Archive for the ‘magic’ Category

Six Problems with CAOS   1 comment

CAOS — that’s Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, in case you’re blissfully off the grid, out of contact with modern media, and indifferent to fandom’s predilection for abbreviations. Six “problems” — does this mean I won’t or don’t watch it? No. Otherwise, I couldn’t write about it here with anything valid to say. I’m on my second viewing, in fact. I want to like it, and to give it a fair chance. (I’m even holding out very shallow hopes for the Holiday Special tomorrow.) But too many things about it trouble me, and if you’re a sympathetic reader of blogs like this one, at least some of them should trouble you, too.

Come on, I hear you grumble. It’s just a show. OK, don’t waste your time reading this, then. Allow me my occasional rant. Pop culture holds tremendous shaping power over our psyches — it deploys light, sound, imagery, metaphor, archetypes, emotion — a type of magic all its own.

*****SPOILER ALERT*****

1–Let’s start with the show’s name. I can form my own judgments and supply my own adjectives, thank you. Not that there’s much really chilling here. Some stuff in poor taste, yes. Sometimes out of character, inconsistent, aiming for cheap thrills at the expense of story. New Adventures of Sabrina? Fine. Actually descriptive. Sabrina: The Dark Years? Justifiable, and usefully vague. But chilling? It’s not even accurate as irony.

2–H.P. Faustus Blackwood’s pronunciation in Episode 2 of Samhain as “Sam-main”. Really?! Let me grab my athame “ay-thame”! A minute’s Google search, by showrunner or writer, would have avoided that absurd mistake. It’s a known Irish and Pagan word. A smallish detail? Maybe, but representative of a larger sloppiness. The High Priest of the Church of Night can’t get it right? What authority does he deserve to hold? You don’t want to be jerked out of a created, secondary world by careless errors like this. The Norman Conquest … in 1067. Lincoln assassinated … in Chevrolet’s Theater. You get the idea. A small wrongness like that mangles the whole scene, out of all proportion to its size. I don’t know about you, but that predisposes me to distrust future, larger details. I had a long-term substitute high school English teacher who pronounced epitome as “eppy-tome”. Sorry, but some errors are so blatant they deserve to be pilloried.

Click-baity posts like Screenrant.com’s “20 Things Fans Forgot about the Original Teenage Witch” might more aptly be titled “20 Things Producers and Jaded Viewers Simply Don’t Give a Damn About Today”. A better and much more informative read is Indiewire’s guide to all the references, episode by episode. The show actually includes many such references, to the delight of allusion-hunters everywhere. Why be sloppy with such a prominent one as Samhain?

3–The worst stereotypes of medieval witchcraft and magic-as-Satanism. Book of the Beast. Dark baptism. Blood sacrifice. Covens. (And oddly, patriarchy intact. Why no High Priestesses? Witch Queens?) Goth fashion, out of date well over two centuries ago, but continuously retweaked, now for the 21st century. Magic for selfish reasons, not the good of the whole. Treachery. Betrayal. Magic dependent on outside forces, not mirroring energies found within the self. Magic, in a word, as … dark. The stuff of monsters under the bed. Low astral dreams. Bad trips. Christian nightmares, not the universal, world-wide spiritual technology that’s the birthright of all.

original Sabrina

Cast of the original Sabrina, 1996-2003

4–Sabrina apparently sprung full-grown from Artemis’s brow, second-decade-of-the-21st-century wokeness intact. Girl-power rampant, speaking truth to patriarchal school principals and Witch Priests, fighting injustice, moral code pure and untainted — despite an upbringing by her two often clueless and Satanically-bound aunts, one of whom happens to murder the other occasionally. Not the role models that would ever have produced this prodigy. Not the role-models of the original series, who served as mentors to their niece. Despite a sit-com trend fishing for irony or social commentary, with feckless adults raising enlightened children, it hardly ever works out that way. Add actor Kiernan Shipka’s preternatural maturity lending her portrayal of Sabrina a curious post-Puritan moral absoluteness — until it must conveniently fail, whenever the plot requires chilling. See next point.

5–Justice for all — except apparently when memories need purging, or throats need slitting. Sabrina erases her boyfriend Harvey’s memory when it could prove troublesome — though we’re led to believe she really does love him — and in Episode 8 sacrifices Agatha, one of her Academy of Unseen Arts classmates, without hesitation or reflection, by ritually slitting her throat. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as in real life, actions have real, fascinating and plot-thickening consequences. Not so, too often, for Sabrina. In some ways that’s the most — well, not chilling — perplexing aspect of the show: cause and effect are often in abeyance. What cosmos is this, anyway?

