Archive for the ‘Lughnasadh’ Category

Boasts, Toasts, Oaths, and Growth   Leave a comment

I wrote a few years back about toasts, boasts and oaths as part of a Lúnasa ritual at Mystic River Grove in Massachusetts, and I’m revisiting the topic here, because it’s a rich one to explore further. Anyone interested in Lugh, his Welsh counterpart Lleu Llaw Gyffes, and associations with Lunasa need only Google for more info than any ritualist could use in 50 rituals. Use the search box on this site for my other posts on the subject.

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This triad of ritual actions is especially fitting now, because Lugh is the god whose nasadh “assembly” gives us the name of our current seasonal festival Lughnasadh, or Lúnasa in reformed Irish spelling. Lugh is described as samildánach — “equally skilled in many arts” — certainly reason enough for boasts, toasts and oaths as components of Lunasa ritual. Emulate the god and celebrate the pluses in our lives. His festival includes games of skill, a kind of Celtic Olympics.

Without much squeezing or distortion, we can also see each action as associated with a specific time: past, present and future.

Boasting generally looks to the past, to something already accomplished. “I’ve done it before (and so I’ll do it again)”. We could even see the modern job resume as a kind of contemporary and restrained boast — it highlights our relevant employment history, our training and experience. Likewise, a good job interview is a delicate balance between touting our accomplishments and demonstrating our self-awareness, an understanding of our weaknesses — cleverly transformed, of course, into opportunities for growth in the service of our next employer.

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The Flyting of Loki

A boast naturally seeks recognition and praise, or acknowledgement at the very least. (A suspicion of pride and an awareness of its dangers pervade the Judeo-Christian moral heritage of the West, so a Pagan restoration of justified pride is long overdue. The point, after all, is to do something praiseworthy, something that fully deserves boasting about.) As a result, it can also be an occasion that calls for responses from others that tease the boaster, as much as for compliments on an achievement done well. A roast, another rhyming theme that fits well here, is an invitation for just such teasing and carefully-tuned mockery. Through it we test the self-confidence of the boaster, their ability to “take it”, and check their anger, and sometimes to respond in kind. African-American playing the dozens and the Norse, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon flyting each ritualize an exchange of insults. The Norse Lokasenna, sometimes called the Flyting of Loki, is just one historical and literary example. In one form or another, the “rap battle” has long been alive and well.

Toasts are often expressions of gratitude or celebration for something that’s happening now in the present. We salute and celebrate another, whether person or object, event or location. In some way it’s a form of blessing. We toast a newly-married couple, we christen and launch a boat, we hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a completed factory or auditorium or museum. As with boasts, toasts often ask for toasts in response, and some cultures formalize such exchanges. Further highlighting the link between boasts and toasts, it’s often considered “good form” to lightly tease a person or couple we’re toasting, as a way of showing affection.

Oaths usually look toward the future, to something we intend to achieve. As a promise or vow, an oath can be an acknowledgement of a debt we’ve garnered in the past, but oriented towards a general time to come. Or it can be more like a promissory note, specifying terms of repayment, the conditions for fulfillment, etc. In the oral cultures where they mostly originate, oaths are a matter of public memory. We make them publicly so that others witness them. A sense of a commitment made with others’ knowledge often helps the oath-maker to fulfill the oath. It’s a way to utilize any shame, any fear of loss of face if we fail, to motivate us, just like we imagine the praise if we succeed, the enhanced reputation and public standing.

This triad of ritual behaviors can feel somewhat contrived in the West, because each is a ritual action less common today than in the past. As an opportunity to revive ceremonial forms and a chance to explore a triad of potent group ritual gestures, boasts, toasts and oaths deserve to be incorporated in our rites and celebrations.

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These ritual acts are also chances for growth. Part of the cultural change we’ve undergone in the West over the past several centuries has been a shift toward internalizing these three rites. Rather than boasting publicly, we read books on motivation and struggle to deal with self-esteem issues. We take workshops on resume-building and interview skills and networking. We internalize our weaknesses and strengths, though we now hand over to social media an increasing share of our once-private lives, in a curious reversion to the older cultural patterns of turning towards a community for much of our identity.

chickensThe pecking order of birds, the ranking among herd animals, a usually stylized aggression to establish social position, can shade into bullying among humans, a specific form of cruelty. Animals generally stop once one of them establishes dominance over the other. We see animal rituals in the submissive gestures of wolves, stags, chimps, etc. who yield to a stronger opponent. A human bully doesn’t stop, and equivalent gestures of submission may simply encourage greater cruelty. The point of bullying is not merely to establish dominance, which is the goal of most alphas, both female and male, but to cause pain.

Specifically Druidic responses to bullying are often rooted in community. We look for our values to nature and to what we have in common, and a response to a bully is often a communal one. Isolation, banning, shunning, communal expressions of disgust and repulsion, all can have their effect in awakening shame and regret, or at the minimum ending the behavior and any opportunities for it to continue.

