Archive for the ‘magic’ Category

“Am I Crazy, or Just Fabulous?”   Leave a comment

(And are those my only options?)

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

bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omen Days 10-11: Moon and Star   Leave a comment

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

Three days into the new year, and the omen for Day 10 (3 January) is a Tarot reading I did on the 1st, but put aside for other tasks. But it’s been in my attention to return to it and take another look as I post it here. Third time, or third day in this case, is the charm.

The question I posed for the reading is this: What needs our attention in the coming year?

(In light of everything in play just past the start of this new year, this innocent-seeming question already feels more than over-loaded!) But how much of our task is focus, attention to what matters, without which we scatter and “lay waste our powers”. We can see much of the past decade as a painfully clear illustration of just such a scattering. But also, a gathering and centering in response, as we belatedly come, however imperfectly, to attention.

1. Significator or Self: Moon
2. Cross or cover: 2 of Cups
3. Basis: 7 of Pentacles
4. Recent past: Ace of Cups
5. Possible Outcome: 9 of Cups
6. Near Future: 10 of Pentacles
7. Self: 10 of Wands
8. Environment: Empress
9. Hopes and Fears: Queen of Pentacles
10. Outcome: 6 of Wands

Rather than attempting a point-by-point explication now, I’ll look for an overview I’ll return to and expand on through the coming months, refining and revising my understanding.

For now, then, the Moon:

The true task of the third line [of the Tarot major arcana] is not revelation but bringing that inner ecstasy back to consciousness. The Star [the card preceding Moon] contained no road back. It shows us dwelling in the glories of darkness transformed into light. To use that light, we must pass through distortion and fear.

The Star experience lies beyond words or even form, though it implies forms emerging with the streams of water. In the moon we see this process happening, as visions, myths and images. The Moon is the card of the imagination as it moulds the energy of the Star into shapes that the consciousness can apprehend. — Pollack, Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom, pg. 125.

How to “use that light” and “pass through distortion and fear” seems a fitting take on a principal challenge of 2020, and a concise answer to my question for the reading: “What needs our attention in the coming year?” I’ll take up the other cards in coming posts as explications of possible ways to go about this double task.

BAM Druid Gather

“Let moon meet answering fire”

DAY 11

For Omen Day 11 (4 January), a late-arriving Christmas card featuring the Star in the East. Sometimes we seek the omen, sometimes it seeks us. They meet in a handshake, an embrace, yin and yang of incarnate experience, with us the conduits, the lightning rods, and the capacitors of what we are pleased to call “our” lives.

Could we but see the whole, these mutual seekings comprise its two halves, yin and yang, which themselves contain the characters for sun and moon. In the character simplification that mainland China pursues, yin 阴 and yang 阳 clearly display their respective elements of 月 moon and 日 sun.

Several Druid orders draw on this ancient understanding and make it a formal part of their training, instructing students to pursue the Sun path and the Moon path, with the third component, the Earth path, the synthesis energized by the interaction of the first two. And in the intermingling of Threes and Fours, those ancient symbols and numerical powers that color much of modern Druidry, we could name four paths: earth, moon, sun and stars. It’s no accident that’s where Dante’s Divine Comedy ends: l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle — “the love which moves the sun and the other stars”.

Yesterday, too, the blogpage here on Magic received five views, so the omen feels confirmed — the “messy creativity” of five-star magic.

Christmas … What’s born in us? A magical birth, the Child of Light, image of the being always being born in us as we grow and love, die and are reborn in each moment, so a post on magic, a riff on another’s post from a couple of months ago, comes together here.

The Five Counsels of Magical Living

Use what’s on hand.

The hand — four fingers of the elements, a “fifth” of spirit: the five-pointed star of magic, symbol and potency of spiritual traditions Pagan and Christian both. Always a festival celebrating something both new in the world, and always present — divinity incarnate that we can touch and see and hear. (If this world is not a holy place flush with divinity, what world is?)

For balance, I gather the four elements, ask the blessing of the fifth that is always pouring forth unasked. (The asking helps me focus.) Earth my body, water my blood, yes. Words of the old chant. But earth also in each thing, solid and durable, whether difficult or easy, manifesting itself clearly to the senses, saying I am here. Water in the blood, and in snow, rain, clouds, sky, emotion and imagination, intuition and dream, possibility flowing all around me, saying I am here. Slightly less palpable, but only slightly.

