Archive for the ‘John Beckett’ Category

Our -cosms, Prayer, and Fasting   Leave a comment

You’ve probably heard some version of it before.  It crops up like an overnight mushroom, whenever an event like Charlottesville or Brexit or Charlie Hebdo or Syria or Iraq or Rwanda or 9/11 or-or-or shakes us loose from our torpor and shrieks for attention, for a reaction. You can fill in your choice of event, from a whole ungainly series of them over the last year, decade, or lifetime.

We could quite accurately call the reaction the “20-40 rule”, courtesy of one of its literary expressions from some 80 years ago, in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. The two speakers here are Chang, an inhabitant of the famed valley of Shangri-La, and Conway, the main character:

“We keep ourselves fairly up to date, you see”, he [Chang] commented.

“There are people who would hardly agree with you”, said Conway with a smile. “Quite a lot of things have happened in the world since last year, you know”.

“Nothing of importance, my dear sir, that could not have been foreseen in 1920, or that will not be better understood in 1940”.

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Now the argument here, a philosophical version of wait-and-see, has its obvious appeal as well as its downsides. In considerably less than a year, the political (or ecological or spiritual) landscape can shift dramatically. Irreversible change may swallow up — or end — lives. Wait for expanded understanding, however rich or apt, and it may simply arrive too late. Look solely at the long game, and I miss the immediate stakes.

But even knowing this, if you’re like many, you may start to experience “apocalypse fatigue”. You have little adrenalin or passion or initiative left in the tank. You’ve felt and you’ve empathized and you’ve resolved, and maybe you’ve also marched or written or witnessed or organized or simplified. Maybe you still do. Or maybe now you keep your head down and try to live your own life as best you can, because that’s all you feel you can do, as the world unquietly keeps crashing and burning. You brush off the ash and pick through the rubble — you stand up and do it again tomorrow. You endure.

For a thoughtful and balanced set of responses to crisis — not just one, and with Charlottesville simply the current face it wears — I suggest you read John Beckett’s 10 August ’17 post here. While we don’t always see things the same way, I value his hard-earned perspectives.

And when he observes, “My political posts weren’t well read, I didn’t particularly enjoy writing them, and every political post I wrote meant there was a religious, spiritual, or magical post that didn’t get written”, my experience echoes his. Long-time readers of this blog don’t come here for politics anyway.

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But here I want to look at an approach that I’ve found addresses the -cosms of the title, the keen needs of the moment as well as the more subtle draw of the long view, an approach that can serve the politically engaged and the quietly witnessing and the spiritually armed and ready, as well as the hermit sage. In a word, stamina. Fortitude, courage — though not quite the same thing. Staying power.

The approach sources, among other wells and fountains, the wisdom of the Galilean Master, who counseled prayer and fasting. And to make it a Druidic triad, we’ll add listening, because listening is another face it wears. Listening, prayer and fasting. LPF.

And that means listening to all of our -cosms, macro- and micro- and meso-, too — all our worlds, and the world “in between”, this middle earth where we spend so many of our daily hours. I’ve found if something’s shaking in one world, the others vibrate with it, too.

I’ll go personal from here forward, because that’s often how I think and talk best. If it’s true for me, it may — or may not — also work for you. But you’ll see it tried out with me first.

If I don’t fast from frequent tugs towards anger or fear, if I don’t re-connect with the innermost truths I know, I can’t pray (or act) effectively. I drag along the trash and flotsam and jetsam from others’ anger and fear. Don’t need ’em. Got enough of my own to let go of. This happened most recently in a job situation I won’t go into, because I’m still praying and fasting about it. Work-in-progress. Material for an upcoming post.

The danger of another’s anger and fear is I may not recognize them until I make them my own. I may confuse them with almost anything but a limitation. Unless I fast from their effects, listen to their seed-causes, and pray, I open the door to them. Now in addition to my own, I’ve invited in another’s fear and anger.

So if I’m not praying, I can’t fast or act with justice to myself or anyone else. And without praying, I can’t listen. Some of my prayer will be silence, a space where counsel from wise guides and teachers and ancestors and spirits has room to reach me.

Without this practice, whether I launch myself into a protest march at the statehouse in Montpelier, Vermont’s capital, or weed my garden and share with my neighbor a bundle of chard or a basket of carrots or — soon — potatoes, I’m missing my best path.

