Archive for the ‘J M Greer’ Category

Binary Prisons and Spiritual Freedom

From the heart of the awen to you, from the love each being manifests simply through existing in its uniqueness, from the possibility the cosmos is always showering forth to this moment in life.

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One of the distinctive dynamics of our world is that it appears to function as a stable system. It continually seeks equilibrium or balance. How can that be, I hear myself mutter, when the last 200 years look like some of the most violent and tumultuous in human experience? After all, one of the foundational understandings of Druidry and some other spiritual paths is that human and natural worlds both unfold according to the same patterns and principles, because both exist as parts of the same dynamic flow. How I talk to and treat my garden plants and how I interact with my neighbors come to resemble each other. Douse my plants with pesticides against all manner of worms and bugs; gas, cuff, asphyxiate and shoot the vile Others — many make a direct equation between these acts.

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In the words of the Dao De Jing, that old Chinese classic that attempts to make useful observations on how energy flows through both natural and human worlds and institutions, “extremes don’t last long”. Not because they’re “good” or “bad”, but because extremes are inherently unstable and unsustainable. Push for one extreme, and the planet’s tendency towards natural equilibrium will reassert itself. The world will rebalance in the opposite direction, often with just as much vigor as our initial push towards one extreme. Attempt to eliminate all bacteria, and superstrains of the pesky little fellows will emerge, literally to plague us. Oust the Foreign Devils, and then it’s the Communists/Nationalists who polarize the land. Throw off the imperial yoke of the British Empire, and in time those evil Party X or Party Y people will break into our new Eden and foul things up. Round up and imprison-exterminate-exile-convert all those evil Others, and a new Other will take shape. In a demonstrable sense, the (binary) door always slams us in the back on our way in or out.

OUR HUMAN GENIUS is MANIFESTATION

That decidedly does not mean we shouldn’t work for changes we desire. After all, we can each point to successes in manifesting at least some of the things we want — manifesting is what we do each day. It does mean that when we enter a binary dynamic and pursue one side too forcefully and unskillfully, the back-and-forth of rebalancing that results may end up strengthening both sides to roughly the same degree. The result is a feedback loop, a self-reinforcing polarization that builds and builds. But a binary isn’t our only choice, just one among a good range of ’em.

As Exhibit A of an active binary, examine media on both ends of the recent U.S. political spectrum, and you soon see how each pole has come to adopt apocalyptic rhetoric and characterize the victory of the other side, whether in November, or tomorrow, or right now, as “the end of America”. Each chooses a side, dons the appropriate Superman-Batman-Jedi Knight-Righteous Warrior-Crusader costume, and sallies forth to do battle. Eventually, regardless of my current score in the game, I stand convinced of my moral superiority, I keep fighting the good fight, and I exhort others to do the same, or shame them for an uncaring heartlessness almost as bad as siding outright with the Opposition.

Long-time readers of this blog know that over the decades I’ve grown to admire J. M. Greer for his useful and test-able insights. One of his more acute set of observations concerns the kind of polarization we now face. His “Getting Beyond the Narratives: An Open Letter to the Activist Community” is well worth studying. It’s a thoughtful response to a specific book, so you can see previous instances of what we’re facing today, but it’s also a good look at our ongoing tendency to entrap ourselves in binaries of Us vs. Them, Good vs. Evil, Civilians vs. Police — and at productive ways out from such binary prisons. Greer writes at one point:

When activists define their role wholly in terms of resistance and refusal, of “articulat[ing] a NO to the system” rather than pursuing a positive ideal, they guarantee that they’ll perpetually be scrambling to counter some new assault by the system, trying to maintain an inadequate status quo against the threat of further losses, rather than making the system and its defenders scramble to counter efforts to change the status quo for the better.

He reminds us of what Buddhists have called upaya, “skillful means” for moving forward. He looks at binaries, or reifications of a situation, but also at the remarkable energies that can be liberated for our use when we sidestep such polarizations. Such binaries, he notes,

are problematic because they can distract [people] from points of access where their actions can make a difference. Consider George Lakey’s fascinating account of the Otpor movement against Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic in his article “Strategizing for a Living Revolution” (pp. 135-160). One of the tactics Otpor members used to halt police violence against them was to take photos of their wounded and make sure the family members, neighbors, and children of the police got to see them. This was a brilliant bit of magic. The individual human beings who made up that reified abstraction, “the police,” were stripped of that identity by a spell of unnaming, and turned back into neighbors, husbands, children, parents: people who were part of civil society, and subject to its standards and social pressures. That couldn’t have been achieved if Otpor had reified and protested “police brutality,” since that act would have strengthened the reification of police as something other than ordinary members of society.

A STRATEGY for BOTH LARGE and SMALL

This potent strategy is one I can apply not only to the kinds of events now convulsing many places in the U.S. but also to other stagnated, reified situations where I’ve labeled myself into a dark place.

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irises already flowering — early this year

A similar strategy of depolarization emerges in an NPR segment (link to recording and transcript) broadcast two days ago on 4 June. The segment’s titled “Police Officers, During Protests, Are Resembling Soldiers In War Zones”. In a short 5:02-minute interview, the NPR reporter speaks with Patrick Skinner, a former CIA officer, now a Savannah, Georgia police officer, who has chosen to live in the same neighborhood he polices. Skinner remarks:

But I think that instead of a war … you change it. You have a neighbor mindset. And it sounds really cheesy. (Laughter) It is cheesy. But it’s effective. And that’s what I’m looking for. I’m looking for whatever is kind and effective. I believe that instead of calling people civilians, call them your neighbor because they are. I live here. I work here. I don’t say that police should have to live where they work. This is a personal choice I made. But it really drives home the fact that the people I’m dealing with every day — it’s not a metaphor — they are my neighbors. And so I have to treat them as such.

