Archive for the ‘magical images’ Category

Aladdin — Parts 2 and 3

[Part 1 | Parts 2 and 3]

This post really combines two sections, Parts 2 and 3 of a series, so it’s longer than usual. But I wrote them as a single document, so for now they’re staying together, because they feel closely linked.

Depending on your interest, you might want to focus on one section and skim the other. The first looks at a specific mini Aladdin-ritual I’ve been exploring, as I draft larger rituals. The second examines the remarkable wider cultural context and background of Aladdin.

ONE

https://i0.wp.com/www.robertphoenix.com/content/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/alchemicalmoon.jpgAll magic is polarity magic, intone some Mages who should know better. On the evidence of her novels The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic, Dion Fortune could easily rank among that magical fraternity. (Popularizations of the idea include Berg and Harris’s 2003 Polarity Magic: The Secret History of Western Religion.) It is true that much magic can manifest through working with polarities of many kinds — it resembles electricity in this regard.

The idea of mystical marriage, of two balancing figures, is an ancient and pervasive one. Christians speak of Christ as groom and the Church as bride. Alchemy is replete with images of kings and queens, marriages and dissolutions symbolizing alchemical and spiritual transformations.

Red King and White Queen: the Rosarium PhilosophorumThe 1550 Rosarium Philosophorum “Rosary of the Philosophers” includes images like the one to the right of the Red King and the White Queen, often used to represent sulfur and mercury, energizing and potential forces or modes. But polarities alone can settle into an equilibrium, or stasis. (We experience this in ourselves;  though expressing both forces at least in potential, we may fear or favor one or the other. In some sense, then, we often short-circuit ourselves on our way to manifestation.) The needed third principle, here represented by the dove of Spirit, energizes the alchemical pair. For this reason among others, Druidry develops the principle of the Triad, sometimes represented in ritual as earth, sea and sky, as a reminder that Three are needed for manifestation. (Polarity, by itself, isn’t enough.)

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One pole of a polarity learning to trust the other.

We can see in Aladdin a marriage of such magical currents. The Princess and Aladdin both catalyze each other. Aladdin’s “chance” meeting with Jasmine in the Agrabah market inspires him to pursue the connection they both experienced there. And Jasmine is able to demonstrate full Sultana authority through her association with this other “diamond in the rough” — she activates his potential, helping him become Prince Ali. As some critics have noted, in many ways the story of Aladdin, especially in the 2019 version, has become Princess Jasmine’s story. For she is the real center and heroine of the drama — a further manifestation and unfolding of the archetype.

Each character mirrors for the other the opportunity to transform and manifest who they already are. Aladdin would never have agreed to seek out the lamp for Jafar had the motivation to impress Jasmine not prodded him to act. And Jasmine would never have claimed her rightful identity without the unmasking of Jafar which Aladdin helps her achieve. Aladdin the skillful liar and “street rat” might never be able to tell the real story of himself without Jasmine. And Jasmine might remain “speechless”, without an equal and partner to help her be heard, to speak with the innate authority and force she already possesses.

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The Princess summoning both the movie character and also her Inner Hakim

Check out the double and related meanings of the Arabic word/name hakim: “physician, wise man”; “ruler”. Jasmine summons these forces after the song “Speechless” which confirms she will be heard.

I’ve been exploring a simple mini-ritual that appears to catalyze this on a subtle level. It involves the hands, those magical implements ready to distribute energy, which feature in all manner of social interactions, theater, and human technology, as well as magic. Think of all the idioms in every human language that involve the hands …

Simply put, using the magical understanding of physical polarity in the human body, I can work with the currents of energy that flow through the hands. The right hand is typically charged opposite to the left, so that a circuit of force exists when we take the hands of a person standing opposite us, my right in the other’s left, my left in the other’s right. We can align this way because we mirror each other, irrespective of biological gender.

The mini-ritual I’m practicing involves that link-up with archetypes from the Aladdin story: manifest a connection with those energies through visualization of such a polarity connection. (Versions of this ritual involving another person assuming the identity of another character archetype from the Aladdin story are something I’m still developing.)

I sit, breathing to center and ground myself. Welcoming the particular figure I wish to work with, I hold out my right hand palm downward, imagining the Other’s left hand in mine, palm up. Likewise, I hold out my left hand palm upward, imagining the Other’s right hand in mine, palm down. Together we form a magical circuit, into which I place my intention, spending equal parts of the ritual listening and visualizing. At the close, I offer the “praying hands” gesture of palm to palm as a salute and closing of the ritual. A further visualization and ritual detail: here I join my polarities into a single gesture, acknowledging how I’ve added to my capacity, however subtly, for manifesting the spiritual wholeness that is my true identity.

This mini-ritual has already proven useful in manifesting changes in behavior I have been seeking, including a break with an old habit that no longer serves me as I age. Having “initialized” the gesture as a magical one with a specific intent, I can now make the gesture whenever I find old thought-forms in my awareness, and tap into the magical transformation associated with the gesture to break down the habits of thought and emotion that accompanied the behavior.

TWO

Even as the magical potential of the Aladdin story took hold of my interest and imagination, some obvious questions came with it. Why look outside the Celtic/Northern European world for magical imagery and practices, when that world is so rich and still not fully explored?

Several reasons. First, the Aladdin story is very widely known in the West — its imagery and symbolism are readily available. Beneath the Eastern setting, the story is one already familiar in the West, because it reflects universal elements found worldwide: the Poor Boy Who Makes Good, rising to the level of his inner qualities, the Quest, the Ruler Constrained by Tradition, the Animal Helpers, the Prince-and-Princess love story, the Evil Sorcerer, the Spirit Guide or Teacher, the Magical Object.

In other words, we’re dealing with archetypes.

Second, one of the strengths of Druidry is how we can adapt it to the land where we’re living. Or more accurately, how the Land teaches us to adapt, if we’re listening. This is one of the signal characteristics of Earth Spirituality. British Druidry isn’t the same as American Druidry, which isn’t identical with Australian or New Zealand practice. Names and places change. The seasons often don’t match up from region to region, the land itself has a different history, with different memories, presences, energies, patterns. No reason to keep a practice that doesn’t fit. Good reasons to adapt practices that do.

Building on the previous point, because Aladdin has Middle Eastern and Asian origins, aren’t these posts also instances of cultural appropriation?

