Archive for the ‘initiation’ Category

MAGUS 2017: The Mid-Atlantic Gathering U.S.   13 comments

The first of what richly promises to be an annual event, the Mid-Atlantic Gathering U.S. (MAGUS) took place over this last weekend, Thursday to Sunday, at Four Quarters Sanctuary in Artemas, Pennsylvania.

magus banner -- W Flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

The initial inward glimpse of the Gathering came to one of the organizers almost a decade ago.  There’s yet another indication, if I need the reminder, of the possible time-gap between first seed and outward manifestation.

And our hosting venue, Four Quarters, an interfaith sanctuary launched in 1994, was the perfect place to hold a Beltane Gathering. As the Four Quarters home page observes, it’s

a membership-driven non-profit, a vibrant community of real people living real lives. And Four Quarters actually owns the Land, buildings and equipment that make our work possible, forever set aside from the vagaries of private ownership.

The lovely and wild 150 acres of the sanctuary lie in the Allegheny foothills in southern PA, just miles from the Maryland border. Home to a stone circle, labyrinth, retreat center with bunkhouse and dining pavilion, a brewery, a drum and dance circle, sweat lodge, a handful of permanent residents, and the clean-flowing Siding Creek defining part of its periphery, Four Quarters strives to

honor the many world traditions that reflect an Earth Based Spirituality, and we work to support those traditions and welcome their people. We do not teach “One Way” of belief. We do not have “The Answer”. We do have good questions.

Here’s the Stone Circle seen from the north, a work in progress (with annual megalithic-style stone raisings open to anyone willing to join the rope-pulling and log-rolling stone lifting team). Note the nearly three-foot-long camp bell suspended from the tripod in the foreground — a deep voice audible throughout the property.

circle w bell

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

A wide-angle shot can’t capture the majesty of the stones or the power of the circle. Here’s a closer view of some of the lovely rough surfaces, mottled with rust in places, asking for touch and communion.

stone closeup w flah

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

The first time I walked the circle Thursday evening, I sensed a quiet hum of presence. The next time I came more at ease, eager to touch and listen to the land and the inner voices. By the time I reached the eighth stone, sudden tears filled my eyes. The circle holds indisputable power.

Here’s one of the altars near the center of the stone circle. The ancestors speak strongly here, if I give even half an ear.

ancestor altar in circle -- W Flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

How to convey the blend of the speaking land, the personal and the tribal at such Gatherings?! You come as someone new to Paganism, or to OBOD more specifically. Or you come knowing you’ll reunite with your people once more, across the miles. If we saw each other every day, we might begin to forget the human and spiritual wealth that surrounds us. In ritual, in conversations in the dining pavilion (below) or over coffee during breaks, we’re reminded that we’re never alone, no matter how solitary we may live the rest of the year. Inner connection exists over any distance.

dining pavillion -- W Flaherty.jpg

dining pavilion — photo courtesy Wandy Flaherty

Typically when I reflect on a Gathering a few days after, one or two things stand out sharply. But when I started naming them over breakfast this morning, I ended with a list of a score of items — nearly the entire weekend as I experienced it, a blend not to be parcelled out in soundbites or highlights.

From the place, with its cool air crackling with oxygen from the vigorous trees, to the faces and energy of the Tribe and its rituals, formal and informal, to the songs of spiritual presence that all places offer, everything stands out in memory.  Impossible to narrow down. This post is a small attempt to hint at that Everything — to urge you, if you want a taste of a particular kind of marvelous, to attend a Gathering if you can.

The way of the Solitary can indeed be a blessed one, but the Tribe also offers a great deal to reinvigorate even the most hermetic of Solitaries. A Gathering can paradoxically reaffirm the Solitary, because you meet other Solitaries. You witness the integrity of the individual path, as well as the gift of the Tribal way. Gatherings have changed me into an avid Tribe-seeker, at least a few times each year, so that when I retreat to my own smaller circle, the closing words of OBOD ritual echo true: “May our memories hold what the eye and ear have gained.”

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“Kindling the Flame” was our Gathering theme. We apparently also needed the blessing of Water, in the form of steady rain from late Thursday afternoon through the night, and intermittently all Friday, to help remind us that all the elements gather, whenever any one of them is invoked. “Thus is balance preserved”.

Thursday included an opening orientation by our special guest OBOD Druid Renu Aldritch, a workshop I delivered on “Kindling Our Sacred Fires”, the opening ritual, and preparation for Bardic initiations the next morning.

After breakfast Friday, we initiated 12 Bards. Like many others, I’ve come to see how priceless it is to support initiations and attend whenever I can, regardless of whether I have an assigned “role”. The rite washes over us all, renews the experience each of us had during our own initiation, helps us rededicate, and allows us to greet the newly initiated within ritual space.

