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Solstices Before Us   Leave a comment

ignition

May we find what kindles …

With just a few changes, you can readily adapt my recent Beltane Solitary rite for the Solstices tomorrow, winter or summer.

Earth below me and in my bones,
Sky above me and in my breath,
Seas around me and in my blood,
by the Power of these holy Three,
I proclaim this to be sacred time and space …

A Solitary has the advantage of spontaneity. With the skeleton framework of a ritual as a guide, you’re free to improvise, to slow or quicken your pacing, to substitute words, drop or expand a section to fit the moment’s need. Just like with poetry and song-writing, you need just enough structure as a form to create with, and enough freedom not to feel boxed in. You find wings of a definite shape and size — they’re real, after all — and with them you can fly.

As with ritual, so with ritual politics: unlike the blood-curdling threats accompanying initiations in days not so long ago, the wiser rituals (and their ritual-writers) remind the initiate that no bindings are laid upon you, and should ever you, your guides or spirit wisdom counsel you to depart (or change the ritual, or strike out on your own path), do so with blessings. Anything else smacks of power-over.

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The June Solstice here in central New England means our local snakes are finally active both day and night. Although we’ve seen the more aggressive cottonmouth in the area, it’s the common and docile garter snakes (thamnophis sirtalis) that usually hunt our lawns for bugs and frogs and the occasional mole, which have come to sun themselves on our driveway each morning. This supple fellow from yesterday was about 18 in/46 cm.

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The Carr-Gomms write in their Druid Animal Oracle:

Although some legendary dragons are strongly linked with only one of the four elements, many of them happily partake of the characteristics of all the elements: sleeping in water holes, curling their bodies around hills by day, and flying through the air or breathing flames whenever they wish. Quintessentially alchemical, they speak of the energies and powers that exist both within our own selves and within the landscape around us (pg. 135).

A good reminder for the Solstices — the alchemy for transformation is always on hand, in encounters possible everywhere. After all, earth, sea and sky are all in me, too. We be of one kindred, o serpent.

And so when Jesus says wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I also, can you feel it? Spirit with us, around and inside us. May we gather in that awareness, wherever we are, by twos and threes, bird and beast, ancestor and neighbor.

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Greetings to visitors from Brazil, whose numbers are up today! Muito obrigado!

Seven Seeds of an Ancestor Practice

[Updated 23 May 2020]

With even a little searching, you can of course find books and other resources for various ancestor practices.

Chances are good you’ve already begun one. Like so many things, the seeds — and often, the seedlings — already have taken root in your life.

With a family photo, an heirloom, a couple of stories, human memory, and experience of being alive, you’ve placed your hands on your own thread in the Weave, on a branch of the Great Tree, that surpasses any book.

Say you have an interest in genealogy. Or a relative frequently sends out clippings, photos, tidbits of biography about the family tree.

Maybe you’ve inherited old photos and letters, and they’ve sat on a shelf or at the back of a closet in a box or boxes because it’s hard to know what to do with the stuff. You can’t bring yourself to throw it out, but right now it’s just there, taking up space, one more tug whenever you’re looking for something else and there it is: history, image, memory, bonds of time and experience and emotion.

Or perhaps you have a difficult family history. You’re estranged from several living relatives, while deceased members left the scene with issues unresolved, and the family you have now aren’t blood relatives at all, but a family of choice you’ve managed in spite of things to assemble and cherish. Roommates, friends, mentors, colleagues, partners — people you’ve gathered and welcomed into your life at various points, who love and support you in turn.

With luck and grace and a strong constitution you may have one blood relative or spiritual ancestor you’ve started with. That person’s picture on an altar, or a wall, or stored on phone or laptop, serves as your launch point. Maybe not daily, or even weekly, but often enough, the images comes up and you have a moment to reflect on them, to remember.

Maybe you’ve signed up with one of the online genealogy sites, and your profile settings see to it you receive alerts whenever an ancestor date arrives. Your great-grandmother’s birthday, for example, or your great-great-grandfather’s wedding. The site obligingly emails you pictures of headstones, or some other electronic addition you might add to a memory altar, or discard or ignore.

All of these things may be enough. You’re busy, you don’t have time for “one more thing”, or that genealogically-obsessed relative more than makes up for whatever inattention you’ve been paying to the Right Noble Family Tree with their incessant gifs and jpegs and anecdotes, newspaper articles, questionnaires, memorabilia, and so forth.

Or you’re adopted, or orphaned, or otherwise almost entirely separated from your bloodline. Rather than an embarrassment of riches, you experience a dearth of ’em.

We all have arrived where we are today with the help of someone. That person is an ancestor, a fore-runner, a pathmaker, a hand to steady us on our way. And we have performed the same service for someone else, often enough without noticing.

Here are seven seeds for an ancestor practice I’ve explored over time.

1) “The Names of the Survivors”: We’re Here Now.

In my late teens I heard Rochester, NY poet Linda Allardt read her poem “The Names of the Survivors”, and the title as well as the closing lines have stayed with me. Survival makes do for grace, she closes, and at first that can sound grim or dark. But what is survival?

The best reason, if I need one, for an ancestor practice lies in one simple fact: I’m here today. If ever I’ve felt gratitude for simply being alive, there are roots of ancestor practice lying ready to hand. My existence today is tribute and vindication of their joys and struggles, in all their grotty and difficult human-ness. If you have a gratitude practice of any kind (or are looking at starting one), if you give thanks consciously at whatever frequency, it’s a sweet and simple thing to include those who have gone before and contributed to this moment.

2) Keeping up the Bone-House

Allied with my own being-here-now is a chance to do my best to honor and pass along that legacy. One of the Old English kennings or poetic expressions for the physical body is bánhús, bone-house. What I do with this bone-house life passes on my inheritance of it in the most concrete ways.

Every act matters, and an ancestor practice can paradoxically help me recall that. The deeds of now-nameless ancestors each helped bring me to here and now. It wasn’t the “big stuff” most days, though in hindsight each of these things is enormous: lighting a fire, cooking a meal, raising the children, tending the sick, burying the dead, butchering livestock, harvesting the crops, repairing the roof, honoring the lives they in turn received by living them fully. When I do the same, I celebrate and pass along the inheritance. Each life has a weight and presence of infinite value in the world.

When I smile at others and greet them, when I hold the door, pick up an empty soda can, drop off an abandoned wallet or phone to a lost-and-found, by performing such small gestures I lighten another’s life, no matter the degree. If one other person is glad I live today, I have helped branch the ancestral tree, and honored the gift I was given.

3) The Light-and-Shadow Tracery of Faces

You may or may not have (m)any photos of ancestors, depending on your family’s circumstances and the availability of cameras. Other objects may belong on your altar or other details can fill your remembrance.

Among my favorite family photos is this one of my uncle, aunt and mother, taken around 1921. (Yes, my mother was born in 1919 — she would have been 100 last year. She had me quite late — she was 40 when I was born, more unusual and risky then than now. An ancestor’s choice I’m obviously grateful for!)

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All three have passed over now, all three are people I knew in this life, and I celebrate their birthdays still. How much further you take such celebrations — preparing their favorite foods, inviting them to join you as you partake, including family and ritualising the event in other ways — depends on your own inclination and guidance. Such choices can bring ancestors into our present in potent ways.

Though we live in time, I’ve found we also travel along it in memory and imagination and vision, and we can consciously bless our past and future selves, as well as our ancestors, and descendants. The strength I’ve found to carry on through difficult times — to survive at all — pours forth from the pooling blessings of countless others, including my own. By such acts of compassion, the boundaries between self and other, self-ish and self-less, fall away.

For the good of the whole I offer this to the Sacred Pool …

4) Houses of My Blood and Spirit

The places where my ancestors lived may lie remote from my own, or I may live near or in the same house as one or more of them. When we enlarge such “houses” to include those who have taught and guided and encouraged us, whether living recently or long ago, here or on another spiral of the great journey, such dwellings grow large indeed. I count among my ancestors of spirit those whose words and wisdom inspire me, so that my altar of ancestors potentially extends far and wide. Whose birthdays will I acknowledge, or whose lives will I otherwise recognize and celebrate? It may be a talent I share with an ancestor, an historical interest, a quirk of person and character that allows me unique access to realms a particular ancestor also explored.

When we consider the spiraling DNA of these bodies of ours, all of us still live in very old ancestral houses, heirs to millennia.

Pondering, listening and revisiting these points slowly, over time, can help each person develop an engaging, varied and personal ancestral practice, along with a calendar of “Big Family” observances, of the Trees we each branch from.

And those other trees, which may be the same trees: What else can they teach us, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Tree of Life?

5) The Telling

Recalling the quirks and twitches of our forebears, their idiosyncrasies along with their strengths, helps bring both into sharper focus, and diminishes our tendency to idealize them to the point where we can no longer aspire to be like them.