Just as important, however, are opportunities for clearing one’s name, for redemption, for forgiveness, for reparations and restoration. Ritual has a place in this as well. The fear and anger that often underlie bullying behavior can be dis-empowered. Elemental re-balancing can play its part — earth can eat the heaviness and sense of blockage and obstruction that comes from wrong-doing acknowledged. Water can cleanse and purify, air can lift and lighten, and fire can purge and burn away.

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Working Your What, Part 3: Sleep and Waking   Leave a comment

[Updated 1 August 2020]

It’s Lunasa, or Lughnasadh, the Assembly of Lugh, god of many skills, a harvest festival, and also a time of funeral games, as Lugh mourns and commemorates his foster-mother Tailtiu. Even as the southern hemisphere eases through winter, into not-quite-yet spring, the north gazes into the darkening half of the year, the light of summer still burning brightly. As with each of the great eight festivals, Lunasa includes its own shape and interval of balance and opportunity for reflection.

The Denton Texas CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) will hold an online Lunasa ritual. Copying/pasting from John Beckett’s blog:

The complete ritual will be presented as a YouTube Premiere this Saturday, August 1, at 8:00 PM Central Time. That’s 7:00 PM on the West Coast, 9:00 PM on the East Coast, and 2:00 AM on Sunday in Britain, Ireland, and Portugal.

Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/FaeYgEXU7hg

The Youtube link will remain up in case you’d like to view it later.

Its paired festival is Imbolc, and meditation on the linkages between them can bring useful insight.

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One of the more astonishing behaviors that so many living things do, including humans, is to sleep and wake again. (Why not write your own journal entry to explore connections between waking and sleep, birth and death.) If sleep and waking for yourself seems utterly commonplace and not worth thinking about, try watching your child, or partner, or dog or cat or bird or other pet, transition through these states of consciousness. If the cat or child falls asleep in your arms, you may find yourself consenting to cramp and stiffness just to avoid moving and waking them. Something of the magic has rubbed off on you, in spite of everything.

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You may begin to sense what a strange or even uncanny thing this shift of consciousness really is. We do it every day all our lives and usually think nothing of it. It comes with the operating system we’re running. It’s part of our software, hardware, wetware and spiritware. Only when the sleep mechanism doesn’t work do we often start to notice.

Anyone curious about what sort of thing a self is might well wonder what’s going on. Judging simply on the basis of sleep — where does the “I” go, and how does it “come back” again? — a self starts to seem far more malleable, changeable, supple and fluid than we’ve been led to believe. And that, as many of us can attest, may feel both terrifying and liberating, as brushes with reality often do.

We know from daily experience that sleep performs a number of resets. It can deliver a changed perspective on a problem or challenge, and also toss us into a landscape where the laws of earth-physics no longer apply, or run in the opposite direction and convince us we already are awake, until we actually do wake up, much to our surprise.

From such a triad of qualities — insight, alternative reality, convincing similarity to waking — many have deduced profound truths about human consciousness and cosmic order. But we don’t even need to extrapolate quite so far to work with those three as they come. Sleep on it, we say. We might well say, let go of it until it assumes a new form, rather than clutching it so tightly it can’t change. And often the thing I’m clutching most tightly is my sense of self, refusing to let it “slip into something more comfortable”.

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Rather than being tougher than my problems, battering them into submission through my superior will and skill, I can learn to be more flexible with them, working with my charm and finesse. But how can I? A song, a poem, a charm, a prayer, a supple turn and bend, rather a full-on frontal assault. Problem-solving, also known as living, starts to look like a form of martial art, a study of forms, flow and approaches. It can become a practice toward mastery, an affirmation of the value of being alive. It can even, on occasion — though it can be heresy to say it — be an experience of joy. And one of a further set of contemplation-questions may take the stage: What else can I wake up from? Or what can’t I wake from, or fall asleep to? Do I even know?

The verisimilitude to waking experience of some dreams can easily lead us to conclude that waking experience itself is similar in kind — one among a number of options, rather than the only “real” or final one.  Maybe one from which we can awaken further, one step of a larger stairway. From there it’s often only a turn or two to playing intentionally with awareness and consciousness, testing how solid the boundaries are between states of consciousness, and where the hinge-points and doorways might lie. And among the tools to activate those kinds of testing and play, ritual pattern-making, meditation, visualization and other means can prove highly effective, and safer than some pharmaceutical options pushed on us by both licensed and unlicensed pushers.

Mat Auryn’s Psychic Witch (Llewellyn, 2020) offers an excellent and fresh set of exercises for exploring adjacent and transformed states of consciousness. With a text centered on a series of 93 exercises, any summary I attempt will fail to do it justice, but in Auryn’s hands this book is the next best thing to taking a workshop with the author, in these pandemic times. John Beckett posts a useful review here.