Always there are small hiccups and endearing glitches during a ritual. I think without them we’d have to make sure we added them. And we come to expect them: they humanize a dramatic moment, when someone with a major or minor role misplaces a prop or drops a ritual spoken line, topples the incense or bowl of water, mispronounces a magical name, and so on. We laugh, disarmed, and then the next part of the ritual can reach deeper, because we’ve opened up that much more. Each initiation is unique: tears, laughter, the presence of Spirit, the call of bird or beast to punctuate a word or silence.

Friday gave us Renu’s workshop, “Kindling the Spiritual Warrior”, a theme that bears ongoing attention. Dana’s workshop “Land Healing on the Inner and Outer Planes”, her ritual later that afternoon, “Ogam Tree Galdr in the Northern Tradition”, her generous personal readings using her own tree divination system, and her conversation fired many with renewed love and commitment to this path. That evening also brought initiation to three Ovates under moonlight and the background throb of drums from a drum workshop. We couldn’t have asked for a better ritual setting.

Downhill from the Labyrinth, prepping for the evening Ovate initiation in the open air: Renu, Dave, Ahote, me and Cat. (We opted later for a covered stage, in case the rain continued.)

planning for ovate init -- gail Nyoka

photo courtesy Gail Nyoka

Saturday gave us Wanda’s workshop, “Awakening Your Beltane Sensuality” with its creative chance to heighten one sense by muting the others. Now that the rain had ceased, we could hold our main Beltane rite in the stone circle.

Here’s an evocative pic from Saturday night, the Fire Circle alight, a few dancers visible, along with Brom, our Fire Master, tending the flames.

magus beltane

photo courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers

By Saturday night I’d mostly finished my other ritual responsibilities, including providing a glitch for the main Beltane ritual where I had a speaking part — I dropped a line. “When that ritual pause goes on a little too long and you look around, you’re probably what’s missing”, as someone quipped over the weekend.

I was looking forward to enjoying the Fire Circle without performing for the eisteddfod, the Bardic arts portion of most OBOD festivals that welcomes the evening fires and the awen-inspiration of a Gathering and offers it back again in song and poetry and story.

But as Bards know from experience, the awen sometimes has other ideas. Fire gave me an opening line a few hours earlier during dinner. And it kept gathering more lines to it, right up to the evening Fire Circle. Verses kept changing and I didn’t have pen and paper handy, so I kept playing with lines and rhymes and their order. “Fire says improvise” came the first line. I’d invoked fire, after all, during my workshop, in several different ways. What did I expect?! Here’s the poem:

Fire says improvise —
no surprise,
when such orange wonder
seeks out skin and eyes.

Fire can burn all to black
but before,
that hot roar lifts me
to soar beyond
anything I thought to think I lack.

Most times I’m no fool —
how does this jewel
get to be so hot and cool?

Old rule, it says.
Burn madly, gladly,
or — if you must — sadly:
one way only among those other two.
For I will heat you from your crown
to your open-toed shoe.

The fire, friend,
the fire is in you.

Just get up and say it, came the nudge. Doesn’t have to be polished. I delivered the lines, gazing at the flames the whole time, then stumbled back fire-blind to my seat on one of the Fire Circle benches. The version here is close to what I remember saying, probably edited a little. Fire didn’t want an editor. Just flame, large or small. The other Bards obliged, and this eisteddfod was among the most varied and interesting I’ve known.

One of the oldest pieces of spiritual counsel in the Indo-European tradition is this: “Pray with a good fire”.

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Below is an informal altar by Siding Creek, which curls around Four Quarters, another voice audible through much of the Sanctuary as a background whisper.

siding creek altar -- renu

photo courtesy Renu Aldritch

Four Quarters brews its own mead, a taste of the Land to take inside the body. Warmed by place, fire and fellowship, we return to our lives richer by each person who attended. Long live MAGUS!

Coffee Dragon -- Wanda Flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

A final view of the Circle through the eye of the Mother Stone:

throught he mother stone -- Wendy Rose Scheers

photo courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers

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Thirty Days of Druidry 22: “Seeking Beyond the Skyline”   2 comments

In her comment on # 16 in this series, Lorna Smithers writes:

Yes, I’d agree the ‘greater wisdom’ does come from walking through uncharted wildernesses. Often the signposts left by other folk help but it’s rare to find them in the books on how to [do] Druidry/Paganism or of self-professed gurus but more often from poets, philosophers, bloggers, often those who don’t know too much about Druid/Pagan religion but do know about the journey, getting lost, plumbing the deep … Anybody teaching basic writing will share the rule ‘show not tell’. And it’s always showings rather than tellings that have guided me.

I’ll venture some tellings here, if only because I’m re-reading Dion Fortune’s The Training and Work of an Initiate*, and Fortune addresses this topic. (Don’t we all read things to confirm what we already suspect? The awen stalks and finds us in spite of our circumstances and resistances.) Like many of us, Lorna’s learned her path largely by walking it herself, not always an easy or comfortable journey. For her as Bard and awenydd, showings are a kind of native territory.

Fortune tackles the “default setting” of human consciousness (allow for 1930s pronouns and gender reference):

The great majority of our fellow-men are willing to take the world as they find it, and so long as it does not treat them too hardly, they are content.

Given current world events and the growing sense of dis-ease issuing from so many directions, you’d not be wrong if you conclude that fewer people today remain content to “take the world as they find it.”

Fortune continues:

Others, however, question what lies beyond the world as they see it, and until they learnt the answer to this question, suffer from the divine discontent which has for ever urged men to “seek beyond the skyline, where the strange roads go down.”

This is our given: the itch, the pain, the hunger that won’t go away merely because parents, partners, politicians or our own painful (un)common sense tells us to ignore the raw nerve of our discontent. “Times like these” can indeed serve as a fine prod to awakening that discontent in  more of us. All this we know — too well.

Most men are also inclined to take for granted the inevitableness of suffering, and unless they are brought into personal contact with some flagrant case, or are themselves victims, they offer no protest.

We also know, or suspect, that we’ve been able to afford such complacency thus far because for so many, comparative physical prosperity, ease and stability in the West have sheltered us from many the worst forms of suffering commonplace elsewhere in the world. (As compensation, we may corner the market on psychic suffering and all the secondary physical fallout it can generate.)

But even in the West  this has never been true for all (our temporary exemption has expired), and it’s no longer true for increasing numbers of people. Glib proverbs like “The world is a school where the sleeping are woken up,” however true they might be, offer little comfort or guidance at such times. “Everything happens for a reason” doesn’t offer squat beyond pop psychology. (I want strategies, techniques, tools to use!) Cracks in the dike are starting to show everywhere — cracks that government spending on physical infrastructure, however necessary, will not alleviate.

But Fortune goes on to describe the experience of those who’ve launched themselves on a spiritual quest. You make a start and immediately you’re no longer in “lands we know.” Your footing yields, the path twists and dips and disappears most disconcertingly. Friends are usually no help. One or two may be on their own quests, but it’s rare that you can travel together — or that a companion can offer much assistance if you do.

At times, just to add to your trouble, you feel the golden chance slipping past, or sense the outlines of an open door that’s still invisible in front of you. Somehow you know, maddeningly, that it stands there waiting for you nevertheless. That it might be slowly closing. That now’s the time to go through — if only you could. But such convictions help not at all. Instead, with each subtle opportunity here — passing — gone — they increase the torment.

Fortune gets her finger on the pulse:

It is true that, although glorious glimpses are caught by the intuition unaided by the intellect, much more is lost from sheer inability on the part of the student to grasp the significance of his opportunity. Infinite things can be perceived by the spiritual intuition, but unless the intellect be fitted to cooperate, these things can seldom be rendered of practical avail for the solution of world-problems. The mystic has his moments of ecstatic emotion during which he reaches great heights, but he is seldom able to bring back water from the wells of life for those he has left behind. It is only when each vehicle of consciousness in man is in perfect correlation that the current of inspiration can flow through him and be translated into manifestation in the physical world in which we are living today; and while a man can learn great things and store them in his subconscious mind, it is only during the life in which he has learnt to correlate his vehicles so that he can bring the spiritual through into manifestation, that he can be of service to his fellow men (Fortune, p. 20).

There’s plenty here to unwrap. I read “only when each vehicle of consciousness is in perfect correlation” and I think, “Well, screw it! That’s never happening! Diagnose the problem but then calmly tell me why the solution will always be out of reach! ‘Perfect correlation’?! Are you f***ing kidding me?!”

But we can cut ourselves some slack. As Lorna notes above, we already receive an immense outpouring of “water from the wells of life” from poets and singers, philosophers and bards who do know about the journey and about getting lost. Many already “serve their fellow men” in ways that may be deeply imperfect but still arrive and feed that hunger, ways just as deeply welcome and needed. Lacking any perfect channel, I’ll take all the blessedly imperfect ones around me as my models. Neither I nor anyone else needs to be “perfect” to make a start, or achieve things of value. False prerequisite number 1!

Our goal is flow, however small the trickle at the outset, so that “the current of inspiration can flow through all of us and be translated into manifestation in the physical world in which we are living today.” And we’re already flowing. Without a flow of life energy through us, we wouldn’t even be here. We’re already flowing. Blood in our veins, breath in our lungs, food and sunlight transforming each day into physical life in us. The challenge isn’t to start, but to open the channels just a little wider as we live each day. As so many sources have urged us, a regular practice — ritual, spiritual exercise, chant, prayer, artistic practice, gardening, cooking — acts done consciously and joyously — is one proven method. Miss a day or two here and there? Don’t beat yourself up about it. Keep at it. My own strategy, as I mentioned in a recent post: fail again and again, fail well, fail confidently, until I no longer notice failure, until I don’t fail any more.

Another method is service: “… it is only during the life in which he has learnt to correlate his vehicles so that he can bring the spiritual through into manifestation, that he can be of service to his fellow men.” Fortune assumes multiples lives here, a process of spiritual evolution as we learn through life after life how to “correlate” or harmonize our modes of awareness and action.

Fortune urges us to service out of compassion:

I would urge them, if they need any spur to this effort, to remember how much it would have meant to them, when they themselves stood upon that self-same step, had the help which it will be in their power to give been available. No effort after development is wasted, even if he who strives seems to lose sight of his goal and turn aside. It is the passage of many feet that widens the path for the multitude; we, in our day, will never have to face such trials as did those initiates who broke the way for us (Fortune, pp. 20-21).

We are always initiates, always beginning a new arm of the spirals of our journeys, even as old cycles come to fruition and close. Remembering may not always come to aid us. To let words from Lorna’s site close this post, here’s wonderfully sage advice, a quotation from poet Charlotte Hussey: “Imagine if you can’t remember.” Dreamers, all of us, imagine next.

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*Fortune, Dion. The Training and Work of an Initiate.  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 2000. [Originally published 1930, Rider and Co.]

Thirty Days of Druidry 16: Gods in the Mist   1 comment

Lorna comments on Day 11:

As someone who has been pretty lost traveling off the map and will be lost again, I feel it’s a personal obligation to leave signposts, even if they’re only helpful to a small few people.

As an outsider to the major druid orders I do get a wee bit angry by those in the know only sharing to those who are paid up or part of a clique when perhaps their words could have helped us lost ones.

But perhaps if I’d had their guidance I wouldn’t have found my god in the mist…

As often happens, I’m indebted to a reader for an idea, and sometimes — like this time — a title, too. Thanks, Lorna.

I must say at the outset that I don’t know Lorna’s experience. And, partly, our ignorance of others’ experiences is what this post starts to address. I’m merely thinking with the words and impressions her comment gives me.

The courage to travel off what maps there are comes hard-won. Sometimes we may get dropped there seemingly by chance. Other times we manage to end up there all by our ourselves, out of sheer defiance of the boundary-keepers, or at the bidding of a deity, or through a kind of blessed carelessness that makes us miss the signs that might have saved us a wrong turn off the trail and the adventure before us. The familiar falls away, and like those medieval maps casually warn, the terrain (physical is spiritual, and vice versa) fairly shouts that “here be dragons.” No one returns unchanged, though it can cost a deal of trouble to convey to another person a glimpse of what happened or what the change consists of. We may not yet know ourselves.

Lorna notes she takes it as a personal obligation to leave signposts. Her sense that she’ll be “lost again” may have something to do with it. In a truly trackless realm, one starts to understand how even a little guidance can hearten a traveler more than stumbling on a cache of food, or a chance companion welcoming you to sit by a cheery fire. No, it’s not madness or a curse or some private doom that closes in on you, its breath on your skin, its claws at your neck, though it can feel like it. But traveling where no other has set foot can teach and toughen you, though it may never allow you to take your ease on such journeys.

I wonder, too, whether someone who’s walked off the path more than once has all that much to learn from “those in the know only sharing to those who are paid up or part of a clique when perhaps their words could have helped us lost ones.” Is that sharing over-rated? Does it amount to more than what we ourselves gain by going our own way? We return with the authority of our own experiences, along with perhaps a few more cuts and gashes and scars to show for our boldness. The greater wisdom may well lie with the sojourner in the wilderness, rather than with the elder at the evening circle, the author of a classic holding forth at a reading, the Chief Druid disclosing supposedly advanced teachings in a members-only workshop. Can the most valuable teachings be shared in words?

I suspect each of us encounters such tracklessness in our own ways, and some of the most welcome aid we can offer is the simple encouragement of knowing we’re not alone in being alone. Compassionate travelers signpost as they can. But I’ll quickly concede I may never have been as lost and found as others who journey there, survive and return to recount their hardships and discoveries. In the end, perhaps we can’t know such things secondhand, only experience them firsthand. Or to speak personally, perhaps I forfeit knowing as long as I keep to the well-lit trail, the easier ascent, the way clear-cut and signposted by hardy forerunners. But for just such a reason, I can strive to honor all fellow travelers. Then, when I do turn aside from the way where the grass lies flattened from many feet passing, when I enter the cave alone, swim the cold swift river, find foot- and hand-holds on the sheer face of the mountain, I may meet without intermediary what calls to me most deeply. Initiation tracks us when we think we’re tracking something else.

As Lorna concludes, “perhaps if I’d had their guidance I wouldn’t have found my god in the mist.”

Thirty Days of Druidry 12: J3D!   Leave a comment

J3D — “Just Three Drops” — is shorthand for the experience of Gwion Bach, the servant boy in the Welsh story who tends the cauldron of transformation for … how long? Yes, perhaps you’ve already guessed it — a year and a day. The magic brewing in the cauldron is, alas, destined for another, and Gwion is sternly charged to keep the fire carefully. Never let it die out. Always maintain a steady flame. Haul wood, carry water. Be sure the contents continue to simmer and seethe and stew as they slowly wax in power.

After Gwion faithfully tends the fire for that long, sooty and tedious year of drudgery, at last the mixture nears completion. One day the cauldron boils up, spattering a little, and three drops spill onto Gwion’s hand, burning it. Instinctively he lifts the burn to his mouth to soothe it. Voila! In that moment he imbibes the inspiration, awen, chi, spirit, elemental force meant for another, and so begins the series of transformations that will make him into Taliesin, Bard and initiatory model for many Druids and others who appreciate good wisdom teaching.

An accident? Has Gwion’s year of service led to this? Was it sheer luck, a “simple” case of being in the right place at the right time? Does blind chance govern the universe? (Why hasn’t something like this happened to ME?) Is the experience repeatable? Where’s a decent cauldron when you need one? Can I get those three drops to go? J3D caps, shirts, towels, belt-buckles on sale now! Buy 3 and save.

J3D in some ways can mislead you. “Visit us for your transformational needs. Just three drops, and you too can become a Bard-with-a-capital-B!” The ad seduces with the promise of something for almost nothing. (May the spirits preserve us from clickbait Druidry!) Such glibness leaves out the inconvenient preparation, the lengthy prologue, the awkward context, the unmentioned effort, the details of setting everything depends on. (Doesn’t it always?) It’s true: Just three drops are all you need, AFTER you’ve done everything else. They’re the tipping point, the straw that moved the camel to its next stage of camel-hood. J3D, J3D, J3D! The crowds are chanting, they’re going wild!

Curiously, J3D is a key to getting to the place and time where J3D’s the key. It’s the sine qua non, the “without which not,” the essential component, the one true thing.

Fortunately, the way the universe appears to be constructed, we can locate, if not the ultimate J3D, still very useful versions of it, tucked away in so many nooks and crannies of our lives. If I didn’t know better, I’d even suspect that the universe in its surprising efficiencies has shaped every environment for optimum benefit of the species that have adapted themselves to live there. Which means pure change and perfect intention are pretty much the same thing, depending on the local awen you’re sipping from. Paradox is the lifeblood of thinking about existence. Or as one of the Wise once put it, the opposite of an average truth may well be a falsehood. But the opposite of a profound truth is often enough another profound truth.

When the first glow is gone, the spark has dimmed, the lustre has worn off, you’re probably at the first drop. When any possibility of an end has faded from sight, when you’ve forgotten why you’re doing it and you’re going through the paces out of what feels like misplaced devotion or pure inertia, if you even have enough energy to stop and think at all, you’re likely in the neighborhood of drop 2. When you’ve given up theories, regrets, anger, hope, denial, bargaining, and grief itself, and you simply tend that fire because you’re able to tend that fire, and lost in reverie you feel a sudden burning, the third drop announces itself.

At that point the experience may well appear as three quick drops in succession, erasing any memory of the earlier drops, the practice for the final event, slog to get to that point. Or the long intervals between each drop find themselves renewed, deepened, intensified in the pain the third drop brings. Somehow, though, all that has gone before either falls away, or the pain of change is so intense it fills your whole awareness, crowding out all else, a white and scalding fire from horizon to horizon. Or in a vast hall of silence, the only sound is a whisper of the soft flesh of your hand soothed by tongue and lip. Then you know the transformation is upon you.

J3D.

East Coast Gathering 2015   5 comments

This last weekend marks the 5th East Coast Gathering I’ve attended, the 6th since its launch in 2010, and another gift of Spirit and mortal effort.

You can read my accounts of three of the previous years: 2012 | 2013 | 2014. A special thank-you to John Beckett, several of whose professional photographs illustrate this post. You can visit John’s own articulate and insightful blog “Under the Ancient Oaks: Musings of a Pagan Druid and Unitarian Universalist” over at Patheos here.

Camp Netimus -- photo courtesy Krista Carter

Camp Netimus — site of the ECG. Photo courtesy Krista Carter

 

Registration for the weekend filled within 20 hours of opening this last spring. Gatherings like this answer an obvious need in the Druid and Pagan community, and more are in the works in other locations. It’s on us to help make them happen. A dedicated team can bring the same joy, support, inspiration and community to other regions.

Yes, we’re all solitaries some or much of the time, but every solitary benefits from celebrating and learning in the company of others. That chance conversation, ritual insight, day- or night-dream, word or phrase that lights up just for you, the hugs you give and receive, the opportunities to serve the community through offering a workshop, cooking, cleaning, organizing, driving — these make Gatherings like this such richly rewarding experiences. The dark and light halves of each year are real, and we need all the help and laughter we can find to thread our way through the labyrinth of time.

 

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I arrived Thursday afternoon early enough to check in and unpack before the opening ritual. My cabin mates had already hoisted a banner, which also made the building easier to distinguish from the others in the dark, when the “9” on the door was no longer readily visible.

cabin banner

Cabin banner. Photo by A Druid Way

 

Equinox marks the shifting energies of days and nights, rebalancing the world. A lovely moon bore witness, waxing each evening through wonderfully clear skies, lighting the path to evening events like the Ovate initiation ritual and illuminating the short uphill walk from the cafeteria to the nightly fire circle.

The crescent moon. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Crescent moon in a twilit sky. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

The theme this year was ritual, and the whole weekend focused our attention on its magical possibilities through a dozen workshops, demonstrations and ceremonies. You can get a sense of the range of approaches from the list of workshops here. We also welcomed returning U. K. guests Damh the Bard, Cerri Lee, and Kristoffer Hughes.

Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard and Kris Hughes. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard and Kris Hughes. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

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Damh’s workshop on “The Bardic Voice” underscored the centrality of the Bard in Druidry. Like many Druid groups, OBOD orders its teaching in the sequence of Bard, Ovate and Druid. But they do not form a linear progress or erect a hierarchy of achievement. They spiral. In an Ovate breakout group a day later, several people mentioned how they often return to the Bardic coursework, its insights deepening through their Ovate practice. And likewise with the work of the Druid grade.

Damh is a fine teacher, an animated storyteller and ritualist of deep experience. With his wife Cerri he leads Anderida Grove. [For an audio inspiration, listen to his hour-long recording for inner journeying here.]

Damh in teaching mode. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Damh in teaching mode. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

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Reminders of ritual possibility filled the weekend. Below is a picture of a labyrinth, another gift of the weekend, lovingly constructed by Cat Hughes and friends.

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Labyrinth by day — entrance. Photo by A Druid Way.

 

Volunteers switched on each light every evening, then turned them off again when everyone else had gone to bed.

Labyrinth by night. Photo courtesy Damh the Bard.

Labyrinth by night. Photo courtesy Damh the Bard.

 

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Kris’s workshop, “Laudanum, Literature and Liturgy — the Ritual Legacy of Iolo Morganwg,” featured the ritual — in Welsh — that Morganwg first performed on the Summer Solstice on Primrose Hill (London) in 1792, launching the Druid Revival and establishing the Welsh Gorsedd of Bards. Morganwg is also the author of the Druid’s Prayer, still used in many modern Druid groups including OBOD, and a major influence on generations of Druids from his time to the present. Kris’s Celtic eloquence in praise of Morganwg and his passion for Druidry took him off script and left many of us with tears in our eyes.

Kris during his workshop on Iolo Morganwg. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

Kris during his workshop on Iolo Morganwg. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

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Bill Streeter from the Delaware Valley Raptor Center, the charity designated for this year’s Gathering donation, brought six birds and made a fine presentation on raptors, their abilities, the dangers (mostly human) facing them, and the challenges of rehabilitating injured birds.

Bill Streeter of the DVRC with a golden eagle. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Bill Streeter of the DVRC with a golden eagle. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

These magnificent birds have often suffered neurological injuries that worsen over time. Though both the eagle above and the owl below look normal, both are blind in one or both eyes, or suffer other injuries like crippled wings, and thus could not survive in the wild. But the birds help save the lives of their kin through their appearances in info sessions like this one.

Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

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The Alban Elfed ritual celebrating the Equinox includes gifts from children, guests and each of the three grades of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Here are Chris and I holding bowls of acorns, part of the Ovates’ ritual gift, just before the ritual procession into the Circle.

Chris and I just before Alban Elfed ritual. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Chris (r) and I (l) just before Alban Elfed ritual. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

The evening eisteddfod (music and poetry circle) one night featured a splendid duet from Kris and Damh — see the image below.

Kris and Damh singing at the fire circle.

Kris and Damh singing at the fire circle. Photo courtesy Hex Nottingham.

Below is another pic of the fire circle one night. Our enthusiastic and skilful fire-makers Derek and Brom love large, carefully-constructed bonfires.

Fire. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Evening bonfire. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Once again Dana set up her meditation tent on the campground for all to visit and enjoy.

Approaching the tent. Photo courtesy Dana Wiyninger

Approaching the tent. Photo courtesy Dana Wiyninger

danatent-hk

Altar in Dana’s meditation tent on the camping field. Photo courtesy Hex Nottingham.

A small group made a side excursion to nearby Raymondskill Falls. Here’s a view of one of the waterfalls.

Raymondskill Falls. Photo courtesy of Gabby Batz Roberts.

Raymondskill Falls. Photo courtesy Gabby Batz Roberts.

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And for those of us who can’t wait an entire year, the Gulf Coast Gathering will celebrate its second year in March 2016. Blessings of the Equinox to all!

Growing Down   Leave a comment

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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“Selfies with Trilithons” and Our Longing for (Re)connection   Leave a comment

Selfless trilithons

Selfless trilithons

Will Self’s June ’14 article in The Guardian (“Has English Heritage Ruined Stonehenge?“) has recently been (re)making the rounds on Facebook groups I frequent, and the author’s lively reportage offers generous “blog-bites” to quote (starting with that title), so it’s ready grist for the mill of A Druid Way.

In fact, if you just jump straight to his article, read it and — in the way of our Net-lives, surf on to the Next Interesting Thing (a NIT to pick, if there ever was one) — if you neglect to return here, I’ll not only not be hurt but will rest content that I’ve served one of my purposes.

Will Self visits Stonehenge

“Selfies with Trilithons”: Will Self visits Stonehenge. Image Mike Pitts, The Guardian.com

I admit to a fondness for titles that use questions.They successfully play on our inherent OCD, setting themselves up like an itch begging to be scratched. They’re Zen koans for the non-Zen types among us. You read them to find out the answer, or at least what the author thinks is the answer, and so you relieve the itch, even if the particular scratch the article provides ultimately irritates you further.

New, worse itch? No problem. The latest diet, scandal, must-see series, sex technique, disaster or investment opportunity all await you, just a click away, and many will use questions to draw you in. The “Top 10” list relies on a similar strategy: human experience boiled down to a concentrate. Just add water! Maybe at best our lives are indeed “selfies with trilithons” and everything else slips downhill from there. Or so a great part of the Western world’s surface culture would have you believe.

The article byline asks, “The summer solstice, King Arthur, the Holy Grail … Stonehenge is supposed to be a site of myths and mystery. But with timed tickets and a £27m visitor centre, does it herald a rampant commercialisation of our heritage?”

You’re being wholly reasonable if you guess Self’s answer is “yes.”

English Heritage earns decidedly mixed reviews here. It’s the U.K. organization that oversees such sites as Stonehenge, and for Self it serves a very mixed role as an institution whose “very raison d’etre consists in preventing the childish public from chipping away at stuff they don’t understand much – beyond the bare fact that it’s very old – so they can cart off a free souvenir, rather than shelling out for a Stonehenge snow globe in the superbly appointed new gift shop.”

“Stonehenge snow globe” works fine as an alternative title for this post.

Self’s wit attacks a range of easy targets besides English Heritage. It’s little surprise Druidry comes in for a smackdown, too. “As inventions of bogus deep-time traditions go, British druidism has to be one of the most enduringly successful.” Except that unlike Stonehenge, all modern forms of Druidry that expect to be taken seriously assert precisely the opposite. They’re comparatively new on the scene, and they dispense with bogusness.  They’re no older than the Druid revival of the past few centuries because that’s their real origin story — and this revival coincides point-for-point with rediscovering and wondering about and valuing things like Stonehenge and Avebury and Newgrange. You know — those Neolithic things that have always lurked in the neighborhood and have been with us for a very long time. We just never paid them much attention.

Until we did.

[Even Reconstructionist Pagan groups — who point with some justifiable pride at archaeological and other scholarly evidence to back up their practices and who sometimes sniff disdainfully at groups like OBOD, which draw on both legend and myth and on Druid Revival writings — benefit in the end from the scientific investigations ultimately launched by those same enthusiasms and, yes, those initial misconceptions of the Revival.]

We like our monuments and religions old, though we want our gossip and news “live, local and late-breaking” and our technology to be version X.X + 1 — whatever’s one higher than last week’s version (unless it’s Windows). “Selfie with a trilithon” pretty much sums it up.

But if modern Druids are the philosophical and spiritual equivalent of “the childish public … chipping away at stuff they don’t understand much – beyond the bare fact that it’s very old,” then what is it that we “cart off” from it? A reflected glory from old things? A fine wild-goose-chase for the ego? The illusion of connection with something larger and more lasting? (“All this and more for twelve easy payments of just $39/month! Our representatives are standing by for your call now!”)

These are the surface manifestations of vital and unquenchable hungers that have wakened in large numbers of people, however much a passel of hucksters manages to package and market empty and pricey facsimiles of them. Self does concede that “in important ways the [P]agans and the archaeologists retain a common cause: both groups, after all, venerate the monument, even if it’s in radically different ways.”

Self also contrasts Stonehenge at present with ancient sites:

Midhowe broch

Midhowe broch

… in the Orkney islands, where I lived over the winter of 1993-4 – I’ve returned many times since – Neolithic remains can seem more significant than the contemporary built environment. A couple of miles from the house I stayed in on the island of Rousay, there’s the ruin of an iron age broch, or fortified dwelling, and beyond this there’s a Neolithic chamber tomb, Midhowe, that’s dated to the third millennium BCE. Midhowe is a large and complex structure, although by no means as obviously important as Stonehenge. It was fully excavated in the 1930s and 40s by Walter Grant (of the distilling family) who owned the Trumland estate on Rousay, which included this site and several other important tombs. Since the roof of Midhowe has long since gone, Grant covered up the exposed stonework with hangar-like structure, but the curious thing is that this doesn’t detract at all from its powerful and brooding atmosphere.

During my times in Orkney I’ve visited a great many of the Neolithic sites. I’ve sat in tombs, laid in them, dreamed in them, and tried to grasp the sort of mindset – whether individual or collective – that’s implied by buildings that took shape over thousands of years, and were built by people with life-spans far shorter than our own. I have felt the wonder – felt it most of all, because at Midhowe there is hardly any of the furniture and signage associated with the modern tourist attraction: no ticket office, no custodian, and only discreet information boards. Apart from in high season, you can visit Midhowe and most of the other great Orkney sites with the confident expectation that you’ll see scarcely another human being.

If, as Self notes, “archaeologists seem fairly convinced that implicit in the Stonehenge’s design is some form of ancestor worship; for us there can be no doubt: we revere the idea of their reverence, we are engaged in a degraded form of meta‑ancestor worship,” then we can also see, in our longing to (re)connect, a “degraded” form of magic. “I don’t want anything to do with magic,” we often say, as we unwittingly absorb endless hours of advertising and political language which constantly attempt to manipulate our desires and emotions with crude magical techniques. We let ourselves be “magicked” but refuse to learn how to practice any “defense against the Dark Arts” — or learn how to do magic well and for our benefit rather than someone else’s.

“No magic — that’s for kids,” we say, as our lives propel us willy-nilly along a path of magical initiation tailor-made for us out of the circumstances of our lives, our likes and dislikes, and our choices. Fate, or freedom? Yes! “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” as Yogi Berra is reputed to have said.

“I don’t believe in magic,” we say, all the while daydreaming and planning, imagining and remembering — magical techniques in embryo, every one of them. Christian, atheist, Muslim, Pagan, SBNR, or “those who just don’t roll that way” — we all make our ways through these mortal lives which are also lives of manifestation and transformation, the essence of magic.

Author and practicing magician Josephine McCarthy, whose book “Magic of the North Gate” I reviewed here, notes that people react variously to the relative powerlessness that life in Western culture urges onto so many. But often a (paradoxically) powerful personal experience, an abrupt break with the past or the every-day world, sets some of them on a journey. In the first book of her Magical Knowledge series, McCarthy observes:

When a person chooses not to play a part in that circus, they look elsewhere. Some people begin … in search of their own power, some begin in search of knowledge, and some approach that path from a sense of deep instinct.

The beginning of the path … is very much about personal development, be it spiritual, intellectual or self-determination … This is the first rung of the ladder and has many dead ends woven into it … designed to trap and teach them a lesson that is needful for their development … The ‘dead ends’ … are often related to our relationship to power, glamour and ego. We all go through it in one form or another and most climb out of it with a very red face, ready to move on, lesson well learned. There is nothing wrong in making mistakes and doing silly things, it is all part of the learning process. The first rung teaches us about ourselves, our weaknesses and strengths, our true desires and fears, and the real extent of our ability to be honest with ourselves. Remember the words over the door to the temple: Man, know thyself.* The threshold of the temple must be crossed with the intention to be willing to look in the mirror with an open mind and see what is really there. (McCarthy, Magical Knowledge: Book 1, pgs. 30-31)

In the end you cannot study “men,” as C. S. Lewis once observed. “You can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing.” And current trends notwithstanding, we very much need each other’s compassion along the way, given the difficulties and joys of life. That’s an act of High Magic. Given how we all will face death, it’s fair to say we also deserve that compassion from each other. And death? Death is one more potential magical initiation.

 /|\ /|\ /|\

 Image: selfless trilithon; Midhowe broch.

*Translation of the sign over the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece that read “gnothi seauton.” [Gno- related to English know, Latin cognitio, Greek gnosis. Seauton related to English and Greek auto- meaning “self.”]

McCarthy, Josephine. (2013). Magical Knowledge: Book 1 — Foundations. Oxford: Mandrake of Oxford.

Updated 9 August 2015

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