Because whether I link arms with another protester or cross my yard to my neighbor’s and listen to his life over the past few weeks, I’ll miss what I most need, and miss what I most have to give. The opportunity, the exchange, is often a seeming small one. But that’s why I need to listen or I miss it.

This has happened so many times to me, both the listening and also the missing-the-moment, that I’m actually beginning to learn it. (Like I’ve often said here, I can be really thick and slow about these things.)

The test, always, for me, is the quality of the encounter, the sense of rightness. This sense doesn’t exclude physical difficulty. Whether I’m about to go into surgery, or face an angry person waving a sign on the street corner, or talk with a friend, the words, the tone, the energy exchanged between us is my guide. How does it manifest? Can I watch the exchange without deep attachment to its outcome? Can I watch the — for lack of a better word — the ecology of the moment work its own energy?

I’ve acted, prepared, prayed and fasted and listened. Now comes the wonder, when I’ve gotten out of the way of Spirit manifesting in the situation. Or not.

For me, the listening IS the prayer and fasting. The fasting IS the prayer, and the prayer IS the fasting. One of the best Druid triads I know.

Pray and fast, and things go smoother for everyone, not just me, whatever I do. Miss the optimum alignment, and I discover that, too. This is my love laboratory, this world where we all are trying out our truths, where the test, in the end, is this: Does it build? Does it open? Does it give? Does it connect? Have I served?

And what forms of prayer might work? Material for the next post.

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3D: Divination, Discernment, Dreaming   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | 2 | 3]

I wrote up a version of the following for my journal, a practice in itself, and now for this post.

John Beckett’s helpful article “A Pagan Framework for Discernment” suggests a three-part approach for anyone doing the hard work of sifting experience and belief for their weight and significance and value. “Religious and spiritual ideas”, he observes, “are notoriously resistant to proof, as our atheist friends like to remind us. But if we wait on absolute proof, we’ll end up abandoning beliefs and practices that are meaningful and helpful to us.”

Divination is a useful practice at such a juncture, for several reasons. First, it acknowledges a need for help. I’m never alone, though too often I face challenges as if I am. [As that Christian triad (Matthew 7) has it, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”. No, really!]

Second, divination gives me “something to do” that often relaxes the inner channels sufficiently that I’ll receive guidance “before” I actually do the divination. There’s little support or comprehension in our culture for anyone who talks about “voices in the head” — that kind of talk is one step toward getting you committed. So be careful who you talk to, I hear. Maybe if you started out committed, I hear, you’d know better how to respond to “voices in the head”. Rather than ignoring them, freaking, or heeding them unthinkingly, we’d assume there’s a wider range of options from which to choose.

Third, divination offers suggestions and potential wisdom apart from the usual gossipy, opinionated mechanical self that pretends to conscious awareness most days. Wisdom received often has a qualitative difference from what I’d usually say to myself.

“A belief is true if it works”, Beckett continues, “if it conforms to known facts, and if it’s helpful. But some factors have no bearing on truth even though we might wish they did.”

With such things in my thought as I consider how Thecu initiated communication a couple years ago, and then again recently, I ask for guidance on divination, figuring I’ll draw a card or three from a deck to assess possible directions. To my surprise I’m told to make an impromptu “deck” of nine folded pieces of paper. “Let each be a doorway”, I hear. That’s not quite right; there are no audible words. But the sensation is the same; the words are in my mind.

IMG_1738After I prepare the papers and document the moment with a photograph, almost before I can ask for the next step, I’m given nine words or names to write on them: hampu, lutec, nef, abal, tahilte, renha, lam, tseme, umun. Then, as smoothly as the sense of guidance arrived, it falls away, and I’m left with no further sense of direction. Upheld, then let down.

While the linguist in me putters in the background, turning over the names for a clue to their origin and meanings, I light a small candle and some incense, as much to forestall disappointment as anything else. The incense is homemade, from a workshop some years ago. It needs intermittent relighting, but that’s OK. I send out a silent “thanks and query” with each relighting. It feels right to do so.

Perhaps half an hour later, I receive further instruction, as I’m making some notes about a job lead: “The nine words are associated with the numbers 1 to 9. They are not numbers themselves, but they belong with them. Write the numbers on the cards you made in the order the words came.”

The following day I light candle and incense again, and add a spoken element. As I listen, I try pairing Thecu’s name with each of the nine words, in an impromptu chant, each pair repeated twice, with some playful riffs: “hampu Thecu, hampu Thecu, lutec Thecu, tec, tec Thecu, etc.” In one way, it’s nonsense, but all sound has a quality and an effect, so the practice is not a waste of time in any sense, unless I stupidly insist it is. I will practice this and listen again several more times to test it.

“We are wise”, Beckett closes, repeating his opening assertion,

to focus our attention on our actions rather than on our beliefs. But our actions generate experiences, and in our attempt to interpret and understand our experiences we form beliefs. Our experiences may be so strong or so frequent we are certain our beliefs about them must be right, but if we are honest with ourselves, we can never be completely sure they are right.

But we can ask ourselves if our beliefs work, if they conform to known facts, and if they help us lead better lives. If we can answer yes to these three questions, we can be confident that they are as right as they can be.

How do I pray to you, goddess of storms?
Let this my prayer be a litany of questions.

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Review of John Beckett’s The Path of Paganism   2 comments

Beckett, John. The Path of Paganism: An Experienced-based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn, 2017.

[Note: John is a fellow OBOD Druid. We’ve met at several Gatherings, I’ve gratefully used and credited his excellent photos in several previous posts here. We’ve talked on occasion, but I don’t know him well, except as a reader of his excellent blog [link below]. I participated in his moving Cernunnos rite a few years ago.

Usually I only review books I feel I can discuss insightfully and enthusiastically; The Path of Paganism certainly qualifies. I’m adding this personal note as brief background and for completeness.]

pathofpaganismJohn Beckett knows intimately the Pagan call to service. More importantly, he heeds it. On his Patheos blog and in this book, he serves both newcomers and experienced Pagans alike with insights and examples from his own experience at every turn. Rather than adding to the seemingly ever-growing list of “Paganism 101” books for beginners, replete with tables of correspondences, ready-made (and therefore usually too-generic) rituals, how-to’s and endless reading lists, John offers something far more useful.

Here is a book that can guide the reader into a personal exploration of what the path of Paganism can mean and where it may lead. While he sometimes suggests a range of possible answers, he’s more interested in helping us find questions worth asking. He may give us his answer, but it remains his. He never runs afoul of our sovereignty by claiming it’s THE answer. His examples, drawn from his experience, are meant to charge us up to find our own.

Rather than advocating for a particular Pagan ethics, for instance (Recycle! Eat organic! Protest X policy! Boycott Y or Z Company!), he says instead, “Go for a walk … When we establish our connections to the natural world, it begins to affect us. We start to feel the intrinsic value of nature, and we start thinking about what reverent care might look like” (pg. 58). He trusts the integrity of readers to decide for themselves.

Thus in a section on ritual, he writes: “A member of your Pagan group has asked you for an initiation. After some conversation you’re convinced the desire is genuine … You’re not part of an organization that has an established initiation ritual … Now what do you do? As with any new endeavor, begin by educating yourself. Fortunately, even though the details of most initiations are shrouded in secrecy, there’s a lot of information available on the internet – more than enough to give you a good idea of what to do and how to do it” (281). This is solid advice whether you want to self-initiate or initiate others.

As a ‘hard polytheist” or believer in the reality of distinct spiritual entities, John doesn’t shy away from hard questions. In a chapter titled “The Gods,” he notes, “If you’re on the cusp of being ready to hear, you may not know what to listen for. You may be inclined to interpet a religious experience in a nonreligious manner” (pg. 74) Rather than attempting to persuade or convert anyone to belief, however, John offers some useful tests to help anyone understand their experience. “If a god is calling you, odds are good they want you to do something: make an offering, tell a story, do something to help their work, or do something to make yourself ready to do something bigger at some point in the future. Be prepared to respond with action” (pg. 75). This is advice I can use right now: put into practice my current understanding, testing it for its validity.

John opens his book by observing, “No matter how you came to this point right here right now, wanting to learn more about Paganism, you aren’t starting from scratch” (pg. 1). As John makes his intention clear, this book can help activate things you already know. With supportive and enthusiastic reviews from Damh the Bard, Kristoffer Hughes of the Anglesey Druid Order, Kirk Thomas of ADF, and author and blogger Jason Mankey, this book will leave you highlighting parts of the text to try out and check back in with months and years down the road.

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Image: The Path of Paganism.

Edited 28 July 2017

Thirty Days of Druidry 9: The Worship of Trees   2 comments

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“Lately I have succumbed to an old atavistic urge: the worship of trees.”

So goes the opening line to the Telling the Bees’ marvelous song “The Worship of Trees.” On the particular Youtube version below, these words come just a little after the 1-minute mark. Druids are named for their association with trees, and I can think of no better way to communicate a Druidic response to the previous post, where in one section I talked about salvation as just one religious and spiritual alternative in spiritual practice. Druidry doesn’t seek salvation so much as wisdom and connection. If this is atavism, let’s make the most of it!

“Something deep inside of me yearns to be free.” This freedom is not merely a negative “freedom-from,” but a positive “freedom-for.” What do we long to do, what would we do, if we could? Unlike in “spiritual pollution” religions, in Druidry sin doesn’t eternally hold us back (though poor choices can for a time). The blessings of the natural world can heal more than we imagine. Especially when we see how large the borders of the “natural” reach, and how we and our bodies and our sciences and arts and spiritualities, our planet and solar system and galaxy, fit cozily in one small cosmic cubby.

“Lately I have touched the sublime, out of sight out of mind: the worship of trees.” It’s dangerous to state absolutes about something as fluid as Paganism or Druidry specifically, but I will nonetheless: most Druids accept the existence in some form of more than one plane of existence. Note I don’t say “believe “– it’s not a creed to recite each full moon, but an experiential awareness that the cosmos vibrates up and down a very wide range, and our human experience is only part of the bandwidth. Ecstatic experience can for a time open us to other portions of the band, and broaden our sense of its range and of what’s humanly possible too.

“Lately I have been flung into rustication: the worship of trees.” Part of the Druid experience — again, here I can generalize — is a sense of being part of something much larger than human only, something that sweeps us up in its flow and carries us with it along with everything else, in a direction that isn’t different from where we’re going anyway. It’s a harmonic of existence, and so it’s not something to fear or resist, but to study and harmonize with in our own ways, as each species does. Note that the existence of so many distinct species shows the flow needn’t extinguish individuality — it can also manifest through it. What is it in the flow that calls us with such a strong imperative? Only as humans can we deny or ignore the summons, though ultimately we’re borne along willy-nilly anyway.

“I’m too far in …”: some practices and ways of being in the world aren’t wholly “safe.” They may change you, change the environment, and have unforeseen (though not unforeseeable) consequences. John Beckett talks of “a certain forest god” he serves, Cernunnos, whose worship isn’t always comfortable or easy.

And to take things one more step, to the madness which exists in so many shapes we might say we’re all mad to a degree. We have our fixations, obsessions, relentless habits and cherished opinions. Some days it doesn’t take much to shove us a little further in one direction or another that may well land us outside what’s socially acceptable. The gods may be fine with our eccentricity. It’s other humans who get left shaking their heads — or burning down our houses and chasing us out of town. But in that madness, an ecstasy may empower you to open doors no one else can open, and you fulfill a great purpose that answers that “yearning to be free deep inside” which not just you but many feel. And like the leaves a tree drops each autumn, madness is one way to receive and transmute energy.

After all, I ask myself, would I really value a religion or spirituality that doesn’t include an edge?!

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IMAGES: trees with aerial roots.

East Coast Gathering 2015   5 comments

This last weekend marks the 5th East Coast Gathering I’ve attended, the 6th since its launch in 2010, and another gift of Spirit and mortal effort.

You can read my accounts of three of the previous years: 2012 | 2013 | 2014. A special thank-you to John Beckett, several of whose professional photographs illustrate this post. You can visit John’s own articulate and insightful blog “Under the Ancient Oaks: Musings of a Pagan Druid and Unitarian Universalist” over at Patheos here.

Camp Netimus -- photo courtesy Krista Carter

Camp Netimus — site of the ECG. Photo courtesy Krista Carter

 

Registration for the weekend filled within 20 hours of opening this last spring. Gatherings like this answer an obvious need in the Druid and Pagan community, and more are in the works in other locations. It’s on us to help make them happen. A dedicated team can bring the same joy, support, inspiration and community to other regions.

Yes, we’re all solitaries some or much of the time, but every solitary benefits from celebrating and learning in the company of others. That chance conversation, ritual insight, day- or night-dream, word or phrase that lights up just for you, the hugs you give and receive, the opportunities to serve the community through offering a workshop, cooking, cleaning, organizing, driving — these make Gatherings like this such richly rewarding experiences. The dark and light halves of each year are real, and we need all the help and laughter we can find to thread our way through the labyrinth of time.

 

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I arrived Thursday afternoon early enough to check in and unpack before the opening ritual. My cabin mates had already hoisted a banner, which also made the building easier to distinguish from the others in the dark, when the “9” on the door was no longer readily visible.

cabin banner

Cabin banner. Photo by A Druid Way

 

Equinox marks the shifting energies of days and nights, rebalancing the world. A lovely moon bore witness, waxing each evening through wonderfully clear skies, lighting the path to evening events like the Ovate initiation ritual and illuminating the short uphill walk from the cafeteria to the nightly fire circle.

The crescent moon. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Crescent moon in a twilit sky. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

The theme this year was ritual, and the whole weekend focused our attention on its magical possibilities through a dozen workshops, demonstrations and ceremonies. You can get a sense of the range of approaches from the list of workshops here. We also welcomed returning U. K. guests Damh the Bard, Cerri Lee, and Kristoffer Hughes.

Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard and Kris Hughes. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard and Kris Hughes. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

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Damh’s workshop on “The Bardic Voice” underscored the centrality of the Bard in Druidry. Like many Druid groups, OBOD orders its teaching in the sequence of Bard, Ovate and Druid. But they do not form a linear progress or erect a hierarchy of achievement. They spiral. In an Ovate breakout group a day later, several people mentioned how they often return to the Bardic coursework, its insights deepening through their Ovate practice. And likewise with the work of the Druid grade.

Damh is a fine teacher, an animated storyteller and ritualist of deep experience. With his wife Cerri he leads Anderida Grove. [For an audio inspiration, listen to his hour-long recording for inner journeying here.]

Damh in teaching mode. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Damh in teaching mode. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

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Reminders of ritual possibility filled the weekend. Below is a picture of a labyrinth, another gift of the weekend, lovingly constructed by Cat Hughes and friends.

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Labyrinth by day — entrance. Photo by A Druid Way.

 

Volunteers switched on each light every evening, then turned them off again when everyone else had gone to bed.

Labyrinth by night. Photo courtesy Damh the Bard.

Labyrinth by night. Photo courtesy Damh the Bard.

 

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Kris’s workshop, “Laudanum, Literature and Liturgy — the Ritual Legacy of Iolo Morganwg,” featured the ritual — in Welsh — that Morganwg first performed on the Summer Solstice on Primrose Hill (London) in 1792, launching the Druid Revival and establishing the Welsh Gorsedd of Bards. Morganwg is also the author of the Druid’s Prayer, still used in many modern Druid groups including OBOD, and a major influence on generations of Druids from his time to the present. Kris’s Celtic eloquence in praise of Morganwg and his passion for Druidry took him off script and left many of us with tears in our eyes.

Kris during his workshop on Iolo Morganwg. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

Kris during his workshop on Iolo Morganwg. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

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Bill Streeter from the Delaware Valley Raptor Center, the charity designated for this year’s Gathering donation, brought six birds and made a fine presentation on raptors, their abilities, the dangers (mostly human) facing them, and the challenges of rehabilitating injured birds.

Bill Streeter of the DVRC with a golden eagle. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Bill Streeter of the DVRC with a golden eagle. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

These magnificent birds have often suffered neurological injuries that worsen over time. Though both the eagle above and the owl below look normal, both are blind in one or both eyes, or suffer other injuries like crippled wings, and thus could not survive in the wild. But the birds help save the lives of their kin through their appearances in info sessions like this one.

Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

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The Alban Elfed ritual celebrating the Equinox includes gifts from children, guests and each of the three grades of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Here are Chris and I holding bowls of acorns, part of the Ovates’ ritual gift, just before the ritual procession into the Circle.

Chris and I just before Alban Elfed ritual. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Chris (r) and I (l) just before Alban Elfed ritual. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

The evening eisteddfod (music and poetry circle) one night featured a splendid duet from Kris and Damh — see the image below.

Kris and Damh singing at the fire circle.

Kris and Damh singing at the fire circle. Photo courtesy Hex Nottingham.

Below is another pic of the fire circle one night. Our enthusiastic and skilful fire-makers Derek and Brom love large, carefully-constructed bonfires.

Fire. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Evening bonfire. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Once again Dana set up her meditation tent on the campground for all to visit and enjoy.

Approaching the tent. Photo courtesy Dana Wiyninger

Approaching the tent. Photo courtesy Dana Wiyninger

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Altar in Dana’s meditation tent on the camping field. Photo courtesy Hex Nottingham.

A small group made a side excursion to nearby Raymondskill Falls. Here’s a view of one of the waterfalls.

Raymondskill Falls. Photo courtesy of Gabby Batz Roberts.

Raymondskill Falls. Photo courtesy Gabby Batz Roberts.

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And for those of us who can’t wait an entire year, the Gulf Coast Gathering will celebrate its second year in March 2016. Blessings of the Equinox to all!

“Creating a Goddess Book”: The Rest of the Workshop   Leave a comment

Our bodies already know the Goddess – this is our oldest magic.

I relied on this insight in planning for the workshop at this year’s East Coast Gathering, whose theme was “Connecting with the Goddess.”

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Goals and plans I had for the workshop:

The heart of the workshop is a hands-on look at various ways to make a physical book/scroll/altar object that explores/invites/incorporates ritual, ogham/runes, art, prayer, poems, questions, magic and daydreaming into a concrete “link” to the Goddess as we experience Her — or desire to experience Her. Think “book” as “portable paginated/folding/roll-up ongoing altar-in-process.” I’ll talk about inspiration, nudges, hints and ways to listen, inviting and hoping for participant sharing and input! The seed for the workshop comes out of the fact that I’m a prime example of somebody who doesn’t have a consistent Goddess practice (though She’s seeing to it that’s shifting, too), but when She wants my attention, She gets it, like with this book, and workshop.

It’s probably a good thing we don’t always hear how ambitious we sound. Young or old, you eventually learn to deal with the inevitable gap between vision and manifestation. If you’ve managed to hold on to any of that original and wonderful idealism of youth, you also realize that the gap isn’t a reason to despair, or to dispense with vision, but rather a sign of just how important vision is.

The physical world, so important for manifestation, by its nature tends to lag behind the swiftness with which vision can appear. But that lag is precisely part of this world’s immense value: its inertia and density allow for greater permanency and resistance to change, so that we can experience the results of vision over time — and fine-tune it if we choose. Unlike in dream, where the subtle stuff of vision or imagination can wisp away so quickly, physical manifestation tries to linger.

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The Goddess is generous. Or alternatively, if you prefer the cynical version, I belong to the OCD Order of Druids. Creativity, as the saying goes, is messy. I over-planned for the workshop, ending up with far more material than any mortal could begin to do justice to in a mere hour, and this post is my penance, or confession. Or further indulgence. And maybe — in the way it often arrives when we’re not paying attention, even in spite of ourselves — a spark of awen.

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ogham“Creating A Goddess Book,” with focus on “book” in order to free it from the psychological shrine many Druids, and Pagans generally, tend to put books in. Instead of paper, a book of leather, or metal, or cloth — individual sheets, or a single longer scroll. A nudge to try out the qualities of other substances than paper, than the admittedly inviting blank books on sale in chain bookstores, or even Ye Friendlie Lokal Paygan Shoppe.

Each workshop participant received a packet to practice with, consisting of a rectangle  (approx. 3″ x 4″) of vegetable-cured leather and a similar-sized rectangle of .019″ aluminum, wrapped in a larger swath of canvas cut from a shop drop-cloth from Home Depot. A wood- and leather-burning tool, a few screwdrivers, some markers of various kinds, a few words about inspiration and the importance of working to manifest things on the physical plane as one powerful way to connect with the Goddess. Suggestions for inscribing/writing/ incising a short prayer, vow, magical name, etc. Reference tables of Ogham and runes for those who wanted to inscribe words with some privacy, as a personal meditation. I pointed out that you could cut all three materials with kitchen scissors. Besides the wood-burner, no fancy tools required. Then I shut up and let participants have at the materials. Done!

Hex Nottingham's leather and metal "pages" -- photo courtesy Hex Nottingham

Hex Nottingham’s leather and metal “pages” — photo courtesy Hex Nottingham

Except for the next flash of inspiration in the planning process, which would not let go: a “Nine-Fold Star of the Goddess” you can try out here at one of several websites that illustrate the steps.

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A sampling, with some commentary and additions, from the workshop handout:

“Spirit must express itself in the world of matter or it accomplishes nothing.  Insights of meditation and ceremony gain their full power and meaning when reflected in the details of everyday life.” — J. M. Greer, The Druidry Handbook, p. 138.

This world, here, is the realm of mystery. Spirit is simple — it’s this world that’s so surprising and complex in its changes and ripples, its folds and spirals and timings. Make something, I tell myself, labor with the body, and then I can often approach the Goddess more easily, dirt under my fingernails, sweat on my face. She likes bodies. I’m the one who keeps forgetting this, not her.

“Work with a Goddess long enough and you learn to hear Her call. You learn to pick her voice out above the noise of contemporary society, above the words of teachers and friends, and even above your own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes what you hear is not what you expect.” — John Beckett, “A Rite of Sacrifice,” Mar. 4, 2014.

“Shaper, you have made and shaped me. Honor and serenity are yours. I am your garment, you the indwelling spirit. Work with me in everything I do, that all may know you. Energizer, quicken me. Measurer, clear my path. Protector, guard me safely. Initiator, take my hand. Challenger, transform me. Savior, be my help. Weaver, make my pattern bright. Preserver, heal me. Empowerer, make me wise.” — adapted from Caitlin Matthews, Elements of the Goddess, p. 118.

Rilke’s fragment, a whole meditation in itself, or a daily morning prayer.

Oh, I who long to grow,
I look outside myself, and the tree
inside me grows.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

And Larkin’s poem “Water”:

Water

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

— Philip Larkin

After delighting in this poem, make an exercise of it. Choose one of the elements.  It can be water, as in the poem, or one of the others. Finish the sentence: “If I were called in to construct a _____, I should make use of [element].” Keep going: a series of statements, a meditation on the one you just wrote, a free association.  Whatever gets you putting words down.  You can try this over several days with all the elements, or at a different pace, if you’re working with the elements on your own.

The ECG schedule this year put the Goddess Book workshop immediately after Thursday’s Opening Ritual, so people arrived still bubbling from the ceremonial jump-start for the weekend.

“In every world, in every form, in every way, I am near you, I uphold you, I comfort you, I guide you, I deliver you from each limitation until my freedom is yours. Your body is my chalice, your heart my echo, your form my shadow, your pulse my footstep, your breath my passing.” — from my own Goddess book.

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pattern-star

1. Once you hold the Star of the Goddess in your hand, write the names of the four elements and Spirit, one near each of the points. Complete this step before reading further.

2. Which elements sit on either side of Spirit? Contemplate on their positions there.  Are they elements that help support your spiritual life?  Are they especially active?  Are these the elements that need extra attention and balance?

3. Consider a section in your Goddess book for vows: experiment with them, not as harsh, unyielding obligations, but as tools for studying resolve, testing experience, practicing manifestation of your intent, and so on. They need not be “public” – write them in ogham, runes, etc. Start small and easily achievable.

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Dedicating a Goddess Book: Blood, sweat, tears, spit, etc. can mark our books with our earthiness: a commitment to be honest with the Goddess about our path, its ups and downs, to remember her presence with us, and to acknowledge what we need, what we doubt, what we’re willing to work for – whatever feels right to include. Make a ritual of it. Do it quietly, simply, without fanfare, with silence making its own ritual. Or call out all the stops, bells and whistles. Then dance, feast and celebrate.

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Allow a Goddess book — it could be a single sheet or “page” specifically intended for this purpose — to return slowly to the elements on an outdoor altar. Or bury it in the Mother’s good earth. Thus is the vow fulfilled that the Mother takes into Herself, as She will take all things back in time, and return them again.

“All things are holy to you.  This book like all things lies among the faces you show to me; may I learn from you daily, drink deep from your well, and body you forth as your child.” — from my Goddess book.

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A small ritual. Take a few deep breaths. Sing the awen, or other name or word that grounds and focuses you. Holding your cupped hands in front of you, say: “I make this altar for the Goddess, a space where she may act in my life.”

Holding the Star, or your journal, or other ritual object meaningful to you, or nothing else at all, ask yourself: What specific space or doorway exists in my life for the Goddess to manifest or to act in? Pay attention to hints, images and answers as they come.

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And again: Our bodies already know the Goddess – this is our oldest magic.

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Images: ogham; star.