In a 2018 Vox.com interview with Susan Scafidi,  who authored Who Owns Culture?, Scafidi notes “there’s a spectrum of cultural appropriation, from harmful misappropriation to creative and often collaborative inspiration”. The interview offers several excellent examples and links, including controversies surrounding pop stars like Beyonce, Madonna and Bruno Mars that, not surprisingly, were sometimes misinterpreted, misreported, sensationalized and politicized.

Scafidi continues: “Source communities themselves are the best arbiters of what is or is not misappropriation … We would never [be able to] taste others’ traditional dishes, buy unfamiliar ingredients, or create fusion cuisines without this kind of permissive exchange”.

And that brings us to a most curious feature of the Aladdin story: the original 1001 Nights didn’t include the most famous stories associated with it — Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sinbad — until the first translation into a European language in 1704 by Frenchman Antoine Galland. Did Galland invent his own stories to add to the collection? Were his claims to hearing additional stories like Aladdin from the Maronite Christian Hanna Diyab truthful?

You can read historian Arafat Razzaque’s 2017 “Who Wrote Aladdin?”, one study of this fascinating history, here. And more generally, the stories that were mostly gathered into The Arabian Nights, or One Thousand and One Nights, have origins, antecedents and versions in Arabic, Chinese, Pali, Sanskrit, Farsi, etc., as well as a history dotted with forgeries, back-translations, reinterpretations, cultural exchanges between Europe and the Mediterranean, and all manner of intrigue, mysterious informants, lost and recovered manuscripts, and so forth.

Razzaque observes:

It is a shameful legacy of authorship that Galland never once bothered to name Hanna Diyab in his publications. In our haste to dismiss Aladdin as an Orientalist construct, we risk further perpetuating this erasure of someone who has been described as “probably the greatest modern storyteller known by name” (Marzolph 2012).

No doubt, it is important to see “the Arabian Nights as an Orientalist text,” as in Rana Kabbani’s classic critique, and to interrogate the ways in which the 1001 Nights has long been used to uphold absurd stereotypes, not least by Disney. Likewise, as even its Arabic printing history suggests, we must remember how the text’s modern production was often tied up in the power dynamics of European colonialism.

But these necessary critiques should not be at the cost of negating the agency and creative imagination of “Orientals” themselves.

For a racier take, here’s Ha-Aretz‘s click-baity titled but still worthwhile “1001 Lies: Everything You Know About Aladdin Is Wrong“.

If you’re interested in still more, consider the soon-to-be-published book cited at the end of this post. (Its price as listed is well beyond my means, but it should be available through interlibrary loans.)

Akel, Ibrahim, and William Grannara. The Thousand and One Nights: Sources and Transformations in Literature, Art, and Science (Studies on Performing Arts & Literature of the Islamicate World). Brill, 2020.

Publisher’s note: “The Thousand and One Nights does not fall into a scholarly canon or into the category of popular literature. It takes its place within a middle literature that circulated widely in medieval times. The Nights gradually entered world literature through the great novels of the day and through music, cinema and other art forms. Material inspired by the Nights has continued to emerge from many different countries, periods, disciplines and languages, and the scope of the Nights has continued to widen, making the collection a universal work from every point of view. The essays in this volume scrutinize the expanse of sources for this monumental work of Arabic literature and follow the trajectory of the Nights’ texts, the creative, scholarly commentaries, artistic encounters and relations to science. Contributors: Ibrahim Akel, Rasoul Aliakbari, Daniel Behar, Aboubakr Chraèibi, Anne E. Duggan, William Granara, Rafika Hammoudi, Dominique Jullien, Abdelfattah Kilito, Magdalena Kubarek, Michael James Lundell, Ulrich Marzolph, Adam Mestyan, Eyup Ozveren, Marina Paino, Daniela Potenza, Arafat Abdur Razzaque, Ahmed Saidy, Johannes Thomann and Ilaria Vitali”.

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Images: Princess Jasmine from Aladdin; fair use for commentary/derived work; copyright Walt Disney Corporation, 2019.

Aladdin as a Source of Magical Practice — Part 1

[Updated 27 April 2020]
[Part 1 | Parts 2 and 3]

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Princess Jasmine as archetype and spiritual guide

In this post, I’ll be looking at the 2019 version of Aladdin as a source for magical images and practices. [WARNING: Spoilers abound!] On the surface, that may seem a strange and doubtful choice as a source for any kind of magical practice. You may well be asking the same question Jasmine asks in the screen capture above, just a few minutes into the film: Where are we, exactly?

After all, both the 1992 cartoon and the 2019 live-action remake issue from what Wikipedia calls an “American diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate headquartered at the Walt Disney Studios complex in Burbank, California”. On the face of it, you can’t get much less Druidic. Trees, introspection, fire circles and reverence for the Land would all seem to fall away before such a commercial and capitalist onslaught.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you start to discover remarkable things.

A–First Level: Questions and contemplation seeds from the script.

Even if you can’t bring yourself to consider a cartoon and then its subsequent commercial remake (what cynics term one instance in a series of blatant cash-grabs as Disney mines its old hits for reboots) as a source of powerful images and prompts for spiritual practice, it still contains some remarkable lines that deserve repeated attention. Here’s an obvious sampling, making up a symbolic initial set of Nine:

1. How do you find (and polish) – a “diamond in the rough”? (The Cave of Wonders during the opening, and later, and also Jafar’s obsession. Of course, he never applies it to himself. Can I?)
2. Where am I, exactly? (Princess Jasmine, on the walk to Aladdin’s ruined tower after they meet in the Market. How would I answer?)
3. Can you be bought? (Aladdin/Prince Ali’s fumbling suggestion in the Palace scene that he can buy the Princess — or her affection — with the gifts the Genie provides.)
4. Have you lost your country? (Jasmine’s provocative challenge to Aladdin/Prince Ali when Ababwa doesn’t show up on her maps. What is my “native land”? Where am I most “at home”?)
5. Are you who you say you are? (Jafar and Aladdin trade versions of this. Is Aladdin’s attempt to be Prince Ali a deception or an inspired piece of self-invention?)
6. Who/what is worthy of your admiration and sacrifice? (From Jasmine’s speech to Jafar and the assembled Court, and her challenge to Hakim.)
7. Where does your loyalty lie? (Jasmine’s direct challenge to Hakim, as Jafar seizes power. A revealing question!)
8. When did you last let your heart decide? (Aladdin’s famous question to Jasmine in the song “A Whole New World”. Can I answer this?)
9. How could I not recognize you? (Jasmine’s vulnerable — and valuable! — question to Aladdin near the end of their carpet ride, when he convinces her he is indeed “Prince Ali”. Is he? A question also to ask of our experiences: do we recognize them for what they actually are? How can we begin to do so? Being able to ask such questions is in itself a wonderful sign of readiness to grow.)