If he has an over-arching theme, Auryn captures it early on:

Whatever you touch will touch you back. The simplest way that I can try to explain it is that when you spend time touching the core of the earth, soaking in the stars, communing with the moon, aligning with the elements, working with the gods and spirits, it changes a person (4).

How we respond to such contact says much about what our life experiences will be and where they will take us. Such contact is already taking place. We’ve already touched and been touched by a lot in the years we’ve been alive. It’s not a matter of if but of when, how, how much and to what effect, and sorting out what those mean for us, if we’re inclined to take that on as a project, one of the most worthwhile ones we can, whether as challenge or opportunity, as art or science or faith or some giddy mix of all three.

I’ll close with a personal observation from my own idiosyncratic practice:

Every day, like everyone else, I experience many differing states of consciousness, moving from deep sleep to REM sleep to dream to waking, to daydream, to focused awareness and back again. We make these transitions naturally and usually effortlessly — so effortlessly we usually don’t even notice or comment on them. But they serve different purposes: what we can’t do in one state, we can often do easily in another. The flying dream isn’t the focus on making a hole in one, nor is it the light trance of daydream, nor the careful math calculation. And further, what we ordinarily do quite mechanically and often without awareness, we can learn to do consciously.

May you sleep and wake again.

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Images: Pexels.com

The Feasts of Lugh

Our Vermont seed group, the Well of Segais, met for Lunasa yesterday at Mt. Ascutney State Park. And Down Under, it’s Imbolc, the feast of Brighid — a parallel deserving meditation on its linkages and subtle connections.

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Ascutney summit parking lot — looking south

The haze of August already lies on our hills. Here’s a shot from the car as I drove north along Rt. 91 toward the park. In a state of so many hills and higher peaks, Ascutney doesn’t immediately claim particular status. (At 3130 feet/954 meters, it’s the second-highest peak in our county.) But begin the ascent to the summit, and if the pitch of the climb doesn’t clue you in, you pass into cooler air about halfway up — a most welcome change in the heat of the last several weeks.

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We held a quiet, meditative ritual in what has become our favorite location, in a grove next to a pavilion overlooking a valley to the north. A couple arrived midway through our ritual, and settled into the pavilion to talk quietly, just as we were saying “each person here is a blessing”.

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Lugh swims into my awareness this time of year, around his harvest festival — I honor him as I would a majestic tree. “Believe” in Lugh? Standing under the branches of a tree, belief in that tree is a strange thing to concern oneself with. Instead, I prefer to inhale the scents of the grove around me, noting the evergreen cones on the ground, feeling the shade against the summer sun, hearing the birds in the branches.

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A sometimes-frantic concern with what one believes, or should believe, belongs to other paths — it needn’t trouble Druids, unless they find value in it. There is much more to explore that meets us halfway, rather than folding our thought into shapes that may or may not have any connection to what is already all around us, shapes prescribed by those who came before us, because they arose from their lives, experiences which need to be tested, along with other such legacies, for their applicability to us today.

The “apparent world fades”, whispers the ritual. “With the blessings of earth, sea and sky”,  we “cast aside all disturbing thoughts” and attend more carefully and lovingly to what is going on all around us. (Billboards proclaim, “God is still speaking”. Druids strive to keep listening.)

Belief can be a useful tool, and indeed it does shape our experiences, along with much else. But it is so often subject to change, to distortion, and to incomplete knowledge — as exhibit A, witness the political landscapes these days in so many nations. Wisdom, though harder to gain, has proven more trustworthy as an aid to living my life. (Discerning the difference between them, and living from it — ah, there’s a journey worth anyone’s dedication. Let’s meet there!)

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What Lugh has to say to me, or I to him, may manifest in ritual, or before, or afterward, in my interactions with those I celebrate with, meet at the park entrance, on the road, at the gas station on the way home. Meanwhile, festival communion is our ritual, a priming for honing the attention, for honoring the day and its gifts and our lives.

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Steps on .7 mile/1100 meter footpath to the Ascutney summit

In Vermont, Mt. Ascutney seems a fitting place to honor Lugh and his festival, a place of heights and vistas, a place of green quiet and perspectives, in keeping with his attributes as a storm god and warrior, with links to Mercury and Apollo.

Lugh “has several magical possessions,” notes the Wikipedia entry. “He wields an unstoppable fiery spear, a sling stone, and a hound named Failinis. He is said to have invented fidchell (a Gaelic equivalent of chess), ball games, and horse racing”. His Welsh counterpart is Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the “fair-haired one with the skillful hand”. In Welsh tradition, from his mother Arianrhod he receives a tynged, the Welsh equivalent of a geis, an obligation or prohibition, a taboo linked to one’s destiny. His story, along with Blodeuwedd, comprises the second and third branches of the Mabinogi.

All these details suggest directions for possible Lunasa rituals and activities.

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I arrived early before our ritual gathering, partly to check on locations and partly to re-visit the “sleeping dragon” stone along the footpath to the summit.

