Archive for the ‘MAGUS’ Category

Linking Our Times of Fire

srinivas-anandapic2

photo courtesy Srinivas Ananda

Here’s a set of lively images from just a couple days ago of Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Society’s 2019 celebration. Twice a year, at Beltane and Samhain, the Society stages an event featuring fire, drumming and dancers drawing upwards of 10,000 spectators.

Past posts on this blog may help provide inspiration for your own observances and practice.

• Two recent posts on Beltane 2019 — my own local Druid group’s ritual and a reflection on Beltane north and Samhain south.

• What is it with fire and Beltane? Well, the name Beltane itself, according to some etymologies, means the “Fires of Bel”.

• In my “30 Days of Druidry” series, I take up Beltane again — the ancient Celtic fire festivals of Beltane and Samhain still live in many forms today. A local example — a group of Morris dancers (article, pix and short amateur video) braved a chilly May 1st morning yesterday on nearby Putney Mountain, VT, to “bring in the May”.

• In 2015 I wrote this series of posts on “touching the sacred” — something we can often do most easily through fire and fire festivals. No surprise that cultures around the world have for millennia recognized fire as a sacred metaphor and vehicle. Let me take you there, says fire (and also Led Zeppelin’s vocalist Robert Plant, especially in “Kashmir”. Lack direct access to transformative fire? A shaman like Plant can help!).

• “The Fires of May, Green Dragons and Talking Peas” assembles the words of bards and a set of images to suggest to ear and eye what it is we seek and thrive from when we find it.

IMG_1862

wooden totem at Four Quarters Sanctuary, PA

• Want to experience a taste of a larger Beltane Gathering? Here are posts from 2018 and 2017 on the first two years of the Mid-Atlantic Gathering.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Ritual Rummaging

John Beckett (6 January 2019) writes:

A ritual is a series of interrelated actions designed to accomplish a spiritual goal. It may be a celebration, but it’s more than a party. It may honor certain spiritual persons, but it’s more than singing praises. It may work magic, but it’s more than a spell.

Couple this succinct overview of ritual with OBOD founder Ross Nichols’ “Ritual is poetry in the world of acts” and you’ve got a fair bit to go on, if you want to do some rummaging about in ritual spaces and energies.

ross_nichols

Ross Nichols leading a procession of the Cornish Gorseth in the 1970s. Wikipedia Creative commons.

For starters, form matters. What makes a lively seasonal festival ritual more than a party? After all, some parties also have a form. If it’s a birthday, maybe there’s a welcome period for everyone to assemble, settle in and get something to drink. Then food — a buffet or even a formal sit-down meal — followed by presents, and then games, or dancing, or some other group activity. Or maybe the whole evening is food, mingling and music, with presents dropped off on a designated table. There may be formal start and ending times, or apart from one announced activity — often, the food — there’s no set beginning or close. “Show up when you can”. Still, people often know what “birthday party” typically means. There’s some kind of loose format in most people’s expectations, unless the invitation says otherwise.

If a ritual has assigned roles, it can begin when all the participants have assembled. Beckett talks about how ritual ideally doesn’t have an “audience”. While it’s a performance, no one should be so detached as to be merely a spectator. At our most recent Vermont OBOD seed group celebration of Winter Solstice, we held a ritual “post-mortem” discussion as some dishes for our potluck dinner were warming in the oven. With just enough members attending that foggy evening to carry out the ritual-as-written, it’s true each of us “had a part”. But more importantly, as one member observed afterward, it’s what we do with and for other participants during the ritual that makes the difference. “I support them”, she said. While one person is assigned to speak the words that “call North”, for instance, everyone else can do so, too. Add your intention. Feel the direction. Visualize, sense it on your skin. Imagine the participant serving as North to be garbed appropriately for the direction, crowned and armed with symbols of earth. In fact, if we expect North or any of the other directions to manifest and be a palpable presence, just such group energy and support are essential. Otherwise, what are we doing calling the directions?

I’ve queried the opening words of the standard OBOD ritual format before, in previous posts. “By the power of star and stone, by the power of the land within and without, by all that is fair and free, welcome to this Rite of …” Lovely, but what IS “the power of star and stone”? And if I don’t know, then how do I know I want to call on it, invoke it, welcome the assembled group with and by it? Is it the same as “the power of the land within and without”? Do either of these have anything to add to our rite?

Or let’s say I chose to forego seeking and supplying a merely intellectual equation: “power of land = X”. I let the words move me wherever and however they’re meant to, trusting the ritual and relying on our group’s reverent and “heart-ful” performing of it to answer such questions in due time, if at all. Let the intention and the energy of the assembled members carry me over any rough spots, and all will be well. OK, but then how do I support the herald who proclaims these opening words, if I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing? If we all imagine different things on hearing the words, we generate a diffuse generic energy (or nothing much at all) that may not come anywhere near to what the “power of star and stone” could do, if we knew what we were about.

Mean clearly, and you can carry people with you.

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

franco-zeffirelli-1968

Olivia Hussey as Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version of the play.

Listen to an informed performance of Romeo and Juliet and when Juliet says these words, it’s the third “Romeo” that she stresses: “O, why do you have to be Romeo? Any other name would be fine. But no: you turn out to belong to my family’s enemies!” If you don’t know what you’re saying, you can’t mean what you need to mean. The words won’t mean what they could. Understand what Juliet says, and her next lines make perfect sense:

Deny thy father and refuse thy name
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy …

birth2_opt

Dionysus in ’69. Photo by Brett Brookshire.