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Princess Jasmine as a figure of transformation

If I take any one of these for a spin, applying it to myself, I have material for rich reflection and insight. These questions can also form hinge-points in a magical rite, offering ritual challenges for participants, opportunities for ritual responses and actions, and thus cues for writing and shaping ritual that leads outward from where I am right now.

B–Second Level: Companions and Doubles

Each of the three principal human characters has an animal familiar — Jasmine and Rajah, Aladdin and Abu, Jafar and Iago. Jasmine and Aladdin each have a further human counterpart or double: Dalia and the Genie, respectively. Their companions, human and animal, mirror their natures. Rajah channels Jasmine’s regal nature, her unexpected capacity for affection (Rajah stalks Aladdin, but then unexpectedly licks his face), and her fierceness. Abu reflects Aladdin’s own capacity for agility, thievery, initiative and improvisation. And Iago is cynical and sneering, as well as clever and observant. As a creature of Air, he goes up against the Carpet, Aladdin’s magical implement granting him the freedom and mobility of Air. The Carpet is torn, then repaired; Jafar-as-Genie sweeps Iago into confinement in his lamp.

Dalia is a servant to the Princess; Jasmine herself is a servant or captive to inflexible tradition, but also aspires to serve her kingdom as its compassionate leader. The Genie expresses (among many other things) the magical nature of imagination, the power of desire, the importance of openness to wonder and the imagination, and the magical riches available when we begin to explore our own diamond-in-the-roughness. He too is a servant, and like Dalia, in the end he is released from servitude — and made human in the bargain.

C–Third Level: Ritual Assumption, Interaction, Pathworking

(For an “auditory overview” of Pathworking, in case you’re not familiar with it, check out Damh the Bard’s current Druidcast episode 157, and the first interview with Peter Jennings.)

With some time spent in contemplation, divination, imaginative practice and experimentation, it’s possible to derive multiple rituals we can name for the principal characters: Agrabah itself, Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie, Jafar and Sultan. What follows are condensed notes on each one of these.

For elemental balance within rituals, Agrabah as a port city representing and invoking Water (or Earth and Water), the stage and setting for a spiritual drama of transformation; the Genie/Jinni as a spirit of Fire; the Carpet as a vehicle and implement of Air; the Cave of Wonders, the markets, and the desert surrounding Agrabah as Earth.

Aladdin: Invoking the element of Air for inspiration, clarity, lightness and improvisation, I work with seeing these things as external to myself, and needing vehicles like lamp, carpet and Genie to manifest what I lack. Then a ritual transition and manifestation, where I can begin to express these things as aspects of myself, no longer props outside me that I need to acquire.

Jasmine: Invoking any one of the elements — perhaps in a series of Jasmine rites — for the stability of Earth against forces that would minimize, discount and dispossess her; Air for the inspiration and imagination to lead, and the vision that leadership asks; Fire for passion and will — things she reveals most powerfully in the staging of the new song written specifically for the 2019 film, “Speechless” (link to official video featuring Naomi Scott), that has earned over 170 million views since its release less than a year ago. (Still think Aladdin is nothing more than a commercial grab? What need does the song respond to?); Water for the port city and country, and for emotional balance and intuition in handling the new power and love that are coming into her life.

Genie: in early versions of the Aladdin story, there is no limit imposed on the number of wishes the Genie grants: own the lamp and the Genie’s magic is yours for the duration. Likewise, in earlier versions the Genie has no desire to escape limits on his existence and action — he doesn’t yearn to no longer be a Genie, or to become human, or to earn his freedom. He simply does what he is. How can I transform my assumptions and expectations and self-imposed limits on my magical nature? What is my Genie ritual? What would my three wishes be? (Or nine, or some other number?)

Jafar: as another figure representing a stage on the spiritual journey, Jafar is also me. Where can I claim power appropriate to my needs and purposes? Alternatively, Jafar could feature in a “Diamond in the Rough” ritual. How does my animal companion mirror to me what I am doing right now? Where am I imprisoned? What are the lamps that now contain me? What is my Shirabad, the city that made me suffer, and where I long to take my revenge? Is my marriage or linking up with other persons, things or attitudes an opportunity to demonstrate something other than the bonds of love (like Jafar’s almost-marriage to Jasmine would have done)?

Sultan: as a figure of maturity and renunciation, the Sultan is an excellent ritual figure for seeing to the heart, for renouncing power that has passed from me but which I may still be clinging to; for recognizing and honoring the emerging feminine forces in my life; for resistance to manipulation, magical or otherwise.

In the next post in this series, I’ll look at some wider issues that touch on magicking something like Aladdin, including cultural appropriation and Orientalism, casting, character names, and additional pieces of the surprising background of the Aladdin story.

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Images: Princess Jasmine from Aladdin; fair use for commentary/derived work; copyright Walt Disney Corporation, 2019.

From My Archive: “Opening Ritual”

I’ve been clearing out old papers, pictures, magazines, clippings, etc. from over a decade ago. Partly it’s self-quarantine work. Among the items I’m saving are these three, which deserve a post — partly because I have so little recollection of them that it’s like coming on them as new things. So I can be more objective, and maybe even say something useful about them. And also because it’s clear they retain value and efficacy.

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First is a symbol, a quick and then a more elaborated version, to follow up on my post about sigils. It shows one way to work with a symbol, help it come into focus. There’s a definite change and clarification of energy in the second version.

I don’t recall for sure what I was aiming for — the word aksi under the second symbol is the Sanskrit word for “eye” and a good hint. So a stylized eye, a symbol for magical awareness and perception? Was I still working with my group at the time on symbols and logos?