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True, without that near-horizontal gouge suggesting a closed eye, the stone might not evoke the name I give it. But as far as I can tell, the gouge is natural, a result of the stones tumbling about each other that make up the summit and its paths.

Below is the “slab” indicated by the sign above — the camera foreshortens the dimensions of the sheet of broken stone that extends over 100 feet/30 meters up the mountain.

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Sometimes a place with dimensions of its own, not immediately convenient for humans, is a helpful reminder and subject of meditation. The slab, like the slot, requires effort to navigate successfully.

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I’ll close with this meditation, plain water after the potent mead of ritual. VT poet Charles Butterfield writes in his poem “Matins” of the natural world:

it is enough to know
here is something
that does not require
your presence
but of which nevertheless
your presence is a part.

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Leaning Towards Lunasa

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colors of Lunasa

In New England after the Solstice you feel the change: summer has — finally — settled in. No more chance of frost, it’s safe to leave the screened windows open at night for a breeze, and the fireflies are wrapping up their brilliant night-time light-shows.

We’re about three weeks away from the next of the “Great Eight” seasonal festivals. Even the name Lu(gh)nasa(sh) can feel like high summer — it drops the unnecessary weight of extra clothing (or letters in this case, with the Irish spelling reform around the middle of the last century). One advantage of the older spelling, of course, is its reminder of the god Lugh associated with the day — the name means the Assembly of Lugh.

The Celtic group Lunasa gains from its name as a celebration, a demonstration of excellence that was part of the original festival’s funeral games and competitions. The god Lugh mourned the death of his mother Tailtiu, and so established the Tailteann Games in her honor and memory. Historically the festival also celebrated the first fruits of the harvest — it’s the first of three harvest events, moving through the Autumn Equinox and concluding at Samhain.

You can find some of my previous posts on Lunasa here: 26 July ’18 “Fog-weaving with Lugh”| 23 Aug. ’17 including Dennis King’s Poem “Grace”| 5 Aug. ’17 on a small rite for Lunasa | 1 Aug ’13 including my poem “Assembly of Lugh”.

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Flavors of Druidry

This is a brief post to celebrate flavors of Druidry elsewhere. Below, a shape of awen formed of human shadows — photo by Welsh Druid Kristoffer Hughes.

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Australian Druids just celebrated Lughnasadh, and Serpentstar, the free OBOD newsletter for Australia, has just published its most recent issue — you can read it online or download it as a PDF here. Lovely images and articles offer a glimpse of the Land and Druids Down Under.

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Cornwall actively promotes its language and culture, and that includes Cornish Druidry. Here’s a prayer to Brighid in Cornish, with an English version, from Trelawney Grenfell-Muir:

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Brigid a’n Kugoll, gwra agan kyrghynna.
Arlodhes an Eyn, gwra agan kovia.
Gwithyades an Oeles, gwra agan enowi.
Yn-dann dha gugoll, gwra agan kuntelles,
Gwra agan daswul dhe gov.

Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us,
Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
And restore us to memory.

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Fog-weaving with Lugh

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Mt. Ascutney, seen from West Windsor on a clear day.

Our local OBOD Seed Group is planning to gather on Vermont’s Mt. Ascutney for Lunasa in about a week, and so I scouted locations on the mountain this morning. We’ve had rain in Vermont since Sunday, so not surprisingly fog shrouded the crown of Ascutney, which stands at 3144 feet (958 meters).

Every leaf was dripping, and the blacktop glistened dully as I drove the 4-mile road to summit parking. When I arrived around 10:30 this morning, mine was the only car in the lot, which has spaces for 50.

If you’d told me that with climate shifts parts of New England are destined to become temperate rain forest, this morning at least I would have believed you. More likely we may well face sustained droughts here as elsewhere, but for now, Vermont lives fully up to its name of the Green Mountain state.

I scolded myself for not bringing my camera — next week will have to try to make up for the lapse. But it’s right I did not even try to capture in a frame what I saw and felt. Fern and myrtle, moss and emerald, shades of wet green I have no names for. Bird-calls sounded through the mist, and rivulets sparkled crossing the slabs of stone of the 2/3 mile trail and final 300 feet of ascent.

Fog-weaving at such times needs so little effort. The climb quickens the breath, and the cool air is lush with oxygen. Without the chatter of any human companion as a distraction, and with the fog collapsing the field of vision to just a few dozen yards in any direction, your attention narrows in on step after deliberate step. Light trance comes on like cloud itself. Without thought you can slip through to the “realm next door” between one step and the next, and you may sense the god dreaming on the peak. And rather than needing human action or imagination to weave or conjure vision, the fog itself curtains or reveals what is already there.

For some forty minutes I was alone on the mountaintop. Only on the last leg of the descent back to the parking lot did I meet another solitary hiker, rainjacket tied around his waist as we passed each other.

