Archive for the ‘four seasons’ Category

Triad for Rekindling Sacred Fire   Leave a comment

NOTE

A version of this post appeared on pg. 32 of the summer/fall 2017 issue (large PDF) of Druid Magazine. I’m grateful to the editors, and to their liberal policies that actually recognize the ownership of authors!

In the Southern Hemisphere, Beltane has recently passed, and we can, if we choose, draw on the “opposite” energies here in the North in November, in a six-month harmonic with the South. (Isn’t it always Opposite Day anyway?) It’s Spring in Autumn, Christmas in July, your six-month birthday.

Because when don’t we need sacred fire?

/|\ /|\ /|\

1–Finding Fire

Every Druid tradition I know of honors fire in some way. “It is the hour of recall”, go the closing lines of OBOD ritual. “As the fire dies down, let it be relit in our hearts”.

Here is the promise of elemental fire, never quenched, always ready to rekindle. But so often I find myself dry, cool, grounded, earthed—all excellent things after ritual, ideal for smooth re-entry into our lives, but hard to live from when we crave and need the flame again.

I’ve detected more than a fair portion of Earth in my makeup: a little reserved, suspicious of quick flares, with a tendency to solidity, inertia even. Does a spark still smolder in the heart of a person like that, waiting to be relit? Can I coax it to flame again? I hold the answers like twin children, one in each arm: of course, and not today. As I write this, I look out the window at fog and wet pavement. Where do I look for flame? In moments like these, it seems a more than reasonable question.

Yes, in the electrified West, we turn a key to start the car, we flip any number of switches all day along, expecting and usually seeing instantaneous lights, readouts, computers booting, phone screens lighting, and hums and rumbles of devices jumping into action. If, like me, you happen to heat with wood, you lay paper and kindling, strike a match, and flame obliges. Praise be to Brighid!

But for all that, I keep reminding myself, we do not command fire. In her The Way of Four Spellbook, Deborah Lipp notes:

Fire has always been set apart from the other elements, because Fire alone has no natural home on the earth; Air has the sky, Water the sea, and Earth the land, but only Fire stands apart from geography. In nature, Fire is the outsider; it is out of control, and it conforms to no known rules (pg. 10).

This is lovely and poetic, evocative and wise, and, as a friend remarked when I quoted it to him, it’s also bullshit. The only place fire happens is geography, just like with every other element. Heart, fire pit, computer screen, creativity—we light and relight them constantly. It’s our extensive craft with the fire principle that’s made much of civilization possible. But mastery in the end means service, and our wizardry rings hollow whenever we forget this.

2–Serving Fire

“I am a servant of the Secret Fire,” declares Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien, 2004, p. 330). Not a bad magical declaration. So I turn to the Indo-European past and summon reconstructed ancient words* to say something like it: *Ambikwolos esmi yagnos ogneyes [Ahm-BEE-kwoh-lohs EHS-mee YAHG-nohs OHG-neh-yes], which roughly translates to “I am a servant of the sacred fire.”

So I ask how I already serve fire, because contrary to an adolescent tendency in us to see our lives as all-or-nothing, we have a starting place within us for anything that can manifest—or so some Wise Ones have told me. How else can we recognize a lack or hole or void except by feeling the outline of what’s missing, of what’s supposed to be there?

Now, when I need to reignite the fire of the sacred, and that includes writing about it, my daily practice, my own “hour of recall”, hopefully guides me to embers that still throw off heat. (If it doesn’t, I know I need to fine-tune what I do each day.) I keep re-learning that we never really extinguish sacred fire. We merely smoor it—that lovely old Scottish word—not “smother” or “suffocate” as some dictionary entries render it, but bank it, setting it to smolder till morning, when it can be breathed and fed to flame again. Peat excels at smoldering, but so do woods like hickory, and so do our human spirits.

While preparing a fire workshop for MAGUS Beltane, out of ruminations like these, I made a list of questions I found I kept asking myself, so I shared them with attendees. Here are seven from that list you might use in your journal, or for a series of meditations. And if one or two of them call you away from reading this, go with them for a while along your own green and shining path. Your responses are more valuable, after all, than “finishing the article”.