I know I was using a homemade journal personalized with individual pages portraying my own sigil. Building associations with an image, as with a mantra or chant, helps “trigger” us — in a positive way. Doing this work with intention in a group, creating an egregore, grounds such chosen triggers much more powerfully. (For more info on egregores, see Mark Stavish’s Egregores: The Occult Entities That Watch Over Human Destiny. Inner Traditions, 2018.) Using more of the human psychological apparatus to our advantage like this is one further way to live more fully and consciously and richly, rather than at the whim of what Google and Amazon and “influencers”, the stock market or the Party or any Current Government want us to think and do and feel.

Hamlet confronts his former friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Act 3, scene ii) after he discovers they have been informing against him to the King. By way of comparison he asks Guildenstern to play on a recorder he has obtained from the musicians who have just performed. “I have not the skill”, replies Guildenstern. And Hamlet nails them both to the floor with his next words:

Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you
make of me! You would play upon me. You
would seem to know my stops. You would pluck
out the heart of my mystery. You would sound
me from my lowest note to the top of my
compass. And there is much music, excellent
voice, in this little organ, yet cannot you make it
speak. ‘Sblood, do you think I am easier to be
played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument
you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot
play upon me.

Let this be our reply to those who would use us, squeezing from us whatever they can for their own benefit, then abandoning us when we have nothing more to give.

For the difference between your own will and another’s starts small, but soon enough with practice you can wedge your foot in doors you weren’t even aware of before. And then you can open them wider, and walk through. And you can shut other doors that do not lead to your best life.

What kind of doors? The email below details some of what was on my mind that January (email shows American order of month-date-year).

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Finally, this “Opening Ritual” — who was this for? Besides being my practice that spring, I don’t recall. Did I do it as well with my magic group at the time?

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I offer this to you as a short practice for this time. If as you try it out you find it helpful, adapt it to your use. It can help clear the way for prayer, for ritual, as well as serving as forms of these things on its own.

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I’ve added a page of books and links on Druidry, as a stable reference I’ll revise over time. With more material appearing all the time, it’s helpful to refer inquirers to titles and websites I’ve found helpful and to update the document over time.

Sigil Vigil

Heartfelt thank-yous to you, my readers, for bringing page views to 90,000. I’m making a point of posting more regularly during these difficult times.

While this blog seems to be passing through a prolonged dry-spell with few comments, I draw encouragement from a steady international readership that averages about 50 visits a day. If what I write helps, encourages or just entertains you, please leave even a brief comment so I know I should keep doing what I’m doing. Your reaching out really matters and makes a difference!

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Watching for seals. No, not the sea-going mammals this time — the marks, glyphs, signs and symbols that we both make ourselves and also perceive in the natural world.

Tabloids regale us endlessly with pop-culture versions of this — for example, the face of Jesus burnt onto a piece of toast. Equivalent perceptions occur in other cultures with equivalent cultural icons (e.g., Buddha in the sky). Even normally restrained scientists have been known to join in: a 2019 article in Popular Mechanics gushes about the “real face” of Jesus, with this tagline “Advances in forensic science reveal the most famous face in history”. Feel the tug of that headline?

We ask “But is it real?” all the time, of a great number of things, many of which can’t (or shouldn’t) answer.

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MAGUS banner featuring the Gathering logo

Psychology explains these phenomena as instances of pareidolia — if you see the word “idol” within the word, that’s not a mistake. Pareidolia is, to borrow a rhyme, “seeing faces in unusual places”. You might find this article on the topic from LiveScience interesting. Our human tendency to detect patterns in seemingly random visual inputs is what makes the Rorschach inkplot test possible. It’s also part of a complex human survival skill with multiple consequences.

The ability to attend to a pattern, to give it a meaning, empowers signs and sigils, but of course also makes written language possible. The shapes of the 26 squiggles of the English alphabet have little to no inherent meaning (you might argue that the S is vaguely snake-like, and snakes hiss — hence, the s-sound), but humans can detect and assign meanings to a wide variety of phenomena.

An effective sigil or seal can be created as a doorway to memory, to specific states of awareness, to understandings that may not stay with us while we’re dusting the shelves, changing a diaper, emailing the boss, or cooking a meal. But we can shift consciousness at will with the aid of a seal or sigil and know and do things otherwise beyond our capacity. Our schoolteachers know the value of holding a student’s focus and attention — these make all the difference!

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doodles for Druidry and Christianity logo — cross and grail

Christians wear crosses, Jews the Star of David, and followers of other traditions their own meaningful symbols. We also doodle both new and repeated shapes and signs, and we can expand on this human tendency and engage with a whole symbolic language if we choose.

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Tolkien’s initials as logo

Books on sigil making and sigil magic — the conscious seeking, design and use of signs and shapes to change consciousness — can of course assist. But the ability already lies in each of us — a birthright.

Tolkien invented a sigil from the initials of his name (JRRT) that now appears on his books and has become a trademark of the Tolkien Estate. Companies and organizations know that a distinctive and readily recognizable logo is often a key component to visibility and reputation and success.

To point to just one immediate use of sigils anyone can put into practice today, in these times of distraction and seduction by social media, and by fear and anxiety, our corresponding ability to attend to what we choose, rather than an advertising campaign or a news outlet or political party, is a priceless human gift.

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publisher logos on book spines — Pagans know the Llewellyn moon!

Place a meaningful sigil where I can see it during my day, write, paint or carve it on objects I use regularly, or sit with it in meditation, and I have a ready tool for shaping consciousness, guiding it toward my own purposes and desires, and focusing the energies that come through it into channels and actions that help, uplift and empower me.

And Josephine McCarthy, to choose just one author whose books are on my shelves, knows the value of a sigil as a distinctive cover for a book.

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May signs point to good things for you!

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Images: Magic of the North Gate cover; Wikipedia for JRRT logo.

Images and Imag(in)ing

[Updated 12 March 2020]

(Elizabeth Mayor is one of the artists at
Two Rivers Printmaking Studio
85 North Main Street, Suite 160
White River Junction, VT 05001 USA.)

fox-em2Up to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center again this morning, for a follow-up to a series of tests and nuclear medicine imaging scans (good news, nothing worrisome at this point: “watchful waiting” for now), I finally remembered on this fourth visit to photograph some striking prints I’d spotted on the walls of one corridor and seek out more info on the artist.