6–“Magic’s not for Mortals”. But for half-mortals like Sabrina, it’s fine! See John Beckett’s Dec. 2 post, “My Biggest Complaint with Magical Fiction”.  All right: you’ve read my takes on magic in previous posts — no need to rehash them here.

Is anybody disposed to argue on behalf of the show and tell me where and why I’m over-reacting?

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IMAGE: Original Sabrina.

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Applied Magic   1 comment

[Part One | Part Two]

If you’ve ever planned for the future, you’ve practiced a form of magic. Wait a minute, you say. That’s not magic.

Sure it is. You have an intention or goal, and you imagine it, seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting it in ways that seem so ordinary and commonplace we mostly pay no attention to the marvel of what we’re doing. Only when we find ourselves saying “But it didn’t turn out like I thought it would!” do we encounter a mismatch between the picture we painted and carried around with us, and the reality as it finally manifested. Obviously we held a pattern, image, blueprint, plan, etc. in our awareness. It took a few side-roads on the way to appearing here, where we can see and interact with it. No matter. More than before. Do it differently. Revise, modify, experiment.

I may be a visual person, or an auditory or a kinesthetic one, or some other kind of perceiver and manifester, by predilection and experience, that doesn’t have a ready label. Further, the event I manifested may or may not match what I expected or hoped, but it did manifest — as it never would have, if I hadn’t set it in motion in the first place. “As above, so below” — in this case, the above was my plan, and the below was the physical form it took. Schools that could teach us how to get better at this ability instead teach almost everything else but that. Often that’s because the teachers themselves have had the ability taught right out of ’em.

Plenty of folks would like to deny us recognition and use of this basic ability altogether, because it’s the key to freedoms and joys of many kinds, and so it cuts into their power plays. Our politicians insist that only they can fix what’s ailing the town, province or planet, our partners insist they’re essential to our happiness (or we are, to theirs). Priests, pastors and imams would prefer we not discover how independent of them we actually can be, so the ability gets labeled evil, sinful, diabolical, dangerous, forbidden, and any other convenient and manipulative name, even though every one of us alive uses it daily in its simplest forms. But the more advanced levels in particular, the ones that grant larger abilities to change and grow, are naturally more dangerous to the stable order of things, and to those who ardently desire to profit from “the way things are”.

That’s one reason fear is such a popular tool for control, and so widespread today. Keep people ignorant and afraid, keep them from using or even knowing the potentials of their own ability, keep them dependent on a big mommy or daddy for a pitiful, reduced version of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and you’re halfway home to power — of a sort.

Cover up the push into ignorance and dependency with a skillful blend of threats and promises, of magicking up a useful opponent to take the fall, the blame, the consequences of the fear you’ve sown in people’s hearts and minds — and there are so many opponents ready to hand — to distract people from what you’re doing to them, and you’re home free.

If you can attack the very freedom you’re taking away as the cause of the troubles the people face, you’ve graduated to “excellent dictator” status. Congratulations! You’ve mastered one form of debased magic, depriving other people of their birthright. No need to argue whether it’s successful — just look at today’s headlines.

If such low and often negative magic can accomplish so much, what of more positive varieties?

0-FoolExperiment with learning more about your animal familiar — an ancient and worldwide practice. Animal guardians and teachers abound in myth, legend and folktale for good reason. Many of us know instinctively why we keep pets, and every year we learn more about the health benefits and remarkable abilities domesticated animals bring into our lives. The tarot Fool sets out on the long journey toward wisdom already accompanied by an animal. Who are your companions and what can they teach you?

Formal study and practice of traditional magic may not be for you, temperamentally or practically. But if you decorate your living space with harmonious colors, bringing in plants and pictures that uplift you and establish an oasis of harmony and balance, you’ve magicked your dwelling to aid you in daily life. Or look at your musical tastes and contemplate the harmonics of sound that feed and nourish you. Investigate the effects and use of song, chant, rhythm, pitch, etc. Drums, bells, musical instruments of many kinds can assist you in sound magic. Again, many religious and spiritual traditions speak to the power of the word, voice, sound of creation, music of the spheres, names of gods and angels, etc. Long human wisdom testifies to the potency of sound magic.

