Archive for the ‘grail’ Category

“It is difficult/”

to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

OK, W. C. Williams, I’ll bite. What’s “the news”? What is it that’s “found there” in poems and songs? Is it really different — better — more necessary — than other things, found in other places? If it is, how can you — or I — trust it?

How we answer these questions (any Bards worth their salt pose difficult ones) goes far to showing us for what we are, where we find what we need, and whether any number of us are dying from a lack of it.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could — at last! — track down that skittish, reluctant poem, lasso it, corral it, hog-tie it and get it to give up its … what?

For all its seeming colloquial innocence, the poem fragment threatens to stalk mythic ground. More about that in a bit.

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There’s a funny, wry essay (if you’re into actually reading things called “essays”!) called “The Arrogance of Poetry”, by Mark Halliday. (It appeared almost two decades ago now, in the Georgia Review in 2003. Here’s a Jstor link to the first page of it, where you can get a taste, and see if you want to sign in and read the rest of it for free.)

Halliday speaks a common truth: “We are romantics: we keep expecting the marvelous ___ that will change our lives. We try to ___ intelligently, even skeptically, but we are ready to fall in love”.

Fill in the blanks from your own experience. Versions, versions. It’s no surprise that Halliday’s has “poem” and “read”, but I suspect you can do better, because it’s your life we’re talking about, after all.

Right now — Sunday, a sunny afternoon in late February, my belly reasonably full of a very late breakfast of eggs and toast — I’d fill the two blanks with “insight” and “live”: “We keep expecting the marvelous insight that will change our lives. We try to live intelligently, even skeptically …”

Maybe you write “deity” and “worship”. Or perhaps for you it’s “person” and “date”, or “high” and “use”. If you’re flush with cash, it could even be “decorator” and “remodel”, or “designer” and “dress”.

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Poem, song, Other, Grail. We storm the castle, only to find it empty and cold. We hold the Grail in our hands, but then fail to recognize it before we set it down and walk away. Perceval, Lancelot, Galahad. Guinevere, Elaine, Isolde. So many stories.

Tennyson writes:

Then move the trees, the copses nod,
Wings flutter, voices hover clear
“O just and faithful knight of God!
Ride on! the prize is near”.

Yes. Always over the next hilltop, around the next curve. A sensible Druid might sit down and stretch out under the trees, instead, and listen to those wings, voices, leaves. Who knows who will get “there” sooner?

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The “daily practice” I’m always yammering about is one of the few things I know for sure.

I bring the bowl to the Fountain, hold it out, and once again it fills. It’s not much, just a modest bowl, rough pottery, nothing fancy, carrying enough for a deep drink, or a day’s cooking. Tomorrow I’ll need to refill it. When I bring it inside, I set it by a window. Sometimes the sun glitters on the surface of the water. Then the sparkle flashes across the opposite wall, blinding bright for a moment.

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I bring in the sheet of metal I’ll use to incise the runes of storm that Thecu asked for. I’d left the gray metal tilted against a stone in the backyard, a landmark in case a storm came and covered it before I’d fetched it in. Across the stone surface, a tracery of lichens — some green from snowmelt — say nothing.

Posted 23 February 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, grail, spiritual practice, spiritual quest

Tagged with , ,

Octobering

[Updated/edited 22 Oct 2019]

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S. Vermont, Windmill Hill Pinnacle, looking west. Photo courtesy B. Blair.

Yesterday six of us, along with two malamutes, hiked the trail to the Pinnacle of Windmill Hill here in Southern Vermont. We’re well past the peak of autumn colors, but a blunt beauty remains, as oranges and yellows, ochers and burnt siena take the stage. The sky, restless, is already into November, brooding grayly over it all.

A week or so ago a friend was grieving for the end of a rich garden. The season can work that grief in us, ransacking the fields of our inward spaces, piling on change and loss and uncertainty in a thick melange, along with the aging of our mortal bodies, and whatever other challenges we face at the moment. Throw in the diminishing daylight here in the northern hemisphere, and the frosts and fogs and die-off of green vegetation, and it can hurt like The End, rather than a stage of the journey. One of the remedies she shared was her rediscovery of gratitude for the body, how the simple act of attention to breathing can bring solace. It goes in, it goes out. Draw in strength on the in-breath, then breathe out all that needs to go, that passes in time.

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Sometimes altars find us, rather than the other way around. A large boulder I’ve been meaning to drag and roll to my backyard grove has gained a partial moss and lichen mantle, so I took leaves I’d gathered on the hike yesterday, and a ritual bowl, a quartz stone and my ceremonial sword out into the afternoon sunlight and laid them across the uneven surface and took the photo.

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At the bottom right you can see one of the egg-shaped black walnuts that have been banging on the metal roof of our garden shed when they fall, or rustling as they subside in the grass.

The sword points south, toward the top of the picture, but the other directions don’t line up according to the SEA (standard elemental associations). To the east (left in the picture), our fishpond does its part to throw off the elemental alignments. The stone itself makes do for north, and also the earth, upholding everything else, while the leaves stand in for air. Even the sun seems to have found a different place in the sky than west, the shadows suggesting morning, not mid-afternoon.

You can call the altar a prayer, or a prayer your altar. Sometimes we need to “finesse our fanes”, to turn them on, help them reach us where we are, even as we stretch to find them, extending a tendril of thought, of feeling.

Breathe, and activate air. Drink, and water “comes back online”. Stand on the autumn earth, leaves crackling underfoot, melt from the morning frost glistening on your shoes. Sometimes presence already is prayer, our listening an offering, the few remaining crickets and grasshoppers sluggish in the low sun.

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The Faery Grail … is ultimately about the giving of food as a ritual of hospitality that creates communion between faeries and humans: the wisdom that it purveys is the neighborly consideration of all life that arises in human awareness as a consequence. Those who offer and drink from the cup in peace are the children of one universe, in communion with the natural world even as their ancestors were, who enjoy the ancestral feast. When the rules of faery courtesy are broken by violence, rapine and theft, the Faery Accord in broken. This is ultimately what causes the blight upon the human world that we call the Wasteland: the riches of the Rich Fisher no longer flow. Humanity enters into a warfare with Faery, displaced people wander the land without protection, and even the court of Arthur is visited by mocking and embarrassing tests. Fertility fails when the waters of the Faery Grail are withdrawn: but when they flow again, the land becomes fertile and is repopulated. People are brought once more into communion with their ancestral belonging (Matthews, The Lost Book of the Grail, pg. 274).

Faery Grail or Holy Grail, Christian or non-Christian, both cause and cure are the same, Matthews observes. (It is a symptom of our division and separation that we misunderstand and argue even about that, and suffer.)

Not as the world gives, do I give to you, says the Galilean Druid. Having scorned the gift, and abused the hospitality offered to us, how can we know the giver?

A topic for meditation and ritual and discernment, as the turn of the year that is Samhain approaches.

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“Many people”, this morning’s spam solemnly observes, “today іgnore the ability to see out of [t]heir [v]iew”. Like much spam, it’s badly edited, unidiomatic, and — often — true, albeit in sometimes truly weird ways.

How well do I see “out of my view”? Can I even begin to see out of someone else’s view until I see out of my own? Am I ever “in view of myself”, or am I the one thing I can never actually see? I don’t know about you, but with such questions I can easily pass a whole morning.

If there’s a supreme strength to the practice of Druidry, it’s in its potential to connect us where connection is badly needed — to the world that begins wherever we find ourselves, to our places, starting with our skin and bones, and flowing outward to the skin and bones of the world all around us. But though we named it uni-verse, “one-turn”, somehow we don’t quite believe our own label or the perception behind it — that it’s all turning together, intimately linked in every way. Hence, it often remains a potential, giving us a lifetime of work to explore how it — and we — manifest.