East Coast Gathering ’13   2 comments

Camp Netimus sign -- photo courtesy Krista Carter

Camp Netimus sign — photo courtesy Krista Carter

Several other attendees have written fine accounts of this year’s OBOD East Coast Gathering — see Dana’s and John’s posts for two good examples, which are also introductions to their excellent blogs.  Here’s mine (with a link to last year’s post, too).

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Once I pull off the pavement onto the dirt road to Camp Netimus, I stop the car and get out.  Apart from the soft metallic tinkling of the hot engine, there is only wind.

The first year I felt self-conscious about greeting the trees, but this year it comes effortlessly.  How to convey the sense of subtle presence, of quiet welcome?  Nothing I can “prove” or point to, nothing objective for any journalist who might opt to “cover” the weekend for a human-interest piece in a local paper, except a middle-aged man briefly motionless beside a tree.  And yet.  I stand with one palm flat against the gray trunk of this Netimus oak, and the sense of familiarity and welcome is palpable.  How to explain this sense of return? Others at the Camp mention similar experiences over the course of the weekend.   If this is delusion, and “only imagination” (two words that never should go together), it’s healthier than almost any other I can think of.   The summer campers are gone, Alban Elfed — the fall equinox — is here, and Druids have returned to honor the spirits of place and the season.  I know that a few hundred yards up the hill, I will see again the members of my Druid tribe, who have gathered from Texas and Michigan, Louisiana and Florida, New Hampshire and Georgia to celebrate, reunite, sing, dance, talk, learn, eat, drink, and revere the living green world.

Steps up to fire circle from Main Lodge -- photo courtesy of Wanda GhostPeeker

Steps up to fire circle from Main Lodge — photo courtesy of Wanda GhostPeeker

Our three OBOD guests this year from the U.K. are musician and OBOD Pendragon Damh (Dave) the Bard, his wife, artist and workshop facilitator Cerri Lee, and OBOD Tutor Supervisor Susan Jones.

Damh the Bard and Cerri Lee -- photo courtesy of John Beckett

Damh the Bard and Cerri Lee — photo courtesy of John Beckett

In spite of a pesky virus Damh picked up on his way across the pond, he regaled us with two sets around the evening bonfire the first day.

The perfect encounter, fitting for a bard: we know him first by his voice alone, which precedes him, rolling out from his albums, videos and podcasts.  Check out his live performances on Youtube, and you get a sense, too, of his warm personality and delightful laugh.  Now he is with us in person, a commanding presence, towering over us at 6’4” or 5”.

Susan Jones, OBOD Tutor Coordinator.  Photo courtesy John Beckett

Susan Jones, OBOD Tutor Coordinator. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Susan Jones, the Tutor Coordinator for OBOD, also returned to the States this year to celebrate with us and lead a fine meditative workshop on the Hermit and Journeyman in Druidry.  We need the Elders of our Tribe to help us steer on a “path with heart,” to give us a sense of who and what has gone before.  We’re all in training to be Ancestors, after all.  What will we contribute when our descendants invoke and welcome us around their bonfires and hearths?

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The Cernunnos ritual Friday night proved powerful for many, the presence of the god palpable in the circle of the ceremony.  John Beckett, priest of the god, led us in invoking him. The Lord of the Forests has remained on the periphery of my life thus far, a being I respect but have few dealings with.  Yet in his grove I reconnected with an animal guide who made his presence known several other times during the weekend — that’s for another post.  Two owls called intermittently throughout the rite.

This year was my third time attending the ECG, and the first for my wife.  Over the last decade we’ve managed to pursue more deeply our  individual paths and interests, while keeping each other apprised of what we’re learning and experiencing. I’d apparently talked up the Gathering enough that she opted this time to see “what I was up to” when I disappeared for several days in late September, to return smelling of woodsmoke and bursting with stories.

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After weather forecasts early in the week that would have left most days of the Gathering in rain, the weather shifted.  Both Thursday and Friday turned bright and sunny, with cool evenings perfect for what has become a tradition of bonfire, mead, talk, drumming, story and song late into the night.

fire

Four Quarters, we honor you.  Hawk of the East, Stag of the South, Salmon of the West, and Bear of the North, you came to be with us once again.

Directional Banner Carriers -- photo courtesy  John Beckett

Directional Banner Carriers — photo courtesy John Beckett

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