Dream work can help put us in touch with levels of experience and consciousness beyond the daily news awareness that can seem like all there is. Plenty of resources exist for studying dreams, recording them, analyzing them, and learning from what they have to teach us. And inspire us. Work on anything that asks you for creativity, and if you focus long enough, the work will follow you into dream. Write, and your characters will begin to talk to you. Paint seriously, and you’ll eventually see patterns, colors, worlds of beauty inwardly nearly impossible to render with earth tones and hues. Garden, and you may be led to plantings and pairings you hadn’t anticipated, or to resources to help you and your plants flourish. Many gardeners know how restorative the work can be. And so with many professions and occupations. It’s hard in fact to think of one that lies outside the purview of dream power and exploration.

Rachel-Pollack

Rachel Pollack

The Tarot is a course of magical (and life) instruction all by itself. Find a good overview or book of practical exercises. Two texts I can recommend from long work with them are 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack and 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card by Mary Greer. They pair well together, these masterworks by acknowledged masters of the Tarot, complementing each other’s perspectives. When I just checked a few minutes ago, both were available used for $8 or less. Rachel Pollack’s pocket admonition: “To learn to play seriously is one of the great secrets of spiritual exploration”.

Another excellent and quite painless way to acquire a set of vantage points for a magical understanding is to immerse yourself in fantasy and mythology, while practicing visualizations and ritual work with the archetypes present in the latter in particular. Fantasy propels us into alternate realities through the written word, already a magical act. Add the further dimensions that film affords, combining sound and color and embodiment by (usually) skilled actors, and you expand the experience into one quite close to ritual. It’s no surprise that the magical and visionary arts have enjoyed a resurgence in the last century, when we have such preliminary training on hand in these popular forms.

To sum up, then, magic is our birthright, something we practice already, and can explore and refine, like any talent. We shift states of consciousness every day, and what we can’t do in one state, we can often do easily in another. The methods and techniques for shifting, because they bring us to face locks on consciousness, as the previous post indicated, allow us to begin to circumvent, break down or dissolve these impediments.

Then we begin to discover that there are many worlds, and at the same time we discover how to gain access to them, since we intermittently inhabit them already, in moments of heightened experience, in grief, joy, love, exaltation, intense focus and creativity. Each of us is and has a doorway, eventually multiple ones, that we can activate to explore and grow and delight in. And it is there that we meet and shape and begin to fulfill our destinies.

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Expanding — and Focusing — Our Magic   Leave a comment

[Part One | Part Two]

In a recent comment, Steve writes:

A broader definition of magic sounds interesting, especially when compared with some of the ideas about it I have encountered over the years.

Do you have a working definition you could share or is this something you have developed in your blog?

I do have a working definition of magic, and I’ve also written about it in various forms fairly frequently, though not always under that label. But it’s good to regularly take out opinions and understandings, dust them off, rattle them, note what shakes free, scrape off the rust, and buff and polish the rest. So with the spur that Steve’s comment provides, that’s what I’ll do in this post.

Yevgeny-zamyatin

Yevgeny Zamyatin / Wikipedia / public domain

Our definitions come, mostly, after experiences. Before that, we don’t have much to attach them to, and if anyone who’s reading this is anything like me, your definitions at that point may not match things that you later DO experience. So then we get mired in the mismatch, rather than referring back to the original experience. Or — even better than looking backward — experiencing more, other, wilder. So I open up once again a page where I can re-read irascible old revolutionary Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937), whose essay “On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters” reminds me: “Dealing with answered questions is the privilege of brains constructed like a cow’s stomach, which, as we know, is built to digest cud”.

“Privilege”? Tired of a too-steady diet of cud, I aim to forage more widely.

So I’ll begin by asserting we all practice magic, and work outward from there, using this as a core assumption and seeing how it holds up. We do much of our magic half-consciously, so that we often don’t perceive the patterns, causes and effects of what we set in motion as clearly as we might. After all, like most of us, I insist on who I am: in my case, straight, white, male, employed, married, healthy, intelligent, rational. But when even one of these breaks down, as every one of them has for at least some of us over a lifetime, my world trembles violently, even if it doesn’t collapse outright, and I scurry and latch on to explanations for what’s going on.

Isn’t such an interval about the least likely time for any of us to notice the patterns, causes and effects of what we’ve set in motion? And even if and when we do, we tend to account for them only with naturalistic explanations (Pagans may add supernatural but not necessarily more accurate ones), including blaming other people, fatigue, stress, illness, the government, conspiracies, the Man, our reptilian overlords, a loveless marriage, plain bad luck, and so on, forgetting how much even of our conscious experience at the very moment of our explaining has been programmed by education, habit, expectation, culture, practice, a “reasonable explanation”, and a simple, overriding human desire not … to … be … weird.

magic

But … magic?!