Because drama is a component of ritual, films and plays have something to teach us about owning the words and actions of ritual in deep and creative ways. Ancient Greek drama was sacred to Dionysus. In Athens, no weapons were allowed in the theater precinct during the Dionysia Festival of tragedies and comedies. The ritual of theater was an act of worship, a sacred thing dedicated to the god.

Serious about addressing ritual glitches, the crew of MAGUS ’17 asked participants to memorize their parts. Come ready to speak with intention, since you won’t need a piece of paper in front of you. Improvise, once you know the energy of the traditional words. Call North, and let us hear and feel North. I was North, a small but important part. I did call North, with original words and images I’d been composing orally — I felt their power myself — then flubbed a short line North says a page or two later that I couldn’t remember and couldn’t for the life of me find, for an ungodly amount of time, as I pawed through the printed ritual in my hand. Ritual flow broken, I finally found my place and shamefacedly read off my line.

Fortunately, Druids are forgiving folks. It both did and didn’t matter. Ritual isn’t made or marred by a single person. Smiles and laughter heal many a weak line reading, dropped candle, overenthusiastic blessing with water. It took time before I could laugh, because I was so annoyed at myself — all the more reason I needed to.

Contrast this with my Ovate self-initiation: my wife away for the weekend, all lights in the house extinguished except for a single small candle. I sit on the floor in a dim and flickering circle of light, words of the open and closing ritual at hand, but foremost in my awareness a dedication I speak as the words come to me, along with a palpable sense of witnesses around me as I proceed. The ritual pacing my pace, the words my words, the experience my own and that of those who, I sense, share it with me. Powerful, personal, memorable, unscripted at its peak, and especially potent for that reason.

The two poles of ritual? Both valid, necessary — and each distinct.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: Ross Nichols; Juliet; Dionysus in 69.

East Coast Gathering 2018

[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.

IMG_2027

initiates and officiators, after the Bardic initiations

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

ovate-moon-groberts

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.

/|\ /|\ /|\

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.

IMG_2038

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”.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: Kris Hughes; Llywellyn Press Celtic Tarot.

A Druid Way Celebrates Its 500th Post

A SPIRITUAL TOOL

When I first started blogging here in October 2011, I simply knew I wanted to think out loud about the turns in my journey. Begin the journal or blogging habit and, depending on its focus, it can turn at length into a marvelous spiritual tool. Journey, journal — there’s good reason the two words are linked in several European languages.

What you’re reading now marks my 500th post. To paraphrase Lao Tzu with a simple but slippery truism, a blog of 500 posts begins with a single word.

Philip Carr-Gomm, Chosen Chief of OBOD, writes about blogging:

Just as the spiritual path can be characterised as the ongoing attempt to both remember yourself and forget yourself, so blogging can be seen as a challenge to both be more personal, more open, more sharing of the riches of a life and at the same time to take yourself less seriously, to let go of the concern about what other people might think about you, and to reveal rather than conceal your curiosity and amazement at the often crazy world you find yourself in.

YOUR SUPPORT

I’ve also appreciated your support over the years, readers. Who knew that a blog that explores sometimes obscure philosophical issues, includes book reviews and article critiques — also sometimes on obscure topics — and recounts spiritual experiences issuing from the cauldron blend of two quite different minority spiritual paths could eventually draw, if WordPress stats can be trusted, an average of 35 readers per day from over 142 countries?

A DRUID WAY “Top 20”

Here are the posts you’ve voted with your pageviews as the all-time Top 20 — since inception.

Shinto – Way of the Gods — actually a group of posts on Shinto, beginning in 2012. A Japanese life-way that sustains much Druidic energy. Imagine North America or Europe with a comparable practice and ancient tradition …

Fake Druidry and Ogreld — this one struck a nerve in 2013, and occasioned a few sequels since then about an imagined “One Genuine Real Live Druidry”. Several readers missed the intermittently satirical tone and the point that “what works” is what matters, not lineage, however old.

A Portable Altar, a Handful of Stones — a 2012 post which discusses how an altar “gives a structure to space, and orients the practitioner, the worshipper, the participant (and any observers) to objects, symbols and energies.  It’s a spiritual signpost, a landmark for identifying and entering sacred space. It accomplishes this without words, simply by existing”.

About Initiation, Part 1 — the first of two posts from 2011 on this perennially popular topic.

Grail and Cross—Druid and Christian Theme 5 — one of the most popular posts from a 2017 series.

Beltane 2015 and Touching the Sacred — a post about a major spring/summer festival and its imagery — why wouldn’t it be popular?

A Review of J M Greer’s The Gnostic Celtic Church — published in 2015, while Greer was still active Archdruid of AODA. The text reflects some of the fascinating blends of Druidry and Christianity that have been manifesting.

East Coast Gathering 2012 — the first of my reviews of ECG, now in its 9th year.

MAGUS 2017: The Mid-Atlantic Gathering U.S. — a burst of Beltane energy from the third of the major U.S. Gatherings after ECG and GCG (Gulf Coast Gathering).

The Four Powers: Know, Dare, Will, Keep Silent–Part 1 — one of a 2013 series.

The Four Powers: Know, Dare, Will, Keep Silent–Part 2 — the second of a 2013 series on the Four Powers behind magic.

Opening the Gates: A Review of McCarthy’s Magic of the North Gate — a 2013 review of British magician Josephine McCarthy’s book, written in part based on her experiences in the U.S.

Magpie Religion — the only post from all of 2014 to make it into the Top 20. Read it and ponder why, as I still do.

Romuva – Baltic Paganism — a 2016 post on a remarkable European Pagan movement.