So many current problems look intractable and unmanageable because we’ve imagined them in a particular way, pumped them full of our doubts and fears at least as much as our optimism and hope. We’re getting back what we’ve been putting in. Greer suggests:

Make an effort to experience the world around you as though today’s global corporate system isn’t a triumphant monster, but a brittle, ungainly, jerry-rigged contraption whose managers are vainly scrambling to hold it together against a rising tide of crises. See the issues that engage your activism in that light, not as though you’re desperate, but as though the system is. It’s a very different perspective from that of most activists, and reaching it even in imagination might take some work, but give it your best try.

The point I’d like to make, once you’ve tried on both stories of the future, is that both of them — the story of corporate triumph and the story of corporate failure — explain the past and present equally well. The actions of the IMF and the World Bank in the last decade or so, for example, can be explained as a power grab by a doomsday economy in the driver’s seat, but they can equally well be explained as desperation moves by a faltering elite faced with a world situation that’s more unsteady and ungovernable by the day.

Which of these stories is true? Wrong question. The events that define either story haven’t happened yet, and which story people believe could well determine which way the ending turns out …

Yet of course these aren’t the only two choices. Philosophers of science have agonized over the hard realization that any given set of facts can be explained by an infinite number of hypotheses. Mages, by contrast, revel in the freedom this implies. The freedom to reinterpret the world, to abandon a story of desperation for one of possibility and hope, is basic to the worldview of magic. It’s a freedom that today’s progressive community might find it useful to embrace as well.

Finally, Greer shifts gears to a magical alternative of a very practical and particular kind, one that opens up options to us for concrete action, rather than closing them down to the brute oppositions of a dysfunctional binary like some of the ones we’re in:

Toward the beginning of this letter I mentioned that the structures of consciousness are tools of magic. In the system of magic I practice, those structures are identified with the numbers from 1 to 10, understood not as quantities but as abstract relationships. You can experience anything through any number (though numbers above 10 denote relationships too complex for the human nervous system to handle). Each number has its strengths and its weaknesses. If you’re working deliberately with the structures of consciousness — which is to say, if you’re a mage — you choose the structure/number you use based on the effects you want to get. Most of the time, for reasons too complex to get into here, you choose one, two, or three.

Anything seen through the filter of the number one is called a unary. When you see something as a unary, you highlight qualities in it such as wholeness, indivisibility, and isolation. See it through the number two, as a binary, and you’ll highlight different qualities such as division, conflict, balance, and complementarity. See it through the number three and still different qualities such as change and complexity will be highlighted. All these have practical implications. If you want people to cooperate and build community, get them to think of themselves as part of a unary; if you want them to quarrel and resist change, convince them they’re on one side of a binary; if you want them to make change, make them think of their community and their world as a ternary.

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May our practices, whatever they are, wherever we draw inspiration, help us grow and learn and act wisely and lovingly in the coming weeks and months. May we see and hear the wise teachers already in our lives. May we work for the good of the whole.

Four Bad Ideas, and Some Alternatives

The British futurist and scientist James Lovelock, of Gaia hypothesis fame, just turned 100 on July 26th. He’s also out with a slender new book (Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence) on how to handle the climate crisis and global warming.

His four principal ideas, unfortunately, turn out to be deeply impractical. Because I don’t like to criticize without pointing out alternatives, you can find these here as well. As wiser heads have pointed out, our problems have swollen into a predicament, with no quick or painless fix.

If you have a subscription to the Economist, you can read the whole article there (non-subscribers get just a taste), or else watch this 7:46 Youtube video, with substantially the same material:

Lovelock’s four ideas are these, with the approximate point in the video where they are introduced in parentheses:

1–Retreat to megacities (2:02) before the collapse of already endangered ecosystems.

Where and how food production and transport will take place is rather vague. Won’t many have to remain on farms outside the cities in order to feed the rest of us?

Financially, too, this just isn’t feasible for the vast majority of people not already living in cities. Who will fund the enormous housing projects needed? And given that many of our largest cities are substantially overburdened already, even a well-planned expansion doesn’t augur well for livable conditions. And what of the large numbers who like rural life and would balk at relocation?

Yes, millions will be forced inland from coastal and low-lying regions as the oceans continue their rise. As many have already perceived, the great majority of people who will suffer the most are poor and lack political clout.

Better than a retreat to megacities (though some may certainly opt for inland urban destinations), a planned series of evacuations and relocations are starting to happen, albeit in a piecemeal fashion. This most likely will continue haphazardly, and mostly under duress. We’re just beginning to realize the costs, and we’re most reluctant to pay where we have played so heedlessly.

[You can download a free PDF of The Limits to Growth, the 1970 publication of the Club of Rome, which continues to prove largely accurate in its projection of consequences we’ve known for decades but dawdled in acting on. The publication also ends on a note of hope (with identifiably 1970s pronouns), which we’ve also long known: “Man can create a society in which he can live indefinitely on earth if he imposes limits on himself and his production of material goods to achieve a state of global equilibrium with population and production in carefully selected balance”.]

Already taxpayers — at least in the U.S. — partially subsidize rebuilding costs for many who choose to live in dangerous coastal areas, ignoring for now the increasingly violent weather and the inevitable storms and flooding which will ultimately make rebuilding (at still further taxpayer expense) no longer feasible. I include my father- and sister- and brother-in-law in this category: all of them live on Ft. Myers Beach, Florida, and they already pay more each year in flood insurance that I ever did in annual rent for an apartment.

Changing such uneven tax structures would free up needed resources and allow some of the coastal regions to be returned to original conditions that minimized both flooding and coastal erosion, thereby also providing needed habitat for wildlife, and parks for human visitors within limits. The political will to make this happen, however, hasn’t yet appeared.

2—Use nuclear energy along with renewables, eliminating fossil fuel use (3:02).

Nuclear power has never solved its original issues of how to handle spent fuel – or managed a work-around for the massive subsidies it requires simply to start generating power.

Nor will the powerful petroleum industry calmly yield its immensely profitable enterprise without either enforced governmental intervention, or massive subsidies beyond what it already receives.