At the heart of this often-inaccurate accounting is a precept that disturbs and offends Westerners in particular, taught as we are that we are free and independent beings, with wills and choices subject to our conscious attention. We are not so free after all, but if we can’t even examine this assertion in the first place, what are we to do? If we all practice magic, as I claim, we all need to, because as musician and mage R. J. Stewart observes:

With each phase of culture in history, the locks upon our consciousness have changed their form or expression, but in essence remain the same. Certain locks are contrived from willed patterns of suppression, control, propaganda, sexual stereotyping, religious dogma; these combine with and reinforce the old familiar locks restraining individual awareness; laziness, greed, self-interest, and, most pernicious of all, willful ignorance. This last negative quality is the most difficult of all to transform into a positive; if we truly will ourselves to be ignorant, and most of us do in ways ranging from the most trivial to the most appallingly irresponsible and culpable, then the transformation comes only through bitter experience. It may seem to be hardship imposed from without, almost at random, but magical tradition suggests that it flows from our own deepest levels of energy, which, denied valid expression by the locks upon our consciousness, find an outlet through exterior cause and effect (Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 20-21).

“[D]enied valid expression by the locks upon our consciousness”: we might think such a “locked-up” person simply needs re-education, or better training, maybe positive reinforcement, a decent opportunity. (I note here that it’s almost always some other person who’s the problem, or needs the help — never me. After all, I’m awake and in charge of my life.) This is also where we get much of the American program of self-improvement, “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps”, as it used to be called. Those who can afford it try therapy, or weekend retreats and workshops. Those who can’t may rely on pharmaceuticals or liquor or increasingly available weed. As the evidence mounts, as the growing dysfunction, suffering, addiction, unhappiness and all-around misery attest, something’s not working.

So why magic, of all things? Surely any number of other options would be preferable to something so half-baked, superstitious, irrational, etc., etc. — the list of slanders, some of them justified by pernicious snake-oil salesmen, is long.

J. M. Greer, ecologist, blogger, conservationist and mage, puts it this way:

[t]he tools of magic are useful because most of the factors that shape human awareness are not immediately accessible to the conscious mind; they operate at levels below the one where our ordinary thinking, feeling, and willing take place. The mystery schools have long taught that 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).

To put it another way, in what is not a particularly poetic magical Druid triad: Magic stems from an experiential fact, an experimental goal, and an endlessly adaptable technique.

The fact is that each 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. They serve different purposes, and 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. What we do mechanically and often without awareness, we can learn to do consciously.

The goal of magic is transformation – to enter focused states of awareness at will and through them to achieve insight and change. Often, for me anyway, this is nothing more mysterious than moving out of a negative, depressed or angry headspace at will into a more free, imaginative one, where I can problem-solve much more effectively, and also be much more pleasant to be around. Or so my wife tells me.

“The major premise of magic,” says R. J. Stewart, “is that there are many worlds, and that the transformations which occur within the magician enable him or her to gain access to these worlds” (R. J. Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 7).

The technique — a cluster, really, of practices and techniques — is the training and work of the imagination.  This work typically involves the use of one or more of the following: ritual, meditation, chant, visualization, concentration, props, images and group dynamics to catalyze transformations in awareness. “… [O]ur imagination is our powerhouse …” says Stewart. “… certain images tap into the deeper levels of imaginative force within us; when these are combined with archetypal patterns they may have a permanent transformative effect”.

Ouroboros-benzene.svgEven mundanely, golfers visualize a hole in one, carpenters see the finished design long before it emerges from the blueprint, chemists rely as much on inspiration as any artist for discoveries like that of August Kekule, who dreamt of the structure of the benzene ring via the archetypical image of a snake swallowing its tail.

Furnish the imagination with the food it needs, and it can be a powerful tool and guide. Abandon it to others who do not know us, nor have our best interests at heart, and we cast away our birthright.

PART TWO — Applications — coming soon.

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East Coast Gathering 2018   Leave a comment

[Posts on previous Gatherings: ECG ’12 ][ ’13 ][ ’14 ][ ’15 ][ ’16 ][ ’17 ][ MAGUS ’17 ][ MAGUS ’18 ]

How to convey the distinctive experience of a Gathering? Perhaps you come for a group initiation, having already performed the solo rite.

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initiates and officiators, after the Bardic initiations

ECG initiated 10 Bards, 4 Ovates, and 1 Druid in three rituals over the four-day weekend.

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Nearly-full moon on the night of Ovate initiations — photo courtesy Gabby Roberts

Or maybe the title of a particular workshop or the reputation of a presenter draws you. Though registration records for ECG show that each year about 40% of the attendees are first-timers, guest speakers and musicians play a role in swelling the numbers of multi-year attendees.

khughes

Kris Hughes

Returning special guest Kristoffer Hughes gave two transformative talks: “Taw, Annwfn and the Hidden Heart of Awen”, and “Tarot Masterclass”.