Air my breath, and also the breathing of all things on and around us, wind on my face, speech and thought hastening past, wings across the skin, a hint of vista, and distances covered in a moment by thought fast as any falcon. Air saying I am here.

And fire …

Hallow your space-time.

What is the time? We’re always checking the clock, “reading the time”, parceling out our minutes and hours. But how do we hallow it, make it holy, sacred? Do I know? Where can I find out? It doesn’t happen by itself, except insofar as being here is a holy act on its own. Necessary, beautifully necessary: but not sufficient. We get a “minimum daily requirement” of the sacred, enough to keep us breathing, our hearts beating, and the planet spinning, not enough — without our own efforts — to achieve what we’re here to achieve. Don’t know what this is? Few do, completely. Run it “to earth” as the old hunting metaphor has it — such seeking is part of achieving. It is holy, the space-time of our lives that we and the gods together weave and clothe ourselves with.

Make me ever sky-clad to spirit, so I can know its nearness

Focus (on) magic that’s already happening.

What’s already happening? Do I know? (Not from headlines, which rarely tell us what’s really happening, only its consequences. We look at mere symptoms and try to divine their causes, rather than starting with causes and working things out from there.)

Kindle a fire from “dead” trees and living flame bursts forth. Draw a breath and this body lives to move us through experience till it kindles, too, with spiritual energy. The awen is always singing. Am I listening? Where do I hear it? How can I listen more? From the deep we all bring it … How and where are we shaping it? In Annwfn, Abred, Gwynfyd, Ceugant? Where will my actions manifest? How can I improve my choosing?

Magic mirrors where my mind is, mortal and immortal merging …

Put words to it.

Name it, whisper my days. The magical journal, the blog, the diary, the impulse to record, to trace the path we’ve taken this far, is a spiritual one, whatever else may lie behind it. A good half of our naming becomes the next charm, the new spell, the in-cantation, where we sing ourselves into the Ancient Song of existence that is always arriving out of silence.

Name it and “hame” it — manifest it. The “hame”, Old English hama, is a covering, the “natural shape” of things, but also — magically — its astral form. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf gains the epithet Greyhame or “gray mantle” for the cloak he wears. But even as it cloaks or covers him, manifesting him so that others can perceive him, it also conceals his inner nature as one of the Maiar. He is a “spirit of fire” no less than Feanor.

Words make up the golden thread that links earth and the other worlds. Sound, shape, thought, figures carved in stone or wood, printed in ink, fashioned of electrons on a screen.

Let words hame me, let me hame my words, till I can draw the magic deeper into time and space and assist it to take form. Let the Word become flesh. Resist it, and it will take form anyway, but often a nightmarish one, out of the distortions our creative use of our power to block also makes of it. We see monuments of our mis-making all around us in this present world, to temper our future makings, if we choose to learn.

Aim for and with the hame to tame it, reclaim it, see it in others, the same It.

Renew how you ground.

Unbalanced, we fumble through our hours and lives. Ungrounded, we electrocute ourselves with stress, anger, fear, dis-ease. Without a steadying spiritual practice, how can we stay earthed? We all already have a practice — it’s time to explore it more deeply, draw on it, shift it where it needs shifting, reinforce it where it needs reinforcement, grow it and cherish it.

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Pollack, Rachel. Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom. Element Books, 1997. (This is an omnibus edition of what were formerly published as two separate volumes.)

Third Time’s the Charm   Leave a comment

What follows below is just my end of an interesting exchange in a Facebook Druidry group in response to a post of this article of a little over a year ago from the Irish Times: “A Magical Vision is Hidden in the Irish Language — We Need to Rediscover It”.

While I have only a nodding acquaintance with Irish (my chief interest is in the Welsh and the Cornish of some of my ancestors), the Romantic in me says Yes! Anything to re-enchant the cosmos! Some languages ARE inherently more evocative than others, whether from their histories, their associations, or other causes.