The immense fossil fuel transportation system, even with worldwide support, would take at least a couple of decades to change over, and at vast expense. Who will pay for that, and for the retrofitting of the millions of households that burn fossil fuels and would need conversion to electricity?

Carbon taxes, continued investment in renewables, and a gradual reduction in fossil fuel dependency and consumption, are somewhat more likely to actually happen and make a difference. They won’t happen quickly enough to stave off widespread problems. The oceans will rise and coastal regions will flood. More species will be lost. Climates will keep changing. Still, late is better than never.

3—Artificially control the earth’s temperature (4:08).

Lovelock proposes artificially shading the earth’s atmosphere with particulates to block solar gain and help cool the earth a few degrees — similar to what happened geologically when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991. While we may have the technology already to accomplish this, does anyone think Russia or the U.S. would trust each other to proceed with such a plan, given current tensions?

And how much darkening is enough? Who will underwrite such a large space program? And where will we acquire sufficient non-toxic materials to disperse? Pinatubo discharged vast quantity of harmful ejecta into the air and onto the earth. Do we know how to compensate for the nearly inevitable human error and miscalculation here? Who will be in charge, and oversee such a vast plan from start to finish? And who will pay for any follow-up rebalancing if and when the plan is less than wholly successful?

The planet’s climate will worsen. That’s nearly a given. Whatever we do to ease the worst of the consequences won’t be fairly distributed around the globe. The chances are again very high that the poor will suffer the most. And in turn, political unrest and international conflict will abound. Anticipating problems — planning for this in concrete and doable terms — will go a long way to easing it. Again, however, the political will may well be lacking until we reach crisis point. The expenses of prevention have all too rarely been a governmental priority. That’s why individual action will begin to make a difference.

4—Let AI take over (5:28)

Whose artificial intelligence? If Equifax data breaches and Facebook and Google snooping and data collection have taught us anything, we don’t want ever more anonymous programmers “running everything”. The world of speculative fiction has also long ago addressed this issue: AI could quite justifiably write off humans as an evolutionary dead-end, and take matters into their own hands with an AI-backed Final Solution: the planet would in many ways be much better off without homo non sapiens.

Even Lovelock doesn’t sound particularly hopeful about the future. As he remarks at the end of the Youtube video, “Do I think humans can be saved from the numerous threats that exist in the cosmos? I don’t know. I hope so”.

Fortunately, many tools already currently available, including a range of spiritualities, along with the resilience human beings have long shown in the worst situations, mean that it is not “The End”. It IS, of course, the beginning of Interesting Times, a real-time, up-close-and-personal illustration of that famous Chinese curse.

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Metaphysical addendum and caveat: if you’re not a fan of belief in reincarnation, or if you’re still in denial that what goes around comes around, stop reading and return to your regularly scheduled program.

Since you’re still here, it’s worth noting that according to certain occult beliefs, the planet as a whole has already refused the causal initiation once — you know, the one where we accept responsibility for actions and their consequences, and attempt to learn from our mistakes. Like most forms of tough love, the lesson hasn’t gone away simply because we didn’t care for it, and the consequences will still come due, and in even harsher forms, because of that first refusal.

What to do in one of our coming futures, “when the rubble stops bouncing”, as J. M. Greer likes to put it, is the subject of a growing number of blogs, books and teachings. [If you valued Greer’s Archdruid Report and its unblinking look at our present ecological and political realities, along with many subtle but invaluable tips for actually flourishing through it all, you might appreciate and find merit in his new site Ecosophia and his current article there, with over 400 insightful reader comments, and Greer’s sane and wise responses to them: “The Next Twilight of Environmentalism“.]

Blessedly, marvelously, hearteningly, most of the readers of this blog are actually already practicing life-ways that will serve us all well in the days ahead. After all, we need lived examples of alternatives to the madness around us from people who haven’t yielded to despair, who know that our ancestors weathered personal hardships, climate change, plague, famine and war to give birth to us, just as we will to future generations. Some of us, and some of our descendants, will survive to be teachers and preservers of the best of our contemporary wisdom.

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Magic, For and Against — A Follow-up

I’m looking more closely at some spiritual criteria I mentioned in the previous post. First, I’ll repeat the quotation I want to dig into and expand on, from my own experience. J. M. Greer notes:

… 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).

This profound observation, I asserted, rewards extended meditation and experimentation. It lays out its claims in clear terms.

Of course, if I’ve never accessed the Depth, I can’t say much of value about it either way. Fortunately, all of us do access the Depth, and we do so with considerable regularity — in dreams, if in no other way.

I capitalize Depth, because my working hypothesis, shaped over decades of creative writing, teaching, and sometimes humbling spiritual experience, is that the “Depth” Greer’s talking about is the same “Deep” that Taliesin names when he chants “The Awen I sing, from the Deep I bring it”.

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Northampton, MA weaving show, July ’19

[T]he depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough. The creativity all of us have accessed at some point in our lives — the hunch that pays off, the gut instinct, the inner voice, the Song that will not let us go till we bring more of it into our lives — is evidence, to me anyway, that the Deep is also striving to make contact with us. Or to put it in the 60s terms of Leonard Cohen’s poem, God(dess) is alive, magic is afoot. Magic is alive, god(dess) is afoot.

And here are the four questions I asked myself, also from the previous post:

(1) Is this true in my life right now?

Absolutely. Every time I sit for contemplation, every time the “apparent world” recedes even a little, I sense and rediscover yet again the difference between the surface and the depth. I may not always be able to “bring from the Deep” what I need in the moment, at least consciously, but the effort to approach the shore, stand at the water’s edge, even just to get my toes wet, adds to the reservoir, strengthens the links I’ve been building to the Deep. It also increases the number of access points available to me to experience such things again.