The first talk effectively conveyed how awen is much more than we typically conceive it. As the “Heart-song of the World”, it pervades existence, from Annwfn, often translated as the Celtic “Otherworld” but more accurately rendered the “Deep World” (which the Welsh word literally means), through Abred — this world we live in and conventionally treat as reality, and which Annwfn underpins, all the way through Gwynfyth and Ceugant. As for “the hidden magic that swims within the currents of Awen”, excerpted from the description of the talk on the ECG website, awen is available to us and links us to other beings resting and moving in the Song. And “one practice that can open these connections is to sing to things. Sometimes trees talk, and sometimes they listen. Especially when we sing to them. And we may find they sing back”, Kris remarked.

With his characteristic wit and insight, Kris illustrated parallels between the secular Welsh eisteddfod bardic competitions and the work and practice of Druidry. We want to practice ways to increase the flow of awen, whether we’re poets in a competition or living our everyday lives. “You’re Druids. You’re busy. You’ve got sh*t to do and trees to talk to”.

At the height of the bardic competition, if no poems that year meet the eisteddfod standard, the eisteddfod assembly hears the terrible cry of the Archdruid — “There is no awen here. Shame!” But in most years, when a winner does succeed and is crowned, the Archdruid “whispers a secret into the Bard’s ear, changing him or her forever. Learn what that secret is”. The “appeal of the secret” flourishes long after childhood; Kris remarked that the secret is a three-vowel chant a-i-o, one form of the “sound of the awen”, without consonants, which cut off the flow of sound. So we practiced vowels, with Kris remarking that even the word awen itself, minus the final -n, can serve very well as one form of the chant.

What of the taw of the talk title? It’s the Welsh word for silence, or more especially, tranquillity, translatable, Kris writes in a related blogpost, “as a deep inner silence, stillness and peacefulness … not simply the external expression or desire for Hedd (peace) alone, but rather how Hedd transforms the internal constitution of the individual. And to achieve this we utilise Taw“.

I took extensive notes for the Tarot talk, for which Kris relied to some degree on his Celtic Tarot book, but for this talk on awen and taw,  I listened. Kris writes, “Taw is when I sit in the woods, or on the edge of my local beach, with starlight painting dreams in the night sky. Within it I sit in the delicious currents of Awen and allow it to flow through me. What sense I make of that comes later. How can I hope to bring Hedd into the world if I cannot find the Hedd within myself? If I cannot inspire myself, how on earth can I inspire anyone else? I need Taw to cause me to remember who I am and what I am”.

And he closed this talk, saying, “I’ve been Kristoffer Hughes, and you’ve been … the awen”.

Image at Llywellyn Press site for Celtic Tarot:

khughes celtic tarot

I include this because I asked Kris about his experiences with publishers and about where best to order the book (I like to meditate and ask if I need a particular book rather than buying it on the spot.) Kris said, “Through Llywellyn I earn about $1.40 for each book. Through Amazon, because of their deal with Llywellyn, I earn about 12 cents”. So if you’re inclined to purchase this stunning set and learn Kris’s no-nonsense and eminently usable techniques — “you don’t have to be psychic; you need to be able to tell stories, which is something Druids do” — bear those numbers in mind.

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This year for the first time, rather the ECG staff manning the kitchen, the Netimus Camp staff took over meals, freeing up camp volunteers and doing an excellent job of feeding and nourishing us.

Chris Johnstone’s Sound Healing workshop greeted us Thursday, the first day, an excellent antidote to the stresses of travel to reach the camp, and a reminder, always needed, that we never abandon foundational practices of centering and meditation, ritualizing and balance.

awen--russell rench

“pasta awen” — Druid humor. Photo courtesy Russell Rench.

Gabby Roberts’ workshop, “Energy work–Grounding, Centering and Releasing”, deepened the reminder, and gifted us each with polished onyxes to take with us. “Awareness and Connection with the Land: A Druidic Perspective”, with Thea Ruoho and Erin Rose Conner, detailed the many unconscious moments we can transform in order to be more conscious and mindful living on the earth. Thea and Erin ended their talk with an invitation for us to recycle, burn in the fire circle, or give back the “sacred crap” we can accumulate, that litters our shelves and altars, but contributes no energy.