Inward to Ovate — This 2015 post detailing my move from the Bardic to Ovate Grade in OBOD, in addition to a respectable number of views, has also earned the curious distinction of attracting by far the most spam of any post on the blog. The secret must lie in certain keywords in the text that spambots love to pursue …

The Fires of May, Green Dragons, and Talking Peas — a 2012 post about Beltane that pulls in allusions and references from spirituality and literature.

Fighting Daily Black Magic — a 2015 post on the greatest practitioners and targets of black magic — we ourselves, against ourselves.

Keys to Druidry in Story — the second of two posts from 2011, about the origins of some of the most widely-used training materials in contemporary Druidry.

Earth Mysteries – 1 of 7 – The Law of Wholeness — a 2012 series reviewing Greer’s book, in which he reworked the seven cosmic principles of the 1912 Kybalion into a text on ecological spirituality.

About Initiation, Part 3 — another in the 2012 series on a potent subject.

And a BOOK

Here’s to another 500 posts! And to a book, now in reasonable draft form, that draws on themes and topics from the blog and that will be seeking a publisher in 2019.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Review of “Falling in the Flowers”

srinivas-anandapic2

Photo courtesy Srinivas Ananda.

Granderson, Benjamin and James Granderson. Falling in the Flowers: A Year in the Lives of American Druids. Amazon, 2017. Kindle Edition.

stones-anna

Stone Circle at Four Quarters Sanctuary — photo courtesy Anna Oakflower

The Granderson brothers, a photojournalist and ethnographer team, key their book to the general reader, taking care to provide a short introduction to Paganism and some of the main strands of contemporary Druidry. But given their focus on a particular OBOD Grove, Oak and Eagle (hereafter abbreviated OAE), and largely on the two leaders of the grove, David North and Nicole Franklin, the text has a valuable immediacy often lacking from such studies. The 97 color photos also go far to bringing the reader into an experience of living Druidry, and grounding it in vivid sensory detail. (Respecting copyright, I include other images here to enliven the text of this review.)

The Grandersons are also careful not to generalize too far from their experience embedded with a specific Grove. Benjamin writes:

Unlike my previous project on Paganism, this work is a tighter focus; one which examines a very select group of Pagans who follow a specific Druid school of thought: The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, or OBOD for short. Starting with Dave and Nicole, my brother and I investigated the lives and practices of these individuals who called themselves OBOD Druids (pg. 10).

In addition to taking care not to paint all Druids or even all OBOD members with the same brush, the authors nevertheless back up assertions like the following with specific examples, detailed description and photos.

Since the OAE is more intensive than a typical Seed Group, the core members are very tight-knit and comfortable with one another, and often consider the others to be close friends and confidants. From woodland camps to the living rooms of suburban houses, there is a clear culture of openness, where one moment raucous drinking and jokes are interspersed with moments of deep discussion and potent ritual (pg. 23).

One comes away with the impression of the significant trust the OAE members placed in the Grandersons, and the authors don’t betray this trust in intimate portraits of OAE members and their practice of one form of 21st century Druidry.

planning-for-ovate-init-gail-nyoka

David North, second from left. Photo courtesy Gail Nyoka.

Catching David at a point near the completion of his Ovate studies, and the transition of OAE from Seed Group to Grove, Granderson perceptively observes,

While what constitutes “completion” of the course material varies from person to person based on the correspondence between them and their mentors, before all else, a person’s evolution through the grade work determines if they feel like they have achieved balance (pg. 35).

Much of the non-hierarchical and non-dogmatic character of OBOD comes across in comments like these, in large part one of the signal accomplishments of OBOD’s current leader, Philip Carr-Gomm.

The authors also show themselves sensitive to picking up on Druid cultural practices:

(a) widespread hugging in greeting and farewell, often even among those meeting for the first time;

(b) the relaxed quality of “Pagan” or “Druid Standard Time”, in which events happen in a fluid and intuitive way, not on a strict schedule, but more when the group as a whole feels ready, and almost everyone alert to group energies feels a subtle shift toward action;

(c) unspoken taboos against bad-mouthing other Druid groups (in part because people are often members of more than one, each affording a unique set of teachings and perspectives), and

(d) a kind of ritual respect, so that during unscripted moments in ritual, when attendees are invited to toast, offer thanks, blessings, prayer requests, etc., one forgoes invoking a deity or energy out of keeping with the group, or exclusive to one’s personal practice.

Part of the authors’ experience drew them in deeply enough that the boundaries between observer and participant start to blur. Undesirable as this continues to be in good ethnography, it confers the authority of personal witness to what the Grandersons can recount:

I situated myself on the floor, text in hand, and I began reading. The text started off like the beginning of the Imbolc ritual, with the calling to the corners and the centering of the self. While I read the text aloud, Dave moved from corner to corner of the room, gazing into the expanse—at what I did not know. The text then changed, and from that point onwards I began to lose any understanding, only picking up something about ancestors. I was intent upon trying to guess when to stop to give Dave time to perform the ritual, while also fighting my excitement about getting a good photo (pg. 81).

Something of the eclecticism present in OBOD practice emerges. While much of the study material is Celtic in origin or spirit, OBOD members come from such varied and often mixed backgrounds that the OBOD ethos encourages members

to throw away selectivity and investigate and study the wisdom and traditions of all their ancestors, spanning time and geography, to form a complete profile that honors all of those that came before … to be open toward other traditions and practices that do not belong to one’s ancestral background, and to be willing to recognize wisdom and truth no matter what source it comes from (pg. 89).

Recording the mood, participants, ritual actions and aftermath of several of the Great Eight seasonal festivals of Druidry and Paganism generally, the Grandersons caught the generally relaxed ritual mindset, as well as the personalities of individuals:

There were some slip-ups, with a ritual participant or two walking the wrong way at first, starting a line too late, or failing to light a candle due to a stubborn lighter. An occasional glance would be cast at Dave or Nicole, seeming to seek their validation. Dave looked on stoically, though always welcoming and patient; he knew from experience these rituals were never flawless (pg. 109).