But skip a period of contemplation and I’m subtly off my game for that day. I tense up driving on the interstate, I’m less patient with other drivers as well as myself — I “drive stupid” — and options also start closing off when I face any kind of obstacle, challenge, delay, barrier, whether it’s a stretch of road work slow-down, and I’m already late for an appointment, or it’s a project where listening is the largest part of my task, tuning in to what matters, being my best self, catching the wave.

But even the act of regaining lost ground, after eventually catching myself in such situations, can be a blessing. The return just feels so damn good. It keeps me alert, widens the path a little more, restores me to gratitude again. (Will I forget, ignore, deny the need, the hints, to stay open and connected? Probably, though that feels unutterably foolish right then.)

To say it another way, it re-opens magical doors I shut myself.

In Greer’s words, you cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others. You can, if it clarifies things for you, replace “magical” with “positive”. And if you think positive changes in others don’t have ripple effects on everyone they come in contact with, you just haven’t been paying attention. Sometimes you have been that person for others. And sometimes they’ve told you so.

We’re each a tributary to the Deep for others.

(2) In what ways?

That’s such a curious question to answer. Over time, I begin to wonder in what ways not?

To give a kind of answer advertisers would hone in on, If I’m balanced, positive, listening to my partner, sex is often better. More widely, I find I more often choose foods I need, rather than merely what tastes good. I sleep better. With more energy, I feel more like exercising, which feeds into the whole loop. I’m more fun to be around. I dream more interestingly, I create more magically. More little things go right. (I don’t have to mash a finger while hammering nails, or gash myself slicing vegetables.) The world doesn’t have to knock at a closed consciousness to bring (shock?) me back to harmony with it.

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Northampton, MA weaving show, July ’19

(3) How often have I reached any kind of depth in my own consciousness? How did I do that?

I stepped away to listen to a phone message that turned out to be from a telemarketer, deleted it, and came back, thinking for about half an hour as I try to answer this question.

We love to label — it’s a prime way to make sense of a crazy world — though we also resent others’ haphazard labels applied to us. If I label, and count up the “most memorable” experiences of depth — which aren’t always the most profound, sometimes just the most flashy and attention-grabbing — how many more worthy instances have faded from memory? — I’d certainly include these from the first half of my life, ones I still recall:

I’m 6, and I realize I have a recurring dream of falling into water and drowning. The dream doesn’t come every night, but it’s certainly familiar. I can only relax, and finally fall asleep, if I let myself stop struggling. I’m both dying, and watching myself die. It was so strange. I never told anyone till decades later.

I’m 8, and see a wind-spirit in a field. I have almost no reaction at the time, only later. It is so outside my experience till then that I have no way to understand it. Only to remember it.

At 11, in late November, I’m crying beside my father’s unconscious body by the side of our farm road, after a speeding car had struck him. The walls of my world shift.

At 15, bringing in our herd of cows for evening milking, I have a vision of a girl I know, and yearn to reconnect with somehow, though I’ve never met her in this life. What does that even mean? I didn’t know.

I’m 19, and I’ve just receive the letter that alerts me to prepare for initiation onto the other spiritual path I practice. I sit alone for hours, hearing … what is it? I’m so lifted out of myself.

I’m 20, and one weekend a late-night discussion with a dorm-mate who is psychic leads to him bringing me with him onto the lower astral plane. I still don’t know how, though suggestion and night-time consciousness play their parts, surely. I see beings that normally inhabit only nightmares. I am fully awake, and can’t sleep for hours after that.

At 21, when I have an out-of-body experience while dancing with an order of Helveti-Jerrahi dervishes visiting the University of Rochester campus.

At 24, when I encounter a goddess in a grove near my father’s new farm in western New York state. She towers over me. What does she want — if anything? I’ve been wandering outdoors all day.

I’m struck as I excavate memory that while some of these experiences of non-ordinary consciousness are in some senses unsolicited, in that I wasn’t specifically working to enter them, each nevertheless has a setting, a stage for the experience, a state of consciousness prepared for wider possibilities than are customary with us. And that, from the perspective of today, seems in large part their purpose, or their impact, anyway: to signal that “wider possibilities than are customary with us” are possible.

The “hows” of many of my later experiences are more conscious. I’d taken on a spiritual practice by then. They are, as far as I can determine, also more shaped or comprehensible in terms of those practices — the practices themselves provide a frame or context to understand what the practices have catalyzed in consciousness.

(4) And what lasting changes have I brought about when I did so?

This is another question that really deserves my extended reflection over time. One of the most interesting changes I’ll note right now is increased elasticity: what this universe can do seems limitless, or at least my consciousness of that is greatly broadened, which is much the same thing. The context, the intent, the need and the available imaginative or magical reservoir make all the difference in what actually happens.

Another change is a sense of profound spiritual purpose. I know I got stuff to do, but I’m also being used for tasks and larger goals I often don’t know about until later, if at all. In Druid-Christian terms, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). This insight and the purposes, I’d assert, are both larger, and simply apply far more comprehensively, than most of us are prepared to accept.

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 4

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

If the holy terrain between Druid and Christian calls to you, better your way than one belonging to another person that doesn’t fit you where you walk on your particular arm of the Spiral Journey. A week’s worth of your own meditations surpasses anything I can write here. These themes are suggestions, prompts, points of departure. They’re mine, and they may not be yours. Their use is as sparks, kindling, tinder, fuel, provocation. Your particular path may grow out of resistance or contradiction. Thus are (spiritual) muscles strengthened.

If you’ve (mostly) survived your adolescence, held down a job, learned to deal with roommates, siblings, coworkers, parents, teachers, traffic cops, jerks, (holy) Fools, the DMV, followed a dream, fell in love, lost a bet, failed at something, succeeded at something else, and arrived here, it’s pretty likely you’ve accumulated enough insight to learn something useful when looking at cards intended to evoke insight from your experiences! We can also never fully know how our words on such subjects may be exactly what another needs to hear.

The HERMIT

09-HermitHermits abound in world-wide lore and legend, running the gamut from hell-bound to holy. Depending on your temperament and the rebuffs that life generously doles out to all of us, you may find in the Hermit a kindred spirit, someone who chooses, as the French have it, reculer pour mieux sauter: “to draw back in order to make a better leap” back into the fray. Or eremitic withdrawal may become the theme for a lifetime, or a whole series of them. Plenty of secular examples come to mind as well, especially if you’re rich enough to build a life from your eccentricities, like billionaire Howard Hughes.

Modern examples include Thomas Merton, whose hermit tendencies can be summed up in the name of the monastic order he eventually joined: OCSO, the Order of Cistercians of Strict Observance, or Trappists. Not content with the already spartan nature of the Order, Merton withdrew further to a hermitage on the grounds of the monastery. His books and poems and increasing fame were one vital source of balance shaping his character into the wise monk, priest and author he slowly became.

J M Greer illustrates a Druid-focused model for practice just as potentially rigorous, especially for the solitary: the Gnostic Celtic Church. Greer highlights some of its distinctive features:

… the GCC does not train people for the standard American Protestant model of the clergy—a model that assigns to clergy the functions of providing weekly services to a congregation, “marrying and burying,” offering amateur counseling to parishioners, and pursuing political and social causes of one kind or another, and defines training for the ministry in terms of the same style of university education used by most other service professions.

This model evolved out of the distinctive social and theological requirements of American Protestant Christianity and has little relevance to other faiths, especially those that do not have the financial resources to support full-time ministers.  It has nonetheless been adopted uncritically by a great many alternative religious traditions here in America. It was in response to the very poor fit between that model and the needs of a contemporary alternative religious movement that AODA [Ancient Order of Druids in America] chose to pursue an older model better suited to its own tradition and needs.

Instead of growing from a single and largely American Protestant model, the GCC focuses on what it calls the Rule of Awen, because

there is certainly a need for men and women who are willing to embrace a new monasticism centered on a personal rule:  one in which the core principle of aligning the whole life with the spiritual dimensions of reality can express itself in forms relevant to the individual practitioner and the present age, in which a rich spiritual life supported by meaningful ceremonial and personal practice can readily coexist with whatever form of outward life is necessary or appropriate to each priest or priestess, and in which the practice of sacramental spirituality can be pursued apart from the various pathologies of political religion.

Greer always packs a lot in his sometimes academic prose: following Christ’s admonition, this means in short to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. We say we want freedom, but how many of us trust our own inner guidance sufficiently to discern what is “necessary or appropriate”, and avoid the “pathologies of political religion”?

As always, the simplest and purest way contains with it the hard-earned wisdom of lifetimes. Greer lays out the central challenge we all face:

… find and follow your own Awen. Taken as seriously as it should be — for there is no greater challenge for any human being than that of seeking his or her purpose of existence, and then placing the fulfillment of that purpose above other concerns as a guide to action and life — this is as demanding a rule as the strictest of traditional monastic vows. Following it requires attention to the highest and deepest dimensions of the inner life, and a willingness to ignore all the pressures of the ego and the world when those come into conflict, as they will, with the ripening personal knowledge of the path that Awen reveals.

How many of us have even begun to recognize and creatively respond to all the myriad “pressures of the ego and the world”? (After all, this is much of what I’ve long been practicing in my own way, as recorded in this blog, and you have ample evidence here of the challenges one person has faced.)

The Matthews’ Arthurian deck depicts the Grail Hermit: “Neither Druid nor priest, as hermit he mediates the functions of both”.

Where is the “third element” in each of my life experiences? As neither pole of a binary, how does it serve both and thereby a greater whole?

The WHEEL of FORTUNE

10-Wheel-of-FortuneThe Wheel or Spiral, the lungo drom or long road of yearning of the Romani, the Wheel of Becoming in Hinduism, “what goes around comes around” of folk wisdom, all point to the circular nature of life and the resonances that our actions establish.

Or as the Lakota holy man Black Elk puts it,

Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were.

The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.

Worldwide, this circle or wheel is also quartered, divided into four fields or domains or regions. Yes, it’s impossible to square the circle , and the link will lead you into exquisite mathematical detail why this is so — but using this holy glyph or mandala as a teaching and learning device, as a tool in ritual, is another order of response to such an intersection of worlds. What is materially impossible is — often — spiritually essential. Or to put it another way, walking a spiritual path means squaring the circle every single day. (Or if you seek a spiritual practice based in mathematics, check out this origami link.)

For more insights that can lead to a unique personal practice with sacred geometry, and not incidentally provide further rich linkages between their profound influence in both Druidry and Christianity, check out Michael Schneider’s A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science.

JUSTICE

11-JusticeIn Matthews’ deck, the corresponding figure is Sovereignty: “our true self and the land are one”. The justice of this inner truth emerges in the great rebalancing that earth is currently experiencing, as the consequences of our past actions come home to us, and we begin to accept responsibility for them and to work off their effects. But we need not merely suffer them passively; we can work with them creatively for the purposes of transformation, which is what cause and effect are placed to afford to all who seek.

In the traditional deck, the figure is garbed and presented so that gender is not immediately clear. Latin justitia is a feminine noun, yet the figure of Justice as we have it here has a seated, balanced, imperial quality of the previous male figures in positions of traditional masculine power and authority.

As a further harmonic development of the Magician, Justice is a balanced expression of power: the upward right hand holds a sword, while the left grips a balance. The two pillars of manifestation again frame the seated figure, and a curtain conceals the region behind it.

What has been lost on the way to Justice? How is its expression still incomplete, indicating the need for further growth and unfoldment? What does rebalancing and attainment of a new equilibrium conceal or distract me from? What further currents of change and transformation remain that ask for my attention, and allow me to anticipate future expressions of Justice, of balance and recalibration and harmonizing?

The triple crown of Justice can be seen to reflect the magical current inherent in groups of three, and in the physical universe. The card commentary for this card in Matthews’ Arthurian deck includes this observation: “…the Goddess of Sovereignty gives three drinks from her cup, purveying the white milk of fostering, the red drink of lordship and the dark drink of forgetfulness. These she offers successively in her aspects as Foster-Mother, Consort and Renewer”.

“Mother, foster me to your service. Consort, empower us both through our union. Renewer, ease me as I strive to fulfill my vows to you”.

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Some Notes for Druid-Christian Ritual Design

In the previous post I looked at the beginnings of a Druid-Christian ritual, letting the two traditions talk to each other through their images, rather than drawing on theology or metaphysics. (Druids and Pagans generally do have theologies — many of us just haven’t explored them in great depth or gotten them down in writing yet. Practice usually is more interesting, anyway.)

Name a purpose, and we can draft a Druid-Christian rite for it. Want a wedding, or a blessing, or an initiation? Both traditions have rich materials to draw on. Among other references and resources, Isaac Bonewits discusses ritual design at length in his book Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals that Work. Note Isaac’s focus on public: I use private Druid-Christian rituals that might not appeal to others, given our different histories and experiences with religions.

beach

Shansui, the Chinese word for landscape: “mountains (and) water”

Already tired from too much thinking? Use the image above. Enter the scene. Walk that beach. Feel the warm, wet sand between your toes. Feel the wind play through your hair. Listen to the awen of the waves, calling. Salt air, seagulls.

Looking for a calendar, a whole set of practices and observances? The Pagan festival year lines up quite well with classical Christianity, for reasons that have been thoroughly (endlessly) explored and documented. Who knows how many Pagans sit in pews with Christian relatives at Yule and Easter, knowing other names, and sensing both kindred and at times estranged presences and energies?

For foundations for daily practice, one need look no further than the example of J M Greer’s The Gnostic Celtic Church, where Greer notes:

… personal religious experience is the goal that is set before each aspirant and the sole basis on which questions of a religious nature can be answered.

Greer also asserts as a piece of (Universalist) belief:

… that communion with spiritual realities is open to every being without exception, and that all beings — again, without exception — will eventually enter into harmony with the Divine.

What do I want and need? Do I even know? How can I find out?

The world’s spiritual traditions offer hundreds of variations on practices to answer just such questions. It’s good to check in from time to time, asking such things, living with the questions till they bud and leaf into answers, or into more beautiful questions.

As Mary Oliver sings, “So many questions more beautiful than answers …”

We change, and our practices need to keep up. Singing the awen, or other sacred word, is one tested and proven practice most traditions put forth for those seeking a new path, or a new branching along a path we know already. I sing till things clarify. Often for me this may take weeks, or months even … “Patience”, says one of the Wise. “Is not this our greatest practice?”

(But I just want to get to patience NOW …)

smudging

Smudge the whole cosmos, if necessary

Greer outlines practices for those interested in exploring a “Gnostic, Universalist, and Pelagian” Druidry. The ceremonies, rituals and meditations include the Hermitage of the Heart, the Sphere of Protection, the Calling of the Elements, the Sphere of Light, a Solitary Grove Ceremony (all but the first deriving from Druid AODA practice), and a Communion Ceremony that ritualizes the “Doctrine of the One”:

I now invoke the mystery of communion, that common unity that unites all beings throughout the worlds. All beings spring from the One; by One are they sustained, and in One do they find their rest. One the hidden glory rising through the realms of Abred; One the manifest glory rejoicing in the realms of Gwynfydd; One the unsearchable glory beyond all created being in Ceugant; and these three are resumed in One. (Extend your hands over the altar in blessing. Say …)

If you tried out Greer’s prayer above, who or what did you bless? If you didn’t, why not try it now? Say the words aloud …

Looking for a short form? Abred (AH-bred), Gwynfydd (GWEEN-veeth), Ceugant (KAY-gant).

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I’ve looked before at these lovely Welsh names for the levels of being according to Celtic lore:

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.

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And lest someone coming to the beginnings of Druid-Christian practice from the Christian side wonders how to begin with all of this stuff, consider this.

Nicholas Whitehead opens his curious book Patterns in Magical Christianity like this:

Christianity is a magical religion. This is not so controversial a statement as some might think. For all religious traditions are potentially magical by the simple fact that they embody or employ symbols, myths and rites that are mediatory, that intend or enable the translation of spiritual energies between levels of reality (pg. 13).

The author outlines a set of characteristics of such magical symbols, noting they

  1. “are inherently appropriate”. He gives the example of a plant, with roots in earth, flower in the air, and “within its stem the life bearing sap rises and falls. Because of its intrinsic structure, the plant is a symbol for the ideal spiritual life … we live upon the earth, with our roots within the land. We are nurtured by the soil in which we live. Yet, without losing our connection to it, it is our destiny to rise above the land, to flower in the crowning glory of the light … Again note that we cannot make the plant into a symbol. It is simply is a magical symbol by virtue of its inherent structure and its role in the rhythmic life of the cosmos”.
  2. “always participate in a greater reality”.
  3. “enable the translation of energies between levels of reality”.
  4. “are trans-rational”.
  5. “are polyvalent”.
  6. “tend to assemble in groups” (pg. 16).

Of course there’s a tremendous amount to unpack here — which is why it takes Whitehead a book to do so, along with a set of exercises he has developed in a workshop in order to put these precepts to the experimental test. Rather than debate them, which is a head trip I (mostly) don’t plan to take, they’re worth simply trying out, just as one would test the statement that water freezes at a certain temperature, rather than debating whether the claim is true. Of course adding salt, raising a wind over the surface, setting the container in a vacuum, and so on, all change the experimental parameters.

In the same way, my beliefs, intention, mindset when I experiment, past experiences, and spiritual awareness will all figure quite largely in any results I achieve. I’ve found I’m more interested in learning how certain things are valid or operational for me. That is, do they help me get somewhere worth reaching? Otherwise, an inner nudge or whisper usually alerts me: Move along — these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Later I can play the thought and reason game for what it’s worth. Sometimes a lot, sometimes quite little.

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IMAGES: Pexels.com

Greer, John Michael. The Gnostic Celtic Church: A Manual and Book of Liturgy. Everett, WA: Starseed Publications (Kindle)/Lorian Press (paper), 2013.

Whitehead, Nicholas. Patterns in Magical Christianity. Sunchalice Books, 1996. (More recent editions exist, though I haven’t yet been able to find one.)

Expanding — and Focusing — Our Magic

[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.

magic

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

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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

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”

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

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

[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

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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.

Seven Things: How I’m Doing

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Rhododendron in bloom in our front yard, loud with bees

Since I laid out “Seven Shoulds” for Druids in the previous post, it’s only fair that I should account for how, and how well, I myself manage to do them. Here goes …

1–”Druids should have a practice.”

Ha! I laugh ruefully, because I follow two paths. Sometimes that seems double the challenge. Who needs it? I sometimes think.

But I find that if each day I can manage a practice from even one path, it “spills over” to the other path. They link — a topic for a whole book, I’m beginning to suspect.

I “get credit” on both paths, to put it crassly. Yes, practicing for “credit” means I’m pretty much scraping the bottom of the awen (inspiration) barrel, but sometimes ya gotta go with what you get. Not every day is Lucas Industrial Light and Magic. (If it was, I’d fry and blow away.)

Having a practice also means keeping the ball rolling, the flame burning, even and especially when you don’t feel like it. Then the gift comes, luck turns things around, chance plays things our way, and a god or two peers at me directly for a moment. Because of our efforts? Not always directly, like calculating a sum in math. The universe is more than a spreadsheet. But without the practice, it’s funny how whatever luck and chance and grace and gift I experience will begin to dwindle, dissipate and drain away.

The Galilean Teacher observed, “Those who have will be given more, and those who have little will lose the little they have.” At first encounter, this piece of gnomic wisdom sounded to me like some kind of nightmare economics. Punish the poor, reward the 1%, and all that. But when I look at it as an insight about gratitude — a practice all its own — it starts making a lot more sense. Unless we make room, there’s no space left in us for more. We have to give away to receive. It’s neither more blessed to receive or to give. Both are necessary for the cycle to operate at all.

If I blog or compose verse or do ritual, if I chant or contemplate or visualize, if I love one thing freely without reservation or thought of what’s in it for me, I’ve reached out to shake hands with Spirit. I find that “energy hand” is always held out to us, but unless I offer my half of the handshake and complete the circuit, nothing happens. “What’s the sound of one hand clapping?” goes the Zen koan. More often for me it’s “What’s the greeting of one hand offered?” Pure potential, till I do my part.

2–”Druids should be able to talk about Druidry.”

If inspiration fails, I fall back on John Michael Greer’s fine lines to prompt me into my own “elevator speech”: “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” (1).

Of course, trot that out verbatim in reply to most casual inquiries, and you’ll probably shut people down rather than open up a conversation. I’m a book addict myself, but I don’t need to talk like one.

So here’s a more conversational version. “For me, Druidry means walking a spiritual path that’s based in the earth’s own rhythms. I try to take an experiential approach to questions big and small. That means I value inner growth and personal contact with nature and spirit.” I find something like that offers plenty of handles if anyone wants something to grab onto. It also has the Druidic virtue of consisting of three sentences.

3–”Druids should show their love of the earth.”

Sometimes this can be more far reaching than just what we ourselves do. Our choices reach more widely than that. Who we interact with also has consequences. We had a builder in recently to rescue our garage, which for every one of the eight years we’ve lived here has been sliding another half-inch down the slope of our back yard.

It took us a fair while to find him. Referrals and ads and word-of-mouth turned up people we eventually chose not to work with. But this fellow was different. Just one proof among several: his attention to reseeding the lawn and cleaning up construction waste after he’d completed the repairs helped us show our love of the earth through our choices of our interactions with others. We didn’t see or know this fully until after the fact, of course. But it was confirmation — the sign we needed. Some days it’s all we get to urge us to keep on keeping on.

I chose this example rather than any other because it was subtle in coming, though just as important as recycling or using less or any of the other things we try to do to “live lightly.” Druidry need not always “speak aloud” to have effects and consequences. Ripples spread outward, hit the far shore, and return. “What you do comes back to you.”

4–”Druids should keep learning.”

Many Druids made this a habit long ago. They have another book or five ready when they’re done with the current one. That’s me. It’s a competition, I’ve come to believe, who will win, my wife or me. She’s a weaver and has baskets and boxes of thread, heddles, wrenches, loom-parts, table-looms, tapestry manuals, and two car-sized looms, all striving for space with my shelves of language books, histories, Druidry and magic texts, boxes of novel and poem drafts, newspaper clippings, letters, and more.

But as J M Greer notes, “Druidry isn’t primarily an intellectual path.” Thank goodness! I’m saved from the limits of intellect, however well I’ve trained and domesticated it! Greer continues: “Its core is experiential and best reached through the practice of nature awareness, seasonal celebration, and meditation” (2).

Druids find themselves encountering people to learn from, the aging carpenter or herbalist or gardener who’d love for an apprentice willing to put in the hard work. So then we happen along and appreciate them and “apprentice for a moment” if not a decade. They’re often self-educated, regardless of what level of school they’ve completed. They seek out people to learn from, and recognize and honor the same impulse in others. Druidry, among all the other things it is, proves itself a wisdom path.

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Companion rhododendron in rose, always blooming a week later

5–”Druids should respect their own needs.”

Oh! This is sometimes so large it’s like the air we breathe all our lives, easy to forget. Rather than scold ourselves for lapses, failings and limitations, celebrate what we have done. “More than before” is a goal I take as a mantra. Even two steps backwards gains me some insight, however painfully won, if I look and listen for it. And it gains me compassion for myself and others in our humanness– no small thing. As a Wise One once remarked, who would you rather have around you, someone right or someone loving?