One of the purposes of ritual is the re-telling and re-enactment of stories. The central ritual feast of Communion or Eucharist in Christianity is anamnesis — “remembrance” in Greek. As often as you do this, says Jesus, do it in remembrance of me. For Christians, Jesus is the Great Ancestor of Spirit, and many traditions include remembrances of their own spiritual ancestors. When we re-member, we put the members back together, we reassemble a life and recount its impact.

Multiple stories mean multiple examples and models of choice and action. Each ancestor points to another possibility today.

6) Be(com)ing an Ancestor

Wants and desires define the ancestors, shape their legacy in us, as they define me and each of us and the legacies we leave. What I want is love and direction and purpose. What I desire may or may not bring me any closer to those things — may well change hour to hour, day to day, with an attractive face on the way to posting a letter, a split-second decision to take a different route through town, that impulse buy that leads to so many further consequences, the online comment that backfires or unfolds a friendship, the unplanned event that proves crucial to so much that follows.

Sorting these things out in worlds of time and space is what makes each of us an ancestor-in-training. What do I know, what do I need to review, what have I not yet discovered or explored?

More spirals await.

7) Regular Samhain

Samhain is the end of the Celtic year, and also — blessed paradox — the beginning of a new year. I witness the cycles of my life, its ends and beginnings, in spirals within spirals. Our normal short-term attention is between 3 and 10 seconds, and that window of awareness has a start and an end, a dimension and rhythm worth studying and exploring. So too does the cycle of waking, daytime experience and sleep.

Beyond that is the lunar cycle, so useful as a model for working with cycles on a scale most can manage, even in busy modern lives. The three days of dark in each monthly cycle encourage a practice of letting go and picking up again, can allow for a physical correlate to deep meditation, for other kinds of work with the pattern of Samhain of endings and beginnings, at different scales than just the calendar year.

Spirals within spirals form a spiritual reality and offer a model for a vital practice that proves flexible and adaptable to individual circumstances, shapes our lives however we live them, and links us to ancestral wisdom and presence in ways I’m still discovering, as are we all.

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A Walk with the Green Rabbi

This is another Druidry-and-Christianity post, so those of you who can feel your blood pressure rising already might want to keep on moving. Please respect your own spiritual digestion! Come back next post. Care for yourself and others in this time, as you uniquely know and are learning how to do.

chldbrdwlk

We have a human need to name causes. We want to know the formative energies behind things. We learn from experience that such knowledge often eases our hearts, even a little, if we can just spot a pattern, detect a design, rustle up a reason.

Often enough, too, knowing a cause helps in shaping a result we desire. With a sense of trajectory, maybe we can define points along the way, formulate strategies, work on means and ends. How to get there from here.

I run into Josh* again, the Green Rabbi. Many have heard of him. His stories are full of birds and beasts, flowers and fields, and often he just gets things, things I know I need to hear. He comes to all kinds of circles and protests, gatherings and prayer sessions, where he doesn’t always immediately stand out in a crowd. Parties, too. Maybe you saw him a few weeks ago, talking with that old guy at the end of the bar. Or sitting with refugees huddled in their tents, listening. Once in a while, you might catch a glimpse of him in the mirror. He doesn’t shy away from the tough questions, or doing what’s needed himself, rather than waiting on somebody else.

One day as Josh passed by, he saw a man he knew, blind from birth. And his students asked him, “Rabbi, who messed up, this man or his parents, so that he was born blind?” 

It’s a great question, one you may find yourself asking along with me and many others right about now. Why are things like this?

Twenty centuries ago, the Green Rabbi faces that question-impulse in his students, and fields one of the Big Questions: cause and effect.

This time his students present him with what looks like yet another obvious karmic either-or. It’s gotta be A or B. One or the other. Cut and dried. My bad skin (or my amoral heart) is either my own doing, or it’s the result of bad upbringing. Choose. Nature or nurture, person or person’s parents.

Then, QED. Tell me who’s at fault so I can assign blame, and if it’s not my fault, I can wrap it up neatly in a crimson bow. Put it on a shelf. And all too conveniently forget about it. Not my monkey, not my circus.

Wait, says my life. Not so fast.

Josh answered, “This man hasn’t messed up, and neither have his parents: it’s so Spirit could manifest in him.

The cause doesn’t always matter as much as we might think. More than we imagine, it’s the seed of possibility in the moment that counts. A potential. The chance for something that wasn’t there before. What chance, and whose? Well, anybody’s — anybody who can help Spirit appear more vividly and effectually right now. And that’s all of us. It is, if we accept it, a spiritual opportunity. Whatever the cause, what can I manifest in the space it has shaped?

More surprise. Josh doesn’t push the responsibility of making the most of such an opportunity onto anybody else. Instead, he applies it to himself, rolls up his sleeves, and starts yet again walking his talk. I know I learn from that kind of model. It’s an ongoing struggle for me, against my tendency to say “other people’s problems” and turn back to my own stuff.

Josh tries to explain:

I work with what spirit sends me, while it’s still day: the night comes, when nobody can work. As long as I’m in the world, I’m the light of the worldAfter he said that, he spat on the ground, and made clay, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and said to him, Go wash in the pool. The blind man went, and washed, and came back able to see.

Light and earth, water and Spirit. Elemental powers we all hold in our hands.

When I “come back”, I’m not always able to see all that clearly. But Josh nods. That, I can see. OK, among everything else these things can mean, for me they signal I’ve got work to do. And — blessed chance! — there’s still light to do it by.

A meditation for the day:

Light: what is spirit showing me right now? What can I do with that insight or perception?

Earth: how can I manifest it in concrete ways? What’s the earth of it?

Water: what is fluid and supple in my life, what is flowing that I can participate in and help to shape for the good of all? Where can I flow for others, helping to unstick the stuckness we all labor with?

Spirit: what humble forms does life use to reach and teach me? How does spirit animate and enliven my life today? How can I open to more opportunities for that to happen? As a Wise One said, When we tune in, our talents and skills are used in ways we enjoy. Let my prayer be full of life, let my life make use of me for my good, yes, mixed with the good of those around me.

And my prayer for you is the same. May you delight in the uses spirit makes of your life. May you name and explore and celebrate some of those uses today.

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*Josh, popular short form of Joshua, from Hebrew Yehoshua; related name Yeshua, Greek Jesus. How many of us react automatically to names that have emotional loading for us, as the name Jesus does for people traumatized by bad religion and its practitioners. This is one of my transparent and unoriginal attempts to unload a name, to shift perception, even if only a little. I know I need that. Your mileage may vary.

Ritual, Consciousness, Inclusion

A current article about an autistic boy denied First Communion (link to USA Today) in his family’s church raises interesting questions. The child is “100% non-verbal”, and the family’s priest says that speaking is an essential part of the ritual — participants in a First Communion must be able to say certain words as part of their preparation.

If the form of a rite is all-important, this makes sense: if you can’t access the form, the ritual benefit doesn’t accrue to you, so there’s no point in you participating.

Does Druid ritual work the same way? In many ways, and at first glance, it certainly does. While anyone who can respect a ritual space and other people in it is usually very welcome at any of the “Great Eight” seasonal rituals*, if those people are autistic, it’s true they may not be able to process — through language — all that takes place.

And a Druid group initiation typically relies even more on language: a set of questions and responses, verbal cues and directions to follow, speaking sacramental ritual words, and so on.

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No words needed to reach for the moon …

But anyone who’s been moved non-verbally by an experience knows language is just one of many means at our disposal to experience and honor each other, access energy, manifest intent, link to spiritual presence, the sacred. People carry babies into both Christian and Pagan ritual spaces, cats and dogs often wander freely in and out of Pagan sacred circles, and small children are welcome as long they’re not disruptive.

If you’re in a sacred space and have silenced your own inner chatter enough to permit yourself some alertness to Others, you may know the presence of entities who don’t “talk” and can still communicate just fine. How many of us have heeded “nudges” and “gut feelings” to our advantage? We don’t “need” ritual to encounter the sacred: we all participate in it all the time. Life is sacrament: ritual helps to sharpen our consciousness of this spiritual fact.

Would a Druid Order or less formal Gathering “ban an autistic person from an initiation”? Instead, let’s reframe the question: how might Druids accommodate those who rely on other modes than language to access the sacred? Could we prepare them with appropriate modes of experience and instruction to participate? Could we then compose a ritual for them both to catalyze an experience and to welcome them into another state of awareness?

These questions begin to suggest their own answers. Creating “appropriate modes of experience and instruction” would most probably ask for close collaboration between a ritual designer and the families and friends of autistic people. After all, they possess crucial insight into means: they know better than anyone that the autistic person particularly likes this animal and has papered her bedroom walls with pictures of it, shows especial connection to X place, connecting to its trees and stones, has always preferred the colour Y, loves that song by Z, and so on.

Out of such things, both instruction and a “capstone” ritual can be drafted. Good ritual design means hallowing such associations, and making much of them. The personal details of our lives are already the rough material that spirit uses to reach us in a myriad of ways, and human differences like autism needn’t “make a difference” in this spiritual truth.