The med center is about as comforting as a hospital can manage to be, with soft colors, open bright spaces, plants, paintings and photographs. You can visit here for a good sample of the art on display.

owl-em2These two images are part of a series of five animals by Lebanon, NH artist Elizabeth Mayor, and labelled “gift of the artist” to the hospital.

I love their energy and lines. They have a kind of shamanic vision quality to them. Fox and owl are my favorites of the five. I’ve emailed a contact person on the med center website for more info on the artist, and will post it here if/when I hear back.

These feel like spirit guides for the dark half of the year.

Two nights ago my wife and I were awakened by coyotes yipping outside our front door. I’d left some spoiled food outside the door, intending to dump it on our midden out back, and forgetting about it altogether in the middle of dishes and writing and stoking the fire and bringing up the laundry to the drying racks — the usual tasks of winter.

The coyotes’ midnight song reminded me.

Here are images for dream-work and meditation. They may not resonate for you like they do for me. I present them as examples of finding art (and supporting artists whose vision moves you) and feeding your imaginal and imagining self. As the intermediary between realms, imagination asks for our loving attention, and I continually try to make space for it and for the imaging-working self, which seeks out representations, doodles them, paints and draws and photographs them if we give it a chance and the materials, carries the images into dreams, and works with them in ways words cannot accomplish.

Praise to the Nameless that looks out through my eyes with me, through all our eyes at the other eyes looking back!

As St. Francis remarked, What we are looking for is what is looking.

I continually try and often forget, till an image grabs me and nourishes a hunger I’d forgotten to attend to, and then I’m off again, the imaging self making and playing with pictures, a language older than words.

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Photos of prints by Elizabeth Mayor, Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Dated article on Mayor here.

Making the Most of “Magic Sunday”

Here we are, on an excellent day to test our actual as opposed to our rationalized beliefs: It’s “Magic Sunday”. What’s that, you ask (if you haven’t already read the day’s numerological clickbait)?

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A “sugar-shack”, New England Imbolc — the start of maple syrup making

Whether you deploy the European sequence of day-month-year, or the North American one of month-day-year, today is 02-02-2020. A palindrome, the same sequence backwards and forwards. You can read more about it in the middle-market, slightly left-leaning USA Today. (I monitor a range of about a dozen papers spanning the political spectrum. Leftist hysteria balances rightist hysteria, sort of like stomach acid and an antacid, except not.)

After reading the article, ask yourself: do you feel your mood or perspective even slightly altered, knowing the rarity of a palindrome date like today’s 02022020 sequence last occurred some 900 years ago? (See Palindrome Daypalindrome date.) Of course, if you keep reading, other similar dates loom in the next two years. Anticlimactic?

Try doing a task today, specifically focusing on the rarity of the date as a source of empowerment — even, or especially, if you don’t believe in such things.

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Now add to this the celebration of today, at least in North America, as Groundhog Day (No shadow! Early Spring! Go, Punxsutawney Phil!). And Imbolc. Does that change anything for you?

The foregoing is an illustration of our varying susceptibility to what’s been called “magical thinking”.

I find the term less than useful, because it’s often disparaging: irrational, superstitious, and so on. Instead, let’s look at all such things simply as inputs. Inputs surround us continuously: the weather, our diet, home, job, nationality, other affiliations, memberships and identities both chosen and inherited. What do we grant access to our mood, attitude, perspective, belief system, emotions? What operates largely below our level of awareness, as a sort of background hum? What do we resolutely shut out so decisively that it can gain little traction with us (even if it impinges subconsciously)? Do we even know?

Take it as a “Druid challenge”, or a bit of research, a holy ritual, a game — whatever makes it useful and engaging to you.

And if so inclined, try a form of alchemical magic most everyone uses — coffee, or a little sugar, in the form of maple products, sweets, cookies, candy — to satisfy that midwinter carbohydrate craving — and give you a “magical” sugar or caffeine buzz. Now that you’ve magicked yourself, explore what comes next.

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Image: Wikipedia sugar-shack.

Some Notes for Druid-Christian Ritual Design

In the previous post I looked at the beginnings of a Druid-Christian ritual, letting the two traditions talk to each other through their images, rather than drawing on theology or metaphysics. (Druids and Pagans generally do have theologies — many of us just haven’t explored them in great depth or gotten them down in writing yet. Practice usually is more interesting, anyway.)

Name a purpose, and we can draft a Druid-Christian rite for it. Want a wedding, or a blessing, or an initiation? Both traditions have rich materials to draw on. Among other references and resources, Isaac Bonewits discusses ritual design at length in his book Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals that Work. Note Isaac’s focus on public: I use private Druid-Christian rituals that might not appeal to others, given our different histories and experiences with religions.

beach

Shansui, the Chinese word for landscape: “mountains (and) water”

Already tired from too much thinking? Use the image above. Enter the scene. Walk that beach. Feel the warm, wet sand between your toes. Feel the wind play through your hair. Listen to the awen of the waves, calling. Salt air, seagulls.

Looking for a calendar, a whole set of practices and observances? The Pagan festival year lines up quite well with classical Christianity, for reasons that have been thoroughly (endlessly) explored and documented. Who knows how many Pagans sit in pews with Christian relatives at Yule and Easter, knowing other names, and sensing both kindred and at times estranged presences and energies?

For foundations for daily practice, one need look no further than the example of J M Greer’s The Gnostic Celtic Church, where Greer notes:

… personal religious experience is the goal that is set before each aspirant and the sole basis on which questions of a religious nature can be answered.

Greer also asserts as a piece of (Universalist) belief:

… that communion with spiritual realities is open to every being without exception, and that all beings — again, without exception — will eventually enter into harmony with the Divine.

What do I want and need? Do I even know? How can I find out?

The world’s spiritual traditions offer hundreds of variations on practices to answer just such questions. It’s good to check in from time to time, asking such things, living with the questions till they bud and leaf into answers, or into more beautiful questions.

As Mary Oliver sings, “So many questions more beautiful than answers …”

We change, and our practices need to keep up. Singing the awen, or other sacred word, is one tested and proven practice most traditions put forth for those seeking a new path, or a new branching along a path we know already. I sing till things clarify. Often for me this may take weeks, or months even … “Patience”, says one of the Wise. “Is not this our greatest practice?”

