Archive for the ‘J M Greer’ Category

Expanding — and Focusing — Our Magic   Leave a comment

[Part One | Part Two]

In a recent comment, Steve writes:

A broader definition of magic sounds interesting, especially when compared with some of the ideas about it I have encountered over the years.

Do you have a working definition you could share or is this something you have developed in your blog?

I do have a working definition of magic, and I’ve also written about it in various forms fairly frequently, though not always under that label. But it’s good to regularly take out opinions and understandings, dust them off, rattle them, note what shakes free, scrape off the rust, and buff and polish the rest. So with the spur that Steve’s comment provides, that’s what I’ll do in this post.

Yevgeny-zamyatin

Yevgeny Zamyatin / Wikipedia / public domain

Our definitions come, mostly, after experiences. Before that, we don’t have much to attach them to, and if anyone who’s reading this is anything like me, your definitions at that point may not match things that you later DO experience. So then we get mired in the mismatch, rather than referring back to the original experience. Or — even better than looking backward — experiencing more, other, wilder. So I open up once again a page where I can re-read irascible old revolutionary Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937), whose essay “On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters” reminds me: “Dealing with answered questions is the privilege of brains constructed like a cow’s stomach, which, as we know, is built to digest cud”.

“Privilege”? Tired of a too-steady diet of cud, I aim to forage more widely.

So I’ll begin by asserting we all practice magic, and work outward from there, using this as a core assumption and seeing how it holds up. We do much of our magic half-consciously, so that we often don’t perceive the patterns, causes and effects of what we set in motion as clearly as we might. After all, like most of us, I insist on who I am: in my case, straight, white, male, employed, married, healthy, intelligent, rational. But when even one of these breaks down, as every one of them has for at least some of us over a lifetime, my world trembles violently, even if it doesn’t collapse outright, and I scurry and latch on to explanations for what’s going on.

Isn’t such an interval about the least likely time for any of us to notice the patterns, causes and effects of what we’ve set in motion? And even if and when we do, we tend to account for them only with naturalistic explanations (Pagans may add supernatural but not necessarily more accurate ones), including blaming other people, fatigue, stress, illness, the government, conspiracies, the Man, our reptilian overlords, a loveless marriage, plain bad luck, and so on, forgetting how much even of our conscious experience at the very moment of our explaining has been programmed by education, habit, expectation, culture, practice, a “reasonable explanation”, and a simple, overriding human desire not … to … be … weird.

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But … magic?!

At the heart of this often-inaccurate accounting is a precept that disturbs and offends Westerners in particular, taught as we are that we are free and independent beings, with wills and choices subject to our conscious attention. We are not so free after all, but if we can’t even examine this assertion in the first place, what are we to do? If we all practice magic, as I claim, we all need to, because as musician and mage R. J. Stewart observes:

With each phase of culture in history, the locks upon our consciousness have changed their form or expression, but in essence remain the same. Certain locks are contrived from willed patterns of suppression, control, propaganda, sexual stereotyping, religious dogma; these combine with and reinforce the old familiar locks restraining individual awareness; laziness, greed, self-interest, and, most pernicious of all, willful ignorance. This last negative quality is the most difficult of all to transform into a positive; if we truly will ourselves to be ignorant, and most of us do in ways ranging from the most trivial to the most appallingly irresponsible and culpable, then the transformation comes only through bitter experience. It may seem to be hardship imposed from without, almost at random, but magical tradition suggests that it flows from our own deepest levels of energy, which, denied valid expression by the locks upon our consciousness, find an outlet through exterior cause and effect (Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 20-21).

“[D]enied valid expression by the locks upon our consciousness”: we might think such a “locked-up” person simply needs re-education, or better training, maybe positive reinforcement, a decent opportunity. (I note here that it’s almost always some other person who’s the problem, or needs the help — never me. After all, I’m awake and in charge of my life.) This is also where we get much of the American program of self-improvement, “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps”, as it used to be called. Those who can afford it try therapy, or weekend retreats and workshops. Those who can’t may rely on pharmaceuticals or liquor or increasingly available weed. As the evidence mounts, as the growing dysfunction, suffering, addiction, unhappiness and all-around misery attest, something’s not working.

So why magic, of all things? Surely any number of other options would be preferable to something so half-baked, superstitious, irrational, etc., etc. — the list of slanders, some of them justified by pernicious snake-oil salesmen, is long.

J. M. Greer, ecologist, blogger, conservationist and mage, puts it this way:

[t]he tools of magic are useful because most of the factors that shape human awareness are not immediately accessible to the conscious mind; they operate at levels below the one where our ordinary thinking, feeling, and willing take place. The mystery schools have long taught that consciousness has a surface and a depth. The surface is accessible to each of us, but the depth is not. To cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others, the depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough (J. M. Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Weiser Books, 2012, pg. 88).

