often calls for something visual, as well as auditory, because Skype and Zoom offer just two senses, and magnify (distort?) their importance.

Bells, singing bowls, incense, water, fire, salt, chant, drums, etc. all can help. Casting a circle, establishing sacred space, erecting or acknowledging altars, redefining the status of participants, the place, objects nearby or some combination of any or all of these may be appropriate. Choose who does these things, and why, and how others can take part. Less talk is usually better. So is simplicity.

“I stand in this sacred place, at this sacred time”.

The small online Equinox celebration via Zoom that I’m hosting tomorrow evening is a little over three printed pages in the OBOD solo version. Half of that is stage directions: “Enter your circle from the West”. On Zoom, or in a solitary ritual, you may opt to focus that inwardly. What is “West” where you are? Trees, a hill, an open field, a neighbouring house? You may have your own associations, or objects to help evoke West.

“Let this bowl be my West, vessel of dream and inspiration”.

Doing these things via Zoom/Skype, etc., often calls for innovation and creativity. Can a swivel chair make do for turning toward each of the directions? Can picking up an object for each of the directions suffice? Private ritual is a chance to work on visualization, to slow down, and take the time, rather than letting the time take us.

7–The MAIN RITE — what you’ve gathered to do. Re-enacting a myth; marking the changed status of a participant through initiation, etc.; celebrating the season, a date, festival, harvest, planting, boat-launch, new home, new family member, etc. Healing, defending, strengthening, commemorating, blessing, gifting. Where you do the stuff specific to your tradition, practice, gods, calendar, and so on.

Equinox is a time of balance, so language, gesture, actions, focus, ritual movement can all focus on images of reciprocity, balance, light and dark, polarity, exchange, mutuality.

“On my right hand, ___. And on my left, ___ .” With intention and love, something as simple as this can serve as part of your rite. Or make it a triad:

If you’re facing East, for instance, “On my right hand, the warmth of the South. On my left, the cool of the North. On the right, I give thanks for gifts of passion and fire. On my left, I give thanks for the gifts of harvest, nourishment and sustenance. On my left, what needs to sleep, may it slumber and awake refreshed and renewed. On my right, what needs to kindle and ignite, may it burn brightly and cleanly”.

8–FEAST, ritual meal, distribution of ritual objects, etc. — a piece of maypole ribbon, a slice of apple (showing the star), a drink, a stave of ritual significance, a card or picture, stone, sea-shell, etc.

We still feast ritually, even if we’ve abandoned other ritual forms. Whether at a restaurant or at home, your chosen or blood family may or may not pray before (or after) eating, but you can include prayer that is meaningful to you in your rites. Silent prayer, a quick blessing, may be something you wish to bring back into your daily round.

Why, if prayer isn’t a part of your repertoire? To explore it as a ritual tool. To allow it to slow us down, closer to the pace of the trees around us, who breathe in and out once a day. To let the focus of its words wash over us in their specific ways. Add your own reasons, so you know.

My wife’s family, coming from diverse experience, belief and practice, often uses this old prayer, which can stand in as an example of something accessible to many who might have difficulty with language specific to any one tradition. Again, modify, add and delete as you need to.

Back of the loaf, the flour.
Back of the flour, the mill.
Back of the mill, the sun and the power,
the love and the Shaper’s will.

9–READINGS, Music, Poetry, Blessings, Prayers — this important portion of a ritual can accompany the Feast, etc. to help sustain the ritual energy, hold focus, minimize side chatter, etc. It also gives everyone present a chance to contribute personal requests, blessings, songs, etc.

Always we’re passing through markers, doorways, portals. What are your Equinox Gates?

In a solitary ritual, your own voice can be a gift, for the simple reason that it’s yours, speaking your gratitude, your celebration. Or a bone flute, a gong, drum, flute, stringed instrument. An empty bottle, blown across its open end, produces a pleasing tone. Pebbles in a jar, can or bottle will — with some experimentation — make an effective rattle.

And sometimes, rather than words, your rite may call for silence.

10–CLOSING — reverse what you did for the opening: thank Others you invited, uncast the circle, return ritual elements to their original places, desanctify what needs desanctifying. Take down the altar. Ring the bell, beat the drum formally, close the ritual. Re-establish the world before the ritual began. Again, simple is good.

Online, a clear visual or a gesture, along with a sound, can help mark the ending. Often on Zoom, with its over-emphasis on just two senses, and especially on the visual, a combination of markers is effective. Let participants SEE an ending, as well as hear it.

11–ANNOUNCEMENTS — upcoming events, requests for help with clean-up, calendars, thanking visitors, etc.

With a solitary rite, you can certainly skip this part. Or make of it an opportunity to announce that you wish to hold future rituals, to come again to celebrate and commemorate, to honour and to thank. It can take the form of a vow, or simple intention, expressed in sacred space. So the Wheel moves, each turn both same and different.

One of the earliest things we teach children is to take turns. That’s how the cosmos flows, so it is a priceless lesson, one we need to keep re-learning as adults, in new and varied forms.

12–CLEAN-UP — leave the ritual space as pristine — or more so — than when you arrived. Make this a ritual act of service and gratitude.