(But I just want to get to patience NOW …)

smudging

Smudge the whole cosmos, if necessary

Greer outlines practices for those interested in exploring a “Gnostic, Universalist, and Pelagian” Druidry. The ceremonies, rituals and meditations include the Hermitage of the Heart, the Sphere of Protection, the Calling of the Elements, the Sphere of Light, a Solitary Grove Ceremony (all but the first deriving from Druid AODA practice), and a Communion Ceremony that ritualizes the “Doctrine of the One”:

I now invoke the mystery of communion, that common unity that unites all beings throughout the worlds. All beings spring from the One; by One are they sustained, and in One do they find their rest. One the hidden glory rising through the realms of Abred; One the manifest glory rejoicing in the realms of Gwynfydd; One the unsearchable glory beyond all created being in Ceugant; and these three are resumed in One. (Extend your hands over the altar in blessing. Say …)

If you tried out Greer’s prayer above, who or what did you bless? If you didn’t, why not try it now? Say the words aloud …

Looking for a short form? Abred (AH-bred), Gwynfydd (GWEEN-veeth), Ceugant (KAY-gant).

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I’ve looked before at these lovely Welsh names for the levels of being according to Celtic lore:

With the love of triads and threes that marks so much of Celtic art and story, it’s no surprise that the Celtic conception of our spiritual journeys should mirror this same triplicity. From the starting point of Annwn, the Celtic Otherworld, we move forth and back through three states of manifestation and consciousness, in a kind of dance that sees us revisiting old lessons until we’ve fully mastered the material, spiralling through different forms and perspectives.

Most of us hang out for a considerable time in this present world of Abred, this place of testing and proving. From here we proceed to Gwynfyd, a world of liberty and freedom beyond the pale shadows of these forces in our present world. Back and forth between Abred and Gwynfyd, with dips into Annwn here and there. And last comes Ceugant, an unbounded, infinite realm. By definition, no end point, but a new beginning. The horizon recedes.

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And lest someone coming to the beginnings of Druid-Christian practice from the Christian side wonders how to begin with all of this stuff, consider this.

Nicholas Whitehead opens his curious book Patterns in Magical Christianity like this:

Christianity is a magical religion. This is not so controversial a statement as some might think. For all religious traditions are potentially magical by the simple fact that they embody or employ symbols, myths and rites that are mediatory, that intend or enable the translation of spiritual energies between levels of reality (pg. 13).

The author outlines a set of characteristics of such magical symbols, noting they

  1. “are inherently appropriate”. He gives the example of a plant, with roots in earth, flower in the air, and “within its stem the life bearing sap rises and falls. Because of its intrinsic structure, the plant is a symbol for the ideal spiritual life … we live upon the earth, with our roots within the land. We are nurtured by the soil in which we live. Yet, without losing our connection to it, it is our destiny to rise above the land, to flower in the crowning glory of the light … Again note that we cannot make the plant into a symbol. It is simply is a magical symbol by virtue of its inherent structure and its role in the rhythmic life of the cosmos”.
  2. “always participate in a greater reality”.
  3. “enable the translation of energies between levels of reality”.
  4. “are trans-rational”.
  5. “are polyvalent”.
  6. “tend to assemble in groups” (pg. 16).

Of course there’s a tremendous amount to unpack here — which is why it takes Whitehead a book to do so, along with a set of exercises he has developed in a workshop in order to put these precepts to the experimental test. Rather than debate them, which is a head trip I (mostly) don’t plan to take, they’re worth simply trying out, just as one would test the statement that water freezes at a certain temperature, rather than debating whether the claim is true. Of course adding salt, raising a wind over the surface, setting the container in a vacuum, and so on, all change the experimental parameters.

In the same way, my beliefs, intention, mindset when I experiment, past experiences, and spiritual awareness will all figure quite largely in any results I achieve. I’ve found I’m more interested in learning how certain things are valid or operational for me. That is, do they help me get somewhere worth reaching? Otherwise, an inner nudge or whisper usually alerts me: Move along — these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Later I can play the thought and reason game for what it’s worth. Sometimes a lot, sometimes quite little.

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IMAGES: Pexels.com

Greer, John Michael. The Gnostic Celtic Church: A Manual and Book of Liturgy. Everett, WA: Starseed Publications (Kindle)/Lorian Press (paper), 2013.

Whitehead, Nicholas. Patterns in Magical Christianity. Sunchalice Books, 1996. (More recent editions exist, though I haven’t yet been able to find one.)

Binding, Blessing and Changing

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Depending on your media choices, you may have heard of the recent (Feb. 24) magical attempt to “bind Trump”. You can check out one version here. The more elaborate versions plan for similar recurring monthly rituals during the waning moon until the President has been removed from office. Sympathetic magic, but highly problematic.

The effort and its announcement set off predictable responses in many quarters, from Breitbart (“A group of witches is attempting to use black magic to neutralize U.S. President Donald Trump by casting a ‘binding spell’ to prevent him from governing”) to People Magazine (“organizers of the demonstration have vowed to cast binding spells on the 70-year-old on the midnight of every waning crescent moon until Trump is removed from office”). The National Catholic Register issued its own take here, highlighting from its perspective the negative (literally diabolical) energies powering such binding spells, and pointing out the dangers of such workings and also the ineffectiveness of curses on the faithful Christian. AM New York offers a suitably occult image to head its article. (I urge you to read this post and all its links with an eye alert to unintended ironies.)

Patheos blogger and Druid John Beckett posted a balanced, thoughtful and thorough assessment here: “Why I’m Not Participating in the Mass Binding of Donald Trump and What I’m Doing Instead”.

As some wiser heads have pointed out, it’s true magic can “grease the rails”. Used skilfully, it helps move energies along trajectories already established. Magic catalyzes change — it aids tendencies, and adds to existing momentum.

Try to magic your way through a strong headwind, however, whether physical, political or psychic, and your chances of success drop significantly. You’re going up against the flow of things. Planning a morning sail? With any sense, you check a barometer and weather reports before weighing anchor. You have a careful look at the skies yourself, taking into account local conditions and your own prior experience. If those signs are good, consider your crew, your boat, the tides. Watch the seabirds, the wind, the smell of the weather over water as you stand on the shore. Ponder those clouds on the horizon. In other words, to switch metaphors, magic can be part of the recipe, but neglect flour, water, eggs and sugar, and even the best magical yeast has nothing to work on.