If we take it to heart, using the vehicle of Christian language, that the “Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”, we know that forms are secondary to spiritual purpose. Yes, a legalistic mindset can also quote scripture for its purpose — “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle** shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” — and we’ve seen all too often how the “jot-and-tittlers” of the world tend to latch onto power and lord it over others wherever they can.

But in the middle of where I am right now, rather than worrying over-much about what other people are doing, I can attend to my own life: how am I called today to help spirit flow into this situation, this moment, this time and place? My work is to answer that call, that question, that spiritual summons, with all the love and creativity I can muster.

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*The approximate dates of the “Great Eight” seasonal rituals of the “Wheel of the Year” of much Druidry and modern Paganism:

Samhain/Hallowe’en/All Hallows, Oct. 31/Nov. 1

Yule/Winter Solstice/Alban Arthan, December 21

Imbolc/Groundhog Day/Candlemas, February 1/2

Spring Equinox/Alban Eilir/Ostara, March 21

Beltane/May Day, May 1

Summer Solstice/Litha/Alban Hefin, June 21

Lunasa/Lughnasadh/Lammas, August 1

Autumn Equinox/Mabon/Alban Elfed, September 21

**The English equivalent is “dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s”.

Image: Pexels.com

From the Druid’s Prayer Outward

Ri, a’h Isprid, do iscod …

Grant, o Spirit, thy protection …

If I pray, or make a vow, in a constructed language like the one I used to translate the Druid’s Prayer two months ago, is the prayer worthy, or the vow valid?

One direct test: does the spiritual world take them seriously? How do I know? And what, in turn, can that tell me about intention, creativity, awen and gods I may not worry about “believing” in, but whom I’m happy to work with, if I ask and if they choose?

(O Bríd and Oghma, for the gift of speech already I thank you …)

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eastern counter-glow over our roof at sunset

“Sound”, says the Old Irish In Lebor Ogaim, The Book of Ogams or the Ogam Tract, “is the mother of Og(h)ma, and matter his father”. Sound becoming language, the tongue of human beings, mediated by a god. The awen you sing, from the deep you bring it. And I pray you will.

No, I’m not claiming for my nascent Celtic con-lang any sort of special divine or holy status. (At least not in advance.) All languages are holy, or could be. But yes, I am working magic, going with an intention, asking blessings on it, charging it with desire, putting in a sustained effort, sailing with the wind, trusting to its fulfillment in time, doing my part, perceiving it from the vantage point of already-manifested, working with the as-if principle, feeling it as much as thinking it — because feeling charges an intention till it begins to spark, and it kindles (mostly) along paths we’ve laid for it, following the principle of the path of least resistance.

“I look forward to seeing where this goes as you work through the details”, writes Steve.

So do I, whether he was referring to the language or the prayer behind it, or both, or something else. “Working through the details”, the concrete form or mold into which we invite the magic to pour, helps give it shape. But whether it fills that form, or another more open to its flow, isn’t wholly up to us. If you’ve been at all involved in the building of a house or barn, with concrete being poured, you’ve run across stories of the concrete forms blowing out, and the heavy wet stuff flowing everywhere you didn’t want it. Magic is alive, god/dess is afoot, as much when I stub a toe or mash a finger as when the magic shifts my life to wonder and growth. Force flowing into form.

More than a little humility can help keep us from acts of outright stupidity in the face of divine power manifesting. Insisting that magic go a certain way is like commanding the tide: the tide always wins. But not seeing it as a contest, but as a chance to sail on the seas of magic, lets me ride the waves, tack across the wind, or run with it, and reach harbor. A light hand on the tiller, a boat that isn’t an ego project, a “vanity vessel”, but a seaworthy ship.

Expecting the wind to drive my boat out onto the waves, steer it where I want to go, and deliver me without any further effort on my part beyond the “ask”, is folly beyond telling. To put it more crudely and memorably, in words a friend said to me recently, it’s just naive as f*ck.

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So what lies “outward from prayer”? (Between sacred and profane may lie the merest hair’s breadth. Live, pure, wise, fire and true are also among our four-letter words.)

Make the turn, just don’t insist on logic as the link.

The Great Triad of Jesus is familiar to many, but too often we forget the hard-earned admonition that immediately precedes it:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

I know I squander the holy far too often, casting it aside like a paper wrapper around the candy of what I think I “really want”. After all that asking, seeking and knocking, I just let it slide from my fingers. So I take up the task again, asking, seeking, knocking — until I find that supple, elusive thing I need like blood and breath.

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I’m slowly reading two related books (like many “bookies”, I almost always have more than two going at any one time), to listen to them echo and ricochet off each other: Thomas Kunkel’s Enormous Prayers: A Journey into the [Catholic] Priesthood, and Rev. Lora O’Brien’s A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood. The first volume I’d salvaged free from the last day of a used-book sale where any remainders were given away to clear space. The second I recently bought used, though it appeared in 2019.

We still grant to “priest” and “priestess” an aura of magic and mystery — tarnished, yes, by years of unfolding Catholic scandal among others, while also reclaiming, often from non-Christian sources, new resonance and imagery and sacred fire. As one priest in Kunkel’s book exclaims, “… people are starving today for mystery, the power that grounds, suffuses and surpasses all things, that ever-present but elusive reality … as a result, our souls are withering from underuse and lack of nourishment.” And we know this because “people have a sickness that no psychologist or physician can cure …”

We need to move beyond prayer to find that use and that nourishment. Fortunately, many are beginning to wake again to themselves, and to reclaim that holy task, rather than yielding it to any other.

Priests and priestesses? Needed, yes. Needed very much at times. But not essential. The life we each hold (a trust, a sacred heirloom, a gift from the ancestors) is enough.

And may you know blessing as you too reclaim, and name, and flame.

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Kunkel, Thomas. Enormous Prayers: A Journey into the Priesthood. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.

O’Brien, Rev. Lora. A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2019.

Flame, Holy and Mundane

Much of Paganism is defining spaces, places and the awareness we bring to them. At its heart it’s a kind of continual prayer: O let me wake into the holy in every moment.

This is sacred time, go the words of standard OBOD ritual. This is sacred space. We name it to remind ourselves, to evoke it through intention and attention, but also to recognize what’s already there. We can create sacred space because sacred space shapes us from birth. It’s our heritage, our birthright, unless we give it away.

So we call it back.

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With Imbolc a little over a week away, those who honor Brighid find themselves turning even more closely to her presence and influence. Year-round already and always, yes, for those who revere her, but also more keenly when her festival nears.

“We are entering the dark half of the year”, writes Teo Bishop in a post for the Autumn Equinox, “and now more than ever is the moment to engage with your daily practice”.

(When isn’t it the moment to engage? I don’t know about you, but my “dark half of the year” doesn’t politely wait for September. You’re no doubt tired of my repeating this theme of the need for a practice. Please understand: with a blog I have built-in reminders and prompts for my own practice. If I’m not practicing, the words don’t come easily. Blogging is one of my spiritual barometers. It’s also a prod in the behind. By posting fairly regularly, I also get to check in on my worlds, I’m reminded to listen to where I need to open up to the holy energies we all bathe in each day.)

“One of the most common responses I see to the idea of developing a daily practice”, Bishop continues, “is that there is no time. This assumes that a practice must be a long, complicated ritual, full of gestures and ritual phrases. It paints a practice as yet another way that the struggle of our day to day life is a weight on our shoulders.

But the daily practice can be framed another way.

Let it begin with something small. Light a candle, take one, deep breath, then extinguish the flame.

That’s all.

It won’t take but a second”.

In that second the Holy Flame expands to fill our consciousness — or it can, if we permit it. A simple practice that goes far to making a seemingly-mundane moment a sacred one.

ADF ritual puts out the sacred fire at one point, describing it this way:

Extinguished without
but burning within.
The living fire flames within us.

In Working the Tool-kit, I wrote:

Fire work, or apprenticing yourself to the element … can begin with a fire pit, or candle-lighting, if an outdoor fire isn’t practical for you. From such simple work with each of the Elements, a profound and beautiful practice can grow over time. This is also one of the freedoms in which a Druid can wholeheartedly participate in a Christian or Jewish service, in part through some of its seemingly “smallest” ritual gestures and events.

Or as mage and author Josephine McCarthy describes it,

My deepest personal experience of that is with the lighting and tuning of the candle flame. The intent to light a candle to prepare the space for a ritual act developed from that simple stance, to an act of bringing into physical manifestation an elemental expression that lights through all worlds and all times: it becomes the light of divinity within everything (J. McCarthy. Magical Knowledge, pg. 70).

As a focus for meditation, for out-of-body work, for reverence, for kindling the spirit in times of heaviness and despair, fire has no equal.

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Brighid so beautifully merges sacred and profane, because her triad of aspects, as goddess of smithcraft and the forge, of bardic inspiration and the awen, and of healing and the vital flame, all circle around holy fire. Lighting a candle can be purest prayer.

It’s very old, this focus on fire. (Focus itself is an old word for “hearth” or “altar”. We make an altar of what we focus on). We read in the Rig-Veda 1.26.8, “For when the gods have a good fire, they bring us what we wish for. Let us pray with a good fire”.