To put it another way, in what is not a particularly poetic magical Druid triad: Magic stems from an experiential fact, an experimental goal, and an endlessly adaptable technique.

The fact is that each day we all experience many differing states of consciousness, moving from deep sleep to REM sleep to dream to waking, to daydream, to focused awareness and back again.  We make these transitions naturally and usually effortlessly. They serve different purposes, and what we cannot do in one state, we can often do easily in another.  The flying dream is not the focus on making a hole in one, nor is it the light trance of daydream, nor the careful math calculation. What we do mechanically and often without awareness, we can learn to do consciously.

The goal of magic is transformation – to enter focused states of awareness at will and through them to achieve insight and change. Often, for me anyway, this is nothing more mysterious than moving out of a negative, depressed or angry headspace at will into a more free, imaginative one, where I can problem-solve much more effectively, and also be much more pleasant to be around. Or so my wife tells me.

“The major premise of magic,” says R. J. Stewart, “is that there are many worlds, and that the transformations which occur within the magician enable him or her to gain access to these worlds” (R. J. Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 7).

The technique — a cluster, really, of practices and techniques — is the training and work of the imagination.  This work typically involves the use of one or more of the following: ritual, meditation, chant, visualization, concentration, props, images and group dynamics to catalyze transformations in awareness. “… [O]ur imagination is our powerhouse …” says Stewart. “… certain images tap into the deeper levels of imaginative force within us; when these are combined with archetypal patterns they may have a permanent transformative effect”.

Ouroboros-benzene.svgEven mundanely, golfers visualize a hole in one, carpenters see the finished design long before it emerges from the blueprint, chemists rely as much on inspiration as any artist for discoveries like that of August Kekule, who dreamt of the structure of the benzene ring via the archetypical image of a snake swallowing its tail.

Furnish the imagination with the food it needs, and it can be a powerful tool and guide. Abandon it to others who do not know us, nor have our best interests at heart, and we cast away our birthright.

PART TWO — Applications — coming soon.

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La Vie en Vert: Life Greens   Leave a comment

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On an overcast, mild and rainy day, the stones of our backyard firepit emerge at last from the retreating snow.  No thing exists “entire of itself” or for itself only. It also touches things around it, making and meaning for them a whole range of significances. For the moles in the lower yard, warming weather soaks the earth with snowmelt, and that means flooded burrows. For the deer who’ve survived the New England winter, fresh browse as the grass greens again under the strengthening sun, with the tender shoots of new growth burgeoning everywhere. For the returning birds, nesting material, the first bugs, and surfacing worms.

One of the core teachings explains that the macrocosm (literally ‘the great universe,’ the universe around us) and the microcosm (the ‘little universe,’ the universe within us) are mirror images of each other.

Thus, we can look to the world of nature around us for help in understanding our own nature, recognizing that if a theory about the nature of the universe proves to be a mistake when tested against the world around us, it will also prove to be a mistake when applied to the world within us (Greer, J. M. Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, pg. 15).

Inner turmoil, strange dreams I can recall only fragments of on waking, a sense of being reminded of — and held to — a standard I agreed to long ago. A sense of being on the cusp of some ordination, relied on for a spiritual responsibility. “Ready or not, here I come”, says Spirit.

“Every human being is already a priest”, says John Plummer in his book Living Mysteries,

in a very primal sense. We stand between earth and sky, like pillars in an ever-moving temple. We find ourselves within and among other humans and many other orders of being (stones, plants, animals, elementals, angels, etc.) with energies flowing back and forth, consciously and not … Our outer personalities mediate the sacred presence at the core of our being, more or less well. We are all points in an extraordinarily complex web, through which divine power moves. That power … is much greater than us, and not particularly concerned about whether we understand how it is working, at any given moment (pg. 13).

Whether baptized or called by the spirits, pursued and confronted by an animal guardian, taught in dreams, initiated through suffering or illness or other trauma into a spiritual quest, roused by the shakti of a guru or the accumulated potency of intensive meditation, ignited by our own unanswered questions and a divine discontent, or turned off all spirituality by its many fakes and shams into a formidable and rationalistic atheism, we are called.

Plummer continues:

… we cannot turn our back on it. If we try, it will come knocking louder and louder, until we re-open the door. We have to feed it from our own substance, letting it grow through us, and then hand it forward to those who come after us, whoever they may be. To fail to transmit what we have received is to dam a stream until it becomes a stagnant pond, rather than free-flowing, clear water (pg. 15).

And so we come to this weekend, both April Fools’ Day and Easter, that lovely Pagan celebration — after all, it does take place on the first day of the Sun, after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox — a true Pagan Triad of Light.