Though much of modern Druidry is indeed visible, or at least detectable with some modest effort at inquiry, if one is interested, there is a quality of what might be termed “spiritual privacy” to even its public rituals. This is a cherished skill among the Druids I know, one for intermittent discussion, certainly, and always a matter of judgment and discretion. Each person assesses the line he or she prefers to observe in how public the individual practice of Druidry should be. The Grandersons capture it well:

OAE wasn’t afraid to be out in public, but they made that public space private. They didn’t hang a sign up saying, “Druid Meeting Here,” or make announcements on a loudspeaker. They also chose a pavilion that, by design and location, created seclusion; it was a reserved piece of land that they sanctified, and they created an island for themselves for a day. Again, this speaks to the contemporary Druid’s ability to take what is modern—a state park pavilion—and make it ancient, carry out their practices in the open air, and somehow remain largely hidden (pg. 124).

The authors divide their book in to poetically captioned sections: Introduction; What is A Druid?; Opening the Door; Naked Before the Full Moon; Into Spring; Beltane; Branching Out; Trip to Four Quarters; The Latter-Half of the Year; Living with Dave and Nicole (a ritually full time, with a wedding of Druid Hex Nottingham and his wife Daisy, East Coast Gathering, a baby-naming ceremony during the same Gathering weekend, a local Pagan Pride Day, etc.); A Detour to New York (with an interview with another Druid, Nadia Chauvet); and The End of the Journey.

img_1247

cabin banners at East Coast Gathering

This review has focused more on the first half of the book; the second half builds on it, with more interviews of members we have already encountered, and observations specific to their experiences.

magus-beltane

MAGUS Beltane fire-circle. Photo Courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers.

In sum, I recommend this book to the “Druid-curious” for its detailed reporting and photography, and for conveying, as close as text and photos can, something of the experience of what doing Druidry actually feels like. And to those familiar with Druidry who may also know many of the Druids it portrays and interviews, it’s a pleasure to read and ponder. Finally, as an insight into the energy, organization and personalities behind the very successful MAGUS gatherings of 2017 and 2018, it also deserves exploration by anyone interested in contemporary Druidry and in organizing focused and effective Pagan events.

/|\ /|\ /|\

“In the Eye of the Sun”

[Updated 14:26 8 June 2018]

Þurh mægen steorran and stānes,
þurh mægen þæs landes innan and ūtan,
þurh eal þæt fæger biþ and frēo,
wē ēow welcumiaþ tō þissum,
ūrum gerȳne þæs sumerlīcan sunnstedes.

Sometimes you need to see the familiar with new eyes. Above are the common opening lines of OBOD ritual for celebrating the “Great Eight” annual festivals — in Old English.

The exercise isn’t meant to obscure the words or come across all mysterious — here they are in more familiar guise:

By the power of star and stone,
by the power of the Land within and without,
by all that is fair and free,
be welcome to this our ritual
of the Summer Solstice.

And as usual, words set me thinking and asking. (Join me in mind-mode.) What IS the “power of star and stone”? We say this, or at least hear it, eight times a year, every six weeks or so. Is it the same thing as the “power of the Land”? What is the “Land Within”? The Otherworld? My own imaginal experience of the outer Land? And what’s excluded from “all that is fair and free”? All that is “homely and bound”?

Dude, just enjoy the poetry of the lines! And I do.

But does it matter that in the fourth line the Old English reads “we welcome you” rather than “Be welcome”, because it sounds more natural that way? Is any part of ritual “natural”?!

(And the people all answered “No!” “Yes!”)

What do I do with the word “ritual” itself? The OE word (ge)blōt means “sacrifice” and has Asatru associations which belong more fittingly to Northern Heathenism with its offerings to Northern gods, and less to Druidry. The OE word I chose, geryne, is related to “rune” and is a plural meaning “mysteries”, but that’s not exactly right. (I mean, yes, there are mysteries, but the rite isn’t for “members only”. If it’s public — in “the eye of the sun” — you can come and stand in the circle with us, whoever you are, as long as you’re respectful, and participate in mystery as much as any of us. Do we have tools that can help matters? Of course. Otherwise, what’s a Druid? But the “first Druid” started where any visitor can start — in curiosity, gratitude, reverence and even — though the word’s out of fashion, now — awe. Not awe at our amazing Druidness. Awe at being here, alive, at all.)

And hālgung — “hallowing or consecration” — no, that’s not quite right either. The elements, the day, are already hallowed and sacred. That’s why we’re celebrating them. We consecrate or hallow our awareness — I’ll grant that much.

No exact translation. We get it. But it’s more than that.

By tradition, from the Druid Revival onward, most Druids hold major rites “in the eye of the sun” — in public, where guests are welcome. Join British Druids at Glastonbury, or any of hundreds of other spots around the world where the Summer Solstice gets celebrated Druid-style. It’s all there for anyone to hear.

True, you probably won’t attend one of the all-night vigils some Druids observe before the Solstice, so you’ll miss the great conversations that often happen around night-long fire-circles. (You can stay up through the shortest night of the year on your own, or with friends.) Many “9-to-5” working Druids need their sleep and can’t take part. But carry the kinds of questions I asked above with you into such spaces, and you may well receive insight. Probably indirectly. Even if you ask outright, someone may smile and change the subject. Those particular questions simply don’t interest them. How this batch of mead turned out, or what last year’s ritual foretold, or whether the gods really reward the effort to learn the languages of those who revered them in the old stories — those things, now, they deserve pondering and reflection.

