Archive for the ‘Jesus and Druidry’ Category

5: Druid and Christian — Holy, Too   3 comments

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

But what about the moments when something outside of us, without our conscious intention or instigation (or with it), announces itself to us?

You know — those times when no circle or congregation, no rite or prayer has claimed us in our striving, and something reaches out to us of itself.

Dream, presence, deva, spirit, ghost, exaltation, angel, mystery, expansiveness, ecstasy, cosmic consciousness, god/God — a hundred names for what well may be a hundred different things. But each or all of them qualitatively different from you and me. The shiver, the awe, the freaking out, the reverence, the fear, the adoration, the Other. Or so virtually every description of these encounters suggests. And yet we’re intimately linked to them somehow, or we could never experience them in the first place.

What to do with this mass (and mess) of human experience? Religions often attempt to categorize, naming some portion as legitimate or amicable or “good”, and others as impostures, as frauds, as inimical or “bad”, and setting forth ways to grapple with it, to formalize human interactions with it.

On the other hand, with almost no consistent measure except the subjective available to it, science has for a long time typically dismissed the whole category as incoherent, though psychology and recent advances in neuroscience have begun to rehabilitate the subjective as a domain for serious study and insight. Or to put it another way, “The visible clings to the invisible”, say the Wise. WTF? says science.

So we devise rituals as one way to tame and investigate the subjective. Whether we go to wild places on a vacation or a quest to find ourselves, whether we spend too much to attend weekends and workshops on soul retrieval or finding our inner warrior, whether we rise and kneel in the pews, stand in Pagan circles, or renew our prescription to the current drug of choice, we try out options to scratch the itch of the Holy. Sometimes it’s merely a single mosquito bite. Sometimes it’s a whole-body rash.

Looked at one way, then, by pursuing a Druid-Christian approach we’re doubling our odds of successful encounter and engagement. Looked at another way, we’re muddying the waters, profaning the well, treading the old syncretistic path that usually ends not in transformative encounter but at best in a bland, safe vanilla spirituality void of those tradition-specific commitments that give each tradition its spiritual punch.

How to experience both living god/God and living earth? We wouldn’t have endlessly fracturing Christian denominations if “Jesus people” had a lock on things. Nor would we continually feel the need to hive off and fracture and splinter and regroup in virtually every other way as Druid and Pagan practitioners, either. Rather than seeing these things as weaknesses, we could celebrate them, always asking for integrity in ourselves first and foremost: what do we seek? What purpose does it serve? Who benefits?

Funny how the same questions never lose their applicability. Avoid personal integrity, and we squander our time demonizing opponents rather than incarnating the Holy in our words and deeds. Both difficult to access and continually present, the Holy is a paradox singularly appropriate for humans, who rarely make things easy for themselves.

Whether it’s solstice dawn or empty tomb, death or birth or other experience of transcendence, we seek communion, drink from a common cup, listen to and watch each other’s words and faces for signs of that contact, that connection. And when a strange-familiar wordless joy overtakes us, we try to put it into words for each other, as I do here, to pass it on.

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Front entrance — my office, where I write this blog. Winter ’16.

May the Holy light your roof and bathe you in itself.
May the season offer you its generous portion
and open the door for gratitude.
May you turn to joy rather than despair
to nourish and sustain you in your trials and triumphs.
The blessings of your life to you,
rooted in each day’s grace and gift.

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4: Druid and Christian — The Holy   Leave a comment

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

“You can’t just draw a circle, step inside, and say it’s sacred. You just can’t!” said an acquaintance this last weekend.

In fact, you can.

“I can call spirits from the vasty deep”, says Glendower in Henry IV, Part 1 (Act III, sc. i).
“Why, so can I, or so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?” responds Hotspur.

It’s a valid question.

We say “it’s sacred” the same way we say we love. It’s wishful thinking, or it’s meant to seduce, or it spills over from a heart already overflowing. Or a hundred other things. And we can usually tell the difference, being the fine-tuned crap detectors that millennia of gossip sessions rubbing shoulders with the neighbors have made us.  If not, give it time. And as Zora Neale Hurston quipped (about love), “Everybody can do enough to satisfy themselves, though it may not impress the neighbors as being very much” (Dust Tracks on a Road, pg. 203). The same holds true for ritual.