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Gulf Coast Gathering ’17, Live Oak canopy

Water and Light, and the holy Trees as witnesses.

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Greer, J. M. (2012). Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology. Weiser Books.

Plummer, John. (2006). Living Mysteries: a Practice Handbook for the Independent Priest. Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press.

Rules for the Game   Leave a comment

One of the formative books of my adolescence is R S de Ropp’s The Master Game. First published in the late 60s, long before some of the shadier margins of the New Age self-help movement earned a few hustlers some big bucks (you can see his “names for their games” in the third paragraph below), de Ropp flattered, cajoled or profited from nobody’s ego as he examined what we spend our lives loving.

If I had to sum up his book, I’d cite this from the first page: “… what people really need and demand from life is not wealth, comfort or esteem, but games worth playing” (pg. 11; italics in original). We witness, to say it tactfully as I can, many dysfunctional life-choices that arise from lack of worthwhile games.

lehmanSome of the less commendable games de Ropp names are “Cock on Dunghill” and “Hog in Trough”. We’ve seen plenty of players of both those games over the last few decades. The 2008 global financial crisis resulted directly from “Hog in Trough” players. “Verily”, said a long-ago Galilean Druid, “they have their reward”.

Some play nobler games, like the Householder Game — raising a family. Some opt for the Art Game (beauty). We have the late Stephen Hawking as a premier example of a player of the Science Game (knowledge). Many go in for — and here de Ropp shows a monotheistic bias — the Religion Game (salvation). None of these are completely mutually exclusive, but people sort themselves by the games they play as much as by anything else. As you might expect, though, the game de Ropp favors, and calls the “Master Game” of his title, is awakening.

Being “woke” is very small part of it.

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If WordPress’s stats for this site over the last three days can be trusted, you are residents of Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Turkey, UK and USA.

So what do you know, how have you learned it, and how do you apply it in your lives today?!

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Denise observes (commenting on the previous post), “There is only one rule: treat others as you wish to be treated. When I remember that ‘others’ doesn’t only mean human others, the rest falls into place” [punctuated for clarity–ed.].

The law of love deservedly tops many lists of rules, sometimes in surprising ways. If you’ve raised children, you’ve probably deployed some version of tough love. That can mean letting others learn the hard way, or directly from consequences, if they’ve disregarded repeated warnings, instruction, examples, and loving requests. It can also mean not letting sentiment get in the way of responsibility. We do few favors by enabling bad behavior. But oh, it can be hard to put into practice!

Yesterday I removed a dead mouse we’d caught that had been living in and crapping all over our car for the past year. If you’ve listened and attended to the non-human world that chooses to live in close proximity with humans, you know the remarkable negotiations that can happen — on both sides. Ask spiders to leave a bedroom, and sometimes they will. Contact the moles in the yard and request they leave the garden alone, and sometimes they will.

It works both ways. Clean up the trash the previous owner left in our woods, came the message shortly after we moved in. Leave the undergrowth along your property lines, for habitat. Let the backyard weeds flower and go to seed. Then you can mow — just later in the season.

Sometimes we can reach an accord and live harmoniously. Sometimes one or the other side steps across, and learns the hard way. The non-human world has been asking us to clean up our messes for quite some time. We haven’t bothered, for the most part, and the payback continues to come due with each passing year.

Is this love?

Like you, like us all, I’m a work in progress. Love is a gift of attention and work, energy and time. You might call this the law of reciprocity, or balance, or harmony. Maybe a law guiding us on the way to love.

Other rules for this game of living arise in the world’s wisdom. One that’s bandied about a lot in New Age and Pagan circles, but too often without adequate exploration, is “As above, so below”. From what I’ve seen, it often works the other way, too, in ways I’m still discovering: “as below, so above”, insofar as what I do today has a definite effect on other planes, not just this physical one. Cultivate a negative habit, and it spills over into the quality of relationships, into opportunities missed, into other self-defeating behaviors, into dreams, and so on. The universe builds in multiple directions, not just top-down. It may be a uni-verse, a single turning, a whole in itself, from a certain perspective, but it’s poly-valent, too.

The law of paradox has also taught me a lot. “The opposite of an ordinary truth is a falsehood, but the opposite of a profound truth is, often, another profound truth”. I’ve carried that one around for decades, and it’s proven its value. It seems like a harmonic linking us with another plane, part of “as above, so below”. It teaches me to look more deeply at my own life, to mine it down to the marrow for meaning. And it’s a helpful first rule of thumb for testing a truth in the first place. (Do its opposites generate corollaries?)