And if there’s a supreme weakness to Druid practice, it’s a naive belief that “it’s all good” — that everything would be fine if we’d just “get back in touch with nature” — that the “human project” can finds its whole purpose and satisfaction within this glorious physical world. Sustainable, reverent, cooperative, harmonious — these are enough.

We need more, because our own consciousness asks for more. Because when this “apparent world” fades, we confront other worlds with different challenges and questions. Now what?! A deist might say, “Pilgrim on earth, thy home is heaven; stranger, thou art the guest of God”. An animist has likely already encountered beings beyond the physical orders we encounter here — beings that wear different bodies than earth ones, clothed in astral or other forms. Even a staunch materialist would probably concede, along with Hamlet, that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. By “philosophy”, helpful footnotes inform us, Hamlet appears to mean our modern word science. And if there’s one thing most Druids would prudently admit, we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface. Of almost anything.

“As a spiritual tradition based on reverence for and connection with the powers of nature”, writes Emma Restall Orr in her Druidry and Ethical Choice, “more than anything else Druidry teaches us to honour life … Druid ethics are built upon the release of ignorance and the respectful creation of deep and sacred relationships”.

Release of ignorance, I keep whispering wryly to myself — out of humbling, extensive personal experience — is a full-time job.

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Unpacking the Triad Further

[Edited/updated 19 Oct 2019]

But if I’m honest (I’m continuing the conversation, if only with myself), the work I’ve done with my recent Triad is far from complete. My Western and particularly my American individualism needs radical tempering. I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that I was reading and would soon review Caitlin Matthews’ The Lost Book of the Grail (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2019). Now feels like an appropriate time — but I’ll blend it with further expatiation on that Triad. If the book’s worth my time, or yours, let me show something of that value in my own life.

First, here’s Matthews:

The Grail knights quest on behalf of those who are locked outside the story of hope, reconciliation, or healing, in order to move the stagnation of stasis into another hopeful condition. In the many psychologically based commentaries upon the Grail legend, from Joseph Campbell onward, there has developed a very modern stress upon the individuality of the Grail hero’s journey. However, this stress on the individual has served rather to point out the division in modern consciousness–often expressed as a vague loss of nature or holism–from the collective. The living context of this division speaks of how we are split off from ancestral or faery roots: and those who seek for help today are often weakened or unable to heal because they do not think, work, or imagine from a collective basis. How can we heal if we leave out the rest of the world from the equation? (Matthews, pg. 239).

Samhain is a wonderful time to look for ancestral guidance, to an ancestor who may be myself in a previous incarnation, waiting to reach out to a descendant (who may or may not be me again). And given how, in myth and legend, Otherworld time often runs differently than here, backwards, perpendicularly, non-linearly, a-causally even, we can heal in many directions, receiving and offering healing across what looks like temporal obstacles and barriers. I am inseparable from the collective, I walk with the body my ancestors have bestowed on me, I accomplish whatever work I do with their hands; I look out at you with their eyes. And so do you, with yours.

My little economies in the post on the recent triad — what do I need, what can I do, what needs to be done — ignore that collective. They’re a starting point. But merely squeezing a few more bucks out of some substitutions and shifts of priorities in my one household, while possibly helpful, ignores larger trends and patterns, and closes my eyes to our collective experience until it impinges on my little self to the point where I can no longer avoid responding. (Compound that with a fear of the Other stoked by far too many politicians in too many countries, and you get, not collective consciousness and honour and action, but collective targeting and collective hating and collective bashing. Because, let’s face it, fear is easy, and cheap, earns money for political campaigns, runs like a reflex off the reptile brain in us all, and moves people to pick up causes, banners, and bombs.)

Even gathering with the Massachusetts grove for Samhain on Nov. 1 will help awaken me to a more collective awareness. Stand in ritual with others, and the walls can come down. I can hear the many voices of those who stand around us, skins on or off.

BAM Druid Gather

Rather than a set of OSFA* instructions for how to manifest the subtitle — “The Sevenfold Path of the Grail and the Restoration of the Faery Accord” — Matthews gives us stories and lore and many pointers for our own ways.

[*OSFA — one size fits all]

Here’s Matthews again, talking about origins and directions — the Grail is a kind of vector or arrow through and around time, continually answering human need:

The beginnings of the Grail myth go back to the very dawn of human consciousness, and to the desire of human beings to make some kind of direct contact with the divine, to receive healing, and to make right the wrongs of the world. The Grail appears as a vessel of mercy that, through different spiritual agencies, offers an opportunity to those qualified by courage and belief to bring that mercy. Whether we look to ecstatic and initiatic drinks of the ancient mystery cults, or to the miraculous manna found by the Israelites in their desert wanderings, or to Celtic myths of cauldrons that provide plenty, wisdom or eternal life, we find a collection of vessels from many cultures; each contains a substance that enables those who discover it to be healed, nourished, and experience divine communion (Matthews, pg. 22).

Two pointers right there: courage, and belief. Don’t have either? No problem — there are many others to explore, until I can serve them. I don’t need to have courage, but I can serve it.

Your cauldron 
I drink from it.
Your body 
I wear it.
Your hands
I raise them.
Your spirit 
It flames in me.

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Five Things I Love About This Blog

1 — First of all, you, my readers. Forget superficial social-media “likes” (though on occasion it’s true they’re heartening to receive). Many of the most-read posts here are curiously “liked” the least, or not at all — from which I conclude you’re too busy reading and thinking about them to worry overmuch about “liking” them, thank the gods.

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Older posts I haven’t referenced in years still get “views” — some of you are either referring friends to them, or systematically reading backwards and sifting through all the wordage here for anything that has value for you. Knowing how, with a little persistence, I can find a window into something of value in the odd or throw-away reference or turn of phrase in my all varied reading on- and off-line, it’s good to know some of you do the same.

2 — Further, you come from all over — from 102 nations, if I can trust WordPress site analytics. That means that important ideas I grapple with here, and get wrong as well as right, are reaching a wide readership, and provoking reflection. Not surprisingly, the U.S. and the U.K. are the most frequent source of readers, but other nations both expected and more surprising appear on this July’s roster of “Top 20” sources of page views — Turkey, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan (Germany and India also normally both feature among the Top 10 when I look at rosters for whole years but for whatever reason didn’t make it last month; Hong Kong isn’t a separate nation — why WordPress treats it as one is interesting to contemplate):

US: 958
UK: 137
Canada: 63
Australia: 44
France: 16
Spain: 15
Brazil: 13
Ireland: 10
South Africa 10
Romania: 9

3 — Our much-abused, misunderstood, but still persistent human instinct for the spiritually real, the true, the valid, the potent. To choose just one topic, if your sustained interest in a cluster of posts on Druidry and Christianity on this blog is any indication at all, we sense an intersection there that deserves our attention and exploration. Powerful stuff (a highly technical term) still flows into our worlds and consciousnesses from both traditions and practices, and particularly from their cultural-symbolic-magic conjunction. The Grail, we can say, has never ceased to nourish us.

4 — Our hunger for new — and newly-revitalized — spiritual and pragmatic forms into which we can pour our hopes, dreams, emotions, energies, practices and magic. Rituals, perspectives, prayers, songs, communities — these forms take a multitude of shapes, but any vaunted “decline” in religion that our media love to examine from time to time is very far from the lived experience of many people — we still long to re-link to the numinous, the sacred, the holy, the universal, as much right now as we ever did. Maybe more.