1) What does it take—literally and intentionally—in order to kindle you, and in order for you to kindle other things in your life?

2) What offering, if any, do you make to help you kindle? What else could you bring into your practice? What could you discard?

3) What is sacred to you? How do you find, invite, welcome, increase the sacred? What sacred ways are a part of your life right now that can help you kindle?

4) What ways, if any, do you tend to discount, push away, ignore, or feel “aren’t my way of connecting with the sacred”? What can you learn from your attitude towards them?

5) Where are you already kindled? What is burning, warm, or fiery in your life right now?

6) Where do you desire kindling? (Where do you need to bank a fire and cool off?!) Or to put it another way, what needs to catch fire in your life?

7) How has sacred fire already honored your practice and flames inwardly for you?

3–Building a Ritual Fire

In reconstructed Indo-European, one of the words for “altar” is *asa. If you want to expand your ritual declarations and charm-making, you can say *asam kwero [AH-sahm KWEH-roh] “I build an altar”. And if you’re consecrating a talisman or another person, you might add *Yagnobi ognibi tum wikyo! [YAHG-noh-bee OHG-nee-bee toom wee-KYOH!] “I hallow you with sacred fire!”

What to burn on that altar? Here your judgment, tempered and instructed by divination, practice, dream, and study, matters more than anything I might suggest. But if you’re seeking such a suggestion, here is one. Druid and Pagan traditions speak of Nine Sacred Trees suitable for kindling sacred fires (Steward of the Woods, 2015).

What about an altar? You may well have one already, whether backyard fire pit or space cleared on a bookshelf for images, a piece of quartz found on a walk, Tarot card for the day, incense of the season, and so on.

Evidence from several different traditions tells us that squares of sod or turf were a common form that a ritual altar could take. The Aeneid (Mandelbaum, 1961, p. 117) mentions a sod altar. Records from the Scots in the 1700s (Frazer, 1929) talk of building May Day fires on an altar of sod. And the Æcerbōt, the Anglo-Saxon “Land Remedy Spell”, amounts to a ritual for creating sacred space and restoring the land’s fertility (Jolly, 1996). To do so, it instructs the ritual performer to take one sod from each of the four directions of the land to build the ritual altar. Ceisiwr Serith (2015), an experienced ADF ritualist, author, and Indo-Europeanist, gives more supporting info in an article on his excellent website, “Proto-Indo-European Religion”.

In closing, I turn for words to the Rig-Veda 1.26.8: “For when the gods have a good fire, they bring us what we wish for. Let us pray with a good fire” (Three Cranes Grove, 2007; To Pray with a Good Fire).

Note on reconstructed Proto-Indo-European:

The * asterisk is a conventional notation for indicating a reconstructed form. You can never know enough about linguistic prehistory to do more than mangle reconstructed languages. Even graduate study like mine in historical linguistics inoculates precisely nobody from error. (Though a professional career demands pursuing the unattainable.) So in releasing perfectionist worries over Indo-European reconstructions and pronunciations, I cherish the advice of the great medievalist scholar, teacher, and author John Gardner. In advising readers when trying to speak Middle English aloud, he remarks,

“Read aloud or recite with authority, exactly as when speaking Hungarian – if you know no Hungarian – you speak with conviction and easy familiarity. (This, I’m told by Hungarians, is what Hungarians themselves do.) This easy authority, however fake, gets the tone of the language …” (1978, p. 315).

Tone, we might say, covers a multitude of sins.

If you’d like to learn more, two readable, popular, and authoritative books are by West and Mallory, included in the bibliography. Work through them and you won’t need me or anyone else. You’ll be writing your own reconstructed Indo-European phrases and rituals with “conviction and easy authority”.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Gardner, John. (1978). The Life and Times of Chaucer. New York: Vintage Books.

Jolly, K. L. (1996). Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Lipp, D. (2006). The Way of Four Spellbook. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.

Mallory, J. P. & Adams, D. Q. (2006). The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Steward of the Woods. (2015). “Nine Sacred Woods: A Druid Walk in the Park”.

Ovid. (1929). Fasti (J. G. Frazer , Ed. and trans.). London: MacMillan and Co. (Original work published in 8 AD).