One way to understand this passage, of course, says simply that “if we build it, they will come”. On occasion that’s exactly right. Dedication is its own reward. Often, though, the arrival of gods lies in our building — the impulse to light the fire, the desire for kindling light and flame, is itself divine presence.

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Damh the Bard’s beautiful prayer-song to Brighid begins:

There’s a tree by the well in the woods that’s covered in garlands,
Clooties and ribbons that drift in the cool morning air,
That’s where I met an old woman who came from a far land,
Holding a flame o’er the well, and chanting a prayer.

Devotion has put the clooties and ribbons there. Devotion allows the encounter with the old woman. Who is it that’s “holding a flame o’er the well”? The singer, yes. The old woman, too. And both at once. I increase my chances of holy encounter when I sing a prayer with a flame. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”, says the Divine Son and Sun. First, we need to gather. When I’m aware of that Other, the flame kindles.

Damh continues:

She told me she’d been a prisoner trapped in a mountain,
Taken by the Queen of Winter at Summer’s End,
But in her prison she heard a spell the people were chanting,
Three days of Summer, and snowdrops are flowering again.
She spoke of the Cell of the Oak where a fire is still burning,
Nineteen Priestesses tend the eternal flame,
Oh but of you, my Lady, we are still learning,
Brighid, Brigantia, the Goddess of Many Names.

Part of our human magic is to participate with the divine in making holy — sanctifying, hallowing the time and space. We can never reduce it to rote: “Oh but of you, my Lady, we are still learning”. The gods “switch us on” when we devote ourselves to their holy fire. But we do the same for them. Rarely will they force open a door we keep resolutely shut.

Where is the fire still burning?

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Seven Flames for Meditation

1) What does it take—literally and intentionally—in order to kindle you, and in order for you to kindle other things in your life?

2) What offering, if any, do you make to help you kindle? What else could you bring into your practice? What could you discard?

3) What is sacred to you? How do you find, invite, welcome, increase the sacred? What sacred ways are a part of your life right now that can help you kindle?

4) What ways, if any, do you tend to discount, push away, ignore, or feel “aren’t my way of connecting with the sacred”? What can you learn from your attitude towards them?

5) Where are you already kindled? What is burning, warm, or fiery in your life right now?

6) Where do you desire kindling? (Where do you need to bank a fire and cool off?!) Or to put it another way, what needs to catch fire in your life?

7) How has sacred fire already honored your practice and now flames inwardly for you?

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Image: Pexels.com

“Am I Crazy, or Just Fabulous?”

(And are those my only options?)

The title comes from a casual workshop comment on the awen with Welsh Druid Kristoffer Hughes at East Coast Gathering a couple years ago. As we take our first steps in this fabulously crazy year of 2020, it’s a superlatively appropriate question to ask.

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“May your bridge be a star, and your star a bridge” — Winston-Salem, NC. April ’19

Or to take it for a spin, account for your life in your own way, on your own terms, and you may well see a change — especially if you respond to some of its challenges with mu — that great Zen keyword which in at least some traditions means “un-ask the question”.

Let’s consider for a moment the joys of those being our options: a touch of insanity, or unsurpassed excellence. Make these specifically Druid madness and marvelousness, and you just might be onto something. Especially if you mix them …

The counsel of a bard — Gerard Manley Hopkins, that blessed fool of Victorian England, writes in “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” (you know you’re near bardic territory with such titles):

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

What I do is me … the greatest spell any of us will ever work. Each thing in the universe is dear for its individuality, its singularness. Irreplaceable you.

Now to turn this potent enchantment to a purpose, rather than watch it subside into itself like a melted-down candle. How many of us are quite literally mis-spelled? That is to say, there are definite spells or enchantments in play, but they do not work wholly or even partly for our benefit. The spell is working counter to our purposes. (How many of the knights in Arthurian myth quest nobly for the Grail, and never catch even a glimpse of it? Or to quote author Feenie Ziner, who writes about her son’s quest in the wilderness for a truer vision than 70s America offered him, on any great moral journey, the devil is always a stowaway. We take the mis-spelling right along with us, we yield to almost any spiritual enchantment that comes along, especially if it’s cleverly packaged, and we give it space in our rucksacks and backpacks, a place on our storage shelves.)

So often we can hear other bards answering. They’re in endless conversation with each other, when they’re not sitting stunned after a visit from gods, or mead has simultaneously fired and rewired their inward sight, or a spell of solitude eventually returns them hungry for the magic of simple, daily things — a crackling fire, the wet nose or soft fur of a pet, the comfort of a friend’s presence when nobody needs to say anything at all. And sometimes they talk most when they find themselves right in the middle of these simple things. Because in the end, where else is there?

As the late author, mystic and former priest John O’Donohue puts it in Eternal Echoes*,

Each one of us is alone in the world. It takes great courage to meet the full force of your aloneness. Most of the activity in society is subconsciously designed to quell the voice crying in the wilderness within you. The mystic Thomas a Kempis said that when you go out into the world, you return having lost some of yourself. Until you learn to inhabit your aloneness, the lonely distraction and noise of society will seduce you into false belonging, with which you will only become empty and weary. When you face your aloneness, something begins to happen. Gradually, the sense of bleakness changes into a sense of true belonging. This is a slow and open-ended transition but it is utterly vital in order to come into rhythm with your own individuality. In a sense this is the endless task of finding your true home within your life. It is not narcissistic, for as soon as you rest in the house of your own heart, doors and windows begin to open outwards to the world. No longer on the run from your aloneness, your connections with others become real and creative. You no longer need to covertly scrape affirmation from others or from projects outside yourself. This is slow work; it takes years to bring your mind home.

The work of both Druid and Christian — as it is the work of anyone walking a “path with heart” — is to turn from the “seductions of false belonging”. Christians may call this “the world”, and offer strategies for dealing with it that are specific to their tradition. Such guidelines can be most helpful if, as my teacher likes to say, they’re truly a line to my guide, and not an obstacle to testing and knowing for myself.

More often than not, Druidry simply presents its particular practices and perspectives on living in harmony with nature, trusting that anyone who follows them deeply enough will discover much the same thing. Rather than do’s and don’t’s, it suggests try this out for yourself and see. (Imagine a more directive Druidry, a more experiential Christianity. What could happen?!)

One thing I admire about O’Donohue, and seek in other writers and teachers and traditions, and try to model myself if I can, is never to present a problem or criticize a behavior without also offering at least some strategies for negotiating it. Show me a how — and preferably more than one. A palette of choices.

Here O’Donohue spotlights one of the challenges the human world offers us — the seduction of false belonging, whether spiritual, political, romantic, economic, etc. — and identifies an answering response or strategy of finding our true home, of resting in the house of our own heart, of bringing the mind home.

Now these poetic expressions are lovely and metaphorical — at least until we begin to experience them for ourselves, and find out what they can mean for us. Every human life offers opportunities to do so, though one of the “seductions of false belonging” urges us to discount them, to treat them as idle fantasies, as pipe-dreams, to replace our instincts with advertising slogans. Cynicism about spiritual opportunities abounds, because like so much else, hucksters have sought to monetize them, to profit off our naivete and first attempts to build that true home, to rest in the heart-house. Nothing drives us from such homes like mockery and shame.

Mis-spell me, spell me wrong, and I’ll look everywhere but in a song to tell me what I need to know, where I want to go. Home is the poem I keep writing with my life.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of my daily go-to practices involves singing the awen, what I’ve also called the “cauldron sound” in Druid terms. Others know it as the hu, the original voice that sings in everything. Hindus call it om, and Christians term it the Word of God, the “amen, the faithful and true witness”. You encounter mention of it in many different traditions around the planet, because it appears to have an objective reality (and that’s something to explore, rather than accept — or reject — dogmatically).

Here’s a short video of Philip Carr-Gomm and Eimear Burke leading a chant of the Irish equivalent imbas: One key is to experiment — find the song, the word, the home that fits. And hermit-crab-like, move when it no longer can house you, or shelter your spirit. 

And one Druidic extension of these practices can be to search out and experiment with sounds and voices specific to our individual heart-homes and houses. Our spirit animals can be helpful in this pursuit, alerting us to inward places to visit, and situations to avoid, or plunge into. Or as the Galilean master noted, “In my father’s house are many dwelling-places”.

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*O’Donohue, John. Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong. HarperPerennial, (reprint of 1999 original), 2000.

Omen Days 5 and 6: Stars and Ice

Omen Days [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5-6 | 7-9 | 10-11 | 12-13 ]

Two nights ago, I turned to look at the clock on my nightstand, the pale phosphorescent numbers showing almost 2:00 am. Then I heard my wife moving in the hall outside the bedroom.

What is it? I asked.

The stars woke me up, she said.

A little shiver, of awe and pleasure both, at those words. And yes, with a few steps across the kitchen toward our boots, and quiet laughter as we stumbled out the front door to look, the clear night sky above us flamed with stars. So many cities now glow with light pollution at night that you can no longer look up and see the stars. How helpful the present darkness, for seeing the splendor of the light.