IMG_1936

Above is the ley line stone I brought back from MAGUS ’18. It’s “cooled off” since the ritual, but it still hums in the hand. Power of star and stone indeed. For a small stone, it’s curiously heavy. I chose it because its hue recalls the ochres, rust-browns and other shadings of many stones in the great stone circle at Four Quarters Sanctuary which hosted our Beltane gathering. Take a look at the shot of the Circle below and you’ll see what I mean.

ancestor-altar-in-circle-w-flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

“In the Eye of the Sun there are no shadows”. Really? Sometimes stone wisdom arrives, all authoritative-like, and you find yourself wanting to accept it. It came, after all, gift-wrapped, unbidden, dropped on your inner doorstep, sitting there glistening with morning dew when you opened the inner door to your Grove. It sounds true. And so on.

Not everything stands forth in bright light. And more likely I remain, rather than blessed or cursed with certainty, perpetually astonished instead, my mouth open in an O of surprise, just like the stone head of the Ancestor on the altar above.

I didn’t get to the stone-carving workshop that weekend of MAGUS, so mine remains blank. I’ve thought of it since as a Daoist “uncarved block“.

There’s been a bit of banter on Facebook since, about how centuries from now, anthropologists and archeologists may uncover our stones etched with ogham and wonder who put them there. Mine will settle contentedly into the earth, causing no such inquiry. Its power may have no words except the ones I give it, but power remains, wordless, a thrum on the edge of hearing. It talks with no words to the other stones from the ritual.

Jesus was talking to the Pharisees; he said about his disciples, “If they keep silent, the stones will cry out”*.

The stones cry out anyway, to anyone listening.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*Luke 19:40.

Postscriptus Magicus

Inspiration, the awen of the Bard, isn’t all or nothing. Sometimes you get one corner, a kind of foothold, a vantage point, enough to see more, to see a whole landscape through a window just before the window closes.

fireecg16

The house of fire —
no closed doors —
only porches and windows
opening onto flame.

A few notes for other stanzas, and that was it. But sometimes a fragment is enough. You can jump-start with it, from it, months afterward.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Sometimes, likewise, if we’re open and available, the trees really do tell us what we need.

I help oak, and oak helps me —
we’ll join to hold the energy.

This little rhyme came to me while we meditated at the foot of an oak — part of our ritual prep for the main ley-line rite at MAGUS ’18 last weekend. As much as the oak ogham stave in my hand, the rhyme helped me focus during the ritual. Our outer duir oak ring was charged with gathering and holding the energy the ritual would generate, until the moment our ring moved to the center altar and charged the stones waiting there. One fellow outer-ring participant said it felt at first like a very small pup trying to corral a very large beach ball. But then we joined together to “become one big-ass dog that could tackle it”.

Not surprisingly, the carefully-planned ritual generated a lot of power. I know I can often be slow in picking up on magical energies flowing around me. “Obtuse” wouldn’t be too harsh a word, much of the time. So I knew I had to deal with doubts about my usefulfulness as well as concerns about my vulnerability.

Now it’s easy to rationalize almost all magic. I do it myself, and I often do it well. But rather than debating whether it — or any other experience — is “real” or “genuine”, I can opt to apply different criteria and free myself for more useful tasks. A good logic-fest can be fun at times, but it’s often a tail-chasing exercise. Whether we’re falling in love, writing a song, painting, gardening, caring for others, or working with a dream journal, logic typically isn’t the first or the best tool to employ. A chisel, sandpaper, a potter’s wheel — all produce markedly different effects. They’re so not interchangeable!

Philip Carr-Gomm addresses the issue in his characteristically understated way. In this short Youtube clip he proposes something other than logic for looking at and assessing experience:

Rather than obsessing over whether an experience is true or genuine, I can contemplate its effect on me and my life. Have I benefited from the experience? While not all experiences are easy or painless, is the insight, perspective or compassion for others than I have gained worth it? “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

Sometimes, a full answer to those questions may not come for months or years. And that’s OK. By themselves, experiences can resemble an afternoon at an amusement park. Pay your money, get your experiences. But their long-term effect and value is a more helpful measure of their worth.

/|\ /|\ /|\

MAGUS 2018: Mid-Atlantic Gathering US

[Go here for my post on MAGUS 2017.]

SPRING!

After a hard winter in much of the U.S., a vigorous flourish of Spring greeted participants of MAGUS 2018 arriving in south-central Pennsylvania at Four Quarters Sanctuary. Blessings of Beltane!

srinivas ananda pic1

photo courtesy Srinivas Anand

flowers -- fae hanks

photo courtesy Fae Hanks

srinivas anandapic2

photo courtesy Srinivas Anand

EMBODYING SACRED TIME and SPACE

The 2018 Gathering theme “Sacred Time, Sacred Space” emerged in a closely-linked series of workshops preparing the ground for the main ritual of the Gathering.

The saying “If you build it, they will come” has now passed into common lore, but a variation of it is also beautifully true: “If they come, you can build it.” Plan thoroughly, call the Tribe, put your heart into it all, and group magic happens with each person contributing. This holds true each summer for Four Quarters’ “Stones Rising” festival, when another stone is erected in the Stone Circle using neolithic methods, sweat and determination. And it certainly held true this Beltane.

stones -- anna

View of a portion of the Stone Circle. Photo courtesy Anna Oakflower.

THURSDAY

After an 12-hour drive from Vermont to Pennsylvania, broken by a stop-over in Binghamton Wednesday night at the house of an OBOD friend also attending the Gathering, we arrived in time to settle into tent and bunkhouse, and attend the first workshop Thursday afternoon, “Envisioning the Future of American Druidry”.