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Gathering attendee prepping for Druid Staff workshop

I missed Christian Brunner’s provocatively titled “A Journey to the Very Old Gods” due to an important conversation I needed to continue; the same thing happened a second time with Frank Martinez’s “Connecting with the Plant Community Through a Druid’s Staff”. Thus go the rhythms of a Gathering, which for me, anyway, almost seem to require a rhythm that may take you away from one or two sessions to something or someone else, calling you with imperatives all their own.

Most days of the year, of course, we’re all solitaries, whether we practice alone by choice or necessity, or enjoy the intermittent company of a few others in a local Pagan community, an OBOD Seed Group, or a full Grove. Each day we greet the light and air and season, attend to bird and beast and bee and tree, and our own bodies and lives, and listen for that heartsong. So a Gathering, camp, retreat, etc., is no panacea, but it does give us a chance to reconnect, recharge, recalibrate what we do and where we’re heading. Its ripples persist after the “hour of recall” comes at the close of a Gathering.

On Saturday, the last evening, the ECG organizer announced at dinner that this 9th year of the Gathering has seen the fulfillment of its initial goals and will be the last year. ECG has served newcomers well, linked practitioners over the years, offered a family-friendly space (which not all camps choose to do), helped us forge friendships, seeded new camps and Gatherings — including Gulf Coast Gathering and Mid-Atlantic Gathering U.S. (MAGUS), and provided a supportive venue for group initiations for those wishing that experience.

A Council is already in place to help organize a new event that will launch next year, with new energy, goals, and intentions. As the organizer exclaimed, “Watch for it!”

OBOD standard ritual closes with these words: “As the fire dies down, may it be relit in our hearts. May our memories hold what the eye and ear have gained”.

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Images: Kris Hughes; Llywellyn Press Celtic Tarot.

Your Brain on Autumn   Leave a comment

“Human cognitive powers have a seasonal rhythm, and for those living in temperate regions in the northern hemisphere they are strongest in late summer and early autumn”, says an article in the 4 Sept 2018 New Scientist (subscription req’d for full article).

We can assume, in spite of the article’s “hemispherism” (a tendency to privilege the northern hemisphere, or exclude the southern one from consideration altogether), that a similar rhythm holds true for the southern hemisphere in their late summer and early autumn, while the north slumbers uneasily beneath snow and cold in late winter and early spring. Southern friends, if you’re so inclined, bookmark this and return to read it when it’s more seasonally appropriate for your Land.

It stands to reason that harvest, with its demands for food preparation, its expanded food sources and increased nutrition, its social gatherings and preparations for the coming winter, would draw on and amplify human capacities of every kind, cognitive powers included. The lethargy of the heat of high summer has passed, and that crisp tang in the air and the red and golds that blanket hillsides in New England in particular, and draw so many to name autumn our favorite season, all conspire to spur us to activity. In the U.S., schools re-open, and you can feel the tilt and shift of the change from summer from late August through September.

Pagan and Magical Orders have long identified the equinoxes as times of particular inner activity. Initiations in many Orders take advantage of this heightening for its boost to ritual. By pairing our actions with what happens to the planet, we harmonize with currents deeper and more lasting than “what’s new” or what reaches the headlines or media-feeds on our preferred sources of gafs — gossip, advertising, fear-mongering, and sensationalism — that we still call “news”.

For what is truly “new” has of course been going on just beyond our noses all the while. The earth shifts and rebalances every moment. Plants renew the air, and we can keep breathing; they send forth seed and fruit, and we can keep eating. In spite of human assumptions, they’re under no obligation to do so, yet they gift us with their own substance year after year, just as we feed them with our breathing and our waste and our own bodies when they wear out. Break the cycle we’ve built together over eons, each learning the others’ gestures and energies and characters, and the relationship falters, like any relationship we no longer tend.

The initiation of cause and effect, which the Wise tell us we have repeatedly rejected corporately as a planet, has not disappeared or been switched off, or cast aside for something better. It still awaits our preparation and acceptance. With it, we can heal and create and thrive and change. That doesn’t mean it leads to heaven, or the apocalypse, or the Singularity. It’s simply life. And without it, we do what we always do when we reject growth. We stagnate, suffer strange outbreaks of dis-ease, regress, accumulate toxins, bloat, stifle, blame, blunder, and flail about. We cannot stand still, so if we don’t progress, we lurch backward, trampling new growth. The cosmos mirrors itself back in our awareness. We get what we give.

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dew on spiderwebs earlier this a.m.