So did I “meet Lugh”? As a god of storm, sun and high places, he wrapped the mountain with his long arm, as one of his epithets, Lugh Lamhfada, names him. In such places and spaces, the ideas and doubts of rational consciousness don’t intrude. That’s for before, and after.

Even an hour later, with a second or third cloudburst filling the air with its sound, as I stepped out of the car in the parking lot of the medical office for an afternoon eye appointment, perhaps I didn’t “meet the god of storm”. But rain spattered my glasses, ran down my cheeks, wet my bare legs and left my feet squelching in sandals. I quickly pulled my raincoat around me and headed for the entrance.

And there in the waiting room I sat damply, thumbing through a National Geographic magazine, gazing at pictures of endangered birds. I didn’t “meet” those birds, you could argue, and in a sense you’d be right, of course, yet light from images of them reached my eyes and brain, and I know what they look like. I can describe them to you.

I may or may not have “met Lugh”, but water from his storm, and a sense of his long-armed presence continued to accompany me after the appointment as I recalled the climb, and thought about him on the drive home. My clothes are wet, I stood on that mountain, and I can tell you what makes Lugh different from Brighid.

And I am content, “without any irritable reaching after fact and reason” * during such experiences — more than content — whatever I may think or do or say after them. And that proportion — a “during” that is different from a “before” and an “after” — seems to me a good one. Relinquish nothing, gain all.

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IMAGE: Ascutney.

*John Keats in his discussion of “negative capability”.

Colouring Outside the Lines

“But what can we do?” people often ask. Whatever the need, the question is a perennially valid one. What action is best for me to pursue, yes. But also, what can I do before I act, before the main event, so to speak, so that I can choose more wisely how to act on that larger scale? The Hopi of the American Southwest use a ceremonial pipe they call natwanpi — literally, “instrument of preparation”. What can I do to make of my actions a natwanpi in my own life as often as possible? How can I act now to prepare for the next action needed? How can my deeds begin to form a shining set of links, not merely a random assemblage?

Philip Carr-Gomm writes,

Try opening to Awen not when it’s easy, but when it’s difficult: not when you can be still and nothing is disturbing you, but when there’s chaos around you, and life is far from easy. See if you can find Awen in those moments. It’s harder, much harder, but when you do, it’s like walking through a doorway in a grimy city street to discover a secret garden that has always been there – quiet and tranquil, an oasis of calm and beauty. One way to do this, is just to tell yourself gently “Stop!” Life can be so demanding, so entrancing, that it carries us away, and we get pulled off-centre. If we tell ourselves to stop for a moment, this gives us the opportunity to stop identifying with the drama around us, and to come back to a sense of ourselves, of the innate stillness within our being.

Of course, one key is to practice the Awen when it IS easy, so that it becomes a skill and a habit to draw on when “life is far from easy”. Right now I take this advice, pause from writing this, and chant three awens quietly.

After all, what good is any spiritual practice if it doesn’t help when I need it most? I find this holds true especially with beliefs, which is why so many contemporary people have abandoned religious belief, and thereby think they’ve also “abandoned religion”. All they’ve done, often, is abandon one set of perhaps semi-examined beliefs for another set they may not have examined at all. “Carried away, pulled off-centre” — we’ve all been there. But each moment, in the wry paradox of being human, is also calling us home, “back to a sense of ourselves”.

A few weeks ago I had cataract surgery on my right eye. I was surprised how the looming procedure, with its success rate of above 95%, kicked up old fears in me from the major cancer surgery I’d experienced a decade ago. Coupled with that was a series of dreams I’d had a few years ago about going blind. Altogether not an enjoyable mindset to approach a delicate procedure on the eyes.

But instead of the victim version of the question “Why is this happening to me?” I can choose to ask the curious version of the same question. Insofar as anything in my life responds to events and causes I have set in motion, it’s a most legitimate question.

The answers, I find, can be surprising.

I feared loss of spiritual vision, because I was drifting away from the other spiritual path I practice. This is clearly a cause I’ve launched. I didn’t approach the surgery as some kind of superstitious opportunity for the universe to “pay me back” for spiritual neglect, as if the cosmos operates like a sinister debt collection agency. But if I approach my whole life as an instance of an intelligent universe constantly communicating with me, my fears have a cause, and an effect, and my experiences will mirror all that I am and bring to each moment. Not out of some sort of spiteful cosmic vindictiveness, but because all things, it seems, prod us along the next arm of the spiral. We’re all part of the Web. The same force, I believe, that pushes up the first flowers in spring, in spite of the lingering danger of frosts, the force that urges birds to nest and hatch a fleet of fledglings, even though a percentage will die before reaching adulthood, is the same force alive in me and in my life and the lives of every other being on this planet. Even our seemingly static mountains weather slowly in wind and rain, frost and sun.