Dana led us to examine what, after all, we do as Druids in the 21st century in this land. What matters to us? What tasks come to our hands as a result of being alive now and here, rather than at any other time and place? How do we acknowledge and interact with a sacred landscape?

After opening ritual later that evening, several of us gathered briefly in the dining pavilion with seven Bards asking for group initiation the next morning, in order to answer questions and attend to final details.

I was privileged once again to participate as a initiation celebrant. As I’ve written elsewhere, this is joyful service. As we perform the ritual of initiation, we strengthen the bonds with our community, we open the circle of Druidry to another person who wishes to stand with us, and we renew our own commitment.

“We swear”, go the ritual words,

by peace and love to stand,
heart to heart and hand in hand.
Mark, O Spirit, and hear us now,
confirming this, our sacred vow.

FRIDAY

The morning dawned warm and mostly sunny, and celebrants welcomed new Bards one by one in the Stone Circle, a powerful setting for initiation.  Recognize and invite the ancestors over time, and not surprisingly you begin to pay attention to them more carefully, and sense their presence.

IMG_1862

wood pillar, northeast quarter of Stone Circle.

WIth the blessings and active involvement of Four Quarters staff, each MAGUS attendee found a stone for the main ritual, and many attended Forest’s Stone Carving workshop Friday afternoon to incise on them one of four ogham of the sacred trees we were working with in preparation for the ritual — birch, white pine, elder and oak.

forest2-prw

Forest’s Stone Carving workshop. Photo courtesy Patricia Woodruff.

After dinner Friday evening came the workshop “Chanting for Sacred Time and Space”, with Tom and Loam helping us to tune to the land and to each other with group songs and melodies.

Later, several of us gathered by Sideling Creek for the night-time Ovate initiations. A few brief spatters of rain refreshed rather than soaked us. Peepers and owls sang the initiates through the rite.

The Fire Circle that evening was livelier than Thursday’s. I longed to stay, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open for more than another half hour, so voices and drums and laughter saw me off to bed.

fire circle -- crystal collins

Photo courtesy Crystal Collins.

fire-mead

Forest models a t-shirt. Photo courtesy Patricia Woodruff.

SATURDAY

Cat’s morning workshop, “Terra Incognita: Mapping the Sacred”, helped expand our sense of maps and spaces, and led us deeper into the energy ley lines can carry.

cat--paw

Cat’s workshop on mapping the Sacred. Photo courtesy Patricia Woodruff.

That afternoon, in “Creating an American Ley Line Network”, Dana focused us further, letting us draw an ogham stave with one of the four tree ogham. Now grouped with the others who drew the same staves, together with our group leaders we practiced chanting galdr, the tree/ogham name, and meditated to strengthen our connection to our specific tree.

MAIN RITUAL

galdr circle--Dana Driscoll

Preparing the Main Ritual space. Photo courtesy Dana Driscoll.

By 4:30 pm Saturday we’d assembled in the Stone Circle, transformed earlier in the day by the ritual team who marked out the sacred space. Now it was sparking with energy from the bright yellow cornmeal rangoli. [For a picture of the rangoli at ECG 2017, go here, and scroll down to the ninth image.]

Participants each brought their stones to lay in the center of the ritual circle, ready for charging in the powerful galdr ritual that followed.

Below, Sue and I stand together briefly after ritual and our group’s grounding session, the ogham duir “oak” in white on our foreheads.

after-ritual3

Photo courtesy Anna Oakflower.

Careful attention by the ritual leaders kept us all grounded and centered, though you can see we still look a little dazed. The Four Quarters kitchen staff made sure we had a meat option at dinner a quarter hour later, to help us earth any remaining energy.

EISTEDDFOD

And of course no Druid Gathering is complete without the Bardic arts of music, poetry, drama, etc. This year MAGUS added a visual arts eisteddfod to celebrate a wider array of skill. Below, the eisteddfod continues in spite of rain, indoors in the dining pavilion.

rainy eisteddfod -- prw

Photo courtesy Patricia Woodruff.

SUNDAY

Linked now by magical intention and the physical key of a sacred rock each will take home, we closed the weekend in a gentle rain with our final ritual. An extended acknowledgment of each person who had contributed to the weekend helped ground us and speak our gratitude as the MAGUS team recognized workshop leaders, ritualists, support staff, organizers and Four Quarters staff.

We said our goodbyes, and departed. I know I will return, in the meantime “singing up the ley lines”, as the verse of one of our chants reminds us to do. I whisper the words as we drive home in the spring rain.

As I wrote for MAGUS ’17,

How to convey the blend of the speaking land, the personal and the tribal at such Gatherings?! You come as someone new to Paganism, or to OBOD more specifically. Or you come knowing you’ll reunite with your people once more, across the miles. If we saw each other every day, we might begin to forget the human and spiritual wealth that surrounds us. In ritual, in conversations in the dining pavilion, or over coffee during breaks, we’re reminded that we’re never alone, no matter how solitary we may live the rest of the year. Inner connection exists over any distance.

/|\ /|\ /|\

[For those interested in further details and the perspective of one of the principal Gathering ritual organizers and leaders, here’s the most recent of Dana’s posts on “An American Ley Line Network: A Ritual Of Creation”.]

“Through the Rabbit/Stone Hole”

Away to MAGUS 2018. until my return on Monday 7 May. Here’s an image from last year’s MAGUS for contemplation: “Through the Mother Stone”.

throught-he-mother-stone-wendy-rose-scheers

Four Quarters Mother Stone. Photo courtesy Wendy Rose Scheer

 

Posted 2 May 2018 by adruidway in Druidry, MAGUS

Tagged with ,

Fire, and All That Beltane Stuff

One of the pleasures of OBOD Gatherings is taking part in the group initiations with those who opt for them.