If, in an alternate world, Irish were the language of the oppressors, that might not be so; we then might turn to English and marvel at its treasure-trove of words like glitter, gleam, twilight, sparkle, gloaming, sussuration, foresight, insight, hindsight, learn by heart, lore, soothe, cleanse, bask, glean. Or its poetic names for things: bone-house for skeleton, day’s eye for the daisy; heart’s ease, love-lies-bleeding, baby’s breath; coltsfoot, lady’s mantle … Or its names for a host of non-physical creatures: basilisk, ghoul, ghost, unicorn, wyvern, griffin, manticore, fae, undine, sylph, brownie, werewolf

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Bridge near a community stone circle in Northern Vermont

Meanwhile, however, the linguist in me (two Master’s degrees — don’t ask!) notes that languages struggling to keep a foothold in people’s lives tend to receive this ‘hidden wisdom, magical vision, etc.’ treatment in the press. The same is true for the traditions and languages of Native peoples here in the States: in a reversal of centuries of discrimination, the vision of the Other is now superior to what the dominant culture/language/people know or understand. (Older languages in general seem to preserve evidence of more subtle ways of looking at the cosmos that we have tended to discount and cast off in our mad rush into modernity. Old English itself offers marvelous linguistic resources for a Pagan way of viewing the world, to give just one example.)

My third reaction — because the resolution of opposites through a missing third element is always good Druid (magical) practice — says that these two perspectives can be combined to our benefit. Learn the language – in this case, Irish — and then I will be more qualified to determine for myself if such claims (and counter-claims) are true.

Meanwhile, I can enjoy them anyway and let them set me challenges I can choose, if I wish or am shown by the gods, to accept.

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Seeker’s Spirituality Starter-Kit   4 comments

It’s finally arrived! You open a sturdy, medium-sized box and read the small paper insert that rests on top of the packing material. Paper? It might even be papyrus, or vellum …

Dear Valued Customer,

Thank you for purchasing this Seeker’s Spirituality Starter-Kit. We’ve designed your Kit to the specifications you provided us (see your Interview Response Summary, Appendix A and your Karmic Parameters Chart, Appendix B) to help launch you on a marvelous journey that can, if you choose, become a life-long adventure.

While we have made every effort to insure that your kit more than meets your expectations and delivers years of service, please contact our Satisfaction Support Team with any concerns or questions you have about performance.

+ For personalized directions based on your unique spiritual set-points, see Part One.

+ For instructions on how to customize your Seeker’s Spirituality Starter-Kit to fine-tune its performance, see Part Two.

+ For advice on encounters with non-physical entities, see Part Three.

+ For what to do in the event that absolutely nothing happens after you’ve tried everything, you’re convinced spirituality is a hot load of crap, and you not only want your money back, but you’ll see us in court, see Part Four.

+ For techniques to magick yourself home after an accidental mis-teleportation, see Part Five.

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Antelope Canyon, Arizona: Pexels.com

Part One: Your Unique Spiritual Set-points

Among the many transformations spiritual practice can achieve is a shift in our limiting spiritual set-points. These set-points may include being a complete waste of space, an entity currently constrained by self-imposed, indefensible attitudes, false assumptions, enervating predilections, stupid choices, mindless habits, untested postulates, internalized stress, ingrained prejudices, blatant ignorance, and a generalized media-saturated drugged stupor.

Our apologies: the spiritual sub-contractor who drafted the above paragraph has been identified and sacked. His agenda does not align with our corporate best practices. Please consult the revised version that follows:

Contrary to debilitating propaganda we may have internalized from childhood, parenting, school, religion, mass culture, the arts and the influence of any particularly dubious friends, each of us is a unique spiritual being. Fortunately, this demonstrable spiritual fact outweighs all the accumulated negativity of the previously mentioned influences. This point is so vital that it bears repeating: each of us is a unique spiritual being, and each of us is greater than any forces arrayed against us.

Based on the information you provided us, we suggest implementation of these three principles as you try out your Seeker’s Spirituality Starter Kit:

(a) As one of the Wise was careful to teach, the sacred was made for people, not the other way around. Exploring just what that means to each of us is a first and worthy step for many people.

Here is a long human history of seeking for what is sacred, best, magical, joyous and transformative. And here are some practices, powers, places, perspectives, people and purposes that might help. Respect yourself as you respect these things: but if any of them do not nourish what is deepest and best in you, after you have made a reasonable trial of their potential, do not put any more of your energy into them.

(b) While “try everything once” isn’t always the best advice, most of us probably have, in one life or another. Such experiences go far toward explaining the instinctive reactions many of us have, and some of us lack, to certain kinds of opportunities that provide steady headlines for local and sometimes national news.

As another of the Wise has taught us, “How do I make good decisions? From experience. How do I gain experience? From making bad decisions”.

c) “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”. As a statement of spiritual destiny, and also as a means of measuring progress, this wisdom-saying bears out extensive experimentation. After all, the Druids counseled others on walking and spiraling the Circles of Abred [1] [2] [3]. Asking, testing, re-asking, and pushing deeper into “What is the truth of this moment?” can feed the most freedom-hungry soul. (Hint: it may partly be star-light and the music of the spheres.)

You glance at the other section titles, but you want to get started. Those other sections can wait. Still, it’s probably smart to quickly review what’s there …

Part Two: Customizing your Seeker’s Spirituality Starter-Kit

Hmm. Worth looking at, for sure, but I’ll probably know more after I get started.

Part Three: Advice on Encounters with Non-physical Entities

That’s not gonna happen. They don’t exist. No worries there.

Part Four: When Absolutely Nothing Happens: A Few Words to the Oblivious and the Litigious-Minded

Something’s always happening.

Part Five: Techniques to Magick Yourself Back Home after an Accidental Mis-teleportation. Also known as “The Silver Apples of the Moon, the Golden Apples of the Sun”

Worth reading, I guess. Might learn something, though it sounds like a kind of Harry-Potter footnote …

Appendix A: Interview Response Summary

Appendix B: Karmic Parameters Chart

Later. These big-box stores — always too much. Shouldn’t have bought the economy-pack  …

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A Note on Magical and Musical Fire   Leave a comment

In this post I’d like to touch briefly on a couple of magical and musical principles — the two things often overlap, if you’re paying attention. This is to some extent a Druid-Christian post, so some of you may want to spend time doing other things, if that flavor of Druidry — or Christianity — doesn’t work for you. (For instance, the video here drives my wife absolutely up the wall.)

Below is a 5-minute video of a catchy Christian worship song, “Everything Comes Alive”, from Toronto-based “Catch the Fire” [Wikipedia entry | official website], a non-denominational Charismatic movement. It’s part of an album compiled from a 2016 Revival. Recently it was posted to a Christian Druidry Facebook group, where it garnered likes, but — last I checked — no comments. I’d like to do some thinking out loud with and around it, to make some observations, and hope they will be useful to readers.

First, the video, featuring vocalist Alice Clarke, one of the movement’s worship leaders:

The song clocks in at 120 beats/minute — a tempo that’s splendid for inducing trance — and the Wikipedia entry on trance is particularly detailed and useful, whatever your orientation and interest, and deserves a careful reading, rather than me trying to paraphrase it here. And a look at the gathered worshipers shows many of them well on their way into trance as the song progresses, with its repeating choruses and singable lyrics and melody.

A subsection on general brain activity is revealing — rather than an either-or state, trance is a matter of degree and proportion among the four kinds of brainwaves:

There are four principal brainwave states that range from high-amplitude, low-frequency delta to low-amplitude, high-frequency beta. These states range from deep dreamless sleep to a state of high arousal. These four brainwave states are common throughout humans. All levels of brainwaves exist in everyone at all times, even though one is foregrounded depending on the activity level. When a person is in an aroused state and exhibiting a beta brainwave pattern, their brain also exhibits a component of alpha, theta and delta, even though only a trace may be present.

Music, not to belabor the point, is one of the most widespread and also acceptable ways of changing consciousness. It’s also among the safest. (How many of us “zone out” to a favorite song?!) Of interest is the attention that Catch The Fire pays to quality musicianship — whatever your musical tastes, the keyboardist is skilled, and Clarke has an appealing, ethereal voice. They clearly understand its value and power as a prime expression of spirituality. Or to put things in terms of the article on brain activity, “What am I foregrounding today — or right now?”

Though many Christians might take issue with calling their form of worship a magical act, it fits the definitions and standards quite nicely. Much of the difference between denominational Christianity and Druidry in their musical choices depends on past practices, local influences and expectation, much less on the effect of the music on consciousness. From meditative reflection to transitional interlude to invoking the Spirit, the awen, the Muse, the gods, the Presence, “music magics the moment”.

As I note on my page on Magic:

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

As we ponder how to effect the changes in our consciousness and lived experience that we desire (“that we need, that we can do, that needs to be done”), it pays to employ such readily available means as music. Within everyone’s reach is music in some form, either recorded, live from acknowledged performers, or made on the spot by ourselves. We can chant, play a recorder or whistle, find a percussion instrument among pails and cans, create a rattle from pebbles and resonant container of many shapes and sizes, and include such things in our spiritual practice, whether daily, or on special ritual occasions. (I have a small singing bowl I ring as I enter my backyard grove.)