Among several other cogent points, Beckett astutely sums up the issues with selecting Trump as an appropriate magical target: “Trump is a Symptom of a Deeper Problem, Not Its Cause. Blow up the Death Star, stake the head vampire, kill Hitler, and everything is all good and fine. Our popular culture tells us that if you remove the head, the body will die. Reality is rarely that simple”.

For my part, I prefer blessings, partly because I have to question my motives and the extent of my knowledge. Binding successfully asks a lot of the magical worker. In my experience, blessings, even low-level ones, practiced over time, transform consciousness more subtly but at least as effectively, and — significantly — without the conflict, coercion and energy blowback of most bindings.

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me” isn’t bad as an initial practice, till you can see your way more clearly. In the interim, you may find peace isn’t actually what you wanted anyway. Clarify your motives and you’re already a step ahead of most who work for change, with or without magic.

magastickerTrump’s campaign slogan, widely mocked, is “Make America Great Again” (MAGA). As a positive if vague goal, it’s one to assist, while reinterpreting it more inclusively, regardless of whether its original formulation is some sort of white nationalist code. Reinterpreting — a form of steering — is something magic can do well.

druidessAnd as someone primed to look for signs, and work creatively with them, I’ll take that campaign slogan acronym MAGA and reinterpret it in Druidic terms — as a female magical energy: magus, mage or magician, and its feminine form, maga. What feminine magical energies are lacking in my own consciousness (to say nothing of those at work publicly  shaping one of our current realities)? Stopping’s harder than steering what’s already in motion. What energies can I manifest, starting in my own life, to find balance from which to act most effectively? And then how can I encourage those energies to flow outward from there?

For that is what we are: magical transformers, all of us. We distribute what we accept and create. Together, we make the worlds.

*Solwom wesutai syet. SOHL-wohm WEH-soo-tie syeht. “May it be for the good of the whole.” That’s where I strive to root my magic to begin, however often I may get blown off course. (And part of my own magical work is to find ways to let the winds pass by. Trees bend when they can, rather than break. Weak? Passive? How about “still around to make a difference”!)

Got questions? Dispute my assessments and conclusions? Doubt what I or other authors have asserted at the links provided? Try these things out for yourself. Then your opinion is founded on knowledge and personal experience, not supposition and untried assumptions. In the process, you’ll grow and understand your life better than before. That’s a good foundation for any magic.

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Images: Gandalf; MAGA sticker; druid.

*reconstructed Indo-European.

Thirty Days of Druidry 21: Beltane 2016

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[Here are some previous posts on Beltane: a 4-part series, Touching the Sacred; and the Fires of May.]

Once again we’re about a week out from the holiday, close enough it tugs pleasantly at awareness. Here in Vermont, in the northeast U.S. where I live, the last few days in the 70s F/20s C confirm that winter’s gone, though nights below freezing are still a possibility. I remind myself from now till June that it snowed on my May birthday the year I was born. Weather, life: stick around long enough and you find anything’s possible.

beltaneOutward from the merely personal to a group I practiced with the longest: students at the boarding school where I worked for 16 years. Our last and best effort was a truly elaborate Beltane. We devoted a lot of time to preparation, reserved a spot on the school’s Great Lawn (associated with the annual graduation picnic for the whole school community and parents), put up attractive color posters (see the image to the right), and even inspired our student president to spring for the cost of a whole roast pig.

Beyond our small group of eight, just three other people came.

We’d even begun forming a magic study group, devising our own sigil with input from each member, and generally carrying on in magically appropriate ways: sharing and describing our imaginative/astral visions until they took on a life of their own, balancing our elemental energies, ascertaining each member’s strengths and limits for later ritual work, and so on. To those who exclaim “What?! Are you insane?! Working magic with adolescents?! Nutter! Whackjob! Fool!” I reply only that we had multiple safeguards in place.

momTo the left is one version of our sigil, drawn with magic marker on a student’s sketchpad, which I share here — “Guard the Mysteries! Constantly reveal them!” — for the benefit of those curious about the lineage and origins of such things.

Some readers may cluck their tongues knowingly and go on to detect “influences.” To which I say only: That’s fine. But these kids didn’t “know” anything about the Golden Dawn or Euro-alchemy or similar things. Spend time in ritual and you too will find that valid images continually reconstitute themselves in the imagination. If I had the sketches each of them made to include here, the connections pointed to a shared experience out of which they crafted the sigil. The Cross, the Cup, the infinity symbol, an upsilon, the axial symmetry — as far as we were concerned, we were onto an experience and a realm worth exploring. Our truth against the world’s.

As for the sparse attendance at Beltane: each group forms around and operates on its own harmonic. We ate well, sent leftovers home with everyone, and chalked up our rather large budget shortfall to the frequent mismatch between inner and outer worlds. Our next fundraiser only just recouped the outlay; balance restored.

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Beltane, like the other “Great Eight” festivals* of contemporary Druidry and Paganism generally, draws on a swirl of energies as democratic and mongrel and vital as you could wish for. Find a circle to celebrate with, or if you prefer or are gifted with solitary practice, get outdoors, invite the season, contemplate on images and energies alive and at work in your awareness. Bring them into some physical form to ground and manifest them in your world. We all need reminders to help us through those “difficult” days with humor and grace and even, spirits friendly and stars favorable, with gratitude. What better than something that’s come into your world through you?

 

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*The “Great Eight” festivals of the Wheel of the Year

October 31 – November 2: Hallowe’en, Samhain/Samhuinn, All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Todos Santos, Day of the Dead, Dia de Muertos.

December 20-22: Yule, Winter Solstice, Alban Arthan.

February 1-2: Imbolc, Oimelc, St. Brigid’s Day, Groundhog Day, Candlemas.

March 20-22: Spring Equinox, Ostara, Alban Eilir.

May 1: May Day, Beltane, Bealtainne, Walpurgis Night.

June 20-22: Summer Solstice, Midsummer, St. John’s Day, Litha, Alban Hefin.

August 1: Lughnasad/Lunasa, Lammas(tide).

September 20-22: Autumn Equinox, Alban Elfed, Mabon.

 

Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”

[This Related Post: Arthur]  [Sex, Death, Etc.: Part One | Part Two| Part Three]

Like their kindred words in the other Celtic tongues, the syllables* of this Cornish saying still echo, telling of the “Once and Future King.” They assert a living archetype of a king born in fulfillment of prophecy, a ruler recognized and granted kingship by the Lady of the Lake, a leader who struggles, fights and dies for his people. The king is the land.