Many don’t. An initiation is always personal, and many wish to honor that by outward solitude. It’s no surprise that the two initiation experiences, solitary and group, can each have a very different feel. As they should.

With a solitary initiation, at a time of your own choosing, you dedicate or consecrate your work, your attention, your energies to a task in ways personal and unique to you.

Of course, no initiation is wholly solitary. What you say, think, and feel are all between you and those present, with and without their skins on. In fact, in one of the paradoxes of spirituality, those others can help make the initiation more personal and solitary. My first Ovate initiation — I won’t say “self-initiation”, because in my experience all true initiations come about the same way, whether like my first you do them in your living room, or with a group, as with my second OBOD Ovate initiation — my first initiation packed a punch significant enough that I wrote about it to my Ovate tutor.

Recording it, shaping it for telling, if only for a journal entry, is an important facet of the experience, and communicating something of that to one’s tutor is recommended in OBOD, and wholly appropriate. The deepest experience can’t really be written about anyway. In this way we learn to honor the Law of Silence, one fourth of the old occult dicta, to know, to dare, to will and to be silent. Mix ’em and match ’em: know your will, and dare to be silent, rather than casting your pearls before swine. (Jesus knew more than a thing or two about magic.) As with telling dreams, others often cannot experience the most meaningful part of what we’re trying to communicate anyway.

As you’ve doubtless heard: “Guard the Mysteries! Constantly reveal them!”

It’s one of the delights of OBOD that it recognizes, and encourages, either or both forms of initiation. After all, fire is fire.

IMG_1861

front yard this morning — fire in the rain: last of the snow, first hint of the green

At MAGUS 2018, in a week and a day, we’ll be initiating Bards, Ovates and Druids in separate rituals. A good half of ritual is theater, and there one can experience the truth of the lines from the “Charge of the Goddess“: “Therefore, let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you”. If we don’t let them, how will they manifest? Learning how is the practice of our path.

As a Wise One has said, “At birth we’re fitted with a consciousness that allows us to go to school, get a job, and make our way through life. But we owe it to ourselves to reach higher, deeper, beyond. These don’t come with being born — we have to reach for them”. For me at least that rings true. Hence, among other things, this blog. Maybe I should rename it “A Druid’s Reach”.

/|\ /|\ /|\

awen-sample

awen pendant

As I write this it’s drizzling outside. I’m adding one more awen pendant to the set I’ve made as Bardic gifts for the initiates — a last-minute addition has appeared on our roster of initiates. As a participant in the ritual I also get to say some of the most wonderful lines — a privilege, to assist in the shaping of others’ initiation experiences.

Beith — birch (genus Betula) — is a tree associated with the Bard. The first letter of the ogham alphabet, beith/birch is a pioneer tree, one of the first to take root in an open area. As a tree of beginnings, it’s an apt reminder of the focus of stepping onto a Druidic path: song, voice, word, music, poetry, imagination — all prime tools of the Bard, and never abandoned as one proceeds to deepen one’s practice of Druidry.

I’ve written elsewhere here of MAGUS and Beltane (MAGUS ’17 | the series Touching the Sacred | Triad for Rekindling Sacred Fire | Beltane 2016). In the latter post, I wrote:

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 group to celebrate with, or if you prefer 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 with something that’s come into your world through you?

/|\ /|\ /|\

Posted 25 April 2018 by adruidway in awen, Beltane, Druidry, fire, initiation, MAGUS

Tagged with , , , , ,

Triad for Rekindling Sacred Fire

[5 May 2020 Update — Druid Magazine has been removed from online. Only paper copies remain.]

NOTE

A version of this post appeared on pg. 32 of the summer/fall 2017 issue (large PDF) of Druid Magazine. I’m grateful to the editors, and to their liberal policies that actually recognize the ownership of authors!

In the Southern Hemisphere, Beltane has recently passed, and we can, if we choose, draw on the “opposite” energies here in the North in November, in a six-month harmonic with the South. (Isn’t it always Opposite Day anyway?) It’s Spring in Autumn, Christmas in July, your six-month birthday.

Because when don’t we need sacred fire?

/|\ /|\ /|\

1–Finding Fire

Every Druid tradition I know of honors fire in some way. “It is the hour of recall”, go the closing lines of OBOD ritual. “As the fire dies down, let it be relit in our hearts”.

Here is the promise of elemental fire, never quenched, always ready to rekindle. But so often I find myself dry, cool, grounded, earthed—all excellent things after ritual, ideal for smooth re-entry into our lives, but hard to live from when we crave and need the flame again.

I’ve detected more than a fair portion of Earth in my makeup: a little reserved, suspicious of quick flares, with a tendency to solidity, inertia even. Does a spark still smolder in the heart of a person like that, waiting to be relit? Can I coax it to flame again? I hold the answers like twin children, one in each arm: of course, and not today. As I write this, I look out the window at fog and wet pavement. Where do I look for flame? In moments like these, it seems a more than reasonable question.

Yes, in the electrified West, we turn a key to start the car, we flip any number of switches all day along, expecting and usually seeing instantaneous lights, readouts, computers booting, phone screens lighting, and hums and rumbles of devices jumping into action. If, like me, you happen to heat with wood, you lay paper and kindling, strike a match, and flame obliges. Praise be to Brighid!

But for all that, I keep reminding myself, we do not command fire. In her The Way of Four Spellbook, Deborah Lipp notes:

Fire has always been set apart from the other elements, because Fire alone has no natural home on the earth; Air has the sky, Water the sea, and Earth the land, but only Fire stands apart from geography. In nature, Fire is the outsider; it is out of control, and it conforms to no known rules (pg. 10).