Then there’s the law of unity, appropriate for a uni-verse — not any of our superficial, political unities, or a politically-correct drive for equality (limited and partial harmonics as they are), but a demonstrable unity, at work whether or not we believe in it or enforce it with merely human laws. It precedes us; it’s a thread in the pattern, part of the Web. It means, among so many other things, that the human sense of isolation and loneliness, of separation, doesn’t mirror the truth of things, but is rather a deception, a learned and self-reinforcing lie. It also means that whatever we do has consequences. We matter in so many ways to the whole and to each other, beyond our capacities to comprehend. The Hindu mystics put it in theistic terms:

The one Godhead, secret in all beings, the inner Self of all, presiding over all action, witness, conscious knower and absolute … the One … fashions one seed in many ways (Svetasvatara Upanishad).

But we all have sensed it, fragmented it may be, refracted, momentary, transient, flickering past — or sometimes longer, depending occasionally on a chemical or alcoholic lift, yes; or in meditation or ritual, or arriving unlooked for, unawares; or at the birth of a child, the death of a parent, in love, wonder, awe, deep emotion. Given all our many backgrounds, perspectives, filters, worldviews, we understandably give it different names, explain it variously. But it’s a near-universal in human experience.

mtftle1In 2012, on the centennial of the anonymous 1912 publication of the Kybalion [free pdf/public domain], J. M. Greer published a reworking of the seven spiritual laws it explores in his Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology. In Greer’s latter version, the seven laws re-emerge as statements of an ecological spirituality. [See here for posts examining each law].

Note that these aren’t things anyone is called to believe: they’re scientific facts, that much-abused word. One of the things that means in practice is that anyone can witness them in action, and draw their own conclusions from them. Turns out what we need to know has been around under our noses for at least as long as we’ve been here.

Other laws or rule for the game? If you took up my suggestion in the previous post to write down your own rules, you have some in hand. Denise did: for her, love tops the list.

Our understanding of life has the greatest impact when it’s put in terms we can grasp — especially when we put it in those terms for ourselves. Mine won’t work completely for you, simply because they’re mine. Yours are for you. We need individual understandings, because we’re individuals.

It’s because of the law of unity that we’re each individual, each one. For this reason we can also (learn to) value another’s freedom, even as they acknowledge ours. So the law of freedom also ranks high on my list. Grant others the freedom to be who they are, in accord with their granting me my own. This one much of the planet is still learning, to judge by daily headlines and our widespread experience of life in this world. “Your freedom ends where mine begins”, goes one popular formulation, and vice versa.

Tomorrow, to round out this discussion, I’ll post “Eleven Strands of Educational and Life Philosophy”, which I composed as part of my application with a teacher’s placement agency some two years ago.

Love, unity, reciprocity, paradox, and freedom — some of my rules. And my game? Druidry helps to keep waking me up, though I still drowse a lot.

What’s your game?

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Images: Lehman Brothers;

Refreshing “Home”   Leave a comment

Keep refreshing “home” and your browser gives you different results, your Facebook feed changes, etc., my wife said the other day.

If I’m paying attention, an inner bell goes off for me at such moments, an aha! of illumination. Spiritual practice is my way of refreshing home, of choosing — or asking for — something else than what the apparent or obvious may be telling or showing me. Some animals and insects excel in mimicry as a defense, or to lure prey. So too the human world, with its heartfelt truths and its cons, its bullshit and its profound beauties, its “characters” and “originals” and its gold standard friends.

Refreshing home is a kind of alertness that many animals retain, honed senses not dulled by noise from talking self. Don’t get me wrong — human speech is indeed a gift. But like many powerful gifts, it’s double-edged. It’s true, peace to Walt Whitman, that animals “do not make me sick discussing their duty to God … Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago”*

So when I write, as in the previous post, about things like devotion to Brighid, and you’re feeling particularly agnostic about, maybe, absolutely everything, consider J M Greer’s observations about egregor(e)s, the energy of group consciousness that forms around any regular gathering and gives it a distinct character, and especially around magical groups that work intentionally with charging and exploring its potentials. Is Brighid an egregor? Does your local parent-teacher association or book club or university class differ from other groups in any way? Of course. But is Brighid “merely” an egregor?

Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and other atheists miss a very large point here. I won’t spell it out — you already know it, or else you’re not interested in knowing it.

Greer says, writing about magical lodges:

… egregors capable of carrying the highest levels of power can only be built up on the basis of the living patterns of the realm of meaning, outside space and time. These patterns are what some religions call gods, and what others call aspects of God. They have a reality and a power that have nothing to do with the egregors built up around them, but they use the egregors the way people use clothing or the way actors in many traditional societies use masks. Skillful, intelligent, ethical, and dedicated work with these egregors, according to tradition, can bring lodge members into a state of participation with the primal living powers of existence itself — a state that is the goal of most religions, and as well as the highest summit of the art of magic (Greer, Inside a Magical Lodge, Llywellyn Books, 1998, pgs. 109-110).