Access to the sacred is the big-ticket item, and if you’re at all insecure about your own access, you’re more likely to try tearing down the competition.

But rather than argue from a position of dogma, if I really want to know rather than simply score cheap points, I need to join the circle numerous times, attend mass the same number of times and then — maybe — I might be able to compare notes. Adjust as needed to fit the two practices I’m intent on assessing. And most important of all, deserving of seeming to be tacked on at the end here, because I’m saving the best for last: I need to bring equivalent reverent attention and curiosity to each rite. Otherwise, why bother?

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So we begin our rite together, Druid and Christian, Christian and Druid:

Now ask the beasts, and let them teach you,
and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.
Speak to the earth, and let it teach you,
and let the fish of the sea declare to you. [Job 12:7-8]

We call to the great bear in the starry heavens, power of the north …
We call to the hawk of dawn soaring in the clear pure air, power of the East …
We call to the great stag in the heat of the chase, power of the south…
We call to the salmon dwelling in the sacred pool, power of the west …
[OBOD ritual, adapted]

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More than anyone else in recent decades, Isaac Bonewits looked at ways to improve liturgy. Yes, we can connect with spirit, with the holy, in any number of ways, and on our own. But when we do so publicly, communally, we usually do it in ritual. How can our rituals be good? And then, how can they be better?

You can find four excerpts from his book Rites of Worship on his website. In
Dramatic Tension, Humor, Play and Pacing in Liturgy“, he examines links between theater and ritual, noting

Pacing is something that anyone familiar with the theater will tell you is absolutely crucial to the success of a performance … The only way to learn pacing is to experiment a lot with modular design and to rehearse the people in your group to find their skills and limits. A five-minute guided meditation may be too long for some groups, too short for others. Taking thirty seconds to bless each person in turn is fine if you only have a small group, but can be a disaster with a large one. A chant that naturally builds to a peak in three minutes should not be dragged out for ten. Many problems with pacing are solvable by artistic means, especially musical …

We may think one rite’s sacred and another isn’t, in other words, when what’s really going on is the holiness is leaking out of a rite through inattention to theater. It was, after all, a burning bush and not a burning blade of grass that God used to catch Moses’ attention.

For private rites, I ponder Jesus’s counsel:

When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing … on the street corners, so people can see them. Truly I tell you, they already have their reward. But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray …

Private circle, inner room: we set apart sacred space in order to perform a (second) sacred act, just as much as we perform a sacred act in order to set apart sacred space.

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3: Druid & Christian — Samhuinn & Sovereignty   Leave a comment

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

In a 2013 post I wrote that when I remember the ancestors,

I make my very own Samhain-on-the-spot, the veil between the worlds thins, and I converse with the dead, with the Otherworld, with the generations stored in my DNA and blood and bone.  Perhaps you could call it racism in the best sense of the word — a celebration of all who have gone before me and who, by living, have delivered me to this moment of my own life, as I write these words.  It doesn’t last, but it also endures forever.

Samhuinn is remembering and honoring connection. One reason it looms so large in Pagan practice is simply that the essence of ritual is connection, and successful ritual means good relationships. On social media like Facebook, we think that we decide if we’re “in a relationship” or not. Westerners in particular like to imagine we’re free, among many other things free to choose. But many of our relationships that matter most aren’t matters of choice. Our existence itself, as a part of this universe of beings, is the first and greatest example. So the biggest “relationship” question often isn’t whether but how: how will I maintain good relationships — with myself, with other beings, with the planet?

In language many Pagans would find congenial, Catholic priest and eco-theologian Thomas Berry writes* (in The Great Work):

…we will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things came into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.

“Religious naturalist” Loyal Rue makes an immense and related claim,** deserving (as I try to approach such things) neither acceptance or rejection at first, but simple meditation and reflection:

The most profound insight in the history of humankind is that we should seek to live in accord with reality. Indeed, living in harmony with reality may be accepted as a formal definition of wisdom. If we live at odds with reality (foolishly), we will be doomed, but if we live in proper relationship with reality (wisely), we shall be saved. Humans everywhere, and at all times, have had at least a tacit understanding of this fundamental principle.

And we see a movement among some Christians towards a center that Druids and other Pagans also strive towards. Michael Dowd, former fundamentalist and author of Thank God for Evolution!, writes:

I am an unabashed evidential mystic—a sacred realist, a Christian naturalist. Reality is my God and evidence is my scripture. Big History is my creation story and ecology is my theology. Integrity is my salvation and doing whatever I can to foster a just and healthy future for the full community of life is my mission.

In Arthurian tradition, the Lady of the Lake gives Arthur his sword, affirming his right to kingship, and she receives it back again when, mortally injured after the battle of Camlann, he is borne away to Avalon to be healed.

We can see the Lady as a exemplar of Sovereignty, right relationship to the cosmos. As a representative of the inward reality that lies behind our outward world, she initiates and instructs the king — metaphorically, the archetypal “royal line” in all of us. Demonstrating again and again through her actions that leader and land are one, she shows that psychic wholeness and healing can never be isolated or merely individual. We are communal beings. Hermits and recluses often report dreams filled with people, a compensation for their outward communal “drought”. The famous Grail question points to this same reality: “Who(m) does the Grail serve?” Not just the one who finds it or achieves it! The cheap and shallow English labels “winner” and “loser” simply do not apply.

If we connect with our ancestors in the largest sense of the word, with our physical forebears and also with anyone who has helped us to reach who we presently are and may become, we may begin to see that even in spite of what may be our best efforts to live only for ourselves, we still end up contributing to the entire cosmos. Whether that contribution makes us worthy ancestors to those who will come after us is another matter, and our individual and communal charge.

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Interlude — a different preview of Edinburgh’s annual and marvelous Beltane Fire Society Samhuinn celebration. Samhuinn can provide us with a mirror to see ourselves as ancestors (don’t we all “see through a glass darkly”?).

Here’s the link to the Beltane Fire Society’s Samhuinn 2017.

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Right relationship — the first ritual goal I will strive to keep in mind as I finish drafting my personal Samhain rite.

This evening my wife and I will gather with another couple a few miles away.  We’ve shared several of the “Great Eight” festivals before, sometimes with a formal ritual, at others with that most ancient ritual of all, friendship, food and fire. One partner of the couple often faces a difficult time at Samhain, due to her psychic awareness and to past bad experiences with the day. So for us sometimes the kindest ritual is not to celebrate Samhuinn in any formal sense at all, but simply to be present and grounded ourselves, and to help be grounding for her.

A fire can help burn away negative energy, and making a practice of imaginally gathering and tossing into the fire any negative energy, to be consumed and returned to its elements for the cosmos to rebuild into healthy and balanced forms, is appropriate work. Doing it physically and unobtrusively can also be part of maintaining the fire.

A blessed Samhuinn to you all.

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*Berry, Thomas. “The Wild and the Sacred,” in The Great Work. New York: Harmony/Bell Tower, 1999, pg. 49.

**Rue, Loyal. Religion Is Not About God. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005, pg. 135.

2: Druid and Christian — Elemental Sacraments   Leave a comment

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

In the previous post I wrote: “In sacrament rather than creed lies one potent meeting-place for Druid and Christian”. It’s this junction that I’ll continue to explore here.

What’s a sacrament? A means of perceiving the sacred. Though every culture has them, in the West our access points to the holy can feel few and far between, even more precious because of their rarity. Of course we’ve trimmed and peeled many of them away ourselves — some too soon, others well after their expiration dates.

 

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Fire worship among the Yi people in Kunming, China. Xinhua News.

Nonetheless, as a doorway, sacrament itself isn’t holy, except by association. It acquires a secondary patina of holiness that makes up part of the uplift we can experience when we turn its way, if it’s still working. For it can indeed be profaned, though the underlying sacred reality it points to is immune to human tampering. That reality wouldn’t be worth much, after all, if we could trample it in the mud.  (And we do our share of trampling. One of the more startling instances comes from Quebecois French, which intentionally repurposes Catholic vocabulary for profanity — including the word sacrament itself.)

water-heart

Hence, when “the barbarians are at the gates”, they (we) can destroy things of beauty, reverence and spiritual power, but the reality that gave them birth remains untouched. It will burst forth again in new forms and guises to open the eyes and the hearts of people yet unborn.

Will it? We certainly say and believe such things. Are they merely a kind of whistling in the dark?

One test lies in sacraments themselves. Many of them may receive scant acknowledgement in a given culture. Yet who among us who has deeply loved another person doubts that there is a sacrament made manifest? We can and do sentimentalize it, in part to avoid its sacramental power.

Other examples abound, instances that many cultures hedge about with rituals of word and action. A meal shared with others, a birth, a death, a “first” in a young life: first love, first kill, first sexual experience, first assumption of other adult roles and responsibilities. The fact that in so-called secular cultures we still institutionalize and legalize such things as drinking alcohol, driving cars, voting, joining the military, merely confirms a spiritual fact — awkwardly, perhaps, and blindly groping for its deeper truth, no doubt. That we confer grades of status by age attests to our discomfort with other criteria — ones that require wisdom, vision, insight. It’s easier to grant status mechanically, by the calendar, than to search a heart.

A sacrament, then, because it’s “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace” as the 5th century St. Augustine perceived, acknowledges something that already exists. We don’t create it, though we allow it to take shape and form, to have an impact, because we make room for it in our lives. (There seems to be a Minimum Sacramental Quotient, an MSQ, in every life: we’re all born, eat, and die, even if we shy away from, and struggle to avoid, every other divine intrusion on our human busy-ness.) We can midwife the sacred, and catalyze and welcome it, then, or resist it, but only up to a point. Grace is gratia, gift — and ample reason for gratitude.

When Druids initiate a new Bard, something happens that allows a sacrament that outward manifestation. When a Christian experiences the presence of God in prayer or Communion, the connection with the sacred moves from inner potential to outer expression. We can sense it, often, with our physical bodies. Or in the words of one of the repeating songs from Beauty and the Beast, “There’s something there that wasn’t there before”. Lacking other means of access, many people experience sacraments, or at least a sacramental flavor, in the “profane” world of Hollywood and the entertainment “industry”. So let’s be more profane, not less: pro-fane, standing near a fane or shrine, rubbing shoulders with gods and spirits outside, if not in the fane, or making a fane of our bodies and lives.

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One common friction-point in midwifing a sacrament is means. “What’s your fane?” Deny another’s access-points to the sacred by discrediting their sacraments, and you attempt to own and control and box in what is not, in the end, wholly subject to human will. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, “No salvation outside the Church”, just doesn’t work for many people any more. (Not to mention that sometimes what you’re looking for isn’t salvation but something else entirely.)

There’s a Pagan movement towards what has been critiqued as “inflation”, and a Christian one that has been likewise critiqued as “deflation”, of the human self. Pagans appear to deify, and Christians to abase, the self, Both meta-techniques strive to open the doors to the sacred by removing obstacles to sacraments. And making a proper container for what is holy can be a deal of work. Latter-day solutions like “spiritual-but-not-religious” attempt to bypass the need for containers altogether, but they offer their own problems, and containers tend to creep back in.

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Samhain. Hallowed Evening. Masses, rituals for the Dead-who-live. Calling out their names, those who have passed in the previous year. Hear them named around the evening fire.

“Look in the mirror, Ancestor. The veil is always thin.”

“What we have received, we pass on.”

“What do you bring from the Otherworld? And what can we offer you?”

“Assist me to erect the ancient altar at which in days past all worshipped, the great altar of all things” run the words of one Pagan rite.

Introibo ad altare Dei, intones the Catholic priest, using the words from Psalm 42:4. “I will go into the altar of God”.

“Look at the shape of the altar; it is your own consciousness”, says one of the Wise.

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Can we see here the faint outlines of a shared set of sacraments for Christian Druids and Druid Christians? What links followers of Grail, Cross and Star, who long to extend what each does best, sacramental elements, elemental sacraments in the broader sense of components, basic parts, building materials for the Door that is always open, the “Door without a Key”? Jesus says “I stand at the door and knock”, and Merlin waves and beckons from the other side. Earth and water, air and fire, blood and mistletoe, wine and breath, we bring you to our altars.

In our awkward groping ways, we all stumble on and into sacraments. For those looking to learn from these two neighboring traditions, ones with Trees at their centers, maybe one of the first sacraments to celebrate is humility with each other, humilis, an attitude and approach close to the earth, humus. “Earth my body, fire my spirit …”

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Images: Fire worship; “Living water“.

 

1: Druid and Christian — “The Table Round”   Leave a comment

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

In this post I’m more cranky than usual, so I invite you to read with compassion rather than judgment — for your own sake, never mind mine.

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Where’s the real “Good News”, Jesus? Why is it so hard to find it in the churches with your name attached? Saints still appear, but more often in spite of Christendom than because of it. “Jerusalem, we have a problem”. (The problem, of course, is limited human consciousness, not the example of spiritual mentors and teachers, whom we keep deifying rather than actually following. Slow learners, all of us.)

“Be not simply good but good for something”, Henry David Thoreau exhorts his readers. Like what, Henry?

“A Christian must be esoteric!” exclaims Father Heinz Naab, in David Lindholm’s article, “Meeting a Modern Druid Christian in the Garden of Delights“. But what that esotericism means is left to the spiritual discretion of the seeker.

“The practice of sacramental spirituality can be pursued apart from the various pathologies of political religion”, notes John Michael Greer in his essay “The Gnostic Celtic Church“. In sacrament rather than creed lies one potent meeting-place for Druid and Christian.

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In Christian tradition, Jesus is about 33 when completes his mission, dying on a Roman cross and afterward appearing to his followers, still spiritually alive. His “actual” age matters less than its metaphorical value, just as dogma matters less than experience. In Christian and Jewish terms, he was the right age to enter the priesthood (see Numbers 4:3).

In terms of the tarot, that much disputed and profoundly useful tool, we can gain further perspective. With Caitlin and John Matthews’ version, the Hallowquest Arthurian deck, the numerological practice of adding the numbers of his age together gives us 6, the card of Taliesin (who assumes forms human and animal before he is devoured by Ceridwen and nine months later is born again as the future bard). A fruitful theme for meditation — I could, for instance, see Taliesin as an avatar of the divine incarnating in creation, a model for human transformation through spiritual practice.

Or we can add the 11 years’ difference between the 22nd and last card of a traditional deck and Jesus’ age, and taking a second passage through the deck, arrive at the 11th card, which in Matthews’ version is the Round Table.

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Da Vinci, “The Last Supper”. Wikipedia — public domain

So many of the paintings depicting the Last Supper present Jesus not at the head of the table, but at its center, fulfilling his words (John 15:15) and dissolving the distance between them: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you”.

And the medieval Round Table, which the 13th century French poet Robert de Boron‘s Merlin creates in conscious imitation of that Passover table of Jesus and his followers, also seats 12, with an empty seat left by Judas and only to be filled when a worthy knight achieves the Grail. (In later versions of the story, it’s Sir Galahad who earns the right to sit in the Siege Perilleux, the Perilous Seat.)

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Galahad taking the Perilous Seat. Painting by Evrard d’Espinques (15th  c). Wikipedia public domain. Words in red: “… assist galaad au siege …”

Jesus does not establish a hierarchy but abolishes it instead. He is immanu-el — god with us, present in humanity and in the natural world. And as a model for such fellowship — no one can claim a dominant seat at a round table — the object is a fitting symbol. Merging human and divine in his own person, Jesus offers a powerful exemplar. This is how creation is healed: we manifest our true identity instead of cowering behind our imagined powerlessness. For we are fearful of nearly everything — the future, the world, disease, death, and each other perhaps most of all. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

We see how distant we are from such manifestation if we attempt it through such avenues as “identity politics” today, for this spiritual achievement is precisely what politics of any sort can never deliver. Nor, in the end, is it intended to, though “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” fail without the spirit. (Humans as political animals have had long enough, after all: centuries, millennia! And nothing better within “Christian states” than non-Christian ones. Advantages of geography and resources, yes. But does anyone sane imagine America as a “fully Christian nation” (in the terms its Dominionist advocates propose) could provide such consciousness?)

Instead we have a model, a guide and a set of images from a blend of Druid and Christian sources that point toward a profound spiritual practice common to both traditions. But if we would follow it, we also need to hear the scale of things where it happens most readily: “where two or three are gathered together in the name of divinity in creation …” Let what we incarnate today be a sacrament that we share with others we meet.

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Images: Last Supper; Siege Perilleux/Perilous Seat, by Evrard d’Espinques (fl. 1440-1494), Wikipedia public domain.

Frequency-Matching for Love & Money   Leave a comment

[Part 2: First Leaf, Outward Leaf]

“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want”  – Einstein.

Gandhi in that oft-deployed admonition “Be the change you wish to see in the world” urges me to see the power of accepting responsibility for what I want, and helping it first manifest, however tentatively, within me. But Einstein gives me an inkling — no more! — of how. I don’t even care if it’s a case of “do as I say, not as I do”. I read crazy old Albert’s words and they ring true for me, call me to extend their resonance into action, into practice to see what they’re worth. Because how else can I know?

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“Everything is energy …”

If you’ve read a number of my previous posts, you know by now it’s one of my ongoing obsessions to find out how others achieve what they do, and then, if I can possibly pull it off, to beg, adapt, borrow, or steal what I can from approaches, mindsets, techniques, strategies, work-arounds. (Oh, just give the old Druid a tool, already!)

Because belief, almost the sole technique on offer these days in the great monotheistic faiths, just ain’t enuf for me. (The spiritual riches of most traditions sadly lie ignored.) Or rather, it’s a powerful tool, but it needs material to work on, logic and motive as much as emotion.

We get another inkling of what matching frequencies can be like from human sexuality. The drive to mate and merge, instinctive in animals, can become more conscious in humans. (I say can. If you’ve approached such consciousness, you know the weight and force of that word can. How it slips away, how messed up and yet delighted we become in the presence of the “urge to merge”.)

A committed couple, the Judeo-Christian scriptures tell us, unites in a special way. Matthew (10:8) says, “… the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one …” If you’re reading this and you’ve known that particular blessing of unity, you get it. If even for a short interval, human sexual union gives us a direct experience of unity. It’s no surprise that we say we’re “in tune” with others, that we seek as well a wider “harmony”, that we long to be “in sync” — our languages mirror truth when they can, when we don’t muck about with them too much. (Ideologues and advertisers have much to answer for!)

So matching frequencies gets us “on the same wavelength”. We vibrate together, and with sympathetic vibrations each intensifies and reinforces the other. How to do this?

Mantra, sacred song, chant all aim for attunement. (All music aims to attune us to something. It just may or may not be a vibration in harmony with what I truly want. What does it help me manifest? What am I getting? What frequency have I matched? Where do I habitually vibrate?)

What is it about people and places that it just feels good to be around? What’s the quality that produces that comfort, that pleasure, that delight?

I want to tune myself in more consciously. That doesn’t mean I turn into some plastic saint, Druid or otherwise. It means in fact that if I want to express anger, I can do it consciously and responsibly, not passive-aggressively and unintentionally. I don’t need to summon into my life even more fallout from the random consequences of an already negative frequency buzzing in my head or heart. This, I know from hard experience and from looking almost everywhere at my fellow humans, is a core lesson.

I can take annoyance, irritation, and dump it through cranking a good headbanging song on speakers or headphones. Or do a ritual — ad hoc can be perfect — that lets me purge myself by dumping said negativity into an object I then bury in the earth. (Earth, take this from me. I transmute! says Earth.)

Or I do a quick visualization, one of my go-to’s, in fact: gathering my crap into a snowball and casting it into a river that sweeps it away and dissolves it. Gone. Even the turning of attention to such a visualization helps break an undesirable frequency, and guides me toward something that I initiate, not something thrown at me, dropped on me, spun within me. I become cause. Or at least, conscious effect.

Do these things, says my guide, and you open ways to fulfill your destinies. Because we all have more than one.

And if I remember to temper excitement at any new spiritual tool with useful clarity about the nature of the physical plane, and its inherent stability, I’ll learn to extend my practice to all planes, not just this one where change is — safely! — slow, most of the time.

Earth is a great laboratory for experimentation. Because then I won’t destroy every single new thing I mean to create, until I’ve learned my how through practice. And by then I’ll have seen how much more fluid the astral and other planes can be, how frequency-matching can be closer to instantaneous. How earth provides a useful counterweight to newbie mistakes and goofs. The ancestors, the gods, the spirits, the land — all help, all watch, all wait to be invited to the only adventure there is.