Serith, C. (2015). Proto-Indo-European Religion.

Three Cranes Grove. (2007). To Pray with a Good Fire.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (1987). The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Vergil. (1961). The Aeneid ( A. Mandelbaum, Trans.). New York: Bantam Books.

West, M. L. (2007). Indo-European Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Four Seasons as a Guide to Manifestation   Leave a comment

“Winter doesn’t mean Summer has failed”, says one of my teachers. It’s not a competition, though sometimes our seasonal myths and stories can make it seem like winter and summer take turns through time in “winning” and “losing” and grudgingly parcelling out the year between them. (It’s more a tussle between lovers.)

IMG_1355

North, early morning, October

And if the world follows its cycles of manifestation, so do humans who live and grow and die and are born here. After all, we’re one of the things the universe does. That mountain ash is as well, and this solitary bee sunning itself on the east wall of our house this october morning, and taking flight in a sudden thrum of wings as I walk past, lugging the laundry.

I’m stingy enough (if you’re kind you can call it thrifty) that I pause under the clothesline a moment, savoring the October calm and light. Sorting through clothespins for the large ones, I calculate how much I’m paying myself per hour to air-and-sun-dry the laundry, rather than spend money for electricity to do the job.

Either it’s the clothesline in good weather, or the drying rack indoors, with a fire in the stove. Labor-intensive, but easy on the wallet. The day’s weather forecast, rather than traffic and distance to the laundromat and spare quarters on hand, is my guide. As a builder-acquaintance of mine likes to say, you have to earn so damn much just to save so damn little. If I can remove one more homely task from that cycle, it’s a victory. In the process, I recover simple pleasures like the scent of laundry the sun has loved all day long.

Could we find a guide as useful for whenever we plunge into any particular cycle of manifestation? After all, I don’t want to pour more energy into working the ground, if the time for planting is already here. Or plant, if it’s harvest-time and a frost looks imminent. More and more I’m starting to see where to focus. Which signals from the universe deserve my attention? What guides me to alertness about these cycles and my part in them, and what distracts and diverts and wastes my energy?

Ah, you know the feeling as well as I do. How did it happen last week that I squandered what looked like a crest of inspiration and passion, a peak where I knew I could do what I longed to do, and managed to throw myself into the depths of a trough instead? Was it noise rather than wisdom that tugged on my attention from the outside, and drew me aside from my goal? Some samples — the voices we all hear, that seduce us from our best interests: “You should W. Or X is so terrible that you must Y. Or you can’t Z”, and so on, and on. I wake up enough from time to time to ask myself, “Since when have strangers known better than my own inner guidance what’s in my best interests?!”

So I have a map for manifestation. Is that enough? Can I locate more guidance?

Well, how about my reasons, my motive, my intention? Whom does the Grail serve? one such teaching asks us. Druid koan, a question the universe is always asking. Who benefits? If we serve only the self, we’re cutting off half the flow that’s possible for us. As distributors, as channels, as manifesters of awen-inspiration and life and energy, we can always open to a greater flow. Isn’t that our deepest desire, to feel life pass through us on its way to a worthy purpose? To have participated fully in the marvel of existence? I don’t know about you, but that’s the richest and most thrilling experience I know.

What do I need in order to work with the entire cycle?

It’s for the good of the whole. That doesn’t mean cutting myself out of the cycle of manifestation, out of some misguided understanding that I must sacrifice my own happiness or well-being to realize what I desire. I’m also part of the cycle, which is incomplete without me. I am one of the means by which the universe achieves manifestation. Rather than the tired, old (and often untrue) “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”, how about “Each of us is part of the Spiral, and also reflects the magical whole in our uniqueness and creativity”?

IMG_1787

Altar of the South, ECG ’17

And because we can peer across and around and occasionally beyond Time, and get glimpses of the Pattern or the Web, we can work from a larger vision of any goal, from full participation in the cycle. Do our best, and then release it, trusting the intelligence of the universe, as it manifests in our teachers and guides, in bird and beast, beech and bug, and the shapes and fortunes of our own lives, to help us tweak and revision and adapt as manifestation cycles through.

/|\ /|\ /|\

 

%d bloggers like this: