Archive for the ‘Iolo Morgannwg’ Category

The Day’s Eight Tides   2 comments

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backyard — bluets, with a few dandelions — too lovely to mow

Adapted from the Barddas of Iolo Morganwg:

Here are Morganwg’s eight tides or holy times of the day, consisting of three hours each:

1. Dewaint: 12:00-3:00 am (2400-0300)
2. Pylgeint: 3:00-6:00 am (0300-0600)
3. Bore: 6:00-9:00 am (0600-0900)
4. Anterth: 9:00-12:00 (0900-1200)
5. Nawn: 12:00-3:00 pm (1200-1500)
6. Echwydd: 3:00-6:00 pm (1500-1800)
7. Hwyr: 6:00-9:00 pm (1800-2100)
8. Ucher: 9:00-12:00 pm (2100-2400)

If we wish to align these hours with the Four Directions, one possible table could work out like this:

Pylgeint and Bore, late night to mid-morning — East
Anterth and Nawn, mid-morning to mid-afternoon — South
Echwydd and Hwyr, mid-afternoon to evening — West
Ucher and Dewaint, early to late night — North

Here each pair of tides is a time of transition with ever-shifting energies, as the flow created by the “daily generator” of our diurnal cycle moves from the North around the compass and back again.

Or to give a specific example, say it’s 8:00 in the morning. That puts us in the second part of Bore (the Welsh word for “morning”, as in bore da “good morning”), and nearing the transition to South, as daylight continues to grow. This time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, Bore and the Solstice link closely, as light and heat wax and increase day by day, and also during each day. Each day shows in miniature the cycle of the year, with light growing and lessening, dark growing and lessening.

What possible uses of this naming and patterning come to mind?

Well, if I’m awake, a prayer or charm I recite for each of the eight tides, or of the four pairs of them, as I become aware of them. They offer a chance to lift me out of narrow concerns into larger ones. They are a freedom I can give to myself.

Acknowledging the dominant direction and tide at the time of any significant action I (or others) undertake.

Meditating on the shifting force of each direction on each tide as the light and dark ebb and flow, alternating through the year.

Mapping on my own locale the activity and impact of actions taken during the different tides, of weather (especially as the planetary and local climate shifts and heats up), bird and animal and plant life, my own energy and awareness, and so on. To give one obvious example, this time of year our back yard doesn’t receive direct sunlight until well into Bore. Our house lies north-south, with much of the backyard in shadow by late afternoon. What can it teach me, this “Shadow of the West”? An opportunity the land where I live offers me.

Devising personal ritual and dedicating my awareness according to the tides of the days. This can shift daily, or seasonally, as I desire and need. The tides give me a focus for meditation, and a chosen context or “energy border” for my work with the Ovate grade.

As I finish up this post, I’ve entered Nawn, 12:00 to 3:00 pm. Though it’s a rainy day, and I can celebrate the coming of water to plants and trees, keeping the Northeastern U.S. its habitual and lovely green, and replenishing water tables, I can also sense the waxing sun behind the clouds. Delighting in the enchantment of the apparent world, and watching as that enchantment fades, as OBOD ritual frequently proclaims, are twin kinds of awareness that deserve exploration and cultivation.

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Prayer — “Grant” vs “Embody”   2 comments

If you join rituals of many of the contemporary Druid orders, you’ll encounter the Druid Prayer frequently. (In OBOD rituals it’s simply standard practice.) Some Reconstructionist Druid groups may eschew it because it originates during the “Druid Revival” period beginning in the 1600s, rather than from what we can recover of historical Druidry, but for all that, the claim often used to introduce it, that it “unites all Druids”, is more than wishful thinking. Or it could be.

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back yard, facing east

Also called the Gorsedd Prayer (Welsh Gweddi’r Orsedd), it’s long been part of the Welsh National Eisteddfod as well. The “inspired literary scalliwag” Iolo Morganwg composed it, and you can find several versions of it, including the Welsh originals, here. It’s survived because of its power:

Grant, O God (or Goddess/Spirit/etc.), Thy protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences,
the love of God (or Goddess/Spirit/etc.) and all goodness.

As a prayer of pure petition, it has value. The prayer makes no mention of reciprocity — the petitioner doesn’t promise to do anything in return for these very large gifts. In short, stripped of the politeness of the first word “grant”, the prayer says “Give.”

But if the Granter gives, the effects of the gift do provide a kind of return. If we’re protected, strengthened, granted understanding, knowledge, love of justice, of all existences and of God, you could argue that large transformative effects will doubtless follow, and constitute their own return. We certainly won’t be the same, act the same, or — most likely — pray the same. If we can’t get there any other way, sincere and heartfelt petition can do the trick.

As with so many elements of our group practice, we too rarely talk about them; first we’re busy preparing and then doing them, and feasting and socializing after. The sense of having “held up our end” can be palpable after ritual: the atmosphere tingles with a sense of scales recalibrated yet again. Witnesses, petitioners, performers, vessels and channels for holy energies to enter the world through our own imperfect and holy lives, we’ve reconnected, remembered, listened.

But because I know how I can end up mouthing the words, even as their familiarity is a comfort and a part of the ritual energy flow, I keep returning to the practice of embodying rather than merely asking. I need something to stop me, shake me, take me out of myself, and yes, out of the ritual moment, while holding me to a higher standard than I came with. It’s a kind of second prayer, or personal ritual. It may take me 10 or 20 minutes to fulfill it, because I need to slow down to do it, whether I say the words aloud or bring them to awareness in some other way, feeling them in my bones, touching the earth, cupping a ritual flame, gazing at the horizon, repeating them till they sink in, carrying their vibration till a door opens inwardly, any and every one of these ritual gestures. “Do till it’s true”. I want to realize “as above, so below” however I can. All I know is that for me the energies of this different manner or form of prayer also differ — and I need that difference.

So here’s one version of the words, a small part of what feels to me more of an “embodying” prayer:

Holy Ones,
in your protection I stand here,
strengthened, understanding your ways,
knowing and loving your honor as the source of mine.
The justice I do today and every day
mirrors my love for the good things
you give, just as the love I receive
is justice, the sword of truth you raise
in my life, handle toward me.
Wherever I am, may I remember
and live these things always.

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Perilous Seats and Baiting the Truth   6 comments

mach-chairThe Welsh proverb A gwir yn erbyn a byd — “the truth against the world” — hasn’t lost any of its force. It still offers a challenge, read one way; and a simple statement about the nature of things, read another. Or maybe they’re the same thing.

The words appear on a chair in the Welsh parliament house in Machynlleth. The chair itself is fairly recent, the words traceable at least to Iolo Morganwg and the first Gorsedd of the Bards in the 1790s.

This relatively modern chair may serve us as an apt stand-in for the Siege Perilous, the “Perilous Seat” of Arthurian lore. In the old story as Malory retells it in his Morte D’Arthur,” He shall be born that shall sit there in that siege perilous, and he shall win the Sangreal.” Looking beyond pronoun gender, if you have no truth in you that you will maintain in spite of the world’s ways, don’t even think about sitting there. Better than the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, the Chair puts you where you deserve, weeding out the unworthy with death.

What truth, you ask? In each moment I can assert the possibility of spiritual integrity in each person I meet, while striving to manifest it first in myself.

I can’t wait for the other guy. “You first”? If we all do that, who will ever grow? We see around us the eyes of the spiritually dead. (Some days we join them.) The sad conclusions they’ve come to, in the face of suffering and setbacks, have no life in them. They’ve bowed out and accepted a living death. They (we) are the wounded kings and queens of our present-day Wasteland.

iolo-reliefIn times like this, spiritual integrity can mean living with intention, living counter to the prevailing mood of pessimism and despair. But more importantly, counter to living without any intention at all. You know, the home-from-work, plop down in front of the TV or computer and insta-drug.  Waiting to be entertained (is that so bad?), to be led, to be fed, to be used for another’s purposes because we have none of our own. Well, maybe it is so bad.

So I nip in, trailing some accidental courage, and I lay bait for truth, only half-conscious of what I’m doing. Some days that’s the only way I end up getting any. “Gonna get some” has prodigiously awful overtones these days, but I’ll apply it to truth instead. And having baited the truth, maybe even bravely, for a moment or two, my boldness gives out and I turn tail, racing back to my hole and waiting for events. For a change. For something to happen. Almost (I whisper it) anything but this.

And there’s the actual peril for most us, if we brush against our own version of the Siege Perilous. We already all know it firsthand, and Churchill put it into words: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” Even Perilous Seats turn out to disappoint. Nothing happens. Except …

OBOD Druid rituals include in their opening the words “Let us begin by giving peace to the quarters, for without peace can no work be.”

Well, that decides it, then. No work can be, I mutter to myself. We’ve witnessed the efforts towards peace and justice, how each must be founded on the other. Hard work.

The Welsh ritual asks “A oes heddwch?” Is there peace?

The ritual answer is yes. Ritual can after all prefigure reality, open a door to its happening. It IS reality, on another plane, one we may wish to echo and emulate here. Or is peace a possession solely of some Otherworld, never to make its way here? Always a grail that’s over there, not here? “Grail on a shelf.” Good luck with that, shouts a chorus of wannabe truth-speakers.

The Galilean Master said to his devotees, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” Following the example of the Wise of many lands, we too can learn to give, and not as the world gives, but as our inner truth leads us.

Can there be peace if we each insist on our own truths against the world — against each other’s? Isn’t that in fact the origin of so many conflicts? Especially in America, with everyone shouting “It’s my right!” and no one saying “It’s my responsibility.”

Peace within us doesn’t preclude needful action. It does lay the ground for clarity and compassion out of which all true transformation grows.

And for me that’s a foundational truth I’ve had to learn the hard way. Many others would like to change me to fit their views of the world. The harder and more worthwhile challenge is to change myself to fit my view of the world. If I can’t manage to do that, why expect anyone else to? Or turning it outward, ask me to change in your way only when you can show me you’ve changed. Otherwise, I have my own changes to work on. That cuts down mightily on truths in conflict. And it keeps us all busy failing our way to success, says my inner cynic.

The Welsh ritual:

Y gwir yn erbyn y byd, a oes heddwch? The truth against the world, is there peace?
Calon wrth galon, a oes heddwch? Heart to heart, is there peace?
Gwaedd uwch adwaedd, a oes heddwch? Shout above responding shout, is there peace?

One good example outweighs a lot of words. (Some questions need to be asked, some answers given, three times so we can hear them.) But once we have the example, then the words draw energy from it, and carry some of that truth that runs “against the world” and toward spiritual integrity and harmony.  Words are empty only when hearts are. Full heart, full words.

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Image: chair; Iolo plaque.

Pocket Druidry   Leave a comment

brighid3Over the last several cold damp nights and cool partly cloudy days here in New England, many of us who heat with wood have lit the first fires of autumn. (Some days building and feeding a fire is the best theology I can muster.)

More than one Vermont Druid I know makes it an autumn ritual, invoking Brighid and celebrating the turning of the year in this private, immediately practical and also beautifully symbolic way. Way more fun than turning up a thermostat. You celebrate starting from where you are and what you’re doing. Where else, after all, can I begin?

Stay alert, I tell myself. This can be one of the times Druidry demonstrates its wonder and power and joy. We don’t always need the big ritual circles and dords* sounding their ancient welcomes, though these, too, can be apt and lovely. Sometimes, though, the best Druidry for the moment is pocket-sized.

Pocket Druidry. At last year’s East Coast Gathering, Kris Hughes led a workshop demonstrating another form of it. In the early days of Revival Druidry, the Welsh poet and Druid Iolo Morganwg  conceived a literal pocket Druidry, constructing a ritual circle for a gathering of friends on the Summer Solstice of 1792, out of stones drawn from his pocket.

World in your hand, circle in your pocket. Our lives, especially in the last century or so, seem to repeat a pattern: demonstrate our immense power to shape and re-create the world, then withdraw, standing back in dismay and doubt when it doesn’t turn out as we hoped. We’re still practicing, still in the elementary grades, with all the meanings that suggests. Learning to use the elements at hand, still in the early stages.

With the love of triads and threes that marks so much of Celtic art and story, it’s no surprise that the Celtic conception of our spiritual journeys should mirror this same triplicity. From the starting point of Annwn, the Celtic Otherworld, we move forth and back through three states of manifestation and consciousness, in a kind of dance that sees us revisiting old lessons until we’ve fully mastered the material, spiralling through different forms and perspectives.

Most of us hang out for a considerable time in this present world of Abred, this place of testing and proving. From here we proceed to Gwynfyd, a world of liberty and freedom beyond the pale shadows of these forces in our present world. Back and forth between Abred and Gwynfyd, with dips into Annwn here and there. And last comes Ceugant, an unbounded, infinite realm. By definition, no end point, but a new beginning. The horizon recedes.

Morganwg’s compilation Barddas (section 227) explains this cosmology through a kind of Druidic catechism of question and answer. I’ve modernized some of the archaic language in the following excerpt:

Q. What were you before you became human in the circle of Abred?

A. I was in Annwn, the least possible thing capable of life, and the nearest possible to absolute death, and I came in every form, and through every form capable of a body and life, to the state of human in the circle of Abred, where my condition was severe and grievous during the age of ages, ever since I was parted in Annwn from the dead.

Q. Through how many forms have you come?

A. Through every form capable of life, in water, in earth, and in air.

As the Beatles sing it, “It’s a long and winding road …”

One of my teachers notes that human beings recently refused a chance to rise to the next level of awareness by accepting responsibility for themselves and their actions. Some days it feels like we’re throwing tantrums because we didn’t get what we thought we wanted. Rather than awareness, we default to outrage.

In the circle we’re presently in, we refuse to accept cause and effect, continuing to live on a merely emotional, reactive level, without fuller consciousness, at least very often. We’ll readily respond to the energy tides sweeping around us, and contribute to them willingly, but deny that any of them has longer-term effects we need to weigh before leaping in, or that we always have a choice. But that’s how I feel, we say. Yes. So now own it, and go from there, counsel our guides and sages. Maybe not by diving immediately into the very next feeling that presents itself just because it knocks at the door of consciousness.

Ask why? Ask who benefits? Ask how do I live from a place of honor?

Don’t think, say our advertisers and politicians and insta-gurus galore. Don’t think. React!

Seedtime and harvest, whispers the wisdom of the earth.

The glory and wonder and marvel of it all, in the face of the sufferings we keep bringing on ourselves and each other, are the possibilities of joy unbounded that we glimpse too rarely — that view through the window, over the next hill, in a day- or night-dream, which nevertheless keep us going in spite of everything.

This — the Barddas counsels us — this is simply the way we get there. (If you find another and better way, please do let me know!) Through experiencing fully every possibility and option and choice, and living their consequences.

Less comforting that I was looking for, but a provocative insight, nonetheless. It goes remarkably far in explaining the predicaments (plural) we’re in. They’re the lesson at hand. The necessary lesson. Whatever comes, though, matters less than what we do with it. Especially with the sense of deja-vu that we’ve faced this all before. Wait, I say. Sometimes it feels like I’m still in somebody else’s lesson. Why do I have to sit in class waiting for them to get it?

For some, yes, the lesson’s familiar, a kind of review. Others need to go through the whole thing, maybe for the first time. They may never have encountered it before. But the final piece I know I’m still working on, the piece that keeps me here (I can’t speak for you), is that I have the choice to learn and show compassion. To serve. It’s not about me after all.

That’s all? I ask, grumbling or swearing, depending. Obviously I do need to be here, I say ruefully, a moment later, if only because I’ll need compassion from others soon enough, when a hard lesson comes my way. As it will, guaranteed.

Along with each lesson, that peculiar joy: This isn’t all there is. Keep going. Keep loving, in spite of all evidence to contrary. It’s human evidence, says the sage in the heart. You made it, you live it, you learn it, you move on.

And the goal? I ask. Ah, now. The big question. Your answer today is more important than anybody else’s. Because it will shape what you do next …

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IMAGE: Brighid in her form as triple goddess of healing, smithcraft and fire.

*A Youtube video of a large dord being played — sounding remarkably like a didgeridoo.

 

Thirty Days of Druidry 4: Truths and a Truth   Leave a comment

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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.

 

 

Choice, Experience, and Wisdom from Many Wells   Leave a comment

I want to do some thinking out loud here. Nothing new, since I do it frequently. But it’s an experiment with a more specific kind of thinking I share less often here, because for many people, negative experiences with Christianity raise painful associations and memories that make even a mention of Jesus or the long, rich, varied and potentially very useful Christian tradition anathema to them. So if you’re still deeply allergic and over-sensitized to some of the more toxic forms of religion, well, here’s your red flag. But if you choose to go forward, simply treat the following as another kind of practice, like tai chi or dancing when no one’s watching, or waving at the moon.

Try it out for what it’s worth, without preconceptions. If you need a prod, here’s one: “I can’t dance” doesn’t cut it. Everybody moves, and everybody can move rhythmically. That’s all that’s needed. The rest is mere practice and polish.

As a Druid I feel almost a compulsion to follow wherever the light leads. I’ve rarely been disappointed, which is why I keep doing it.

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One legacy of my Christian upbringing is a fascination with “wisdom from the borders.” Unlike my more fundamentalist cousins, my mother was drawn to Christian Science with its focus on healing, and my World War II vet father was a member of the “God made the world, I farm a small piece of it, I’m grateful for its seasons and gifts, and that’s already enough for me” school of deism. From that initial gift of my parents’ openness to possibility, I learned and grew the most, before I took other paths, through insights from the periphery, or even outside the official “party line,” of Evangelical Christianity, or “EC.”

EC is, after all, just one sub-branch of one faith, but it’s a sub-branch that sometimes gets a bad name for its often unreflective adherence to dogma, especially in the face of good counter-evidence. Because of that, it also gets a lot of press from agnostic and atheist strands in contemporary thought and journalism. One of the regrettable but understandable consequences of the debate is that many people write off a whole religion because one or two particular flavors of it that they happen to know or have experienced just make them gag. It’s a “baby with the bathwater” thang.

goat-and-sheepOne of the EC dogmas that bothered me the most, from about the age of 8 or 9 onward, and that has set many other people’s teeth on edge as well,  is what’s more recently been called “damnationism” — the apparent and deeply problematic need to condemn whole swaths of humanity to eternal torment because they don’t happen to believe the right things required by one stream of orthodoxy, all so we can hang with the sheep and not with the goats for the rest of time. Finally, some writers are even starting to call that out for what it is: a blasphemous perversion of an original truth.**

Greetings-From-Hell

Hell, MI, 48169 — an actual place, population approx. 260, located 15 miles NW of Ann Arbor.

One of my favorite writers within the universalist stream of Christianity, which doesn’t clutch a self-righteous need to condemn everyone else but Christians to hell, is Thomas Talbott. Universalism can be conveniently summed up in just two words: love wins.

Talbott’s insights do come cloaked in evangelical language, because that’s his particular upbringing. But he looks far beyond the surface, like I hope you will, and like most people learn to do when they realize either a pretty or ugly face is often the least interesting and important part of a person.

Here’s an excerpt I want to work with, from Talbott’s fine book* The Inescapable Love of God:

In fact, our bad choices almost never get us what we really want; this is part of what makes them bad, and also one reason why God is able to bring redemptive good out of them. When we make a mess of our lives and our misery becomes more and more unbearable, the hell we thereby create for ourselves will in the end resolve the very ambiguity and shatter the very illusions that made the bad choices possible in the first place. That is how God works with us as created rational agents. He permits us to choose freely in the ambiguous contexts in which we first emerge as self-aware beings, and he then requires us to learn from experience the hard lessons we sometimes need to learn. So in that way, the consequences of our free choices, both the good ones and the bad ones, are a source of revelation; they reveal sooner or later — in the next life, if not in this one — both the horror of separation from God and the bliss of union with him. And that is why the end is foreordained: all paths finally lead to the same destination, the end is reconciliation, though some are longer, windier, and a lot more painful than others.

When I read sound insights from the Wise working in other traditions that may ring notes that jar a little, I like to try out alternate versions, to see how they work when clothed in other terminology. How much of the wisdom survives the change? How much of the difficulty is merely semantics? Here are Talbott’s words again, re-garbed in non-theist language:

In fact, our bad choices almost never get us what we really want; this is part of what makes them bad for us, and also one reason why our subsequent experiences are able to bring good out of them. When we make a mess of our lives and our misery becomes more and more unbearable, the hell we thereby create for ourselves can eventually resolve the very ambiguity and shatter the very illusions that made the bad choices possible in the first place. That is how the patterns of the universe often respond to us as rational agents. They permit us to choose freely in the ambiguous contexts in which we first emerge as self-aware beings, and then let us learn from experience the hard lessons we sometimes need to learn in order to gain wisdom. So in that way, the consequences of our free choices, both the good ones and the bad ones, are a potential source of growth and discovery; they reveal both the suffering of separation from our own highest good and the bliss of heeding its shaping pattern.