It’s the part of those willing to work with and within a tradition not to stop at the level of belief in it, but to test and explore its possibilities. We’re worlds away from credal faith here. But you may, if you’re around a devotee of Brighid, especially this time of year, overhear or encounter a song or poem or prayer of dedication, service, and love.

 

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*”I think I could turn and live with the animals“; Song of Myself.

Devotionals   Leave a comment

On a Druidry Facebook group I’m a member of, the question arises a few times each year: what makes Druidry distinctive? In other words, if you’re looking over your options, “Why this and not that?”

Sustained contact with the green world is first practice, never abandoned, never out of date.

In a comment on the last post here, bpott said she was told in meditation to “practice devotionals to the gods outdoors. Lighting a candle to Brighid and sitting with her, or pouring water in a bowl for the moon to infuse its energy and listening to Manannan are such devotionals. There is indeed much to be gained through these spiritual practices”.

But this isn’t something for you to take anyone’s word for. It’s not that kind of observation. Words are meant guide us to own experience and back out again, to reflect so we can experience deeper.

Or as J M Greer puts it,

Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth.  It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit.

We regularly need reminders like these, because Talking Self sidetracks us.

“Talking Self” — you know, that chatty, sometimes neurotic self we use to read and post on Facebook, grumble at headlines we don’t like, and cheer for ones we do. It can often persuade us that it is all of who we are, because its medium is language and the thoughts and feelings language kindles in us. Name it, says Talking Self, trying to keep everything in its domain of names and words. (The Dao De Jing quietly reminds us “the nameless is the origin of heaven and earth”.)

Druidry says take yourself out of talking self and into Self — the being linked in its sinew and blood, bone and spirit, to all that is — rivers and streams, woods and meadows, valleys and hills, tundra and deserts, bird and beech, beast and bass and bug.

When you come back, you can turn Talking Self toward song or ritual, if you like — give it something to do that it does well — but in the service of something higher than reactive gossip and self-importance and anxiety.

And “going outdoors” doesn’t have to entail a frigid January plunge through a hole in the ice at the local lake. It may be as simple as smelling an evergreen twig you picked up yesterday on a walk, and now you hold it as you meditate, on the change of seasons, the incense of a living thing on your fingers and in your nose. Crafting a banner or a poem for the next time your Grove meets — at Imbolc in February. Baking and taking a gift to an elderly neighbor or the local soup kitchen. Grooming your dog or cat.

All these things re-engage the body and give Talking Self a break. Poor thing, it needs one. These practices help restore our connections. They gift us with balance. For these reasons they are, in a curious word more often associated with another tradition, incarnational. They literally put us into our bodies, even as they give Spirit shapes and forms we can experience.

Many forms of Spirit, many bodies to experience them: earth body and dream body and thought body and memory body. And others we haven’t begun to explore.

I lay the makings of a fire in our woodstove, crumpled newspaper and punky dry strips of willow from a fallen branch two years ago, and thin strips of a log split and split and split again. Wood’s our primary heat-source — we’re far too stingy to waste money on our electric backup, except in direst emergencies, and then the power may have gone out anyway. I can pause a moment before setting the match to the kindling and honor Brighid. The makings of a devotional. Not “believe in Her”, not “profess my faith She exists”, but honor Her. Often something quite different.

As someone once quipped, more important than me believing in Brighid is Brighid believing in me. What god would care to waste attention on a human who isn’t ever here? But if I’m here and as I honor Her I sense She’s here, what’s left to believe? It’s the honoring that’s important. The connection.

The Druid experience continually “abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit”. Continually, because my rigidity will creep back in, and fire and touch can warm and soften and free me from inflexible habits and open me to change and love.

I met Brighid most intimately through the task of firing up the woodstove when we settled in Vermont in 2008.  Fire became a daily reality each winter (and much of spring and autumn, too). The wonder of fire and the opportunity of honor to Brighid needn’t be separate from the gathering of kindling and the match. Our winter-fires may not be the reverential fire of Kildare — though they can be. Every morning.

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Today I’ll take out the ash to the compost pile, the midden, lovely old word. I let the freshly-removed ash sit out in the hod for a week, so I’m not dumping a pile of embers outdoors on a windy day. Old ash out, new ash to the hod, new fire to the stove ,whose walls are still warm to the touch. I set the kindling, whisper a sometimes wordless prayer to the goddess, and watch as flames grow and spread.

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taking out the ash

 

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new fire

My devotional has to take a particular, concrete form if it’s to exist at all for the body and senses to engage. Spiritual-but-not-religious knows this, instinctively keeps seeking but then abandoning forms, because it distrusts forms even as it senses their value. But it’s the dead form and the opinions-and-then-dogmas of Talking Self that are the obstacle to spiritual connection, not form itself.

Oh, Lord [goes one prayer] forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.
Thou art Everywhere, but I worship thee here:
Thou art without form, but I worship thee in these forms;
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer thee these prayers and salutations.
Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.

Except they’re not limitations at all: the way to do them in time and space is with temporal and spatial forms. I find little limitation in building a fire and honoring Brighid too. My devotional is a matter of intention, of choice. When I’m on another plane, I adopt its forms. (In dreams I fly, with dream-power my earth body doesn’t have.) But now, here (no need to apologize for limitations*), these forms.

Without a form, no transformation, whisper the Wise.

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*The words “limit” and “limitations” are dirty words, far more obscene these days than any other. Obsessed with freedom, we miss what limits are and signify for us.

A shape is a limitation. Personally, I like shapes and forms. If I had no particular shape or form, I wouldn’t be “free” — I’d be monstrous, “de-formed”.

J M Greer notes in his Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. 2012, pgs. 42-53:

A field mouse, for example, has teeth and a digestive system that are fine-tuned to get nutrients from seeds and other concentrated plant foods, and so that is what field mice eat. They do not eat crickets, even though crickets are very nourishing; they leave crickets to the garter snakes. They do not eat herbs, even though herbs are very abundant; they leave herbs to the rabbits. They limit themselves to one kind of food, and as a result their bodies and their behavior are exquisitely shaped to get and use that kind of food. Rather than jacks-of-all-trades, they are masters of one.

… the elegant lines of the blade [of grass] have evolved to make the most economical use of limited energy and resources, for example, and the curve at which it bends measures the limit of the blade’s strength in the presence of the wind. Remove the limits from the grass, and its beauty goes away. The same thing is true of all beauty, in nature as a whole and in the subset of nature we call human life: beauty is born when a flow of nature encounters firm limits, and the more perfect its acceptance of those limits, the greater the beauty will be.

… The same thing is true of all power, in nature as a whole and in that subset of nature we call human life: power is born when a flow of energy encounters firm limits, and the more narrow the outlet left open by those limits, the greater the power will be.

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Surfaces and Depths   Leave a comment

[Note: The first section was drafted when the temperatures were 10-20 degrees warmer than the arctic front the northern U.S. is experiencing now.]

Winter offers subtle lessons about surfaces and depths. Test the skim of ice on the pond, and see how thick it is. Will it bear the weight of the roof-shovel I just used to clear last night’s snowfall off the solar panels? It looks so solid already, though daytime temps have risen well above freezing every day for the past several weeks. Has the overnight cold pierced deeply enough that I can step out onto the surface? Not yet, not yet. This weekend, though, with two days of forecast highs of 19 F (-7 C) and lows of -2 F (-19 C) might just do the trick. Then we Vermonters can begin to walk on water, too.

We count on surfaces, when they’re strong enough, to make the depths irrelevant. Easier, quicker, reckless. Wise fools, all of us.

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Got a New Year’s resolution or two? Has willpower helped you keep them in the past?

The tools of magic, observes author, magician and Archdruid emeritus of AODA (Ancient Order of Druids in America) J. M. Greer,

are useful because most of the factors that shape human awareness are not immediately accessible to the conscious mind; they operate at levels below the one where our ordinary thinking, feeling, and willing take place. The mystery schools have long taught that consciousness has a surface and a depth. The surface is accessible to each of us, but the depth is not. To cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others, the depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough (J. M. Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Weiser Books, 2012, pg. 88).

Many moderns looking for changes opt for therapy instead. It can be a “safer” alternative. One advantage the latter can provide, if we want to call it that, is its generally less abrupt change. Magic can, after all, raise a ruckus. A cursory study of the history of magical orders bears this out — they blow themselves up with impressive regularity, because almost always one or more members haven’t successfully integrated the changes their own practice brings about. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is almost the textbook case, exhibit A. The parties involved in the Order’s implosion “should have known better”, certainly — incidentally proving that knowledge, one of our most popular current gods, isn’t enough. The problem isn’t that magic is powerless, but the opposite: it’s altogether dynamic, beyond the expectations of dabbler and seasoned practitioner alike.

For one thing, that means the charges, oaths, warnings, exhortations and gateways hedging many traditional magical texts, charms, rituals and practices, while sometimes glammed up and all showy and theatrical to make the point even more obvious (as well as sell books and movie tickets), do indeed conceal real teeth and spiritual gravity.

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woodpile yesterday afternoon — surfaces and depths, partly visible

Cause and effect aren’t fake news. The physics of this world starts to establish itself quite viscerally in all our psyches around the time we first burn a finger on a stove, fall on ice, or mash a finger with a hammer. We merely lie to ourselves when we think we can “get away” with things less physical, as if analogous laws don’t also come into play. What has a beginning has an end. Apply force and a reaction follows, and so on. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a most painful illustration of just such laws.

It’s a perfectly exact measure of my immaturity whenever I think such rules don’t apply to me.

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My application to conduct a workshop at the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Gathering U.S. (MAGUS) was  recently declined. A minor detail, except for the fine irony that my workshop proposal centered on the magical use of symbols to empower ritual — point, line, triangle/awen, square, pentagram and even the MAGUS symbol itself, a unicursal hexagon.

magus-hex

“One of the essential lessons every magician must learn”, Greer notes (with what feels like the edge of a small smile creeping into his words), “is that magic sometimes fails”. Do your best, but this time the yeast just doesn’t rise. Make plans to get together with friends, and a flat tire or dead car battery sidetracks them. We know these things intimately in daily life, yet somehow expect magic always to smooth the way with its effortless power. Side by side with this image, of course, lies the contrasting image of the magician as master of willpower, all clenched muscles and scowls and fiery will burning through obstacles at any cost. Will is on many people’s minds right now, with all those New Year’s resolutions still radiant and full of promise.

Surface will is the kind we invoke to tip the ball into the basket or the net if we’re spectators cheering for our team. We try to “push” with our thoughts. Will-at-depth feels much different. We’ve all “been in the zone”, felt ourselves a part of a larger flow, when whatever we’re doing wholly absorbs our attention, time collapses as hours feel like minutes, and consciousness shifts to what we could aptly call “magic time”. Hold an intention clearly, without conflict, and action lines up to follow it. I don’t so much “will” something to happen as I open a way for energy to flow as effectively as possible, without distraction or second guessing. When actions flow from the center of who we are, they come smoothly, what the Dao De Jing call wu-wei or “no strain”, almost as if there is no barrier — we and the action are simply parts of the same thing in motion.

(“Almost as if there is no barrier” is my consciousness before and after being “in the zone”. It can’t account for what happens, because it’s the rational consciousness, not the magical creative one that actually makes things happen.)

Or as R. J. Stewart clarifies, “magical arts are not employed to ‘get whatever you want’, but to unlock whatever you are not, thus revealing or releasing whatever you may be” (Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 20).

May you find, if you will, surprising and heartening depths beneath your surfaces.

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The Kinship of All — Druid & Christian Theme 4   Leave a comment

[Themes |1| |2| |3| |4| |5| |6| |7| |8| 9|]

face-unityI’m off to MAGUS, the Mid-Atlantic Gathering, in a few weeks. For those who can manage to attend, Gatherings can give a taste of true community. For Christians, ideally the power of baptism clothes everyone in unity: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:29). A deeper spiritual union does connect people who outwardly appear different, talk differently, live differently. It’s a measure of our struggle how often we lose sight of this profound truth.

Some two millennia on from Paul’s confident assertion of unity in Christ, issues rooted in social status, privilege, gender, class, ethnicity — all the things that keep rocking today’s headlines — haven’t gone away. Early Christians “held all things in common.” Druidry likewise points us towards our common wealth in each other, in all the millions of species we live with, and the planet we live on. We dimly remember this old understanding, if at all, in the names of things like the Commons, the Commonwealth in the names of states and nations, common ground, Holy Communion, community, even discredited Communism and other old words and ideas misunderstood, abused and abraded by ignorance and human weakness.

Druidry likewise celebrates the essential kinship of all things. “What we do to the land we quite literally do to ourselves”, as we keep discovering to our dismay and bitter relearning. Linked to places and ancestors, we inherit both specific and planetary pasts, and shape the future of our own bloodlines and also the biosphere we live in. “Rain on Roke may be drouth in Osskil … and a calm in the East Reach may be storm and ruin in  the West, unless you know what you are about,” says the Master Summoner in Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea.

So often we plainly don’t know what we’re about. But the Web of Things does yield to power regardless, in hands wise and foolish. What have we summoned? Whether knowledge or ignorance launches an action, what goes around still comes around. Simple and difficult: until we value and claim our unity as more important than our differences, it’s the differences that will dog us and define who we are and what matters. Depending on your understanding of the purpose of life at this rung of the spiral, that’s cause for weeping, rage, incomprehension, humble acknowledgment, redoubling of efforts …

When we consider the nationalist fervour sweeping the West, surely we might benefit from wider practice of such awareness of unity. While the broad tolerance of difference that Biblical verse expresses can also appeal broadly to many Druids, side by side with it is a celebration of particularity. Sometimes Christians call this the “scandal of particularity”: the difficulty of accepting a single individual man — Jesus — as the savior for everyone. You know — what traditional Christianity teaches about his exclusivity: “no one comes to the Father except through me”. As in, “my way or the highway”.

kim and missilesThere are many ways to work with assertions like these. We know all too well, on the evidence of centuries, what literalism offers and where it leads. Political religion — the system of creeds and salutes, conformities and genuflections to whoever holds the stick — exists in every culture. To pick just one blatant and current example, North Korea has made a religion and cult of the Kim family. Metaphorical understandings, because they grant freedom to each person, have always been suspect in some quarters. “Power-over” dies hard, keeps dying, never quite dies out.

Nonetheless, there are Druids who sit in pews and recite the creeds with no sense of hypocrisy or incongruity. That doesn’t mean that church attendance is anything like the only way to find even a fragile unity. It’s merely one option. Nor does that mean Druids who do sit in Church surreptitiously fingering their pentagrams and awens beneath street clothes have necessarily somehow immersed themselves in any of the myriad alternative understandings of Jesus as great moral teacher, example, political gadfly, Jewish mystic, cleverly-disguised New Age guru, just one of a series of divine avatars* and so on.

[*avatar: (Sanskrit) 1) an incarnation in human form of a god. 2) That icon of your net presence? A second meaning of the word, fast eclipsing the original.]

Options, options. How about Jesus as the inner consciousness in each of us that leads us on the next spiral beyond the apparent world? Or Jesus as a man working within the confines of a monotheism that his ongoing experience of the divine kept bursting at the seams? How many of us are, like him, the sort of people who, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40)? Do we even want to be? Why (or why not)? What would such close identification and intensity mean in this coolly detached age?

J. M. Greer in his The Gnostic Celtic Church which I’ve cited here previously offers one valid way among many to experience such kinship between Druid and Christian, noting that

a rich spiritual life supported by meaningful ceremonial and personal practice can readily co-exist with whatever form of outward life is necessary or appropriate to each priest or priestess … and the practice of sacramental spirituality can be pursued apart from the various pathologies of political religion (Greer, The Gnostic Celtic Church: A Manual and Book of Liturgy, AODA, 2013).

To create forms that will answer to widely perceived inner need and aspiration will take devotion and dedication, but the seeds are many, and some have already germinated and flowered and borne fruit, in both likely and unlikely places.

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This series of themes points to possible directions, and offers a few leads here and there, but in most cases doesn’t offer anything like a full-grown practice — the thing waiting, a project ready for many hands. (I have my own version of such a project, half-complete, still very much a work in progress. I’ve taken it on as a study of awen and experiment, rather than an urgent spiritual quest. Right now I drink from other wells, myself.)

baloo-mowgli

By way, then, of appendix or commentary or prophecy or something else to this theme, I quote below at some length from Kipling’s Jungle Book, now in public domain. Here Baloo, the wise old brown bear — not the manipulative Bill Murray-voiced version in the recent 2016 film — talks to Bagheera about teaching Mowgli the Master Word of the Jungle:

“A man’s cub is a man’s cub, and he must learn all the Law of the Jungle” [said Baloo].

“But think how small he is,” said the Black Panther, who would have spoiled Mowgli if he had had his own way. “How can his little head carry all thy long talk?”

“Is there anything in the jungle too little to be killed? No. That is why I teach him these things, and that is why I hit him, very softly, when he forgets.”

“Softly! What dost thou know of softness, old Iron-feet?” Bagheera grunted. “His face is all bruised today by thy — softness. Ugh.”

“Better he should be bruised from head to foot by me who love him than that he should come to harm through ignorance,” Baloo answered very earnestly. “I am now teaching him the Master Words of the Jungle that shall protect him with the birds and the Snake People, and all that hunt on four feet, except his own pack. He can now claim protection, if he will only remember the words, from all in the jungle. Is not that worth a little beating?”

“Well, look to it then that thou dost not kill the man-cub. He is no tree trunk to sharpen thy blunt claws upon. But what are those Master Words? I am more likely to give help than to ask it” — Bagheera stretched out one paw and admired the steel-blue, ripping-chisel talons at the end of it — “still I should like to know.”

“I will call Mowgli and he shall say them — if he will. Come, Little Brother!”

“My head is ringing like a bee tree,” said a sullen little voice over their heads, and Mowgli slid down a tree trunk very angry and indignant, adding as he reached the ground: “I come for Bagheera and not for thee, fat old Baloo!”

“That is all one to me,” said Baloo, though he was hurt and grieved. “Tell Bagheera, then, the Master Words of the Jungle that I have taught thee this day.”

“Master Words for which people?” said Mowgli, delighted to show off. “The jungle has many tongues. I know them all.”

“A little thou knowest, but not much. See, O Bagheera, they never thank their teacher. Not one small wolfling has ever come back to thank old Baloo for his teachings. Say the word for the Hunting-People, then — great scholar.”

“We be of one blood, ye and I,” said Mowgli …

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Images: face; KimBaloo.

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