(Here for my daily augury I take up a typo from an earlier draft of this post — I’d quoted Aleister Crowley’s famous line from his Book of the Law (1), but with one additional letter at the end: “Every man and woman is a start”. I laughed a good while over that one. Yes, I’m a beginning, a work in progress, raw materials like all of us are. So just keep going, says Spirit.)

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Year-end storms brush much of the U.S. this week. The northeast is seeing sleet and ice, rain and snow for a couple of days, leaving roads treacherous. Some New Hampshire friends have taken to heart the Icelandic tradition of  Jólabókaflóð — literally, “Yule-book-flood”, and have provided themselves with ample reading material for whatever the weather brings.

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outside our front door this morning

“Wind and ice are the only deciders of symmetry”, writes upstate New York poet Linda Allardt (2). “Survival makes do for grace”. Some winter days, especially in a northern climate, you can feel the truth of that right down into your bones.

The Galilean Master tried to teach “spiritual meteorology” to his followers: “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?” (3). I religiously check “the weather” each morning, but too often ignore my “spiritual climate”, which includes our physical one. The analogy hits home: weather is to climate, as mood is to spiritual climate. The former changes day by day, while the latter’s a long-term trend.

[For what I’ve come to understand, over a decade of study, is a fairly accurate projection of our climate future, take a look at articles like this one in The Guardian: “The Climate Crisis in 2050: What Happens if Cities Act but Nations Don’t” . Rather than pure depressing statistics, it reflects and extrapolates from the present reality, as the subheading names it, that “It is cities, not national governments, that are most aggressively fighting the climate crisis”. And if you’re still too optimistic, this second article can really help cure that.

I don’t know about you, but for me clear vision is preferable to hysteria and paranoia any day. This one possible future may indeed be grim, but there’s room for human hands and hearts to shape its form and direction, and avert its worst features, as we’re beginning to do, albeit in fits and starts. And as a strong believer in reincarnation, I suspect I’ll likely be back again in the middle of it, dealing with it as best I can, along with a good number of others alive today. From this perspective, it’s good to start equipping myself now with the spiritual tools I’ll need to work with then.]

So there you have it. I’ve written a post that has Jesus, Aleister Crowley, and climate change in it, and it sorta kinda maybe even coheres.

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(1) Book of the Law, Ch. 1, verse 3.

(2) The Names of the Survivors (Ithaca House, 1979). Cursory info on Allardt here.

(3) Matthew 16:3.

Omen Days 1: Going “Dvoverian”

Omen Days [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5-6 | 7-9 | 10-11 | 12-13 ]

Earlier today my co-admin Steve on the Druid and Christianity Facebook group posted this link to one of Caitlin Matthews’ blogposts from several years back about “Omen Days” — the southern Celtic (Wales and Brittany) tradition of using the Twelve Days of Christmas for divination. As an intercalary period, one literally “between the calendar(s)”, from Christmas to Twelfth Night or Epiphany on January 6, the days have long been considered “time out of time”, and therefore especially apt for such practices. Like the holy space of a ritual, set aside from ordinary time, the Twelve Days are — or can be — magical.

In some versions of the divination, each day aligns with one month of the year: December 26th with January, December 27th with February, and so on, offering a particular flavor to the practice.

Looking, too, for a link between solar and lunar calendars, it seemed fitting to me to make it 13 days, starting on Christmas Day, rather than just 12 by starting the day-count after, on the 26th. But there is a new moon on the 26th this year, and that can play into any decision.

And when we consider that this period after the solstice is a liminal one, open as at Samhain to the Ancestors and the spiritual realm, it’s worth reflecting on Dickens’ choice to set his “sacred holiday ghost story” of A Christmas Carol during this interval, with its Druidic as well as Christian series of three spirits, and we can enjoy as well such a context for other stories, like those of the Wild Hunt, active in the winter and so around Yule, and the Medieval “Day of Misrule”, the inversion of “normal” order, on Twelfth Night itself.

In the same post, Matthews mentions dvoverie, a Russian word meaning dvo “two” verie “faiths”  — or holding “two beliefs”, a word to describe the persistence of an old worldview after the arrival of a new one. (The Russian ver– is cognate with our Latin-derived verity — “truth”. Two truths for one.)

For a while this cultural expression was thought to characterize or be unique to Russia, especially prevalent among folk practices. Think of our ongoing custom of treating the sun as if it rises and sets each day, in spite of astronomical awareness that it’s the earth that moves, not the sun. Though this source go so far as to call dvoverie “an academic myth”, as if dismissing something as a “myth” makes it untrue, rather than simply ahistorical, I’d argue we’re all quite “dvoverian”, and in more ways than we might imagine.

In some Christian circles, it’s true, the lament persists that certain symbols, practices and beliefs are “Pagan”, “not Biblical”, etc. Pagans sometimes return the favor. (Personally, I find such “purity tests” too often lead to sub-optimal results, just like they do for many women today in only slightly different circumstances, and for often similar reasons.) I’d prefer to ask those symbols, practices and beliefs: “Are you worthwhile? Do you grant insight, increase our understanding, grow our capacity for gratitude and love?”

(And lest we too quickly conclude that divination is never a Christian practice, we have only to look at the Apostles drawing lots in order to identify Matthias as a replacement for Judas Iscariot in the Book of Acts, or at ancient practices in Israel. St. Thomas Aquinas among many others exercised himself on the topic in his Summa Theologica.)

Let’s make Omen Days a “dvoverian” experiment.

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My divination today follows the practice of asking my question outdoors, then spinning around eyes closed, opening them to the first thing seen, or asking the question indoors and then going outdoors to observe whatever offers itself. In either case, the sign or omen is what first comes to the attention.

“What can these divinations teach me?”

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For me it was jet-trail and birdsong — the seen and the heard at the same time. I looked up to see the jet-trail, and then I became aware of the song. The trail had no sound, the song no visible bird. A useful reminder that a single sense rarely provides all the evidence, or any kind of “complete picture” (note the bias toward the visual in such expressions!).

If you live in an urban area near an airport, of course, this may prove no omen at all for you. (That’s why omens are not universal signs, in spite of our best attempts to codify the cosmos.) But in southern Vermont, a plane of any size passing over is unusual. Except for June or July, when the nearest airbase sometimes makes training runs for days at a time over Vermont (and usually seems to halt each time the complaints reach a certain threshold), a flyover merits attention.

The birdsong belonged to a song sparrow, a very common bird, a cheery voice for our northern winters. No, it wasn’t a Raven, or some other bird with mythic weight and portent to weigh down an omen till it crumbles under its own gravity. If I want to push it even a little, I might recall the Gospel verse: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care”.

Here’s a Youtube video of a song sparrow in our neighboring state of New York:

The worlds of human (jet) and animal (bird) need not be opposed, and aren’t at heart separate worlds at all, in spite of our unwise attempts to uphold such a false division. The Song all around and within us keeps rising, in spite of our jet-trails, in spite of our restlessness to be somewhere else other than where we are. We hear it. How can we heed it more fully?

2020: jet-trail and birdsong — a divination of our times.

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Creativity’s Messy–2: Druid & Christian

No surprise (though I’m often slow on the uptake), after the period of inner work I detailed in the recent “Listening to Inwardness” series, that creativity should be the theme of these posts. The awen, like water, seems to follow the paths of least resistance in our lives, so for me it manifests in language creation, and in returns to themes I’ve looked at already but need to spiral with. And in physical reminders, too, as this body ages, to exercise, to eat healthy, to stretch, to listen.

And that means a challenge I’m noting for myself, even as I record it here for you: creativity left unmanifest, ignored for too long, can out itself through my weaknesses, too, amplifying them, doing a full-on “mercury retrograde” to my daily life on the spot, when a hundred little things that might go wrong will absolutely find a way to do so, if they can. If that divine energy that is creative always has got nowhere else to go, I’ll have a right royal row with my wife, stub my toe on the woodstove base, get splinters in my palm while chopping wood, break a clean plate while emptying the dishrack — all in the same morning. Like electricity, creativity will ground itself along the most direct path to earth.

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Another instance of the messiness of creativity rests in our spiritual encounters and how we respond to their challenges and opportunities — to those places and moments where something rattles our cages, and with any grace induces us to sort out what’s habit and inertia and no longer helpful to our lives, and what remains valid on a new round of the spiral of our journey. Person, place or thing, it doesn’t matter: each asks us to bring the fire in us to bear on problem solving, on spiritual creativity at work in daily life — in a word, at finding joy. But ignore the lesson-opportunity-blessing, and just as with the smaller moments, so the bigger ones, as R. J. Stewart observes:

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)

Creativity is one of the most enjoyable ways to “unlock” that I’ve experienced. But it’s almost guaranteed to be messy!

I’ve posted elsewhere on this blog my own attempts to plumb some of the numinous encounters and intersections of Druidry and Christianity, a deep and rich vein to explore, as writers and teachers like John Philip Newell have done in several books.