Some six years out from cancer surgery and radiation treatment and I still don’t have the energy I once did. I’m also that much older. But I can rage against and mourn new physical limits, or I can find work-arounds for what I need to do, and set clearer priorities for what really matters, so as not to squander what I do have. Sure, it’s still a work in progress. But I find I can detect small-minded attitudes and deep-seated prejudices in myself more quickly, and do the daily work of limiting their influence and filling their space with more positive thoughts and actions. That’s a gain.

Ever danced your anger? All emotions are energy responses. But I don’t need to sit and stew in them. I can use them to propel myself to new places and spaces and states. It’s an older-person magic, perhaps, or maybe just one I’ve been a long time in realizing and appreciating and practicing.

6–”Druids should serve something greater than themselves.”

Looking back at the list I included — “a person, a spirit or god, a relationship, a practice, a community, a cause, an ideal, an institution, a way of life, a language” — I realize I’ve served all of ’em at some point. Some people stick with one their whole lives. It becomes their practice.

Right now, underemployed as I like to say, I’m more of a homebody than I’ve been, and consequently around the house more. If I find myself sparked to annoyance or anger at my wife for some petty thing, as can happen in the best of relationships, I try to remember to serve her, to serve the relationship. Again, can I use my anger, rather than just seethe? Can I remember to bless my anger, transform its energy and spend it to uncover an underlying issue? What’s the pattern I’ve been feeding? Do I want or need to keep feeding it? Serve myself in this way, in the deepest sense, and I serve others, and vice versa. No difference. To paraphrase, all things work together for good for those who love something that lifts them out of smallness and limitation.

7–”Druids should listen more than they talk — and we talk a lot!”

I’ve certainly demonstrated that here in this post, to say nothing of this whole blog.

Fortunately, one of my go-to practices is listening. Do I do it enough? Wrong question. “Some — any — is more than before.” Both paths I follow commend practices focused on sound as a steady daily method of re-tuning, so that Spirit can reach me through every barrier I may erect against it. Chanting awen, listening to music that opens me, finding literal in-spiration — ways to breathe in what is needed in the moment — letting the song roll through me and back out to others in quiet daily interactions — these are the practices I keep returning to. Listen for the music, whispers my life.

The Great Song keeps singing, blessedly, through my intermittent disregard and obliviousness, till I remember to listen again, and join in.

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  1. Greer, John Michael.  The Druidry Handbook, qtd. in Carr-Gomm, Philip. What Do Druids Believe? London:  Granta Books, 2006, p. 34.
  2. Greer, The Druidry Handbook., p. 4.

Initiation and Spring Equinox 2015

rook and eclipse

Rook and partial eclipse, March 2015. Unretouched photo, Roger Brady, Kinsale College of Further Education, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Republic of Ireland

In this time of balanced energies, an image of bright and dark — rook and partial eclipse at the Spring Equinox.

This morning waking from dream, another image: a shining snake. A little poking around online brought up this fascinating connection from Greywolf’s blogpost for March 19, 2015 (bolded text is Greywolf’s):

The first Solar eclipse of 2015 happens with the New Moon in Pisces, joined by Mars and Ketu. Ketu is the tail of the celestial serpent, Rahu its head. Astrologically, they are the south and north nodes of the Moon. Eclipses occur when the serpent swallows the sun. This eclipse / New Moon will clarify and challenge our beliefs and spirituality, both Pisces themes. When Sun and Moon come together near the Node an eclipse results, producing a momentary disconnection and darkening our power source, the Sun. This literally leaves us feeling in the dark, and we may tempted to pursue the shadow side, or quick fix spiritual solutions, escaping into drug abuse or New Age fantasies. Be careful of such lazy, cynical options during the next 30 days. This eclipse happens in Uttara Bhadra Nakshatra, ruled by the God Ahi Bhudnya, the celestial serpent. This divine cosmic force is associated with clearing the last bits of dirt that are blocking the soul’s liberation.

I will accept this gratefully as divination, a clue to work with in the coming days, a time for (re)dedication.

Equinoxes are ideal times for initiation because of the access to energies they provide as the earth-moon-sun system shifts. A solar system triad!

While initiation can of course take place at any time, there is a formal and cosmic rightness to this twice-yearly period that can empower such rituals, as I know from experience.

Here is John Michael Greer on initiation. (You can read the full article online here — it forms part of a rough draft of his excellent book Inside a Magical Lodge.)

The idea that secrets will be revealed in an initiation creates a sense of expectancy, and can also give rise to a certain kind of fear; both of these are useful in the work of initiation.

The production of this receptive state forms the first phase of the initiatory process. Once it has been reached, the process of lodge initiation moves to a second phase, in which a set of carefully chosen images or events are experienced by the initiate, and then explained. These experiences and their explanations are heightened by the receptive state, and are intended to offer a new pattern for some portion of the initiate’s mental map of the world; the pattern may also be encoded, more subtly, in the underlying structure of the ritual itself. If the initiate accepts this new pattern — which does not always happen — the initiation has “taken.”

At this point, the process enters its third phase. The new initiate is given a set of conceptual, verbal and somatic triggers for the new pattern. Just as a memento from an emotionally charged event in the past can awaken not merely memories but states of emotion and consciousness, these triggers reinforce the new pattern every time they are used. They serve, in an important sense, as anchors for the initiation.

The three-phase process of initiation can be handled in various ways, and has been handled with various levels of effectiveness in the initiations used by different magical and fraternal orders. Like any other art, the art of initiation has its failures as well as its masterpieces. Making the situation more complex is the fact that most orders of both kinds use a series of initiations — the usual terms are “grades” or “degrees” — to carry out an extended program of transformation, each change building on the ones already made. In the fraternal orders, the goal of this program is typically nothing more profound (or more sinister) than basic personal maturity. In magical orders, by contrast, the possibilities for change are far greater.

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