Christians focus closely about “being in right relationship” with God. Druids and other practitioners of earth-spirituality are likewise seeking harmonious relations with the world around us. Though a god or gods may not have exclusive claims on me, still, if one makes herself know to me, it’s not a bad idea to pay attention. Same with anything else that knocks for my attention — and deserves it. Day-to-day practice of an earth path like Druidry is an ongoing opportunity to seek out new kinds of harmony as well keep to ones I’ve tried and tested, an opportunity to balance claims of allegiance and attention and energy, to make good choices, and to stand by them as much as I can. (Of course I’ll mess up from time to time. Part of the fun is seeing if I can mess up in a new way this time, to keep myself entertained, if nothing else. Why hoe a row I’ve already weeded, unless it really needs tilling again?!)

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With Lunasa in the northern hemisphere comes Imbolc in the southern one. The ley lines linking the earth festivals around the world deserve my attention, I find, as much as the lines of connection between hills and wells, trees and stones on my continent.

So it is that Brighid of many skills, healing and poetry and smithcraft among them, pairs well with Lugh Samildanach, Lugh “equally gifted” in all the arts and crafts. Both at Imbolc with the kindling of a new cycle of birth and growth, and at Lunasa as first of the harvest festivals, we’re reminded of origins of the crafts of civilization. With human and divine inspiration and gifts supporting our lives, we draw our existence today. I eat because my ancestors tilled the earth and lived to birth and teach the next generation. I wear this body because spirit clothed itself in this form among all the other forms it takes. I peer out at the world and at all the other forms who are likewise looking at and listening to the ongoing waves of existence. From this perspective, how can I not celebrate in simple amazement?!

We’ve all felt those moments when life seems paradoxically dreamlike and marvelously real. Robert Frost, bard of New England and a Wise One I keep turning to for counsel, says,

Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes.
Is the deed ever truly done.
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Where love and need are one: how often do I separate them? Do I respect my need enough to love it, or truly need what it is I think I love? Can I align these two and make them one? Mortal stakes: is what I spend the greatest energy on actually contributing to life, my own life among others? After all, Druidry urges me to consider that each life is worthy and valuable, mine no more but also no less than others.

A Frostian triad emerges: There are three things fitting for the aspirant to wisdom — a seeking after unity of love and need, a work which is play for mortal stakes, and deeds done for heaven and the future.

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After the builders finished the weaving studio addition (visible on the left), they seeded the lawn with clover, and now we have a lovely nitrogen-fixing, weed-inhibiting perennial I refuse to mow. The bees have been loud and happy, cheering at my choice, and the crop will also hold down the still-loose soil against runoff, and help it firm up.

You can see, too, in the foreground the edge of the recent delivery of firewood I need to go stack.

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Honoring the Mundane

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Lugh image found in Paris

One of the groups I gather with to observe at least some of the “Great Eight” festivals has been searching for a meeting place for our upcoming Lunasa/Lughnasadh celebration.

So, I ask myself, what does my teacher of Daily Druidry have on hand to show me this time?

Turns out, a lot. One member of our group whom I’ll call V has generously hosted our past three festivals in her spacious back yard.  From the Spring Equinox to Midsummer, she provided cooking space as well as an altar. And plates, cups, and tableware.

And, on more than one occasion, burgers and sausage to contribute to our potluck meals, and a bottle of wine, too. So it’s well past time for a change of host and venue, if only not to impose any more on V’s hospitality. Even though she was willing to offer her home yet again, this time for Lunasa. Until her life rearranged and changes blew through it — good ones! — and now she can’t host us after all (or attend).

So I pour a double libation to Mundana and Mundanus, twin deities of this world where we launch so many spiritual vessels, never noticing how our “ordinary” realities matter at least as much as any other.

As a for-instance: the day of ritual dawns on all-day rain, and we scramble to move indoors, or reschedule.

Or the quiet fellow who agreed at the last gathering to take on writing the ritual script for this one falls sick the day before, with just a skeleton outline he was waiting to complete with the adrenalin/awen inspiration of last-minute-ness, and so we scurry to come up with an alternative ritual, offer up energies to aid him in dealing with his physical reality, and ponder again the key role of those twin gods of the mundane.

Need a hull or anchor, a current or shore to set out from, wind in your sails, fire in your belly, water in your canteens or buoying you up, tide and moon and sun? Hail, gods of the Mundane! We honor and salute you, without whom this world cannot shape the Spiral, playing its part in manifesting anything at all in the world of form. Right and Left Hands of Spirit, we offer these gifts and salutations.

It’s fitting that Lugh whose festival is upon us bears the epithet Samildanach: “equally skilled in many arts”. The god stands out not for any particular excellence but for all of them.

And that includes — fully, rightfully, honorably, deservedly — the forms that Spirit takes in its guise as the “mundane”: the gifts of welcome, an open hearth, food and laughter and good company.

IMG_1743

“mundane” altar: stone (N), feather (E), candle (S), shell (W)

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Images: ancient three-headed image of Lugh found in Paris in 1800s.

Backstage Druidry

Oscars-Backstage

In the end we all do what we’re told. (It’s a backstage conversation.) We just differ on who we listen to, who we decide to heed. The cicadas from central casting announce August outside my window, under this overcast summer sky on a day of rain, and I sit grappling with this post. Somehow they’ll work their way in, because I listen to practically everything. Bards most of all, because they’re such electric company. Each cicada-Bard croons a Lunasa song, turning and tumbling toward the Equinox now, the days shortening at both ends, darkness nibbling at the warm hands of summer.

Do we really do what we’re told, and follow a script handed to us backstage? “No rehearsal. You’re on in 10 seconds.” Then Pow! Birth! And going off-script means following another script, the one titled rebel or train-wreck, fool or genius, or what have you. What do we have? “What is written is written,” runs the Eastern proverb about fate. “What can I say?” quips Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “I flunked the written.” So many scripts to choose, rehearse, try out. When we read for “human,” how many other lines do we forget? “I am a stag of seven tines,” sings Amergin, “I am a wide flood on a plain, I am a wind on the deep waters …” Memory and imagination, the same, or inversions of each other.

When poet Mary Oliver gives Bardic advice, “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it,” I want to shout “But attention and astonishment are both luxuries!” And they are: ultimate, essential luxuries. Yes, Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Writing teacher Robert McKee turns it around: “The unlived life isn’t worth examining.” Ouch! Take it personally like I do (though quickly I blunt the edge by applying it to characters I’ve written, all those understudies and stand-ins for my life) — take it personally and you may turn another way, determined perhaps this time to swallow life whole. This life is brand-new, never seen before. Old games, true, but new blood.

Backstage I overhear someone whispering, “Worry about living first, and if necessary, leave the examining to somebody else.” Is that meant for me?  “You’re on! Break a leg!” Is that meant for me, too?

Broken. Stuckness. Does it happen more to people who overthink their lives, who need to see where each footstep will land before they take a step?  Those who strive to word a version of their lives acceptable for a blogpost?

“When I am stuck in the perfection cog,” remarks author Anna Solomon,

–as in, I am rewriting a sentence a million times over even though I’m in a first draft or, I am freaking out and can’t move forward because I am not sure how everything is going to fit together—I find it helpful to tell myself: You will fail.

A soul after my own heart! Failure: our solid stepping stone to success. Because who IS sure how everything is going to fit together?

I have this written on a Post-it note. It might sound discouraging, but I find it very liberating. The idea is that no matter what I do, the draft is going to be flawed, so I might as well just have at it. I also like to look at pictures I’ve taken of all the many drafts that go into my books as they become books, which helps me remember that so much of what I am writing now will later change. When I am aware that my work is not as brave or true as it needs to be, I like to look at a particular photograph of myself as a child. I am about eight, sitting on a daybed in cut-off shorts, with a book next to me. I’m looking at the camera with great confidence, and an utter lack of self-consciousness. This photograph reminds me of who I am at my essence, and frees me up to write more like her. —Anna Solomon, author of Leaving Lucy Pear (Viking, 2016), in a Poets and Writers article:

No rehearsal — it’s all draft, to mix metaphors. And You will fail. But once you do the draft, paradoxically, it becomes rehearsal, revision. Re-seeing. We will look again in astonishment, memory or return, mirroring the same thing, and marvel differently. Our recognition when another tells the tale, when others speak for us because they can, they live here too, they see and speak our hearts’ truth. We know, partly, because of them. They’re versions of us, dying and being born together.

“When death comes,” Mary Oliver says in the poem of the same name,

like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut …

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

Oh, Mark Twain gathers himself to answer. I hold my breath. Maybe it’s both like and unlike anything you imagine. Can we fear only what we dimly remember? “I do not fear death,” Twain says. “I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

Lunasa thoughts. The autumn in the bones and blood, while the young are dancing. Mead around the fire. We’re both grasshopper and ant in the old fable, gathering and spending it all so profligately. Expecting a pattern, a plan, we’re told to ignore the man behind the curtain. Sometimes there’s neither curtain nor man. Other times, both man and curtain, but as we approach, the spaces between each thread and cell, between each corpuscle and moment, each atom, have grown so large we can fly through appearances, into mystery, into daydream. Great Mystery drops us into the blossom before it’s open, we sip nectar, drowsing at the calyx, the Chalice. Mystery listens as the bees hum around us, gathering pollen. Stored up sweetness for the next season. To know itself, Mystery gazes from everything we meet, we see it in each others’ eyes, so it can see itself.

Attention, says Mary Oliver, attention is the beginning of devotion.

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Image: Oscars.

Seed Meets Trickle

“A seed, a seed, at Imbolc a seed!”

“Ah, the seed has long lain there fallow, only at Imbolc do you at last feel it stirring beneath the snows.”

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mlvFranz

Marie-Louise von Franz

“One must start where there is still a flow of energy, even if it is just a thin flow, even if it seems silly” — Mary-Louise von Franz, Animus and Anima in Fairytales (Inner City Books, 2002).