Here’s Newell in his 2012 book A New Harmony* on the “sound of the beginning” — a pretty close description for the awen, at least as some Druids experience it:

New science speaks of being able to detect the sound of the beginning in the universe. It vibrates within the matter of everything that has being. New science is echoing the ancient wisdom of spiritual insight. In the twelfth century Hildegard of Bingen taught that the sound of God resonates ‘in every creature’. It is ‘the holy sound’, she says, ‘which echoes through the whole creation.’ If we are to listen for the One from whom we have come, it is not away from creation that we are to turn our ears, it is not away from the true depths of our being that we are to listen. It is rather to the very heart of all life that we are to turn our inner attention. For then we will hear that the deepest sound within us is the deepest sound within one another and within everything that has being. We will hear that the true harmony of our being belongs to the universe and that the true harmony of the universe belongs to us. … Everything arises from that sacred sound.

So far, so Druid. But in the same book, Newell then turns toward issues that often receive less insightful treatment in too much of Druidry. Spend time in Druid communities and you encounter firsthand what they struggle with, too: addiction, abuse, imbalance, illness, spiritual immaturity and blindness, ignorance, superstition, fear, anger. In other words, with the human weaknesses that beset every other human community.

Newell observes:

Knowing and naming brokenness is essential in the journey towards wholeness. We will not be well by denying the wrongs that we carry within us as nations and religions and communities. Nor will we be well by downplaying them or projecting them onto others. The path to wholeness will take us not around such awareness but through it, confronting the depths of our brokenness before being able to move forward towards healing. As Hildegard of Bingen says, we need two wings with which to fly. One is the ‘knowledge of good’ and the other is the ‘knowledge of evil’. If we lack one or the other we will be like an eagle with only one wing. We will fall to the ground instead of rising to the heights of unitary vision. We will live in half-consciousness instead of whole-consciousness.

Both Druidry and Christianity still tend to be “one-winged”, and in opposite ways. (That’s partly why each could learn much from the other.) To grossly over-generalize, Druids celebrate the good, and glory in images of that old Garden and those ancient Trees, while underplaying the human evils that beset Druids and their communities as much as anyone, and forestall them from entering more fully. Christians may understand and even fixate more on the evils, and have much indeed to say about sin, but underplay and even distrust the gifts and capacities, lessons and potentials of a world that can catalyze the spiritual growth and maturity they often refuse.

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Part of this particular creativity lies in the practice of listening across traditions. John Beckett writes in a recent blogpost apropos of traditions, DNA, supposed bloodlines, and their dubious guidance for “choosing your religion”:

We dream of finding a heritage that’s mine, that provides connection and meaning.

Too many of us, though, fail to understand that mine means “where I belong” and not “what belongs to me.”

Rather than looking for roots in DNA, put down roots with the land where you are: observe it, touch it, eat it. Honor the spirits and other persons who share it with you.

Or to paraphrase a certain Galilean: Why do you seek the living among the dead?

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Awen a ganaf — o dwfyn ys dygaf, says Taliesin, in his poem Angar Kyfandawt. “(It’s) the awen that I sing — (it’s) from the deep that I bring it”. (Or in my flowering Celtic ritual language, Bod an awen a canu mi, o’n duven a tenna mi.) But the bard continues (rendering by K. Hughes, From the Cauldron Born):

It’s a river that flows; I know its might,
I know how it ebbs, and I know how it flows,
I know when it overflows, I know when it shrinks …

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*Newell, John Philip. A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul. Jossey-Bass, 2012. Republished as A New Ancient Harmony: A Celtic Vision for the Journey Into Wholeness. Material Media, 2019.

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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Magic, For and Against (D.F.B.V.R.)

[A Follow-up]

If you happened to notice a couple of recent comments (or not), you know that people are looking for help of all kinds, and sometimes reach out for specifically magical aid.

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In this post I want look again at how I view and use magic, because such scrutiny is useful most of all to me, in order to clarify for myself what in the world it is I think I’m doing. And maybe secondarily such introspection will be useful to you, too, if you’re looking at your own practices and beliefs. It’s useful to have something to push against.

I’ve written about magic in numerous posts (for instance, here), and also on a main page. Much of my practice rests on whatever builds up spiritual stamina and a positive vibration over time, which I’ve found is one of the best uses of magic as a long-term “tool for living”. Such a practice lends itself to uncovering creative solutions, keeping the awareness open and flexible and curious (which is a major reason I urge a regular practice on you, my readers).

It’s also a radical act in this time of fear and emotional manipulation on all sides.

As a fix for specific trouble, without that accumulating magical pool to draw from, I find magic less helpful. Or to change metaphors, if I keep the battery charged, its energy stands ready at need. Without that reserve, though, I’m often better off with other tools. If I’ve neglected to maintain my reservoir as best I can, I don’t need to beat myself up about it. I do need to turn to other strategies, however, to deal with the matter at hand. Then perhaps I can take the broad hint of my life experience and attend to replenishing my spiritual account. This goes double if I’m helping others.

Some practitioners are skilled at assisting others through magical means without both taking on karma and also not accomplishing what they originally set out to do, which is offering assistance. As the person making the request notes, the issue is sensitive. So carelessly-handled energy, however abundant, isn’t what’s called for. Who pours water on an oil fire?

As J. M. Greer notes, with the wisdom of earned experience:

… 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 rewards extended meditation and experimentation. It lays out its claims in clear terms. Is it true in my life right now? In what ways? How often have I reached any kind of depth in my own consciousness? How did I do that? And what lasting changes have I brought about when I did so? The terms Greer sets forth aren’t merely subjects for debate or argumentation, but of demonstration and proof. Ultimately they aren’t merely matters of opinion, however much we may think everything is these days.

(What good is my opinion, if it’s ill-founded or useless? But it’s mine! counts for very little, when trouble has laid waste to my life. Come the earthquake, flood, conflagration or tornado, inward or outward, and I have bigger things to worry about than my opinion.)

Until I can answer those questions to my own satisfaction, and also give an account of them to anyone who may ask me for help, I have no right to pretend I can help. (Your mileage, as they say, may differ.)

So what good is your “magic”, if it can’t help others? I can hear some of you asking.

It can help others. But it’s decidedly not M.O.D., “Magic On Demand”.

I need to meet the other person, to sound out their concerns and situation, before I barge into it, waving my possibly awesome magical tools. A second or even third sounding isn’t out of order. True, the law of love trumps all other spiritual laws. If I’m acting out of love, for the good of the whole, most of my actions will be right.

Most?! I now hear some of you say. Well, there are no guarantees. At least, not in the cosmos as I know it. You may live in a different one.

One of the most powerful magical tools in such situations is the use of blessing. Before I rally vast forces, brandish my mighty arsenal, and strike down imagined enemies, my own or someone else’s, let me bless the situation first. More than the elemental weapons at my command (and they are real, though they mostly operate on non-physical planes), let me begin — and end — in love.

(There’s possibly even a good reason why a certain well-known god recommends this spiritual tool above all: it’s simply the best — the most potent, and with the least blowback. The Galilean Master says, “But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone takes your cloak, do not withhold your tunic as well” (Luke 6:27-29, Berean Study Bible). Hint: he’s not taking a passivist approach. He’s not even necessarily indulging in the hyperbole he frequently deploys to underline his point. He’s offering a powerful spiritual technique. Not the sole technique, but a very good place to start. “Love casts out fear”, the most potent magic worked against us — today as much as ever.)

Blessing is one way to fast from ego. Bingo!! says my spiritual crap detector. A truth I can use right now.

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Warning — SPOILER ALERT!! — the season-finale fan-made clip below from the Netflix series A Discovery of Witches shows the heroine Diana turning to elemental weapons at need. We may well use them on the astral plane, and the results may indeed be as pyrotechnic there as CGI renders them here.

But they also come with CAUTION labels. And we need to know these first, if we want to come out of the situation whole, and in a better position than when we started. If you don’t believe me, well, go find out for yourself. Then you’ll know. As I’ve said, it’s not a matter of opinion but of demonstration. Get proof — accept no substitutes.

(If you want to see Diana’s fire-bow and arrow in action, fast forward to around the 2:20 mark.)

One of my take-aways: what a powerful visualization Diana’s firebow is for dispelling limiting mental constructs! Try it out, especially if you’re a visual person!

To sum up, here’s my magical process in such situations. Discern. Fast. Bless. Visualize. Repeat as needed. D.F.B.V.R.

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IMAGE: Clouds https://www.pexels.com/photo/down-angle-photography-of-red-clouds-and-blue-sky-844297.

Seven Paths in Freedom: A Prayer-Rant

Druidry, writes Philip Carr-Gomm in his foreword to Nuinn’s (Ross NicholsBook of Druidry,

is a way of working with the natural world, and is not a dogma or religion … Druidry honours, above all, the freedom of the individual to follow their own path through life, offering only guides and suggestions, schemes of understanding, methods of celebration and mythical ideas — which can be used or not as the practitioner sees fit (pg. 14).

You could just stop there, and run with that, because this post eventually descends into a rant. Or irascible prayer. OK, you were warned.

clover

clover overtaking weeds — no mowing needed! (but woodchucks love it)

<begin rant>

The word “honours” matters in the quote above. Not “grants” or “permits” freedom. Druidry recognizes something that’s already there. Druidry says Pay attention, so you can recognize these things, too.

Freedom, guides, suggestions, schemes, methods, celebrations, myths. These are the “seven paths in freedom” I want to look at in this post. Don’t worry, it’s not really a numbered list. A different Song is playing. The Song matters more than any list.

Freedom, that much abused and misunderstood word, is an actual thing we can experience and live from, not merely a “concept” or an “idea”, though it’s these things, too. It’s not only “in my head”. Freedom, like any song, comes first, then we have thoughts about it. It’s a gift, just like our lives. A melody at the heart of things. And like our lives, we can end our own freedom in so many ways. Turn off the music. (At least temporarily, though the Spiral remains, all the way down into our DNA.) If you need to be reminded how, just read the headlines. It’s practically multiple-choice at this point. Fifty ways to leave your lover, sings Paul Simon. Shedding your skin, walking on the other side, is a really good option at this point. We do it every night in dream. How about while awake?

A free person gives freedom to those nearby. Freedom spreads, like air, fragrance, sound, waves. We all know others who take from us when we’re around them, just like we know people who give, who make space, and work not to impose their limitations on us. Sometimes we read of the “torch of freedom” — and though cynicism is a popular defensive shield these days, that’s a live metaphor for the sense of kindling and expansion we feel in the presence of a free person. May we meet — and be — such people!

Don’t want to, or can’t, join a Druid Order? You’re a Druid from the day you accept your freedom, and act from it. An Order’s just a form, a guide, a suggestion, to try or not.

If we act from freedom, we discover everything is a guide, a suggestion. The old challenge, Everything is permitted, provided you can accept responsibility for what you do, is a rich seed for meditation. How far can I go toward testing it?! Not Is it true? but How is it true? When is it true? In what ways is it true? These tests, and their results, work much more creatively and productively, at least for me, than a simple “yes/no” Is it true? Because I’ve found pretty much everything is both not true, and true, depending. So that question’s off the list, until I can come back to it on a higher spiral, when it may turn out useful once again, after I manage to learn a few more things. Consciousness makes all the difference: it’s the “depending”.

Druidry offers some things to try out. (Now I’m imagining that as my quick seven-word answer to anybody who asks “So what is Druidry?”!)

Ground a practice in the things of my world: air, water, fire, earth. Not just ritual, though that too. Expand my rituals. Thinking, this morning, while I wash two-days-dried dirty dishes in warm water: air/thought, water (obvious!), fire/heat of the water, of my blood, of the sunlight streaming through the kitchen window; earth of my bones and flesh, of the food scraps on the plates and pots and silverware, of the sink and walls and world all around.

Brother Lawrence wrote a wonderful classic, Practicing the Presence of God. You almost don’t need to read it, the title says so much. If you do read through, be patient with it and yourself — you’ll need to do some digging to excavate the gold, given the change of cultural understandings.

It’s a practice, not a one-time deal. You get better.

Listen to other beings. The white ants that come every summer to our kitchen have more to teach me than the last book I read, whatever it was. Practice asking good questions. I’ve spent at least four decades on that one, and no sign of stopping yet. You know — magic in, magic out. Or the opposite.

“My God is bigger”, said a Christian to an author friend of mine. “Maybe that’s because your need is bigger”, said the friend.

An infinite abyss separates any two moments in time, in eternity, says one of the Wise. I practice resting there, feeling the lightness of spirit, of creative fire, of the awen as it flows. I set my hand on a blank journal page, a computer screen blog post, and enter that abyss. If like me you flash on vertigo for a moment, know too how weightless is fire, always rising up, climbing the spirals we all walk. If a child falls in a dream, the Senoi people of Malaysia encourage the child to fall, and not wake up to escape the dream. “They taught the children to fall, knowing they wouldn’t be hurt, and to climb, to travel, or fly to unknown places, to unknown cultures, to learn new things. If they woke up instead, they would be advised not to escape from such dreams the next time they occurred”, write Stewart and Garfield in their 1972 book Creative Dreaming. Easier on everybody than the wrenching costs of the rising suicide rates in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Schemes of understanding, patterns, webs, networks, interconnections, links, circuits. Our “marvels of modern technology” work (when they work) by building with earth — metal, glass, rare earth elements. Technology grounds these sometimes abstract, intellectual facets of elemental Air and manifests them, re-alizes them, makes them what Latin calls res — things. Ground and center, counsels beginning practice, again and again and again. I always need to earth what’s goin’ down.

Heirs though we are of two thousand years of Christianized thinking, somehow we’re still more Gnostic than Christian, eager to flee this world, constantly forgetting the god at the heart of Christianity who incarnated, became flesh, manifested, took on a body, got as earthy as anybody can, and died that way too. Eucharist, literally thanksgiving — this is my body, this is my blood. The Things of Earth are holy, divine.

Pilgrim on earth, thy home is heaven. Stranger, thou art the guest of God(s).

And yes, William Carlos Williams, you turn out to be right on both counts: “It’s difficult to get the news from poems, but men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there”. You write about a fracking flower [short / long] and stake us through the heart. Bards, tell us how it is, how it can be. Now take out the comma. Bards tell us how it is, how it can be. I’m still practicing as I listen harder.

Or another take, if you like or need it: “Earth’s crammed with heaven” , says Elizabeth Barrett Browning. “And every common bush afire with God;/But only he who sees, takes off his shoes./The rest sit around and pluck blackberries,/And daub their natural faces unaware …” Another practice, taking off my shoes, and walking through the grass.

And that’s fine, too, says Druidry. The Spiral always waits. No one’s reached the end yet … There are always rest-points. We need ’em.

Methods, celebrations, myths. Five, six and seven, if you’re counting. J. M. Greer says one key is “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”.

Everything’s political? Nope — everything’s spiritual. Or mythical, if you prefer. Politics wants the power and energy, but without bothering about the spirit that powers them. (Zeus tried all that out long ago, and look where it got him!) Things of this world? Sure! But just know where they come from. Get the order right. That’s why we keep screwing ourselves over with men (and it’s still mostly men) of power. Give the women a chance to mess things up, too!

They can’t give us what we really want. But we keep handing politicians our freedom anyway, as if they knew better what to do with it than we do. Reclaiming, Starhawk calls her Witchcraft tradition. Get it back! Don’t give it away again!

<end rant>

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truckpieces

Fallen pine, cut into lengths: edging for more raised beds? Gateposts for my backyard grove?

Solstices.

Just as at the Winter Solstice we celebrate the shortest day and longest night, knowing that light will grow again, so at the Summer Solstice we celebrate the longest day and shortest night, knowing that daylight will now shorten. Here is a teaching of paradox: each peak, dark or light, contains the seeds of its own change. And as Taoist tradition teaches, “When Yang peaks, it shifts to Yin; when Yin peaks, it shifts to Yang.” — adapted from OBOD publications.

I begin again. A couple of deep breaths, to center myself. Then the awen, or another sacred word. Open the inner doorways.

Get out in the sun, advises the OBOD ritual booklet for Summer Solstice. Sit in a shadow. I love these two apparent contradictories, side by side! So perfect! Harvest your garlic. Sunburned, shaded, garlicked, I proceed.

Having neglected to grow either St. John’s Wort or Vervain for our Solstice rite next weekend, I’m on the lookout for them along the road, in fields nearby, or at a farmers’ market. We’re naming the local landscape and its creatures in our Solstice ritual script, listening between the words for their other names, ones they may not tell everyone. Indian Place Names of New England, in a hodgepodge of less-than-complete formatting for online viewing, gives one Native American name for our local Vermont region: Kawassentekwa “barren spot along the (Connecticut) River”! One more way to laugh, to stay humble, to see and work for possibility where, outwardly, things look bare.

Apparent world, crazy uncle at the door, we hug you and invite you in to join us at the Festival table. Meet the others here!

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558/172 — Or, What It Is I Do All Day

That — according to the statistics WordPress freely offers to the obsessed among each of its subscribers — is today’s proportion of published posts to unpublished drafts sitting on this site that never made it to your eyes. Except the number is misleading. All of the published posts were drafts at one point. (Many feel like they still are.) It’s all draft till you die, said one of my writing instructors. So you can always revise. A poem (a life) is never finished, simply abandoned. Then mix in the perspective of this Druid who sees rebirth as part of the process, and death as simply the end of a chapter, a stanza, not the book, not the Song.

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Original and image. Courtesy Pexels.com free images.

My chosen magic, I’ve discovered (What’s yours? Have you found it yet?), is to write myself into new spaces and truths. Yes, often an experience will boot me into new territory, but it’s reflecting on it, writing about it, trying on multiple understandings of it, that converts much raw experience into its subsequent effect on me — turns it into resource, compost, practice, training, the tenor and temper of my days.