The first glimmers of acceptance of the initiation spring up around us in individuals who have taken another step. And each of us has, in small and larger ways. Chickens come home to roost politically and environmentally. Mass consciousness shifts by fits and starts, even as individual consciousnesses grapple with change, whether each welcomes or fears it, resists it or works with it. The tipping point, however, is not yet. What we cannot force for the planet, however, we can navigate and midwife for ourselves and our closer circles. This will help more than almost anything else, because it prepares us to weather and grow through further changes and trials, even to flourish, and find joy.

Autumn renews in a different fashion than Spring. We are not seeding, at least not right away. Instead, we gather seed. We take stock, store up, brew, reap, glean. We’re weatherizing, stock-piling, fermenting, pickling, consolidating. We are, in the fuller old sense of the word, brooding, as a hen does its eggs. The soft yet edged light of September bathes days when the sun shows, a goldenrod month, a month of falcons.

Septem is “seven” in the older Roman calendar, the seventh month, counting from the similarly old beginning of the year in March. Seven is fullness, the sum of the 4 of the earth’s quarters and the 3 of the eternal cycle. Now that it’s also the ninth month in most current calendars, it draws as well on the magical symbolism of that number, a three of threes.

Rather than troubling overmuch about whether such associations are “true”, it can be more fruitful to see how and when they might be useful or accurate or faithful metaphors or maps or representations, and for which of the many different states of consciousness we all pass through.

Autumn, like every season, offers itself as a contour map of brains that have evolved over millions of autumns. What we see mirrors the tool with which we see it.

The blessings of autumn on us all.

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Rowan and the Ovate   Leave a comment

As the second tree of the Celtic ogham “tree alphabet”, the Rowan, ogham ᚂ and Old Irish luis, is associated with Ovates, the second of the three Druidic grades in much of modern Druidry.

Rowan, or Mountain Ash, is certainly up to that role, both physically and symbolically.

In Europe one common native variety is sorbus aucuparia; in the U.S. it’s usually sorbus americana. The rowan’s leaves resemble those of the ash, but the two trees belong to different families, the rowan being a relative of the rose. Standing out front of our southern Vermont house, “our” rowan was the first tree to alert me to the attention the previous owner, a native of Austria, devoted to certain plantings on the land. Not hard to notice, when our rowan stands near the road, offering its protection. In fact, roadsides are a common location for the rowan, often planted by bird droppings containing the seeds. Its European species name aucuparia means “bird-catcher” — the rowan attracts birds like cedar waxwings — we often see a flock of them come through in late winter, and strip any remaining berries for their sugars and vitamin C.

(A little digging uncovers research demonstrating the rowan’s central importance for humans as well, particularly in Austrian folk medicine, as an anti-inflammatory and treatment for respiratory disorders, as well as “fever, infections, colds, flu, rheumatism and gout” according to the article at the link.)

IMG_1991

The sky was overcast a few minutes ago when I took this picture. The red-orange berries are still ripening, and will be ready for harvest in October or early November, after a frost. Though our tree bears the brunt of winter’s north winds and a spray of snow and sand at each pass of the snowplow in winter, it’s a tough, scrappy species and still flourishes. Wikipedia notes:

Fruit and foliage of S. aucuparia have been used by humans in the creation of dishes and beverages, as a folk medicine, and as fodder for livestock. Its tough and flexible wood has traditionally been used for woodworking. It is planted to fortify soil in mountain regions or as an ornamental tree.

The rowan’s Old English name is cwic-beam, “quick” or “living” tree, which has survived into modern English as the variant name quickbeam. The name of one of Tolkien’s Ents in Lord of the Rings, Quickbeam is “hasty”; his Elvish name Bregalad translates to roughly the same thing — “quick” or “living” tree.

As a tree sacred to Brighid, the rowan also produces five-petalled flowers and fruit with tiny pentagrams opposite the stem — barely visible in some of the berries below, especially at the bottom left:

rowan berry pentagram

What put the tree before my attention now in particular is an invitation to serve in the Ovate initiations at East Coast Gathering in a few weeks. A rowan stave with a ᚂ on it will make a good gift to each of the new initiates.

The rowan shrugs off cold weather — it can be found at remarkably high altitudes; it flowers in white blossoms in spring and produces red berries in autumn. Thus it earns its nickname “delight to the eye” in the 7th century Irish Auraicept na n-Éces. As a tree to represent the toughness, persistence, and changing work in each season required to pursue the spiritual journey we’re all on, the rowan is a worthy candidate. It is often named the “most magical” of all the trees. As protection against another’s enchantment, it can aid us in creating our own.

Its mythological and folkloric associations are many. (You can find another rich link on the rowan here.) As a “portal tree” facilitating entry and return from other-worlds, the rowan invites contemplation under its branches.

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Image: berries — Wikipedia rowan.