Part 2, in which I examine the time lag and solidity of Earth, coming soon.

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Wildness, and Thoreau at 200   Leave a comment

thoreauLong-time readers of this blog know my admiration for Henry David Thoreau (who rhymed his name with “borrow”). I’m well into a new biography* of him, and reminded by a New York Times book review that today is his 200th birthday.

*Walls, Laura Dassow. Thoreau: A Life. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017. (Go for the Kindle edition; hardcover is $35!)

Partly from Thoreau (1817-1862) and his Transcendentalist circle, but also of course from vivid Medieval conceptions, Westerners get Nature-with-a-capital-N, that idealized if not deified Presence. In the same millennium-old perception, we get two Books of Wisdom as well. The Book of Scripture, the Bible, yes. But also the Book of Nature. (Ah, but which is volume one and which is sequel?)

From the Concord, Massachusetts man and his most famous book, we learn his credo: “In Wildness is the preservation of the world”. For there is a tameness that allows us to live together at all, that is much but not all of what we mean by “civilization”, and another (or perhaps the same) tameness that makes us lie down in front of the onrushing disasters of the day, provided they don’t touch us too directly and painfully.

Or at least not right away. (Boil me gradually, and I’m a happy frog or lobster.) A few posts ago, I wrote of making coffee in an analogy for doing ritual: any trade deal made or broken is fine with me — until it deprives me of a ready supply of overseas beans. Or let’s say I do step forward, full of fire and righteous indignation (is there any other kind?!) to protest a worthy Druid-y cause, putting my life on the line, what then? Isn’t my life always on the line? As one follower* of a certain wilderness prophet cautioned us long ago: “I may even give away all that I have to the poor, and give up my body to be burned. But if I don’t have love, none of these things will help me”. More to the point, I’d say, will they help anyone else?

cernunnosThere’s also a wildness in “a certain forest god”, as John Beckett calls Cernunnos. As without, so within. There’s a wildness in each of us that politicians are eager to sedate and numb to stasis with material consumption and soundbites and spin. There’s a wildness like that of the Wild Hunt of European legend and myth, which modern Pagans, among others, have elaborated in provocative directions. The wildness of Nature isn’t Sunday-afternoon safe, and direct contact with it (if we survive) can strip away our pretences and excuses, can initiate us into powerful awareness and lasting change.

But like Tolkien’s Ents, we don’t like to be “roused”. I’ll fight tooth and claw for a comfortable cage, if one’s on offer, rather than for freedoms I claim I desire. For someone like Thoreau, Walls declares, “The dilemma that pressed upon him was how to live the American Revolution not as dead history but as living experience that could overturn, and keep overturning, hidebound convention and comfortable habits”. For we humans stand at the hinge, the pivot, the axis, in and of nature and yet able for a time to hold ourselves apart from it. Because where else is there?

Still, we strive to contrive and survive, little Sarumans every one of us. “Once out of nature”, writes W B Yeats in his almost infamous poem “Sailing to Byzantium”,

I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling …

Artifice, civilization, nature, justice? Just let me live forever, something in me cries. Just that, and I’ll sacrifice everything else to achieve it. You too can sail to Byzantium — for a price.

“Send lawyers, guns, and money”, says Warren Zevon in a song with the same title. “I’m the innocent bystander. Somehow I got stuck between the rock and a hard place. And I’m down on my luck …” Solutions present themselves. Not all deserve us. Few have anything to do with luck. And innocence or guilt completely misses the point of now. We’re all in it.

But wait …

“Once out of nature”? Are we now in that impossible place? Is that the legacy of the much-bandied about “Anthropocene“, our mythical present day, that time when human action carries geological force? “Health”, said Thoreau, “is a sound relation to nature”. “Physician”, says the Galilean master, quoting wisdom already proverbial in his time, “heal thyself”.

Oh Yeats, let me take bodily form from every living thing, let me know form, let me inhabit nature fully, and I will understand better, I will heal, and I will be healed.

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*1 Corinthians 13:3.

Images: ThoreauCernunnos/Gundestrup Cauldron.

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