Music draws beneficent energies to us, in our own consciousness, and from other beings around us.

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Working the Tool-kit: Part 3   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

fire-GN

Summer Solstice bonfire, June 2019

Fire!

Or as I said some years ago here, “washed in the waters of the West, energized in Eastern airs, earthed in North’s left hand, fired in South’s right”. Indo-European languages retain indications of just such a ritual orientation, facing East, which many modern traditions incorporate in their ritual and directional work.

Or as Carl Buck puts it in his magisterial work, A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages:

The majority of words for the main points of the compass are based either on the position of the sun at a given time of day … or on one’s orientation, which among the IE-speaking peoples was usually facing the sunrise (‘in front’ = ‘east’; ‘behind’ = ‘west’; ‘right’ = ‘south’; ‘left’ = ‘north’) … (pg. 870/sections 12.45-12.48).

A whole series of meditations and practices suggest themselves for exploration, as I change the ritual directions I face, and sense the Elemental Powers turning around me. Honor Earth and North, and I’ve got Fire, the sun, and the South at my back, and so on. You can, as some have, build up ritual and symbolic correspondences with phases of the moon, days of week, etc., along with the directions, affording a prayer or ritual cycle more intensive than the every-six-weeks of the Great Eight Druid seasonal festivals.

As always, rather than getting hung up over details or “ritual correctness”, or letting the letter kill the spirit, go with what works, what you are led to do, what lines up with other indicators in your life: dream, divination, reading, intuition, experience.

If you’re working with Druidry and Christianity, consider exploring the traditional directions associated with the four archangels, if an angelic connection serves you better. One set of associations from the Hermetic and Qabbalistic tradition orders them like this: Rafael/East/Air; Michael/South/Fire; Gabriel/West/Water; and Oriel/North/Earth. A similar though not identical orientation appears in the Hebrew Siddur prayer-book for evening or bedtime prayer: “To my right Michael and to my left Gavriel, in front of me Uriel and behind me Rafael, and above my head Shechinat El”. (Shechinat El is the “Presence of God”, the Shekhinah, as it’s sometimes spelled.)

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

As mage and author Josephine McCarthy describes it,

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

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

I wrote about one of my most vivid Bardic experiences with fire at MAGUS ’17. I’d invoked fire in my workshop, in a light rain that I kept backing into, out from under the tent where I was talking with the assembled workshop attendees. Fire, as it turned out, was in no way put off by a little rain.

I’ll close this post with that excerpt, which begins after the triple Awens.

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… as Bards know from experience, the awen sometimes has other ideas. Fire gave me an opening line a few hours earlier during dinner. And it kept gathering more lines to it, right up to the evening Fire Circle. Verses kept changing and I didn’t have pen and paper handy, so I kept playing with lines and rhymes and their order. “Fire says improvise” came the first line. I’d invoked fire, after all, during my workshop, in several different ways. What did I expect?! Here’s the poem:

Fire says improvise —
no surprise,
when such orange wonder
seeks out skin and eyes.

Fire can burn all to black
but before
that hot roar lifts me
to soar beyond
anything I thought to think I lack.

Most times I’m no fool —
but how does this jewel
get to be so hot and cool?

Old rule, it says.
Burn madly, gladly,
or — if you must — sadly:
one way only among those other two.
For I will heat you from your crown
to your open-toed shoe.

The fire, friend,
the fire is in you.

Just get up and say it, came the nudge. Doesn’t have to be polished. I delivered the lines, gazing at the flames the whole time, then stumbled back fire-blind to my seat on one of the Fire Circle benches. The version here is close to what I remember saying, probably edited a little. Fire didn’t want an editor. Just flame, large or small. The other Bards obliged, and this eisteddfod was among the most varied and interesting I’ve known.

One of the oldest pieces of spiritual counsel in the Indo-European tradition is this: “Pray with a good fire”.

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Magic, For and Against — A Follow-up   Leave a comment

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

… consciousness has a surface and a depth. The surface is accessible to each of us, but the depth is not. To cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others, the depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough (J. M. Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Weiser Books, 2012, pg. 88).

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

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

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

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Northampton, MA weaving show, July ’19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(2) In what ways?

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

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

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Northampton, MA weaving show, July ’19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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