Arthur1

Arthur from the Matthews’ deck

Nyns yu marow Arthur myghtern. “He is not dead, king Arthur,” the story continues, but sleeps, and will wake at his country’s direst need, and return. The king is the land.

Arthurian tarot decks like John and Caitlin Matthews’ Hallowquest, Anna-Marie Ferguson’s Legend and Stephanie and Philip Carr-Gomm’s Druidcraft packs often depict the archetypal king as card 4, the Emperor. This is Arthur as anointed ruler, secure in his kingship, enthroned, crowned and robed in power.

But surely what moves us more is not merely this static image, forceful though it can be. The young Arthur, ignorant of his destiny, is also the seeker, the Fool, the first card in the deck, a numerical 0. In Ferguson’s Legend deck he is Percivale, the callow and naive youth. With both Guinevere (Welsh Gwenhwyfar, “White Shadow”) and his own sister Morgan (with several other variants of her name) he is one half of the Lovers. And at least in the Matthews’ conception, he is the Wounded King, and also the Sleeping Lord.

The progression, as in most tarot decks, is the journey of the self toward fulfillment, wisdom, self-awareness.

As a tool for Druidic meditation and ritual, the Arthurian mythos offers rich and profound material. Map our lives onto such a mythic pattern, and we can animate energies to manifest the next step on our spiritual journey. At every point we spiral. We can look at all the steps, all the places on the curves and whorls of the spiral, as potentials for us — right now. Not later. Not after we do or learn or master or win X. Now. The king who will be, but sleeps, is a potential which can guide the questing boy who will be — and who also already has been — king. What might the king say to his younger self? What gift might our older selves pass to us right now, insight or wisdom or counsel we need as we grapple with problems, as it can often feel, in the dark?

So many traditions around our planet speak in their own ways of time and space as illusions. This need not mean they are not real, but rather that we need not accept our agreement with an illusion as the last and defining word about our lives. They don’t have to be the only reality. By playing a game with time, we can slip into past or future through memory and daydream, to the point of no longer “being here” but “someplace else” instead. And we’ve all experienced this.

For we do this effortlessly, ever since childhood, a natural talent, a birthright, a skill we keep all our lives, unless it’s been largely chased away and beaten out of us by our culture, teachers, parents, our own self-limitation, habits of thought, and so on. “Head in the clouds, dreamer, impractical, unfocused”: words so many of us may have seen in school reports, job assessments, personal evaluations. Or maybe we suffer from the opposite pole, and more and more of the lightness and joy has been leached from our days through routine, day to day cares, deadlines and installments and bills and mortgages and the nightmarish hope of someday “catching up” or “getting ahead” or “arriving.” Always, it can seem, one pole or the other. But polarized things gather power. That’s why an illusion can grab and hold us. But that’s also why change and growth and exploration are also — always — possibilities. Poles hold the energy for entrapment, but also for transformation.

sleepinglord

The Sleeping Lord (form outlined in the hillside under the hawk)

These images and this millennium-old mythos provide a wealth of meditation seeds, portals to discovery, and material for ritual that Arthurian orders of ritual and magic explore, but which are also perfect for solitary work, too.

Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth can be a contemplation seed (it’s one of mine), a cue to open the imagination to possibility. (I use it as a tool, a charm, a spell, a mantra of magical power. Pair it with an image, an object, an intention — intention being the flame which, I find, lights everything up.)

And if I’m willing to step across one more boundary, ritually priming myself with a “For behold: now am I ____ !” I can explore all the characters in the Arthurian realm. Taliesin-like, I can be the Green Knight, invulnerable to mortal blows, and Morgan and Merlin, Nimue and Mordred, too. What does it feel like to die as you kill your uncle-father (Shakespeare’s Hamlet knows!) in fulfillment of a prophecy from a time before your birth? What does it mean to lie asleep, waiting to fulfill a royal destiny? What part of me sleeps right now, that I can rouse if I choose? Or like Ygraine, Arthur’s mother, to carry an unborn child in my belly, a king, gestating and brooding and nourishing new and royal life from within? Or what can I see as Merlin in his cave or tower, looking up and down time itself, living backward as in T. H White’s version of the Arthurian boyhood story, The Sword in The Stone?

Then to close the rite, the meditation: “And now have I returned.” A simple formula, but helpful, to ground the meditation, to signal a shift of reality. (Return is as important as departure.) Open your eyes, and record what you experienced. In this way, over days and weeks, you build an increasingly persuasive document that can help loosen the hold of the illusion of this time, this place. Each time I sit to meditate, the pages telling of my previous journeys in front of me, the grip of illusion eases. For these two things, time and space, can be potential gifts, or they can remain prison walls. They’re a choice, if I choose them, rather than a given, if I merely accept them.

The Seeker from Matthews' deck. The Rainbow Path we're all on ...

The Seeker from Matthews’ deck. Before us all lies the Rainbow Path.

Figures as diverse as Henry Ford and physicist John Wheeler get credit for versions of the saying “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” It’s a way of ordering experience, making it intelligible to human consciousness. And so is space, which — to follow through on the whimsically powerful definition and construct its corollary — “keeps everything from happening here.”

Starting small, with the trick, if you will, of imaginative magic, will begin to unfasten the iron clasps around consciousness. It’s just one way, of course. Traditions in and outside of a whole range of religions and spiritual paths offer many tools and strategies for accomplishing this change, if we wish it. But these particular images and this story have spoken for a thousand years to many people, and the Arthurian drama that can be a mirror and key to our mortal and spiritual lives shows little sign of a diminishment of its power to move and inspire — and transform. Sleeper, whispers a whole nation of people inside each of us that we have been and are being today and will be someday, a multitude of selves. Sleeper, awaken to your crown and to your destiny.

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Images: Matthews’ Arthur, card 4; Matthews Sleeping Lord; Matthews’ Seeker (Fool in other decks) with three choughs (a raven-like bird) overhead.

*Note on pronunciation: The -gh- of the Cornish word myghtern “king” is essentially the same sound as in German “Bach” and close to English “h” in “aha!”: mikh-tayrn comes reasonably close for ritual purposes: AHR-thoor MIKH-tayrn ah VEH hahg ah VEETH.

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