5 — How writing for an audience has helped shape both my writer’s craft and my spiritual practice. What I share, and what I keep private, have shifted over time. You’ve tolerated my moods, my humours, my obsessions, my sometimes narrow or limited perspectives, and you still keep coming back. Sounding my experiences and trying to understand them out loud has given me insight into what can and should be shared, and what shouldn’t or can’t. In this, our deeply confessional era in the West, silence is even more golden — as one of the old “Four Powers”* of the Magus (or of the Sphinx), it retains its place and purpose.

*”to know, to dare, to will, to keep silent” — in Latin: noscere, audere, velle, tacere.

So thank you!

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Grail 5: Some Assembly Required

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

ONE

To recap: I rely on sacred sound, on awen, as my first and go-to practice. (Let’s call it East for now, since I need air to sing it.) Without the daily retuning it affords me, I find “all bets are off”. It clears the way, keeps me facing my own best interest more of the time, inspires me, keeps the creative stream flowing, helps me with compassion for others going their ways. In short, I like myself better when a sacred melody is my heartsong. Life flows more smoothly.

Some personal assembly is required for the “spiritual components” I’ve mentioned in this series. I can’t force a flower to open. What I do needs to flow from me gratefully, gracefully, as if I let myself out of a cage I didn’t know barred me from wider, richer experience. I may stand at the door a little dazed at first, but then the world outside the bars invites me. Spirituality offers a series of recipes. I don’t need to make and live on bread alone, or just green curries, but practice means I’ll improve on what I’ve started already. For what it’s worth, consider: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one thing well”. (When you fully understand that, you can explain it to me!)

Or to paraphrase what I remind myself: The awen is already flowing in your life. Find out where!

If you want a poem version of the reminder, try Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”. Yup, awen coming thru: “your imagination calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting, over and over announcing your place in the family of things”.

TWO

grail_king_pelles_daughter

Elaine of Corbenic*, King Pelles’ daughter, bearing the Sancgraal/Frederick Sandys, 1861

The Elements, part of my “family of things”. Water, and West. Grail — Cauldron — Feminine Principle — Goddess — Virgin Mary — Yang and Yin together again. Octave, door, spiral key. Working with the Grail bears similarities to a form, like a kata in martial arts. Alone, it may not seem like much. As part of a path, a spiritual choreography, it opens out into unexpected country.

How I assemble, and what parts I choose, that becomes my practice.

I have a lovely blue-green vase given to me by a former student. It sits on a shelf, and needs dusting from time to time, especially after the winter season with ash from the woodstove. I also eat from a commonplace bowl that’s gotten chipped from wear, and lives part of its life submerged in soapy water along with all the other dishes I’m washing. Both are forms of the Grail. One sees daily use. The other looks pretty. Sometimes I feel a Grail in my heart, a divine space of possibility. The Grail is my heart, is everybody’s heart — our hearts together form the Grail.

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Another image of Elaine, by Arthur Rackham, 1917.

Seen from one side (the Grail has no sides), I’m on a Grail Quest. Seen from the other side, the Grail is the first thing I started out with, or that started out with me, as I tagged along childlike. It gave me away to the world (a way to all the worlds), knowing I’d always come back.

[*Elaine of Corbenic, the Grail Maiden of Arthurian legend, is the mother of Galahad with Lancelot.]

THREE

Earth, north. I sit gingerly at the keyboard, easing my back where I pulled a muscle yesterday on our icy driveway, carrying in an armful of firewood and nearly falling, catching myself with a wrench. Boar snorts at my shoulder, saying you know what to do. I reach to touch his bristles, reminding myself to relax, to shift, rock, ease the muscles from sitting too long in one posture. I stand up to look out the window at blue twilight on the snow, and stretch.

Grounding what I experience is key to bringing its use fully into my worlds. I practice this, writing, embodying shapes I’ve seen in vision, drawing (badly) the sword from yesterday. Though sword is east, it’s also undeniably a physical object — north, steel, mined from earth. Holding it, even in imagination, I ground the experience further. Holding a piece of metal or wood in my hand as a ritual equivalent, feeling its solidity and inertia, I ground further. Grail-in-all-things, goddess-in-all-things.

FOUR

Fire, south. Sun each day, moon each month, two great spirals for practice, a daily sun salutation, surya namaskar. A monthly moon meditation. Knight connects a version of this rhythm to polarity working with the Grail, too. Two ritual-contemplation questions arising in meditation today: “What is the sun of the moon? What is the moon of the sun?” I don’t need to understand everything before it becomes part of me. In fact, with much that I value deeply, like my wife, my marriage, understanding happens only after it has become part of me, and I of it, not before.

FIVE

First star tonight in the eastern sky tonight, Grail-star. Quintessence. Yes, earth my body, water my blood, air my breath, fire my spirit — so the old Pagan song instructs me. But spirit-greater-than-fire is here — spirit the essence of all four, and more, pouring inexhaustibly from the Grail across the cosmos.

With my forefinger I trace a pentagram in the twilight sky in the Seven Directions, another form I use: four quarters, zenith above, nadir below and center.

For the good of all beings, for the good of the whole, for the good of each one, may it be so.

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IMAGES: Elaine by Sandys; Elaine by Rackham.

Grail 4: Elements, Tools, Guides

[Updated 27 Jan 2019]

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

bors-sees-child-galBors has given me a sword. I see and feel it pass from his hands to mine. Now among my tasks: how to determine its nature — how and when do I make use of it — and what are appropriate thanks and service for this gift?

To what degree does this brief inner experience, which I recorded this morning in my journal, arise not from holy sources, but from my personal Grail practice and from such reading as the following, from Knight’s The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend?

Galahad, Percivale and Bors accompany the Holy Grail back to Sarras, from whence it came. The maimed king is healed, and the three knights are borne away in the ship with the silver altar  above which hovers the glory of the Holy Grail … [I]n due time, Galahad’s wish is granted, and he leaves this life and ascends … Percivale remains in Sarras, and only Bors … returns to tell the tale. In this sense Bors is in the line of succession of great revelatory mystics and prophets, and the keepers and sustainers of the inner mystery traditions (Knight, pgs. 270-271).

If I want to track the experience to its birth, the answer to an either-or question of origins probably matters. But if I want to learn what it can teach me, that question matters much less. (I can explore it at my leisure later, when I’m not storming a castle, or de-rusting my chainmail.)

Mara Freeman asserts in her book Grail Alchemy: “the legends of the Holy Grail open up paths to the spiritual dimensions like no body of lore has done before or since”. I take this as a deeply experiential challenge, not one to be answered by mere intellectual debate, but by results. Once I’ve made a serious sustained effort, I’ll know whether or not these legends — and my practice — open up paths to spiritual dimensions — for me.

(Any desire I have for my way to work for anybody else may be simple generosity, but such an innocent motive can all too quickly sidle up to my insisting it’s the only way — and that should instantly set off all our crap detectors. I keep reciting Postman’s corollary like the holy mantra it is: the main source of bullshit I face is myself. Exhibit A — Bors gives me a sword: an experience to assess and explore for what it can offer. Well and good. But I’m hot stuff because of that experience: deep piles of fresh, steaming bullshit.)

The same holds true with animal guides. (As a wise Druid asked at last fall’s East Coast Gathering, “Why is it everyone’s animal guide is Wolf or Raven or Bear? What about tomato cutworm?”)