Again, this may seem less or not necessary for a solitary rite, but if you have a fire-circle and hold your rite outdoors, for instance, there’s clean-up to be done. Let it be part of your ritual, giving thanks and visualizing the Others who attended, sending after them your gratitude and goodwill on their journeys.

Conversation following the rite can be an opportunity for formal teaching, Q-and-A, casual discussion, ritual debriefing and a post-mortem “how did it go?”, planning for another event, etc.

13–RECORDING — entering details of your ritual in your journal is another way to grow and discover. Insight may come in the act of sitting to write, or a day or two later, as an addition to that entry. With larger public events, a paper copy of the ritual can serve as a souvenir and also a place for notes and reflections. What did you experience? Anything happen that seems a coincidence at the time, or after, or before? Record it.

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Posted 19 September 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, equinox, intention, ritual

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Emnight — Equinox

In recent days, one of the most frequent searches run on this site — no surprise — was for “equinox ritual”. While I don’t have a full rite posted here, it’s a good time to reflect again on crafting our own rites — on ways to access and craft a recognition and remembrance that fits who, and where, and also when we are.

frontstone

I am a ritual too, says rock, and weather, and grass, and person looking

Awareness of this time of balance — especially in the face of so much upset, anxiety and disturbance around the globe — is ancient, and good to recall, and to bring forward again into conscious attention. A thousand years ago, the Anglo-Saxons observed, On emnihtes dæg, ðæt is ðonne se dæg and seo niht gelíce lange beoþ. On the day of the equinox, that is when the day and the night are equally long.

Emnight, the old word for equinox — a good word to bring back, from *ev(en)-night, Old English efen-niht, emniht, when darkness and light are paired and even.

It’s true that membership in a practicing group equips you with experience of a round of yearly rituals, and after participating in a few rounds, you may begin to play with local versions of your own. If you’re a solitary, there are rituals online to study and ponder. While certainly not everyone has ready access to the internet, and most groups have wisely curtailed physical gatherings for a season, that’s all the more reason to find our own ways to acknowledge and honor the seasons and the holy tides or times. And that includes our own personal times and seasons.

Where do we find balance in uncertain and difficult times? One way is by aligning ourselves with rhythms larger than any one person, but also part of each of us. In such ways we can glimpse and participate in those patterns and re-balancing flows, and re-set ourselves. And reset and reset, at need. For now the need is again great.

Reginald Ray, in his book The Indestructible Truth, puts it this way:

Through ritual, genuinely undertaken, one is led to take a larger view of one’s life and one’s world; one experiences a shift in perspective—sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic. This shift feels like a diminishing of one’s sense of isolated individuality and an increase in one’s sense of connectedness with other people, with the nonhuman presences of our realm, and with purposes that transcend one’s usual self-serving motivations.

Ritual is a way of reconnecting with the larger and deeper purposes of life, ones that are oriented toward the general good conceived in the largest sense. Ironically, through coming to such a larger and more inclusive sense of connection and purpose, through rediscovering oneself as a member of a much bigger and more inclusive enterprise, one feels that much more oneself and grounded in one’s own personhood. Through ritual, one’s energy and motivation are roused and mobilized so that one can better fulfill the responsibilities, challenges and demands that life presents.

“So what’s my ritual?”, you ask.

Well, who and when and where are you? These answers can open and shape your rite.

I stand here and name your place and time. It’s the equinox, so declare it.

I/we stand here on this ancient land [all lands are ancient and holy when we know them so], gift of spirit, child(ren) of the ancestors, at this time of equal darkness and light.

If you have an image or object that represents the ancestors, so much the better. Or consecrate one as part of this rite: This stone, or cup (or picture, etc.), inheritance of my/our people, I/we place upon my altar.

In this time of equal dark and light, I/we welcome — who do you welcome? Whose presence blesses you? Whose taking-part matters to you right now?

Prayer is always appropriate — what’s your prayer at this moment? There’s a place both for scripted and spontaneous prayer. If you’re alone, a prayer or cry for help may spring to your lips without any forethought needed. You can mingle the two, the planned and the popping-up-in-the-moment. In fact, that’s often ideal.

What gifts can you offer? We all always bring something, even in potential, waiting to give. (Unexpressed, the ungiven can frustrate us. The gift needs to be given.) It may be a vow or promise, it may be continuing to do what you’re already doing — and naming that — it may be something that represents to you the heart of what you do and who you are. Any physical thing that signifies something of this to us can take part in our rite, because it offers a focus for our attention and one more access point for Spirit to reach us. Perhaps you yourself can take on and ritualize the image of someone who inspires you, and you can assume during the ritual the identity of that person, or of someone or something whose legacy you carry and continue. A mask, a word, a ritual gesture or action. It may be something you aspire to be and do over the coming weeks and months. It may be that writing this down is also an appropriate part of the rite itself, alone or with one or two family members, if you’re doing a small ritual together.

I am moving my altar stone into place, the massive mossy rock I’ve pictured in previous posts (not the one above — that’s the boulder in our front yard, spackled with snow). The physical effort and sweat is a principal part of my rite, the beginning is the first shifting, and the end is positioning it where it needs to be, and acknowledging it in its new place. They sang the stones of Stonehenge into place, goes the legend. Our days are equally legendary, if we let them be, equally redolent of the stuff of worlds speaking to each other, with us a part of it all.