That’s interesting to me. How much did I change? Well, “God” gets replaced with patterns that inhere in lived experience, and “redemption” becomes growth and increased insight. The universe becomes aware of itself in us and in other beings. Is that “true”? Well, let’s be Druidic about it and test it, for years if necessary, rather than bothering with any belief or disbelief about it before we even have a foundation of experience to reflect on. Whether the patterns of the universe tend towards love is an experiential question, and really not a matter that mere belief can adequately resolve either way. And for how many other questions like it is this also true?

These insights issue from what used to be called the “perennial tradition,” or the philosophia perennis, a well of wisdom common to the depths of all valid traditions, part of the heritage of humanity rather than the exclusive possession of any one culture or tradition. It’s also part of folk wisdom in the West that emerges in sayings like “what goes around comes around” and “what you do comes back to you.” The added insight here points to the value of “bad” experiences, just as useful — or misleading! — as the good ones. For ease and comfort can mislead us about the pain and suffering in the world, just as our own pain and suffering can blind us to the beauty and wonder and possibility around us. From all I’ve seen, life, fortunately, is bigger than either.

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iolo-morgannwgOne of the streams from the early days of the Druid revival and the writings of Iolo Morgannwg*** runs with a Welsh version of such wisdom, offering a vision of a cosmos in which all things move toward growth and increasing consciousness, over countless eons, through every imaginable form, and in every imaginable experience. In this conception, the universe is a flow of energies, and its current sweeps us/we ride it from Annwn (ah-noon) and Abred (ah-bred) to Gwynfyd (gwin-vid) and ultimately on to Ceugant (kye-gahnt), a kind of infinity. Eventually we all experience everything.

Unlike the Christian sense of redemption or heaven, you’ll note, these are simply points along the flow. Another way to see it: the mouth of the river as it enters the sea is not superior to its source in the springs on a distant hillside. All is flow. Things may slow down or speed up as they move along the river, adjusting to the current, to the shore, and to each other.

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I had the privilege this last Saturday to take part in an open discussion on the topic “Have You Had a Spiritual Experience?” Those who attended were mostly older than me. Graying or white hair framed almost every face as I looked around the circle of the dozen or so of us who attended. But when the question arose about how many of us kept to some kind of spiritual practice, every hand went up. I found this wonderfully inspiring.

The point that everyone wanted to tackle: what’s next? How do we work with spiritual truths, with the patterns of life we’ve all encountered, and continue to grow in wisdom and love?

Those questions also continue to drive me on my own path and underlie my explorations on this blog. Thank you to all who read this blog for joining me for a few minutes each week and for considering these things, too.

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*Talbott, Thomas. The Inescapable Love of God. 2nd ed. Cascade Books, 2014.

**Favager, David. Hell to Pay?: The Blasphemous Absurdity of Damnationism. Amazon Digital/Kindle, 2015.

***Iolo Morgannwg — from the foreword to the Sacred Text Archive to Morgannwg’s collection Barddas:

However, this is one of those visionary texts which is worth reading for its own merits, irrespective of whether it is ‘genuine’ or not. Taken at face value, the Barddas remains a fascinating text. It has resonances with the Upanishads, Kabbalah, and Freemasonry. The Bardic alphabet presented in the ‘Symbol’ section is completely invented, based on Runic and Ogham, and has utility as a magical alphabet. However it is about as genuine as the alphabets of J.R.R. Tolkien. The ‘Theology’ section appears to be based on Iolo’s peculiar Christian views (he described himself as a Unitarian Quaker). ‘Theology’ also contains a great number of Triads, some of which may be from authentic ancient Bardic lore. The ‘Wisdom’ section has a great deal of mythopoetic information, some of which is authentic, some not. The Barddas is great reading if you are at all interested in the ancient Druids, as long as you keep in mind the background of its creation.

IMAGES: goat and sheep; greetings from Hell, Michigan; marker — Iolo Morgannwg.

 

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