I’ve written elsewhere of my experiences with wild boar. Again, the test of any guide, tool or experience is (or can be) utterly practical. As the Galilean master asks, Does it bear “good fruit”? That’s how to “know” in powerful and grounded ways.

Sometimes I can’t quite reach the inward space I need to inhabit for healing. But I can reach for my inner guide, through long familiarity, and touch the bristly fur on his back. Touch was one of my first experiences of my guide — totally unremarkable to me, when I was looking for something more dramatic — and less “mundane”, less physical. For whatever reason, I can readily feel his fur, his pleasure at our connection. Only later, as I note in the post linked in the previous paragraph, did I read in the Druid Animal Oracle the entry for Torc, the Boar: “… he is a representative of the Goddess — his skin can heal you” (Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm, The Druid Animal Oracle, Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1994, p. 39). And I began to appreciate this “earthed” mode of access for what it was, a priceless gift. Once again — you’d think I’d know this by now as one of my ongoing biases — I overlooked the obvious, minimized a non-flashy spiritual connection.

Freeman continues with wise admonitions about “how to tell if you have made it all up or you are being deluded”. After all, you may be wondering where my precious and much-vaunted crap detector is in all of this. Freeman says,

… the imagination is the language of the soul. It is the equivalent of our most important sensory organ — sight — only turned inward rather than outward. Every non-physical thing that exists expresses itself as energy, or Force.  The imagination is a creative mechanism that enables us to give Form to Forces of the non-physical planes. (Introduction, Kindle location 349).

I’d generalize Freeman’s words slightly here: Every thing that exists expresses itself. How else do we know it except through its expressions? If I arbitrarily rule out any non-physical expression from my interest or attention — and here we can include emotion, hunch, imagination, intuition, gut feeling, creative impulse, dream, memory, love — I merely impoverish myself. Why on the deep earth or in the starry heavens would I want to do that?!

Several versions of the following story exist:

Once not so long ago there was a great drought in a province of China. The situation grew increasingly dire. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants offered prayers, and the Chinese burned joss-sticks and lit firecrackers to frighten off the drought-demons; but no sign of rain or wisp of cloud appeared in the empty sky. Finally the people said: “We will fetch a rain-maker”. And from another province a dried-up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself in for three days. On the fourth day clouds gathered and there was a great storm at a time of year when little rain was expected, and the town was filled with rumours about the wonderful rain-maker. Asked what he had been doing during the three days that had caused the rain to fall on the fourth, the old man said: “I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order; they are not as they should be by the ordinance of Heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in Tao, and I also am not in the natural order of things, because I am now here in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao, and then, naturally, the rains came”.

This wisdom story is easily reworded to speak in Druid terms. Like most good stories, it leaps cultures without significant diminution.

Another instance: many years ago I bought a used copy of Caitlin and John Matthews’ The Arthurian Tarot. I spent several days familiarizing myself with the images, and skimming the accompanying text (The Hallowquest Handbook, subsequently enlarged) which, beyond the usual short descriptions of each card, details a number of pathworkings and other exercises for the Grail seeker. One of the cards that particularly drew me again and again was the Sword Maiden. Here is the Matthews’ description:

Under a tree sits the Sword Maiden embroidering a scabbard … Dindrane, Perceval’s sister, is part of the Grail quest. She cuts off her hair in order to weave a belt for the sword which Galahad shall carry. She grasps ideas and materializes them; perceptive and discerning, she is vigilant in the cause of truth and justice; she cuts through difficulties by taking the way of self-sacrifice.

sword maidenWhen years later I read that Knight calls Dindrane “the perfect female initiate” (The Secret Tradition, pg. 270) and wrote of Bors that “he represents the initiate … rooted in the world” I realized that I had the makings of a personal practice of polarity working for a Grail quest. Rather than typifying or idealizing any stereotypically gendered element of expression, I see them as energies, inner and outer, available to the Grail seeker in mythic and archetypal forms.

Postman notes in the article I cited in the previous post:

So you see, when it comes right down to it, crap-detection is something one does when he starts to become a certain type of person. Sensitivity to the phony uses of language requires, to some extent, knowledge of how to ask questions, how to validate answers, and certainly, how to assess meanings … What crap-detecting mostly consists of is a set of attitudes toward the function of human communication: which is to say, the function of human relationships.

You might without too much distortion call crap-detection a kind of secular Grail Quest. Or the inverse: the Grail Quest is a holy version of crap detecting — in following it, I’m looking for and working toward a full(er) and healthier relationship with the cosmos and the beings in it, expressed in language and ritual as far as they can take me: naming things as lovingly and accurately as possible, knowing them by their expressions, and also pointing and following beyond words into being (t)here.

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IMAGES: Bors; Sword Maiden.

Grail 3: Part of the Rest of a Story

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

And you might think after that last post, theres nothing more I can add to the subject. I boxed myself in with a few home truths. You make your own path by walking it. Done. QED. End of story. Except …

dockmt

One quality of a valid path is that it rewards the walking of it. Its not valid merely because somebody else says so. The only authority worth recognizing is ultimately the truth we each sense within, in the doing of it. (Good parenting means in part supplying the rudiments of crap detection to our children. Pass along even the minimum we picked up over some decades of living, then, when the time is right, let them risk burning their own fingers, if they must, while we stand by with first aid.)

In some places this capacity for judgment used to be called critical thinking, and for past generations, inner resources. In many places we seem to have abandoned them. If we havent already refined that organ of good sense so that it serves us reasonably well, wherever and whatever it is, we can begin work right there. Life will, quite ruthlessly and uninvited, lend a firm hand.

As Ernest Hemingway once quipped, when asked what was needed, before anything else, to succeed at writing: “a built-in, shock-proof, crap detector”. One reason this tool matters so deeply, and in wider fields, is this: “At any given time, the chief source of bullshit with which you have to contend is yourself”. (This corollary to Hemingway comes from Neil Postman’s invaluable classic essay, “Bullshit and the Art of Crap Detection”, available online here.)

And Postmans corollary also means knowing when to turn off the crap detector, consciously and intentionally, for purposes you choose. And the reason for this is significant:

“Each man’s crap-detector is embedded in his value system; if you want to teach the art of crap-detecting, you must help students become aware of their values”.

[Postman is talking to English teachers in this lecture/essay; he’s also talking before our current heightened sensitivity to pronouns, so cut him some slack if his wisdom outweighs his sexism for you.]

A pause here to regroup and reconnoiter:

  • my single most useful tool is a crap-detector;
  • its default target, when no others present themselves, is me;
  • my use of a crap-detector is an art;
  • and if I hope to learn how to use mine well, I need to know what matters deeply to me, because that’s where both my values and my crap live.

Where’s the Grail in all this, again? Bear with me. You’re here, if you’re following my promise in the first post in this series, to discover something about my way. Yours will, by the fact of your irreducible uniqueness, be different from mine, but also similar enough you may take away something useful.

Now you may already know all this — or think you do. In which case, write your own book, or run that weekend workshop, and tell us how it’s done (AKA how you do it). Apart from privileging your crap over mine, and separating me from some of my money in the process, I doubt you’ll be ahead in the end. I might be, if the experience helps me refine my crap detector.) The best things in life may, unlike your workshop, truly be free, but I work the hardest for them. But that way, oddly enough, I discover they’re splendidly my own, in a way yours can never be. They cost something far more valuable than money. They’re “free” in another sense because that’s what they make me. So: catch you on another rung of the spiral.

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ace-cups-tarot

a Grail image

As a form, a container for energies and aspirations, the Grail earns my respect. (It passes my crap detector.) As an object for contemplation and visualization, together with regular practice of the cauldron sound I’ve described, I’ve begun to learn what matters to me, which is partly to say what works for me, what kindles me, what echoes in my bones, what seeks me out because it’s mine, and what I belong to in ways I’m still discovering. The Grail can be a passport to our native country. With it, I can go home again.

And as always, I try to heed the best bards. T. S. Eliot says in his “Four Quartets” (a vastly superior poem, in my arrogant opinion, to “The Waste Land” because I come away from it better equipped for joyful growth): “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. Grail is perennially “first time” in its power to renew and heal, and in that way it’s a virgin experience. Spiritual renewal and rebirth bears this signature quality.

Paradoxes, like those in the preceding paragraph, are for me a sign and signal of approaching four-dimensional truth. As a Wise One once said, the opposite of a superficial truth is a falsehood. But the opposite of a profound truth is, often, another profound truth.

True poets and bards, they recognize this by instinct, and (at least in their better moments) never try to own it, only to announce the strange good news to us all through their words and songs. And we may catch ourselves shivering in recognition, another sign. This awe-tinged joy sparking in us, this inner alertness and attention and focus, is another quality the Grail can mediate, a quality I’ve learned to recognize with my crap-detector, which yields and bows. (Of course I can and should turn it back on — later — to assess what and where and, on occasion, what next.)

Up next — Grail 4: Elements, Tools, Guides.

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IMAGES: Pexels.com.

Regarding public domain status of the Rider-Waite tarot: “In the United States, the deck fell into the public domain in 1966 (publication + 28 years + renewed 28 years), and thus has been available for use by American artists in numerous different media projects”.

Grail 2: A Path, By Walking It

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

quimper grail

Christianized image of the Grail — Quimper Cathedral, Brittany

A path toward the Grail — whatever form your Grail happens to assume — may not look much like anybody else’s. It may not even look like a path at all. You call it your life. (As Druid Kris Hughes likes to say, “What other people think of us is none of our business”.)

We talk so freely in terms of a path, or a journey, that often we forget it’s a metaphor and take it as simple fact. Seven hundred years ago, Dante began his great poem the Divine Comedy “in the middle of the journey of our life”, suggesting that there’s just the one journey we all take. (He turns personal immediately after that, when he exclaims that he “came back to himself in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost” — where he had lost it. “The only way out is through”, says Robert Frost. “You got to get in to get out”, sing Genesis.)

Following on the metaphor, I try to “get somewhere” over time, teachers and parents urge me “make my own way”, it’s important to “look back” from time to time, to see “how far we’ve come”, to take stock “along the way”, to wonder “where we’re going”, “how long the journey will be”, and “when we’ll arrive”. We follow a yellow brick road to some Oz or other, or climb a Led Zeppelinesque stairway to heaven, or party along an AC/DC highway to hell, we look for guides and signposts, we’re told there’s no map, or just one, or millions. (If such pervasive metaphors interest you, check out George Lakoff’s Metaphors We Live By.)

The great Spanish poet Antonio Machado exclaims “we make the road by walking”* in Campos de Castilla (and in other collections).

Druid-like, I trust bards over bureaucrats, because objectively they listen to wider possibilities of awen.

The one essential is our participation in the cauldron sound, as I attempted to describe in the previous post, Grail 1. We all do this already, of course, by being born, blood thrumming with our heartbeats, attuning to the musics of our cultures, the sounds of our languages, the ceaseless waves of the sea. Birth grants us a “minimum daily requirement” of the all-pervading sound. But a quality journey asks for more, for some effort on our part. We can, of course, choose to tread water through our lives — one option, to be sure, and one that can appeal if life seems too hard otherwise.

The cauldron sound accompanies us as we set out, and with our conscious attention and participation, grows loud enough to help us find a path, guide us to walk it as only we can, and help us know when we’re done that the joys were worth all the pains.

Or as Carlos Castaneda’s teacher Don Juan Matus puts it, with the calm authority of one who has found out for himself:

Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. — The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.

rabindranath_tagore

R Tagore

To say it another way, I strive “to be the cause in my own life”, not “the effect of other people’s emotions, viewpoints, and efforts to control us”.** The cauldron sound, “the one companion of my life”, as Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore sings, assists me in listening to my own song amidst the clamor of the “apparent world”, as OBOD ritual terms it. Some hear it as a subtle nudge, an intuition. Others hear it in the words of friends, a chance conversation with a stranger, a song lyric, a dream, a brightness in something read, or overheard at the grocery store. Awen will get through.

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*“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again. Wanderer, there is no road — Only wakes upon the sea” — A Machado.

**Klemp, Harold. ECK Wisdom on Spiritual Freedom. 2018.

Images: Quimper Cathedral Grail WindowTagore;

Grail 1: Exploring the “Cauldron Sound” of Awen

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

Image result for awenWant a good overview of the awen in the life of another Druid? Don’t just take my word for it. Read Druid-in-two-traditions Dana Driscoll’s account here. [I’ve written about it, among other times, here and here.]

Looking for the lost melody of your life? For that sense of spiritual freedom you may have touched as a child? For the heart-song that so often eludes us in the busy-ness of 21st century living?

If there’s such a thing as a “container” for the awen, beyond the bodies of all things, it’s the Celtic Cauldron, proto-grail, womb, goddess symbol, under- and other-world vessel, humming on the edges of our awareness. To participate in its sound is to begin to manifest some of its properties. Put myself in sympathetic vibration with it, and I discover its powers of transformation. It accomplishes change through vibration — no surprise, when we know that every atom of the cosmos vibrates at its own particular frequency. That’s also part of why every major spiritual tradition on the planet includes chant, song, mantra, spoken prayer. The whole thing sings. When the bard Taliesin exclaims in one of his poems, “The awen I sing, from the deep I bring it”, he points us toward the pervasiveness of awen, its habitation in the heart of things, its flow through us, both lesser and greater, as we sing, and bring.

Dana observes, “One of the most simple things to do is to invoke Awen regularly as part of your practice.”

A tangent. An article from a few days ago somewhat ruefully acknowledges that there’s actually a specific day — January 17 — when Americans see many of their New Year’s resolutions fail. (Your own culture, if you’re not a Yank, may exhibit lesser or greater persistence.) Since we seem to addicted to bad news these days, feel free to indulge here in some delicious negative thinking, if you wish. But then read closer: “Contrary to widespread public opinion, a considerable proportion of New Year resolutions do succeed,” notes a psychology professor in the article. Even at the 6-month point, according to studies, some 40% of resolutions — and their “resolvers” — stick with it. While the data pool may well need refining, still, that’s an astonishing figure. Better than the best baseball average. While “two outta three ain’t bad”, as the Meatloaf song tells us, even “one outta three” is pretty damn good, in so many human endeavors. And if you’ve read this blog for a while, you know my strategy for success with resolutions. Start so small that it’s next to impossible not to begin. “Oh, anyone can find 30 seconds a day”.

And this holds true with so many practices, spiritual or otherwise. A habit is simply an expression of equilibrium. The resistance to change is the resistance of all set-points and stasis and inertial systems — their first “response”, if we think of them for a moment as conscious beings, is to absorb the new thing rather than change on account of it. It’s a survival mechanism, after all, evolved over eons, to prevent dangerous over-reactions and hyper-compensations to what are often only temporary blips in the environment. We can’t afford to be thrown off by “every little thing”.

Why would this apply to something like the awen, a pervading cosmic sound and vibration? It’s already flowing through us, at a sustaining level, keeping us alive, the heart beating, the electrical system of the body sparking along. But upset that equilibrium unwittingly, kick the carefully calibrated network of bodily systems, and you risk the same thing rash occultists and yogis do when they raise the kundalini unprepared, force their way onto the astral plane too abruptly, shift the body’s and psyche’s equilibria by force of will, and then face all the unexpected consequences — illness, accident, poor judgment, disharmony — all the attendant symptoms of dis-ease, of a complex equilibrium under abrupt, too-rapid or even violent change.

So I begin small, and gradual, and see how it goes, if it’s worthwhile, if it adds to and builds on my life — as I already live it. This latter point is keenly important, I find. And I encourage you to try the awen, or — if you’re drawn elsewhere — its kin in other traditions. (Maybe one living near you: Om, Hu [link to an mp3 sound file], etc.) Give it a year of serious practice, and I will personally guarantee positive change, or your karma back. Other practices have their established value, but sacred sound is special.

The “rewards” of such a practice are not always easy to “calculate”. (Revealing that we even use such language). But practice, as you’ll discover, opens many doors we didn’t even know were there. As OBOD Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm notes,

Try opening to Awen not when it’s easy, but when it’s difficult: not when you can be still and nothing is disturbing you, but when there’s chaos around you, and life is far from easy. See if you can find Awen in those moments. It’s harder, much harder, but when you do, it’s like walking through a doorway in a grimy city street to discover a secret garden that has always been there – quiet and tranquil, an oasis of calm and beauty. One way to do this, is just to tell yourself gently “Stop!” Life can be so demanding, so entrancing, that it carries us away, and we get pulled off-centre. If we tell ourselves to stop for a moment, this gives us the opportunity to stop identifying with the drama around us, and to come back to a sense of ourselves, of the innate stillness within our being. And then, sometimes, we are rewarded with Awen at precisely this moment.

“The Holy Grail won’t go away” — and for very good reasons.

Next post: A Path, By Walking It.

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Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

Knight, Gareth. The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend. Aquarian Press/Thorsons, 1983. [More recent reprints available from other publishers.]

I’m reading Knight’s book as I draft a workshop proposal for the 2019 Mid-Atlantic Gathering. In spite of my tendency to discount such coincidences, I’ve found scant evidence for them. More often than chance could ever explain, two events will turn out to be not just linked in some way, but in a way I can learn from and grow by. And if you conclude I simply haven’t dug below my claims of coincidence into the sheer pervasiveness of chance that underlies it and rules the universe, I’d chuckle at the depth of your superstitious belief in chance, and continue learning from coincidence, a much richer journey altogether. Events talk to each other, and I want in on the conversation.

Maybe you can explain it by my suspicion of the universe, one of my admitted biases. I find this an odd but useful approach. It sounds like I’m a skeptic, still a popular stance in a world that nevertheless keeps on not conforming to our desires, whims and wishes, in spite of things like the Law of Attraction (which tends to operate inwardly, I’ve found, not in the world of physical form). I apparently get to keep a doubting and superior viewpoint, which is what so many unexamined beliefs afford — protection for the ego. But deep down, a part of me knows there’s almost always much more going on than meets my ill-trained eye. My ego’s been pummeled often enough along the way to discovery that I take yet another instance of it as a good sign I’m getting warm. This universe, it turns out, has a will of its own.

I say “ill-trained”: raised in some of the materialist and psychically-polluted environments that pass for much of what is called Western civilization*, it’s little wonder I don’t see things for what they are. It took me the longest time to determine that most of the illusion is in me, not in things. We’ve been trained away from much of the truth of things. Like death and rebirth, polarity, spirit guides and companions, energy centers in the earth, the power of ritual, the centrality of the imagination in our emotional and physical health, the daily magic we all practice, the value of a spiritual discipline, the power of mass belief for good and ill. Basically everything you can find in that section of many bookstores, however obscured by bad writing and incomplete knowledge. And much more importantly, it’s our vast human heritage, the largely unwritten world of experience our ancestors keep whispering we really need to pay attention to, in our DNA, our dreams, our daily lives.

Veteran comedian Steve Martin used to mock human pretension and idiocy in his 70’s routines with references to things like “how I turned a million in real estate into twenty-five dollars in cash” or “how to make money off the mentally ill”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the problem of mental illness was less acute then or at least less visible, though its roots lengthened daily underground. Of course, large numbers of writers still practice this lucrative trade, on both sides of the bookstore aisles, and on the workshop circuit, stumping for stop-gap measures to make the status quo more quo. We thought the karmic consequences of Western civilization’s less happy choices would all appear on the physical plane, which is where, after all, we’d apparently set them in motion. But we didn’t expect the damage to ourselves to take form before the physical-world effects fully caught up with us. Or as the Wise say, all the planes of existence are connected. We couldn’t despoil a physical world without having already despoiled our own inner worlds.

grailachemyWhat does the foregoing rant have to do with Arthur, or a secret tradition? Knight gets right to it on his first page. He explains “the hold that the legends of Arthur and his Knights exercises on the imagination … they enshrine a secret Mystery tradition … which was also the guiding force behind the old stone circles and trackways of Western Europe”.

Or as Mara Freeman puts it in the first line of her book, “The Holy Grail won’t go away” (Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition. Rochester VT: Destiny Books, 2014).

Thank the gods for that.

As the French knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail tells Arthur, who has just pompously invited his master to join his Quest for the Holy Grail (and you can hear the capital letters in his voice), “He’s already got one” (around the 1:10 mark).

If I come at the Grail with a team of knights, appropriately theatrical music suitable to my nobility accompanying me on my way, and mounted like Arthur, I too may be met with the taunting the French knight offers Arthur and his companions. Grails are, paradoxically, a dime a dozen. One on every street corner. In every castle.

Nonplussed, Arthur asks diffidently, “Can we come up and have a look?”

Of course, no single source of healing will meet our need, given that we’re such a various and noisy and difficult tribe. (Or as the French knight replies to Arthur’s request for a look, “Of course not! You are English types”.) From so many paths and tracks, we converge at this present moment, and do what we will. And learn from that.

Knight outlines what he calls the Lesser Mysteries of Arthur, Merlin and Guinevere: lessons and practices for the individual, for the group, and for polarity working with both individual and group as part of spiritual service. But, you might say — and Knight does — that this is the introductory material. The Greater Mysteries concern the Grail, the old Celtic Cauldron of Regeneration we meet with in myth and legend.

My intermittent dissatisfaction with OBOD ritual and practice, as I’ve shared here, has slowly led me to developing my own practices connected with the Grail, in an idiosyncratic form and tailored to my quirky nature. It’s hardly a system**. Spend too much time systematizing anything, I keep re-learning, and too often it dies in your hands. (Knight notes (pg. 175) provocatively that “archetypes, like individuals, are capable of redemption”.) I’d rather practice what seems to work.

Pieces of it that may be of use to others I’ll try to share in the next series of posts.

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*Every civilization offers much to admire, and ours is no exception. The best music and art the West has produced rival the best of other civilizations. Coming to terms with the corresponding limits and faults of a civilization is part of the work of its maturation. No civilization lasts forever. This simple fact still seems to shock many, who apparently believe the West, or at least the United States, is somehow exempt. But if anyone doesn’t also glimpse the weaknesses of the West by now, that person simply hasn’t been paying attention. It’s doubtful, in fact, that such a one has even been conscious for the last 75 years. As with preceding civilizations, we will corporately (if not individually) deny our problems until they overtake us and execute harsh justice on its false suppositions and its deeds, and on those inheriting both their benefits and drawbacks. Which is all of us.

Arthurian legend as Knight examines it addresses such cultural and civilizational collapse as one means of renewal and rebirth.

Social justice warriors: we appreciate at least the relatively sane among you for sounding the alarm and putting a few of your fingers in the dike, but karmic payback on a scale you can’t achieve is already starting to take shape.

**Those seeking a system may find Freeman’s book and its associated practices and workings help answer that search.

“Both Cauldron and Wand”

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

 

 

Lunasa, Saturday 5 August ’17

One of the great pleasures of the “Great Eight” seasonal festivals on the Wheel of the Year, if you have a group to celebrate with, is the unique combination of private and community rites that can mark each season. They can merge and nourish and colour each other in subtle and provocative ways.

I’ve written here about my own recent private rite consecrating a new fire circle. Earlier today I hosted a small group rite of Lunasa.

grail-hermitCard drawn before the rite from the Arthurian Tarot: the Grail Hermit. Caitlin and John Matthews’ deck provides rich material for meditation. A partial interpretation: while group ritual is important, personal communion with the Source and its many guises is crucial to balance. I don’t need to “go anywhere” to find the Grail or the inner hermitage, but I do need to make an effort to allow them to manifest in the busy-ness of my life. I note too that some things can only be discovered and mastered alone. A group can become a distraction if its main contribution is more busy-ness and not useful centering and grounding in practice. That’s a message that’s still deeply applicable to me and my practice.

The hanging over the door of the Hermit’s hut is purple, with a golden image of the Grail on it. The royal road of true spirituality calls us to claim our spiritual identity as heirs to an inner kingdom. As with all above-below and within-without paradoxes, the apparent poverty, obscurity and simplicity of the Hermit contrast and foreshadow the spiritual wealth within. One clue: the fire burning in the clearing.

For the group rite we made space in our weaving room with looms and fibers for backdrops. Appropriate for the Weaver at the Loom, Shaper of All!

Here on the altar the firsfruits: blueberries, candles, a sheaf of grasses, corn meal and ritual objects sheltered from the weekend of rain.

IMG_1754

Halfway through the rite, the thunder receded, the rain stopped and the sun emerged.

Hail Lugh, hail Earth Mother. In the words of the ritual — her words — “I will nurture you … I will comfort you … I will bless you through all the days of your lives”.

Thanks to BW for composing and leading our ritual, and to those who celebrated with us.

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Matthews, John and Caitlin. Illustrated by Miranda Grey. The Arthurian Tarot. Aquarian Press, 1991; 25th anniversary edition, Connections 2015.

 

 

Grail and Cross — Druid & Christian Theme 5

[Updated 4 June  2020]

You can help improve the usefulness and relevance of this blog, and this series on Druid and Christian links in particular, by helping to account for the surge in views this post has experienced over the past year. I invite your comments: what brings you back and keeps you reading this post?

I took this post down for several months because of suspicious spikes in readership coinciding with spikes in spam and phishing attacks.

Now it’s back up for another trial run. Readers, please let me know you’re “real” by posting a quick comment!

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symbol pageAs with so many geometrical figures, both solid and planar, the Grail and Cross, cup and intersection, are figures that belong to no single group or culture.

Of course cross and star, cup and sword, wand and flame, etc., may be adopted by one or more groups as symbols with meanings specific to the group, but that doesn’t mean the cross is exclusively “Christian”, any more than trees “belong” to Druids alone. The most powerful symbols expand beyond the confines of association with any one group. If they didn’t, we might question their worth.

To choose just one example, the five-pointed star is Pagan, Christian, and more besides. Most of all, it’s an anciently human-devised shape, made to represent a host of ideas and perceptions. Many of the most enduring symbols are mandalas, sacred forms, that often show a high degree of symmetry, or other visual and pleasing harmony. Contrary to what you may have heard, sacred geometry is alive and well, and lives still in our eyes and hearts.

Among the Sumerians, millennia before Christ, the star or pentagram was a logogram meaning “corner, angle, nook, small room”. In Medieval Europe, the star could represent a series of Christian fives: the five wounds of Christ, the five chivalric virtues of a knight, and so on. (The medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight develops this theme at some length.) And as one form of endless knot, the unicursal star or pentagram stood as a symbolic defense against evil. How many nations feature stars on their flags and among their other national symbols? That’s quite a range of meanings and interpretations — and possible uses!

All this said, both Grail and Cross are now firmly entrenched in the Western world as specific symbols, straddling Pagan and Christian understandings of emotion and physicality, manifestation and transformation, magic and divinity. Still, modern instances can reinforce (and subtly reinterpret) older usages. Note this comment about the fictional “Grail Cross” at symboldictionary.net:

This emblem, best known as the “grail cross,” is not a genuine religious or historical symbol, but I receive so many questions relating to the symbol that it is included here. This emblem appears in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” as the emblem of “Brotherhood of the Cruciform* Sword,” the fictional secret society who serve as Guardians of the Holy Grail in the movie.

With its myth- and symbol-making power, modern media is rife with magical purposes — the subject of a separate post, if not a book or entire library. Want a “new” symbol to become charged with meaning and significance? Get it into a film that generates pop-culture buzz and fandom!

For what the original symbols point to is precisely what their commercial cousins claim to but cannot offer: transformation, youth, beauty, power, energy, fertility. Who doesn’t seek the Grail?

Grail and Cross are one more way for Druids and Christians to find points of communion and exchange, without sacrificing their distinct identities. And such communion can be literal: bread of the earth, wine or grape juice as the blood of sacrifice, the ritual words either Druid or Christian, depending on the purpose, those attending, the group and the rite. What does your imagined shared Druid and Christian ritual look like?

I’ve written here before about the Forest Church movement, and there are creative imaginings, poems and songs that explore this common territory. You can read one instance here, about Jesus and Merlin:

What if
Jesus and Merlin were to meet
At twilight
In the garden, in the grove,
One looking forward to the Skull of Golgotha,
One looking back on the Sacred Head of Bran? …

What could they give to one another
These prophets circling in their Time-long orbits?

You might try out the poem’s answers to these questions on your sense of possibilities. And if they don’t work for you, write yours.

After all, there are as many meeting-points as people. If the holy terrain between Druid and Christian calls to you, better your way than one belonging to another that doesn’t fit you on your arm of the spiral journey. A week’s worth of your own meditations surpasses anything I can write here. These themes are suggestions, prompts, points of departure. They’re mine, and they may not be yours. Their use is as sparks, kindling, tinder, fuel, provocation.

One such locus for both traditions is healing, as OBOD Chief Philip Carr-Gomm has written,

laby-grOne of the most important tasks that face us today is one of reconciliation, whether that be between differing political or religious positions … the Christian community, far from taking fright at a perceived regression to a pagan past, can ally itself with [Druidry] which is complementary, and not antagonistic to Christian ideals and ethics …

St. Columba said “Christ is my Druid” and I believe that if we take Druidry to represent that ancient wisdom which lies deep within us, and that can connect us once again to the Earth and her wonders, we can understand how we can be Christian Druids, Buddhist Druids or Druids of whatever hue or depth is needed for us at our present stage of development.

As you will know, Christianity in these islands built upon the foundations laid already by the Druids –- their seasonal observances were developed as festival days, their sites were built upon with churches, and the Druids welcomed Christianity for they with their powers of seership and connection to the Source knew of Christ’s coming, and allowed their practices to develop into what became known, at least in Scotland, as the Culdee church.

This segues into the next theme in this series: festivals and holidays.

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Images: symbols; grand-mother and -daughter at labyrinth.

Thirty Days of Druidry 4: Truths and a Truth

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wolfsubmitI take as my divination today an odd dream early this morning: I’m a member of a wolf pack, and my fellows have drawn me aside, possibly to be disciplined, after I am tested for truth-telling. The issue at stake, apart from truth, I don’t know. (There isn’t one?) But I feel the just authority and deserved power of my pack leader, I readily make my submission, lying flat on the ground, waiting patiently as I can, licking my chops, panting a little. At length I’m freed, though I lose the final threads of the dream and the actual issue in contention as I wake.

Who determines truth? Is it our pack? Often among social animals it’s indeed the group, for better and worse, like the words of the marriage vow, recognizing a truth about life. For submitting to a consensus is a form of contract. But such a formulation of truth results not just from others’ perceptions — a consensus averages them, bundles them together to even out the extremes, and not only may be no more accurate than my perception or yours, but may well be less.

Mere majority is no guarantor of value. “We all say so,” exclaim the Monkey People in Kipling’s Jungle Book, “and so it must be true.” Democracy, indeed, is the worst form of government — except for all the others. It’s a first approximation to that inner wisdom. Mix in other adulterating motives like the obscuring force of anger, envy, fear and so on, and the spinning moral compass still comes to rest to show that no group deserves more authority than the individual. A group may indeed have usurped such authority, snapped it up if we have ceded it, or claimed it in the absence of the rightful possessor, but that’s a different matter. The point persists behind Iolo Morgannwg’s Welsh aphorism Y gwir yn erbyn y byd — “the truth against the world” — regardless of whether we claim that inner sovereignty as our birthright, or heedlessly opt to forfeit it to whoever is the latest big noise to arrive on the scene.

A part of that sovereignty, true, urges us to seek wise counsel when our own vision falters (as it will from time to time), or does not offer sufficient guidance. But the choice to seek, follow, modify or ignore that counsel remains ours alone. It seems nowadays we’ve only a loose grip at best on the good meaning of discrimination: the ability to make vital distinctions that matter. For the opposite of discrimination is not indiscriminate approval or contempt. Rather it’s an abdication. Someone else, take up my crown and sceptre! It’s too hard! But as we come to know at cost, the only thing more difficult than struggling to uphold our sovereignty is the obscene suffering and atrocious despair we face when we let it slip through our fingers. Holocaust survivor and philosopher Elie Wiesel has said it well (adjust the pronouns to fit): “It is by his freedom that a man knows himself, by his sovereignty over his own life that he measures himself.” Without sovereignty, then, how can we know or measure accurately?

I offer as exhibits 1 and 2 most major headlines today and the lived experience of anyone over 10 years old. Among other wisdom paths, Druidry rightly asserts that it’s our inner sovereignty that comes first. All else follows from the state of our inner kingdom. It’s long work, this upholding of our sovereignty. And if like me you feel the evidence points towards reincarnation, well, we keep coming back till we get it right.Some things we know are true, against whatever the world throws down to snuff it out. Otherwise, what’s the cosmos doing, if not manifesting gloriously, excessively, magnificently, every single possibility along with a consciousness, feathered, finned, furred, to engage it, turn it back onto itself, plumb its depths, endlessly forming and re-forming.

machyn-chairThere’s a wooden chair in the Parliament House in Machynlleth, Wales, that bears those challenging words across the headpiece. For it too is a Siege Perilous, like that “perilous chair” at Arthur’s Round Table, that stands empty awaiting the one who wins through to the Grail, the seat that proves fatal, mortal, to the mortal who sits down unworthy. This life is perilous indeed — mortal — the Ancestors weren’t wrong about that in all their stories. We’re winning through, though by all appearances none of us have quite yet “won.” But we’ve come far enough, through both hardship and joy, to recognize the seat for what it is, to puzzle out the significance of the inscription there, to feel it in our bones. We’ve caught more than one glimpse of Grail in a human face, a landscape, plumbed it in the heart’s cry, caught echoes of the Grail Song, every one of us, against all the odds the world sets for us. We can even imagine sitting down eventually.

I suspect, too, that any endpoint is part of the model and not the reality it attempts to represent. It’s an asymptote, to get mathematical for a moment, if you recall that intriguing figure from school: undrawable, really — endlessly closing in on but never reaching a final point, a terminus, some ultimate destination. It’s the horizon infinitely receding. It’s the Mystery that lies behind and inside everything, the charge that impels all things. Taoists say it’s “like a well: used but never used up. It is like the eternal void: filled with infinite possibilities. It is hidden but always present. I don’t know who gave birth to it. It is older than God” (chapter 4).

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Images: wolveschair in Parliament House, Machynlleth, Wales.

 

 

Growing Down

greenworldThe green world burgeons all around me, though I fall silent. I don’t grow up like these eager stems, leaves and blossoms that surround this house of self in a blaze of green glory. So early this year, summer already launched in the heart of spring. Not up. No. I grow down.

The word itself brings the action. D o o o w w w n n n. Without thought, something bones and skin and gut do. Are doing. I shudder in a moment of vertigo. One world spins and collapses around me. Then I’m touching another, walls that shape the passage-way around my descent. Something deepens, I sense roots like fingers, fingers like roots, reaching into darkness, into cool earth and colder stone.

sheela-na-gig

I feel them ever so subtly at first, their branching shapes, the strength of this bark-skin, root and claw, fingertip and tendril, things that are somehow both my hands and also the tree roots I find myself grasping.

Then all at once, that subterranean tug of ancestors, my roots their roots, reaching and twining into the dream earth I crawl into each night and pull over me. I shiver, bone-deep. All that they were, I am. All that they feared and love, I too fear and love. In the darkness, a space opens. Water pools at my feet, a faint glow illuminating it, silvering the surface. Ripples die away and all lies still. My own breathing deafens me, too loud. The dark silver still shines with its own light, waiting … for what?

nightlake

I’m jerked upright, to my feet. Want to meet your ancestors? asks an insistent whisper. Look, the whisper says. Look, Pilgrim, in the mirror. The silver surface of the water steams, mist swirls up from it, the fog thickens, then furls back and away. I kneel down to look …

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Singing. I hear singing.

Three awens for the dead, who live again. Three awens for the living, who will die in turn. Three awens for those yet unborn, who know both worlds, who await a third.

O Walker between the worlds, do you wish to remember all you have forgotten? Then stand ready. The nine awens of change wash over you.

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Are you ready?

It’s not a question. Oh, it has the form of one, but it’s not. It’s a choice. I show I’m ready, or not, by what I choose. And by how. Not by thinking of an answer.

It’s a fair choice. It’s always a fair choice, I hear. Because it’s yours. But if I don’t know it’s a choice, if I listen to fear, or doubt, or judgment, or anything else but what I was born listening to, what shaped me while I was a mere thumbling in my mother’s womb, I miss the choice, and think it’s merely a question to answer, one that already has an answer, not one I answer in this moment, right now, by choosing. What will I choose? That’s the real question.

aceofcupsI gift you with a grail, the chalice of your desire, says the short powerful figure before me. I try to make out a face, but nothing other than an outline in this dimness.  And the voice.

What will fill it? Where will you pour it? The gift cannot be given to you until you give it away.

How? I hear myself shouting, how in the name of the Nine Druids do I give away a gift I don’t even have?

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I’m coming back. Ascending, though that’s not exactly it either. One world fades, another gains strength.

A final whisper. Wanderer, you have no other home. Home is where you serve.

Images: greenworldsheila-na-gig; lake at night; grail.

Posted 14 June 2015 by adruidway in ancestors, Druidry, grail, initiation, Ovate

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