Se emnihtes dæg, says the Leechdom, one of the old books, ys se feorþa dæg þissere worulde — Emnight’s day is the fourth day of this world.  A bit cryptic — yes. Mysteries still unfold in our day, though we often turn away from them in search of what we think we already know.

Our equinoxes are beginnings, yes, and also completions, fulfillments. They are the fourth day, the full circle, the manifestation, the revealing of spirit in us, and us in spirit, whatever form that takes.

A blessing on you and your lives and rites, on the forms of revealing spirit.

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Thirty Days of Druidry — 1

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After a complete slug-down from posting, brought on by a harsh bout of flu and subsequently a general lethargy, A Druid Way is back for a 30-day series on each day’s energies and perspectives. (Say awen, somebody. And all the freeze-dried grasses in my lawn say it, in their rustling speech. The tree limbs say it, and the twigs and branch-ends that have reddened and yellowed and greened with rising sap say it wordlessly, all night and all day long.)

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Long-time readers know I largely shy away from big social issues of the day. You’ll see very few comments here about politics, gay rights, abortion, race, the primaries, terrorism, climate change — the stuff of American and world headlines and the churn of the news cycle. I’m more interested in the opportunities each of us has to grow and love more in the small chances and changes right here. You could say that’s a kind of pure selfishness. And it is. We’re all engaged in self-crafting, one way or another. One way doesn’t negate another, I hope.

And I find these moments most easily not in the noise of our sometimes poorly-wrought human world, but in the silences when our human chatter subsides. When we can’t hear ourselves think, we too often think things that aren’t worth hearing. Or saying, though we keep on talking. Consider this blog a partial fast from the noise of the moment. Of course it’s a a fast in words, but paradox should be an old friend by now.

Don’t worry — if you really miss the latest batch of outrage and disaster and doom, they’ll keep till you’re done here. Rest easy, now. A few clicks will bring you right back into the middle of them. Many traditions invite us into silence, not to live our entire lives there. Speech matters. But to live always next door to silence, to befriend it, to let it teach us, to be rest and a refuge for us, as a true friend can.

The noise of the moment is of course one more testing ground. You CAN find many valuable lessons there, and you can hone your sense of rightness and justice and value to a keen edge, burnish them to a high sheen. (How much does my activism activate?) But we live mostly in the spaces between such tension points, and there I find rich terrain that never grows stale or flat. A half hour in the air and light, with birdsong or fog or frost and wind, is enough to restore a balance point that can go badly awry if we neglect the spiritual recalibration nature offers. Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers, says the poet.* But that’s only because what we mostly expect and work to get and spend a bunch of things that do not serve our highest good. How does a tree spend its powers, and does it have anything to say to me today?

Here for a reason, I say. Others scoff. Well, make your own reason. Then improve it. Better than drifting without one at all. Been-there done-that material. BTDT, as my wife and I say to each other. So try something you haven’t done, go somewhere you haven’t gone, says the awen in me, the awen spread across this blue cool late March sky.

springmoonEquinox energy is real. You can feel it in the stirring of so many things, blood and light and dream, storm and desire and birdsong. Not by accident do many magical and spiritual orders align their rites and festivals to the Equinoxes. Initiate then, in any senses of the word, and you catch a wave that can take you very far indeed. Out to the far isles beyond the horizon, where the Otherworld beckons beyond the ninth wave. In to the inner-verse that is always waiting like a beach after storm, strewn with all manner of oddments and debris, the flotsam and jetsam and occasional treasure you’ll find nowhere else. The one thing you need right now, washed up on your own shore, ready for the receiving into your hands. The spring break of the spirit, drunk with fear and longing and possibility.

Ah, tonight, first full moon of spring, rising in us, mounting the sky, stepping toward mystery.

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*Wordsworth.The Bards still keep trying to reach us, teach us, anything that doesn’t merely preach to us but means what we seek.

IMAGE: moon

Initiation and Spring Equinox 2015

rook and eclipse

Rook and partial eclipse, March 2015. Unretouched photo, Roger Brady, Kinsale College of Further Education, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Republic of Ireland

In this time of balanced energies, an image of bright and dark — rook and partial eclipse at the Spring Equinox.

This morning waking from dream, another image: a shining snake. A little poking around online brought up this fascinating connection from Greywolf’s blogpost for March 19, 2015 (bolded text is Greywolf’s):

The first Solar eclipse of 2015 happens with the New Moon in Pisces, joined by Mars and Ketu. Ketu is the tail of the celestial serpent, Rahu its head. Astrologically, they are the south and north nodes of the Moon. Eclipses occur when the serpent swallows the sun. This eclipse / New Moon will clarify and challenge our beliefs and spirituality, both Pisces themes. When Sun and Moon come together near the Node an eclipse results, producing a momentary disconnection and darkening our power source, the Sun. This literally leaves us feeling in the dark, and we may tempted to pursue the shadow side, or quick fix spiritual solutions, escaping into drug abuse or New Age fantasies. Be careful of such lazy, cynical options during the next 30 days. This eclipse happens in Uttara Bhadra Nakshatra, ruled by the God Ahi Bhudnya, the celestial serpent. This divine cosmic force is associated with clearing the last bits of dirt that are blocking the soul’s liberation.

I will accept this gratefully as divination, a clue to work with in the coming days, a time for (re)dedication.

Equinoxes are ideal times for initiation because of the access to energies they provide as the earth-moon-sun system shifts. A solar system triad!

While initiation can of course take place at any time, there is a formal and cosmic rightness to this twice-yearly period that can empower such rituals, as I know from experience.

Here is John Michael Greer on initiation. (You can read the full article online here — it forms part of a rough draft of his excellent book Inside a Magical Lodge.)

The idea that secrets will be revealed in an initiation creates a sense of expectancy, and can also give rise to a certain kind of fear; both of these are useful in the work of initiation.

The production of this receptive state forms the first phase of the initiatory process. Once it has been reached, the process of lodge initiation moves to a second phase, in which a set of carefully chosen images or events are experienced by the initiate, and then explained. These experiences and their explanations are heightened by the receptive state, and are intended to offer a new pattern for some portion of the initiate’s mental map of the world; the pattern may also be encoded, more subtly, in the underlying structure of the ritual itself. If the initiate accepts this new pattern — which does not always happen — the initiation has “taken.”

At this point, the process enters its third phase. The new initiate is given a set of conceptual, verbal and somatic triggers for the new pattern. Just as a memento from an emotionally charged event in the past can awaken not merely memories but states of emotion and consciousness, these triggers reinforce the new pattern every time they are used. They serve, in an important sense, as anchors for the initiation.

The three-phase process of initiation can be handled in various ways, and has been handled with various levels of effectiveness in the initiations used by different magical and fraternal orders. Like any other art, the art of initiation has its failures as well as its masterpieces. Making the situation more complex is the fact that most orders of both kinds use a series of initiations — the usual terms are “grades” or “degrees” — to carry out an extended program of transformation, each change building on the ones already made. In the fraternal orders, the goal of this program is typically nothing more profound (or more sinister) than basic personal maturity. In magical orders, by contrast, the possibilities for change are far greater.

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“Creating a Goddess Book”: The Rest of the Workshop

Our bodies already know the Goddess – this is our oldest magic.

I relied on this insight in planning for the workshop at this year’s East Coast Gathering, whose theme was “Connecting with the Goddess.”

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Goals and plans I had for the workshop:

The heart of the workshop is a hands-on look at various ways to make a physical book/scroll/altar object that explores/invites/incorporates ritual, ogham/runes, art, prayer, poems, questions, magic and daydreaming into a concrete “link” to the Goddess as we experience Her — or desire to experience Her. Think “book” as “portable paginated/folding/roll-up ongoing altar-in-process.” I’ll talk about inspiration, nudges, hints and ways to listen, inviting and hoping for participant sharing and input! The seed for the workshop comes out of the fact that I’m a prime example of somebody who doesn’t have a consistent Goddess practice (though She’s seeing to it that’s shifting, too), but when She wants my attention, She gets it, like with this book, and workshop.

It’s probably a good thing we don’t always hear how ambitious we sound. Young or old, you eventually learn to deal with the inevitable gap between vision and manifestation. If you’ve managed to hold on to any of that original and wonderful idealism of youth, you also realize that the gap isn’t a reason to despair, or to dispense with vision, but rather a sign of just how important vision is.

The physical world, so important for manifestation, by its nature tends to lag behind the swiftness with which vision can appear. But that lag is precisely part of this world’s immense value: its inertia and density allow for greater permanency and resistance to change, so that we can experience the results of vision over time — and fine-tune it if we choose. Unlike in dream, where the subtle stuff of vision or imagination can wisp away so quickly, physical manifestation tries to linger.

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The Goddess is generous. Or alternatively, if you prefer the cynical version, I belong to the OCD Order of Druids. Creativity, as the saying goes, is messy. I over-planned for the workshop, ending up with far more material than any mortal could begin to do justice to in a mere hour, and this post is my penance, or confession. Or further indulgence. And maybe — in the way it often arrives when we’re not paying attention, even in spite of ourselves — a spark of awen.

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ogham“Creating A Goddess Book,” with focus on “book” in order to free it from the psychological shrine many Druids, and Pagans generally, tend to put books in. Instead of paper, a book of leather, or metal, or cloth — individual sheets, or a single longer scroll. A nudge to try out the qualities of other substances than paper, than the admittedly inviting blank books on sale in chain bookstores, or even Ye Friendlie Lokal Paygan Shoppe.

Each workshop participant received a packet to practice with, consisting of a rectangle  (approx. 3″ x 4″) of vegetable-cured leather and a similar-sized rectangle of .019″ aluminum, wrapped in a larger swath of canvas cut from a shop drop-cloth from Home Depot. A wood- and leather-burning tool, a few screwdrivers, some markers of various kinds, a few words about inspiration and the importance of working to manifest things on the physical plane as one powerful way to connect with the Goddess. Suggestions for inscribing/writing/ incising a short prayer, vow, magical name, etc. Reference tables of Ogham and runes for those who wanted to inscribe words with some privacy, as a personal meditation. I pointed out that you could cut all three materials with kitchen scissors. Besides the wood-burner, no fancy tools required. Then I shut up and let participants have at the materials. Done!

Hex Nottingham's leather and metal "pages" -- photo courtesy Hex Nottingham

Hex Nottingham’s leather and metal “pages” — photo courtesy Hex Nottingham

Except for the next flash of inspiration in the planning process, which would not let go: a “Nine-Fold Star of the Goddess” you can try out here at one of several websites that illustrate the steps.

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A sampling, with some commentary and additions, from the workshop handout:

“Spirit must express itself in the world of matter or it accomplishes nothing.  Insights of meditation and ceremony gain their full power and meaning when reflected in the details of everyday life.” — J. M. Greer, The Druidry Handbook, p. 138.

This world, here, is the realm of mystery. Spirit is simple — it’s this world that’s so surprising and complex in its changes and ripples, its folds and spirals and timings. Make something, I tell myself, labor with the body, and then I can often approach the Goddess more easily, dirt under my fingernails, sweat on my face. She likes bodies. I’m the one who keeps forgetting this, not her.

“Work with a Goddess long enough and you learn to hear Her call. You learn to pick her voice out above the noise of contemporary society, above the words of teachers and friends, and even above your own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes what you hear is not what you expect.” — John Beckett, “A Rite of Sacrifice,” Mar. 4, 2014.

“Shaper, you have made and shaped me. Honor and serenity are yours. I am your garment, you the indwelling spirit. Work with me in everything I do, that all may know you. Energizer, quicken me. Measurer, clear my path. Protector, guard me safely. Initiator, take my hand. Challenger, transform me. Savior, be my help. Weaver, make my pattern bright. Preserver, heal me. Empowerer, make me wise.” — adapted from Caitlin Matthews, Elements of the Goddess, p. 118.

Rilke’s fragment, a whole meditation in itself, or a daily morning prayer.

Oh, I who long to grow,
I look outside myself, and the tree
inside me grows.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

And Larkin’s poem “Water”:

Water

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

— Philip Larkin

After delighting in this poem, make an exercise of it. Choose one of the elements.  It can be water, as in the poem, or one of the others. Finish the sentence: “If I were called in to construct a _____, I should make use of [element].” Keep going: a series of statements, a meditation on the one you just wrote, a free association.  Whatever gets you putting words down.  You can try this over several days with all the elements, or at a different pace, if you’re working with the elements on your own.

The ECG schedule this year put the Goddess Book workshop immediately after Thursday’s Opening Ritual, so people arrived still bubbling from the ceremonial jump-start for the weekend.

“In every world, in every form, in every way, I am near you, I uphold you, I comfort you, I guide you, I deliver you from each limitation until my freedom is yours. Your body is my chalice, your heart my echo, your form my shadow, your pulse my footstep, your breath my passing.” — from my own Goddess book.

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pattern-star

1. Once you hold the Star of the Goddess in your hand, write the names of the four elements and Spirit, one near each of the points. Complete this step before reading further.

2. Which elements sit on either side of Spirit? Contemplate on their positions there.  Are they elements that help support your spiritual life?  Are they especially active?  Are these the elements that need extra attention and balance?

3. Consider a section in your Goddess book for vows: experiment with them, not as harsh, unyielding obligations, but as tools for studying resolve, testing experience, practicing manifestation of your intent, and so on. They need not be “public” – write them in ogham, runes, etc. Start small and easily achievable.

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Dedicating a Goddess Book: Blood, sweat, tears, spit, etc. can mark our books with our earthiness: a commitment to be honest with the Goddess about our path, its ups and downs, to remember her presence with us, and to acknowledge what we need, what we doubt, what we’re willing to work for – whatever feels right to include. Make a ritual of it. Do it quietly, simply, without fanfare, with silence making its own ritual. Or call out all the stops, bells and whistles. Then dance, feast and celebrate.

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Allow a Goddess book — it could be a single sheet or “page” specifically intended for this purpose — to return slowly to the elements on an outdoor altar. Or bury it in the Mother’s good earth. Thus is the vow fulfilled that the Mother takes into Herself, as She will take all things back in time, and return them again.

“All things are holy to you.  This book like all things lies among the faces you show to me; may I learn from you daily, drink deep from your well, and body you forth as your child.” — from my Goddess book.

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A small ritual. Take a few deep breaths. Sing the awen, or other name or word that grounds and focuses you. Holding your cupped hands in front of you, say: “I make this altar for the Goddess, a space where she may act in my life.”

Holding the Star, or your journal, or other ritual object meaningful to you, or nothing else at all, ask yourself: What specific space or doorway exists in my life for the Goddess to manifest or to act in? Pay attention to hints, images and answers as they come.

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And again: Our bodies already know the Goddess – this is our oldest magic.

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Images: ogham; star.

Spring Equinox on Monadnock

Almost a month ago now I got the nudge to visit the major peaks in the area — Monadnock (NH), Hogback and Ascutney (VT) — starting on Alban Eilir, the spring equinox.  Energy-lines and Native American paths have been in my thoughts since the new year, and yesterday I climbed through snow and ice to within bowshot of Monadnock’s stony peak at 3165 feet.  The mountain is a New Hampshire state park, and lies a short distance north of the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border, southeast of Keene and west of Jaffrey, NH.

Monadnock, or Grand Monadnock, to distinguish it from other lesser monadnocks in the region, has the reputation for being one of the most-climbed peaks in the world.  Thogh my wife and I have lived off and on in the area since 1991, I’d never visited.  From what I saw yesterday, a summer climb would still be strenuous, but I’m glad that with the ice and cold, I had the mountain nearly all to myself.  Or, more accurately, the mountain had me.  All wild places have a presence, and the berg-geist or “mountain spirit” of Monadnock made itself known most of all in a listening silence.  I met just six other people, and all in the first half hour of my climb. All were descending.  After that, no one but the mountain and me.

The first leg of the southeast ascent rises gradually, just enough to get you conscious of your breathing.  The temp at this point was in the low 40s — it just looks colder in these shots.

M1-foot

The new season really is here, though a 4″ fall of heavy wet snow two days ago seemed to give the lie to that. When I left the ranger station at the foot, the sun shone through scattered clouds.  Ice doesn’t rule everything any more. A small spring had broken free of ice and ran across the trail.

M3-spring

The climb begins in earnest once the trail splits into White Cross and White Dot.  The trail map showed similar elevations and roughly equal distances, so I opted for White Cross.

M2-signs

Besides, to paraphrase Frost, “it was snowy and waited there.”  As the map warned, “trails are not necessarily marked for winter use.” Painted arrows and keys on the rocks often lay below the snowline.  Markers on a few exposed boulders showed  and the prints of those ahead of me provided enough guidance.  But I was mindful of the sky — a quick change could easily leave me lost in fog or snow showers, as the map also warned.  It was easier, not just prudent, to pay attention, because I was alone.

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Many states in the U.S. still retain versions of Native American place-names.  Vermont and New Hampshire bristle with them: Bomoseen, Skatutakee, Memphremagog, Ascutney, Monadnock.  The Wikipedia entry obliges with the following information about the mountain’s name:

… “monadnock” is an Abenaki-derived word used to describe a mountain. Loosely translated it means “mountain that stands alone,” although the exact meaning of the word (what kind of mountain) is uncertain. The term was adopted by early settlers of southern New Hampshire and later by American geologists as an alternative term for an inselberg or isolated mountain.

As I climbed, the temperature dropped at least 15 degrees. No birds here, unlike at the foot where a few sang tentatively overhead. The higher elevation showed visibly in pines coated with ice.

M7trees

I didn’t wear crampons or any special footwear beyond a pair of good winter boots.  Only in a few places was ice a problem.  The snowfall of the day before was a gift — it coated the ice of thaws and freezes beneath it, and made for easier going.  The ascent continued to sharpen, and I remembered bones and muscles I’d forgotten about since late fall.

Vistas offered compensation.  Here’s the view to the west and south, during a particularly clear interval.

M6hills

White Cross and White Dot rejoin about half a mile below the peak.  I was tired by now, though I chuckled at the mixed message of this sign:

M8sign2

It was soon time to descend.  The rock of the final 500 feet was too slick, the weather worsened by the minute, and leaving now would bring me to the foot again before twilight.  Here is the peak over the treetops.

M9peakview

I’m including this final image, though it’s blurred, because this is the highest I climbed, and it captures the berg-geist in winter:  I have been here a long time, and I am still here.  You are flesh — I am stone.

M10Little ceremony — that wasn’t my intent when I climbed.  A few words and gestures to the trees, the sky, the rocks, the snow and brisk fresh air. The mountain, always answering, said nothing.

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A Time of Rebalanced Energies

The Equinox is upon us.  Still the Druid Prayer of the Revival echoes from last weekend at the East Coast Gathering:

Grant, O God/dess, thy protection,
And in protection, strength,
And in strength, understanding,
And in understanding, knowledge,
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice,
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it,
And in that love, the love of all existences,
And in the love of all existences, the love of God/dess and all goodness.

The lake in the picture (photo credit Sara Corry) is at the base of Camp Netimus, where the East Coast Gathering assembled for its third year this last weekend.  In the presence of such moments, it’s easier to perceive that the physical world is one face of the holy, or as Jung expressed it, “Spirit is the living body seen from within, and the body the outer manifestation of the living spirit—the two being really one” (253).  Humans respond to beauty and to such transparent intervals as this, often in spite of what they may consciously believe or claim about reality.  We cannot help but be moved because we are part of what we witness.  We may witness a score of hierophanies, visions of the divine, each day.  Whatever our beliefs, these openings to the sacred nourish and help sustain us.

The rebalancing we hope to accomplish depends on our state of consciousness, on our ability to accept a gift given.  And so in a workshop last weekend, “The Once and Future Druid:  Working with the Cauldron of Rebirth,” we repeatedly turned to another seed-passage, this time from Neville’s The Power of Awareness: “The ideal you hope to achieve is always ready for an incarnation, but unless you yourself offer it human parentage, it is incapable of birth.”  I carried that with me for several days, marveling at its ability to focus the attention.  Whenever I found myself falling into old patterns of thought, I return to its simple truth. The power of such meditations and seed-exercises reaches beyond their apparent simplicity or even simplisticness.

In one sense we are consciously meme-planting, even if it’s on a personal level.  Why not plant our own, rather than be subject to others’ constructs, which may not suit us?  Yes, these seed-thoughts and heart-songs may remain lifeless if we do not ignite them with our attention and desire.  But properly sustained, like a campfire (sorry … the camp images stick with me!), fed and banked and tended, it can pour out a healing and transformative warmth all out of scale to its visible size.

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Jung, Carl.  Modern Man in Search of a Soul. London:  Routledge and Kegan Paul/Ark Paperbacks, 1984.

Updated 9/28/12

East Coast Gathering 2012

The OBOD East Coast Gathering offers a chance for Druids to walk among friends, attend workshops, and (re)connect with a beloved landscape in northeastern Pennsylvania.  Here’s the OBOD banner, the color easy to see, the three-rayed Awen symbol of the Order a little harder to make out.  (Photo by John Beckett)

The camp which hosts the Gathering offers both tent areas and basic cabins.

With more people attending this year than last, the ample space helped.

The area is splendid for large group rituals as well.

The rainstorm over the weekend brought with it cooler weather, which just made us all the more grateful for hot drinks and the varied meals our staff of Druid volunteers cooked for us.

(Dining room photo by John Beckett)

I didn’t arrive in time for the opening ritual.  But the Closing was held on the same grounds, with the same altars.  Here are shots of the two entry cairns seen looking south, along with the four directional altars and their banners: Stag of the South, Salmon of the West, Bear of the North and Hawk of the East.

One of the added pleasures this year was the attendance of more Druids from different orders, including ADF.  Here are members of Cedar Light Grove assembled around their grove banner (photo by John Beckett).

OBOD groves brought banners too.

And this year, the third Gathering and my second, yet another draw was the chance to meet and learn from both OBOD’s Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm, and AODA’s Archdruid John Michael Greer.

The first photo is of Philip giving a talk in Storyteller’s Grove a little north of camp.

The second shows John Michael during one of his morning talks in the Pavilion.

In the third, both join for a conversation and Q&A. (3 photos by John Beckett)

And of course no Druid gathering would feel complete without the ceremonial garb that makes the rituals visually distinctive and memorable.

Here are JM Greer and John Beckett:

Topping off each day were the evening fire-circles and drumming, music and song and ample home-brewed mead, cyser and sack from our resident firekeeper and brewer, Derek.  Then came the Hour of Recall, truly.  The Closing ritual, goodbye hugs, departures, promises to keep in touch, to plan events, to meet again.  Another remarkable East Coast Gathering comes to an end, with opened hearts and subtle changes to take away and live through for the coming year.  Till 2013!

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The Fertile Virgin

“Only what is virgin can be fertile.”  OK, Gods, now that you’ve dropped this lovely little impossibility in my lap this morning, what am I supposed to do with it?  Yeah, I get that I write about these things, but where do I begin? “Each time coming to the screen, the keyboard, can be an opportunity” — I know that, too.  But it doesn’t make it easier.   Why don’t you try it for a change?  Stop being all god-dy and stuff and try it from down here.  Then you’ll see what it’s like.

OK, done?  Fit of pique over now?

I never had much use for prayer.  Too often it seems to consist either of telling God or the Gods what to do and how to do it (if you’re arrogant) or begging them for scraps (if they’ve got you afraid of them, on your knees for the worst reasons).  But prayer as struggle, as communication, as connecting any way you can with what matters most — that I comprehend.  Make of this desire to link an intention.  A daily one, then hourly.  Let if fill, if if needs to, with everything in the way of desire, and hand that back to the universe.  Don’t worry about Who is listening.  Your job is to tune in to the conversation each time, to pick it up again.  And the funny thing is that once you stop worrying about who is listening, everything seems to be listening (and talking).  Then the listening rubs off on you as well.  And you finally shut up.

That’s the second half, often, of the prayer.  To listen.  Once the cycle starts, once the pump gets primed, it’s easier.  You just have to invite and welcome who you want to talk with.  Forget that little detail, and there can be lots of other conversations on the line.  The fears and dreams of the whole culture.  Advertisers get in your head, through repetition.  (That’s why it’s best to limit TV viewing, or dispense with it altogether, if you can.  Talk about prayer out of control.  They start praying you.)  They’ve got their product jingle and it’s not going away.  Sometimes all you’ve got in turn is a divine product jingle.  It may be a song, a poem, a cry of the heart.  The three Orthodox Christian hermits of the great Russian novelist Tolstoy have their simple prayer to God:  “We are three.  You are three.  Have mercy on us!”  Over time, it fills them, empowers them.  They become nothing other than the prayer.  They’ve arrived at communion.

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Equi-nox.  Equal night and day.  The year hanging, if only briefly, in the balance of energies.  Spring, a coil of energy, poised.  The earth dark and heavy, waiting, listening.  The change in everything, the swell of the heart, the light growing.  Thaw.  The last of the ice on our pond finally yields to the steady warmth of the past weeks, to the 70-degree heat of Tuesday.  The next day, Wednesday, my wife sees  salamanders bobbing at the surface.  Walk closer, and they scatter and dive, rippling the water.

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I once heard a Protestant clergywoman say to an ecumenical assembly, “We all know there was no Virgin Birth.  Mary was just an unwed, pregnant teenager, and God told her it was okay.  That’ s the message we need to give girls today, that God loves them, and forget all this nonsense about a Virgin birth.”  …  I sat in a room full of Christians and thought, My God, they’re still at it, still trying to leach every bit of mystery out of this religion, still substituting the most trite language imaginable …

The job of any preacher, it seems to me, is not to dismiss the Annunciation because it doesn’t appeal to modern prejudices, but to remind congregations of why it might still be an important story (72-73).