“The Provocations of Now”   2 comments

[Solstice light and fire can fill us with energy to tackle the big stuff.  At least, that’s my sense of this post, after drafting and revising it. Here goes.]

fire circle -- crystal collins

MAGUS ’18 fire circle. Photo courtesy Crystal Collins.

The title for this post comes from a line in a recent column in the UK paper The Guardian. (I routinely skim the foreign press both as an escape from the breathless hyper-partisanship of U.S. media and also for key perspectives often wholly absent from American consciousness.)

Every age has ’em: the issues screeching for our attention, promising imminent peril and world-flattening disaster if we don’t ramp up our paranoia, doubt, fear and despair to the pitch of the writer, pol, preacher, activist, etc., etc. If you haven’t developed a nervous twitch just from hearing certain triggering labels in the 24-hour news-cycle, you obviously haven’t been paying attention.

Which is exactly what I try to practice and quietly urge on others, if they choose to give me space to talk. Often they don’t, and I don’t insist. Stop paying attention, which is a form of our energy, to absolutely everything, just because it asks for it. Pay attention specifically to what builds, to what gives joy and life to you and others. Otherwise, why bother?

What follows is geek-talk, if you’re not a Tolkien-fan. You might as well use the search box at the top left to find a topic that interests you, or wander elsewhere on the Net to track down what will feed and nourish your powers. Surf well.

OK, you’ve been warned.

Remember the Council of Elrond in The Lord of the Rings? In that remarkable extended scene with its many speakers, Gloin recounts how an emissary from Mordor comes to Dain Ironfoot, king of the Dwarves in Moria, and demands Dain’s compliance with a request. Dain answers prudently:

“I say neither yea nor nay. I must consider this message and what it means under its fair cloak.”

“Consider well, but not too long,” said he [the emissary].

“The time of my thought is my own to spend,” answered Dain.

“For the present,” said he, and rode off into the darkness.

We’re always asked to decide, to react — preferably as-quickly-as-possible — but certainly not to spend our time considering the messages we receive, or to originate a response that’s not simply a manipulated reaction for or against.

The time of our thought is our own to spend, if we reclaim it, which is precisely what we need to do if we’re to find a balance and poise that will let us act prudently, navigate our own lives with a measure of confidence and joy, avoid inadvertently assisting the dis-eases of our times, and possibly aid the forces of light.  (Yes, sometimes the admittedly exalted and grandiloquent language of fantasy has its place in a realist view of things. In times that feel over-the-top, eloquence and dramatic language fit perfectly. If they move us in any way to preserve our own integrity, they merit a place in the action.)

And we each need to do this in our own ways, which means no single formula that I or anyone else proposes will suit us all. No OSFA.* The Druid tradition of the triad quietly tells us to look beyond crippling polarities — it bids us ask where the third factor lies, and what it contributes to the situation — but it’s far from the “only solution”. Other factors shape any situation, but threes at least have the virtue of avoiding the potential deadlock of twos. A tie-breaker is built-in, so to speak. Freed from the grip of either-or, many a situation opens onto unexpected possibilities and directions.

I refuse — with the defiant gesture of Galadriel repulsing the Shadow — to spend my hours in despair, like Denethor, who thought he saw truly with his palantir, when all he perceived were the visions Sauron fed him. And a corollary: If I can’t contribute effectively to matters I care about, I will work where I can create and originate something positive, however modest. Instead of complaint, muddying the atmosphere for myself and those around me, I will build as much as I can.

And I vow — with the wisdom of the exchange of Elrond and Gimli following the Council — to keep faith with my own ideals, even as I test their validity.

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,” said Gimli.

“Maybe,” said Elrond. “But let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.”

“Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart,” said Gimli.

“Or break it,” said Elrond. “Look not too far ahead, But go now with good hearts!”

But what does that mean in my case? Showing up to write this blog, I reach 400+ people who find some value in what I say. If I can help raise spirits, I’ve found one way to serve. We each have many, and to identify them and give them attention can be a revelatory experience. We each matter much more than we believe or feel most days. (What dark magic have we allowed to enspell us that we think so little of ourselves?)

Lastly, I swear fealty to what I know of the highest and best, trusting that any purgation I face, should I fall short of my own ideals — as I have and will again, no doubt — will necessarily restore me at length to the commitment and service I aspire to.

There, a triad for myself, and for any others who may find value in adapting it to their situation, experience and capacities.

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*OSFA: “one size fits all” — a personal meme reminding me to suspect the single fix, the one answer, the sole acceptable response, the cloned ideal, the mono-culture, etc.

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