How else to explain two people, same experience, very different outcomes? It’s what we do with what happens that matters. And what I “do” isn’t ever “done” — I’m what I’m doing, after all. (As you are you.) I keep adding, revising, re-imagining. Or I can, at any point along the way. The inexpressible freedom of this is something I keep encountering, flowering where I least expect it, hidden beyond the rise of the next hill, flickering through the screen of leaves in the woods around my house. An eye or ear or sometimes a whole face shows through the leaves, then disappears behind them again.

Gerard Manley Hopkins gets it, writes it:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

Am I really listening? Do I hear it? Listen harder, says one of my teachers. Each mortal thing does one thing and the same. I read the poem aloud to myself again, not troubling over meaning, just attending to the sounds and echoes of the words.

Other counsel: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid, says the Galilean master. Peace, a different kind of giving, no need for trouble or fear: immense gifts. Gifts Druids often claim. Gifts bigger, for the world today at least, even than any kind of salvation “down the road” — bigger to our current time-fixated mindsets, anyway, because they’re gifts for here, now. We need them today!

So am I called to receive differently — not as the world receives — in order to recognize and accept the gift? (If the gift is different, then — so my thought runs — my receiving of it must be different, too.) It sure looks like it. And that could explain much of our current sense of estrangement from “how things should be” — the sense of wrongness abundant in personal and public spaces, the partisanship, the distrust and anger and fear. “The time is out of joint”, exclaims Hamlet. But we may or may not share his corresponding sense of duty towards the situation: “O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!” (Not the whole show, Hamlet. Just your piece of it. Or at least start there.)

But how do I receive differently? As a Druid, I tell myself, I look to what I’m already doing. (Truth be told, as I’m still learning, we never start from scratch. There’s always a pilot light burning somewhere, at the heart of things. If I’ve lost sight of it, then that’s my practice: recovery.) I breathe, yes, but the air is also ready to come in and go out at the same time. Thus do many spiritual traditions counsel us to watch our breathing as one of the first and readiest and most powerful meditations or spiritual exercises. Do that attentively, regularly, and you’re halfway home.

Likewise my heart beats. (Through certain yogic practices, if you accept the evidence, it’s possible to achieve a level of physical mastery where you can stop and start the heart at will. Though for reasons that should be clear, I’m not spending my time learning that particular skill.) Can I receive the truth of how much of my life is a gift already, however I choose to honor or ignore it? Can I live the gift?

Let the fraction that is the title of this post remind me how much more I receive than I know or acknowledge. How else, indeed, is a life possible? So much flows through us to sustain us in every moment. Receive differently, tune into what’s going on this instant, then every subsequent instant.

OK, got it, I say to myself. But how to actualize this, to turn what is, after all, just a momentary perception into something useful and workable? Ah, there’s the need for a practice. Oh, we’ve attended the workshop, dived into the retreat, felt the flush of inspiration, had a mystic moment or two on our own, uninvited, or called by ritual, intoxication, chance, gift, an instant of vulnerability, openness. Useful, needful, helpful things. But to transform such a moment or interval into the richest soil where I can root and grow — that’s the work worthy of a life. And I know of no one who accomplishes that in any other way than by a spiritual practice.

That’s the magnum opus, the Great Work: to make of a life a gift in return. It is in giving that we receive, sings St. Francis.

Whitman sings in Song of Myself:

Stop this day and night with me …
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look
through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in
books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 7

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

The final post in this series encompasses four cards — The Moon, the Sun, The Judgment and The World.

In spiritual traditions that focus on the inner journey and provide recognizable descriptions to note along the way, the Sun and Moon worlds can be markers of non-physical travel. Of course, we can understand the entire Major Arcana in similar terms — signposts of the journey of the Fool on the way to wisdom.

The MOON

18-MoonWhile different creatures may appear on this card,  The Moon itself suggests latency. This is a realm or stage of potential, of possibility not yet manifest in the physical world. On this traditional card, 15 yods (the Hebrew y: Hebrew letter Yud Rashi.png) appear beneath the Moon — a source of perplexity and confusion on numerous Tarot forums.

While anyone exploring the Tarot discovers that a wealth of symbolism and figurative meaning flourishes around each card (yod begins Hebrew words like yad “hand” and Yahweh “God”), one simple explanation is that the full moon typically appears 14 to 15 days after the new moon each month.

If you’re like me, you may persist in thinking the full moon stands at the end of the lunar cycle rather than at its middle, so part of the meaning for me of the (full) Moon is precisely that cyclical flow of energies in the physical world. Completion of one cycle flows endlessly into the next. (You can also contemplate links to other cards which feature yods. In the Major Arcana, that includes the Tower.)

The Seeker arrives at Moon consciousness and benefits from its fullness, you could say, but this stage, like all the others, is a way-station and not a final destination.

What potentials lie in me that I may not recognize, but can manifest? What fullness or completion in my life indicates not a final arrival, or an opportunity to slip into passivity or lethargy, but a chance to initiate a new cycle? How can I take advantage of a crest in energy to launch this new venture, rather than waiting till the energy subsides, and change is harder to bring about?

The SUN

19-SunUnlike the Moon, the Sun features a human figure, naked and on horseback, with arms spread wide. Four sunflowers rise from what looks like a garden wall — the four elements under the light of the Sun. If we choose to call this mounted figure the Seeker or Fool, you might also choose to note that nothing is hidden — all is touched by the solar light, 11 straight sunbeams and 10 rippling ones for a total of 21, suggesting the final card of the Major Arcana, the World.

Arranging the cards in 3 rows of 7, with the Fool outside this structure as the Cosmic Traveler through its realms, the Sun is a harmonic of 12, the Hanged Man, and of 5, the Hierophant. Unlike the Moon, the Sun is indeed constant, unchanging, though mist or clouds may still interpose themselves and obscure its light. But this apparent stability and constancy is still not the end of the cycle, let alone any final arrival, but simply another stage. The illuminated human self relies on the power of its animal nature — is “naked to its influence” — yet does not need to “control” it; it holds no reins, nor requires any bit and bridle. The “horse knows the way to carry the sleigh” of the Chariot, which ends the first row of the work of the Self (and which incidentally is adorned with stars and moons). It also depicts the completion begun with the Hanged Man, whose inversion of values, or comfort with abandoning convention, has now borne fruit.

What discoveries am I “riding openly”? What does my “illumination” actually illuminate? What am I now strong enough or wise enough to invite wholeheartedly into my world or my consciousness?

JUDGEMENT

20-JudgementIf the Sun reveals all things, or signifies attainment of a certain degree of illumination, we can see Judgement echoing the Christian end of time and the resolution of events launched at Creation. Figures rise from graves or caskets at the blast from the angelic trumpet.

The sound of the awen helps us cast off deadness, old forms and scripts of action and consciousness, and enter a new creative cycle. We may feel spent from our previous efforts, and even enter a kind of death, but what is enduring in us, what we are made out of, does not abandon its nature. It cannot die, but simply changes form, entering the earth, the Underworld, the Otherworld, to rise again, reappear, re-seed itself, take new forms and shapes.

We may presume, if we even believe in any kind of immortality, that our human personalities will endure. But I find it highly unlikely that my love of raspberries, my preference for wearing greens and blues, my stubborn preference for Birkenstocks over formal footwear, even when a workplace or ceremonial dress-code demands shoes, will persist into another incarnation. Add up such minutiae of a life and you do not capture what is best and most valuable in a person, however quirkily dear and familiar such things may turn out to be for those who remember them. A few such energies may have arisen from past-life choices and experiences, or prodded me further along the Spiral, and these, if pervasive enough, may leave traces that endure into another incarnation.

What of my own judgement? What discernment or powers of discrimination have I acquired? How have I (not) deployed them? What judgments of others do I allow myself to be subject to or to shape me or my experiences?

The WORLD

21-WorldIn the Christian worldview, Judgement is the precursor to Heaven or Hell. For the Tarot, though, neither of these follows. Instead, we encounter the World. Is it the same World as in the beginning, or the place where we Fools find ourselves?

In those famous Zen terms, before enlightenment, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers. At enlightenment, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers. Something has shifted, but in the end only each individual can truly say what it is. After enlightenment, though, it’s important to continue along the way, and not be stopped by a false sense that with illumination or attainment of a degree of wisdom, life somehow stops or should cease to be life; mountains are again mountains, and rivers are again rivers. We emerge, as the Tarot has been hinting to us repeatedly, on another arm of the Spiral.

We see in this traditional card the four figures of the Gospel authors or Evangelists of the New Testament, three animals (eagle, lion, ox) and a human. (Many days, that seems to me the most accurate characterization of the experience of being human!)

As I wrote in Part 1:

So important is the animal accompanying the Fool from the outset that almost every deck includes some creature accompanying the human figure of the Fool.

Whether we see this as our animal inheritance, part of our make-up as a physical being with age-old drives and instincts, or as a guide or companion distinct from us, the dog (or three birds in the Arthurian tarot) is with us from the beginning.

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Where (I ask the wise beasts of my life) where would you like to go next on our journey?

 

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