So Kathleen Norris writes in her book Amazing Grace:  A Vocabulary of Faith.  She goes on to quote the Trappist monk, poet and writer Thomas Merton, who

describes the identity he seeks in contemplative prayer as a  point vierge [a virgin point] at the center of his being, “a point untouched by illusion, a point of pure truth … which belongs entirely to God, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.  This little point … of absolute poverty,” he wrote, “is the pure glory of God in us” (74-5).

So if I need to, I pull away the God-language of another tradition and listen carefully “why it might still be an important story.”  Not “Is it true or not?” or “How can anybody believe that?”  But instead, why or how it still has something to tell me.  Another kind of listening, this time to stories, to myths, our greatest stories, for what they still hold for us.

One of the purest pieces of wisdom I’ve heard concerns truth and lies.  There are no lies, in one sense, because we all are telling the truth of our lives every minute.  It may be a different truth than we asked for, or than others are expecting, but it’s pouring out of us nonetheless.  Ask someone for the truth, and if they “lie,” their truth is that they’re afraid.  That knowledge, that insight, may well be more important than the “truth” you thought you were looking for.  “Perfect love casteth out fear,” says the Galilean.  So it’s an opportunity for me to practice love, and take down a little bit of the pervasive fear that seems to spill out of lives today.

Norris arrives at her key insight in the chapter:

But it is in adolescence that the fully formed adult self begins to emerge, and if a person has been fortunate, allowed to develop at his or her own pace, this self is a liberating force, and it is virgin.  That is, it is one-in-itself, better able to cope with peer pressure, as it can more readily measure what is true to one’s self, and what would violate it.  Even adolescent self-absorption recedes as one’s capacity for the mystery of hospitality grows:  it is only as one is at home in oneself that one may be truly hospitable to others–welcoming, but not overbearing, affably pliant but not subject to crass manipulation.  This difficult balance is maintained only as one remains [or returns to being] virgin, cognizant of oneself as valuable, unique, and undiminishable at core (75).

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This isn’t where I planned to go.  Not sure whether it’s better.  But the test for me is the sense of discovery, of arrival at something I didn’t know, didn’t understand in quite this way, until I finished writing.  Writing as prayer.  But to say this is a “prayer blog” doesn’t convey what I try to do here, or at least not to me, and I suspect not to many readers.  A Druid prayer comes closer, it doesn’t carry as much of the baggage as the word “prayer” may carry for some readers, and for me.  “I’m praying for you,” friends said when I went into surgery three years ago.  And I bit my tongue to keep from replying, “Just shut up and listen.  That will help both us a lot more.”  So another way of understanding my blog:  this is me, trying to shut up and listen.  I talk too much in the process, but maybe the most important part of each post is the silence after it’s finished, the empty space after the words end.

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Norris, Kathleen.  Amazing Grace:  A Vocabulary of Faith.  New York:  Riverhead Books, 1998.

Mud Season and Tree Sugar

This warmth won’t last, though it makes me say
earth feels like home on a sunny day.
But let sky darken and wind turn chill
And old winter wields dominion still.

*  *  *

While the warm hours last, birds try out songs we haven’t heard for months, and the woodworkers appear.  Not carpenters or cabinet-makers, but those people who come out of the woodwork on fine days like this, delightfully odd folks you swear you’ve never seen before, or at least not on this planet.  Probably I play the role myself for at least one other person, with my day’s stubble and turtleneck, wool socks with Birkenstocks.  “There are things more important than comfort,” says author Ursula LeGuin, “unless you are an old woman or a cat.”  Though I can’t qualify as the former, I’ve been feeling feline these last few days, so I pay no mind.

In our co-op parking lot an old woman is singing to herself, a rhythmic song in another language that keeps time with her cane striking the ground.  A sky-blue 60s Cadillac makes its way around the parking lot, then subsides with a splutter.  A couple climb out, then look up like they’ve never seen sky before and, heads tilted back, they drink it in for a full minute or more.  Their pleasure is contagious.  It’s a day people greet strangers simply because we’ve resurfaced, emerged from the bunker of ice and snow and cold and hunkering down, into a world of thaw and mud and sudden warmth on the skin.

Sugar shacks smoke trough the night as the sap rises and the “sweet trees” yield their juice.  You pass what you think is just a stand of trees, and there’s a faint square glow from a shack window, someone patiently (or impatiently) at work through the evening.  Boil down the sap over a low heat, a wood fire as often as not, more and still more, then just keep going beyond all reason, and you eventually get a single lovely brown gallon for every thirty to forty of pale sap you’ve lugged in.  If you do sugaring for more than yourself and family and maybe a few friends, you upgrade and invest in an evaporator.  And if through the hours and days you manage not to scorch the slowly condensing syrup, that first taste on pancakes (or over a bowl of crisp new snow, a northern treat more rare this year) makes sore muscles and bloodshot eyes and smoky clothing worth it.

The French further north have their cabanes a sucre, where the temperatures haven’t risen quite so high and more of the white stuff remains.

And sweeter still, in less than ten days, the vernal equinox, with day then overtaking night.  Hail, growing light!

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Images:  Sugar shack; cabane.

Posted 13 March 2012 by adruidway in Druidry, equinox, nature, outdoors, poetry, Sugar Shack, trees

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