Before and at and around Imbolc, the god Lugh draws me powerfully. Naturally, because time isn’t linear, and the workshop talk I’ve agreed to at Lughnasadh, a six-month conjunction with Imbolc and another fire festival, is now at work (was, before I agreed to it), by the god’s hand, or my own, or — more confusing and interesting — both at once. Snow on the ground, the land still in the grip of the Frost Giants (I like mixing myths, personally, at least by season), and here comes Lugh to prod me into action with his spear. Or if not action, exactly, some kind of attention.

The shape of the talk as it comes to me now in bits and starts will deal among other thiings with the matter of encountering a god, but also of any new course of action, of imagination, of inspiration. These wear different cloaks, but from what I can see, under them they’re the same, or at least siblings, equal parts trust and terror at times. Energy — which is what we are at heart, intelligent energy on the move.

So the seed, the nudge to change, to move, to grow — it comes and roots itself in us. And when the root-strength that cracks sidewalks and shoves boulders aside and generally plays havoc with human ideas of permanence and endurance finally gets to work, things move.

sowerAnd often enough the seed then dies in the ground. What nourishes it? We stomp on it, uncomfortable thing, reminding us that something outside us wants to work its will with us, here, too. Right in the middle of streaming Netflix and election madness and ISIS and the woeful state of things and our own personal misery and joy, the particular flavor and color of crazy that the current year puts on each morning, mourning. Just because.

But let trickle reach seed and GERMINATION! Watch out! Funny, the vegetation god from the House of Bread (which is “Bethlehem” translated, as John Michael Greer obligingly reminds us) puts it this way in a Gospel, which really is supposed to be good news after all. Or as a Bard thinks of it, a song for the queens and kings we could be:

And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them, Listen, a sower went out to sow: And it happened, as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside, and the birds of the air came and devoured it. And some fell on stony ground, where not much earth was; and immediately the seed sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun rose, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and yielded fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some a hundredfold. And he said to them, Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

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We can play a part here in germination. (Says who? Well, I can argue about it, or I can try it out for myself. Which is more fun?) Where is my fertile ground? What god/dess is planting there? Where’s that trickle? Ah, there.

And so it begins. If I’ve learned anything to pass along, it’s the magic when seed and trickle meet. I can’t make seeds, but I can maintain a greenhouse for them. I can’t start the trickle, but I can pay attention when one comes — I’ve got ears to hear — and help it flow or block it. There. To work.

IMAGES: ML von Franz; sower.

 

 

 

 

Lunasa ’13

lughnasadhcorn“The god Lugh is honored by many at this time, and gentle rain on the day of the festival is seen as his presence and his bestowing of blessings.” — Wikipedia entry for Lunasa (older Irish spelling: Lughnasadh)

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Assembly of Lugh

Rain this afternoon your omen,
your day the spear in me to know my Tribe,
to learn their ways, to choose from them

what holds value: metal of truth, gold of our past
cast into refining fire, cauldron of time,
everything molten. Now, always, for forge:
the mold ready for each life streaming

from its pool of glowing metal,
from its pool of cool water
where my people drink.

I look across time’s circle to where it begins
anew with each life.  You cast the spear:
our Lunasa dancers grasp it, fling it toward the center
where it lands, quivering.  From it lifts and streams
the banner of summer sky:  I will take flame

and run with it:  your August,
moon before dawn this morning
slender as cupped palms,
ready to receive water, quicksilver,
fire in the sky dipping down
on us all.

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colignyplate“[F]rom France we have evidence of a Druid calendrical system in the Coligny calendar, although scholars are divided as to the degree we can consider it purely Druidic, since it is engraved in Roman letters, leading some to believe it represents the product of an attempt to Romanise the native religion.  Dated to the first century AD, it consists of fragments of engraved bronze which have been carefully pieced together to show a system which reckoned the beginning of each month from the full moon … The names of the months are wonderfully evocative of a time when humanity lived closer to nature:

Seed-fall:  October-November

Darkest Depths:  November-December

Cold-time: December-January

Stay-home time:  January-February

Time of Ice: February-March

Time of Winds: March-April

Shoots-show: April-May

Time of Brightness: May-June

Horse-time: June-July

Claim-time: July-August

Arbitration-time: August-September

Song-time: September-October

… Horse-time indicates the month in which people went traveling — in the good weather, and Claim-time indicates the month in which the harvest festival of Lughnasadh falls, and at which time marriages were contracted and disputes presented before judges.  The following month, Arbitration-time in August-September, represents the time when the disputes and claims have been adjudicated and when the reckonings were given. At Song-time in September-October the Bards completed their circuits, and chose where they would settle for the winter season.” — Philip Carr-Gomm, Druid Mysteries. London: Rider Books, 2002, pp. 118-119.

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images: LughnasadhColigny calendar

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