This is lovely and poetic, evocative and wise, and, as a friend remarked when I quoted it to him, it’s also bullshit. The only place fire happens is geography, just like with every other element. Heart, fire pit, computer screen, creativity—we light and relight them constantly. It’s our extensive craft with the fire principle that’s made much of civilization possible. But mastery in the end means service, and our wizardry rings hollow whenever we forget this.

2–Serving Fire

“I am a servant of the Secret Fire,” declares Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien, 2004, p. 330). Not a bad magical declaration. So I turn to the Indo-European past and summon reconstructed ancient words* to say something like it: *Ambikwolos esmi yagnos ogneyes [Ahm-BEE-kwoh-lohs EHS-mee YAHG-nohs OHG-neh-yes], which roughly translates to “I am a servant of the sacred fire.”

So I ask how I already serve fire, because contrary to an adolescent tendency in us to see our lives as all-or-nothing, we have a starting place within us for anything that can manifest—or so some Wise Ones have told me. How else can we recognize a lack or hole or void except by feeling the outline of what’s missing, of what’s supposed to be there?

Now, when I need to reignite the fire of the sacred, and that includes writing about it, my daily practice, my own “hour of recall”, hopefully guides me to embers that still throw off heat. (If it doesn’t, I know I need to fine-tune what I do each day.) I keep re-learning that we never really extinguish sacred fire. We merely smoor it—that lovely old Scottish word—not “smother” or “suffocate” as some dictionary entries render it, but bank it, setting it to smolder till morning, when it can be breathed and fed to flame again. Peat excels at smoldering, but so do woods like hickory, and so do our human spirits.

While preparing a fire workshop for MAGUS Beltane, out of ruminations like these, I made a list of questions I found I kept asking myself, so I shared them with attendees. Here are seven from that list you might use in your journal, or for a series of meditations. And if one or two of them call you away from reading this, go with them for a while along your own green and shining path. Your responses are more valuable, after all, than “finishing the article”.

1) What does it take—literally and intentionally—in order to kindle you, and in order for you to kindle other things in your life?

2) What offering, if any, do you make to help you kindle? What else could you bring into your practice? What could you discard?

3) What is sacred to you? How do you find, invite, welcome, increase the sacred? What sacred ways are a part of your life right now that can help you kindle?

4) What ways, if any, do you tend to discount, push away, ignore, or feel “aren’t my way of connecting with the sacred”? What can you learn from your attitude towards them?

5) Where are you already kindled? What is burning, warm, or fiery in your life right now?

6) Where do you desire kindling? (Where do you need to bank a fire and cool off?!) Or to put it another way, what needs to catch fire in your life?

7) How has sacred fire already honored your practice and flames inwardly for you?

3–Building a Ritual Fire

In reconstructed Indo-European, one of the words for “altar” is *asa. If you want to expand your ritual declarations and charm-making, you can say *asam kwero [AH-sahm KWEH-roh] “I build an altar”. And if you’re consecrating a talisman or another person, you might add *Yagnobi ognibi tum wikyo! [YAHG-noh-bee OHG-nee-bee toom wee-KYOH!] “I hallow you with sacred fire!”

What to burn on that altar? Here your judgment, tempered and instructed by divination, practice, dream, and study, matters more than anything I might suggest. But if you’re seeking such a suggestion, here is one. Druid and Pagan traditions speak of Nine Sacred Trees suitable for kindling sacred fires (Steward of the Woods, 2015).

What about an altar? You may well have one already, whether backyard fire pit or space cleared on a bookshelf for images, a piece of quartz found on a walk, Tarot card for the day, incense of the season, and so on.

Evidence from several different traditions tells us that squares of sod or turf were a common form that a ritual altar could take. The Aeneid (Mandelbaum, 1961, p. 117) mentions a sod altar. Records from the Scots in the 1700s (Frazer, 1929) talk of building May Day fires on an altar of sod. And the Æcerbōt, the Anglo-Saxon “Land Remedy Spell”, amounts to a ritual for creating sacred space and restoring the land’s fertility (Jolly, 1996). To do so, it instructs the ritual performer to take one sod from each of the four directions of the land to build the ritual altar. Ceisiwr Serith (2015), an experienced ADF ritualist, author, and Indo-Europeanist, gives more supporting info in an article on his excellent website, “Proto-Indo-European Religion”.

In closing, I turn for words to the Rig-Veda 1.26.8: “For when the gods have a good fire, they bring us what we wish for. Let us pray with a good fire” (Three Cranes Grove, 2007; To Pray with a Good Fire).

Note on reconstructed Proto-Indo-European:

The * asterisk is a conventional notation for indicating a reconstructed form. You can never know enough about linguistic prehistory to do more than mangle reconstructed languages. Even graduate study like mine in historical linguistics inoculates precisely nobody from error. (Though a professional career demands pursuing the unattainable.) So in releasing perfectionist worries over Indo-European reconstructions and pronunciations, I cherish the advice of the great medievalist scholar, teacher, and author John Gardner. In advising readers when trying to speak Middle English aloud, he remarks,

“Read aloud or recite with authority, exactly as when speaking Hungarian – if you know no Hungarian – you speak with conviction and easy familiarity. (This, I’m told by Hungarians, is what Hungarians themselves do.) This easy authority, however fake, gets the tone of the language …” (1978, p. 315).

Tone, we might say, covers a multitude of sins.

If you’d like to learn more, two readable, popular, and authoritative books are by West and Mallory, included in the bibliography. Work through them and you won’t need me or anyone else. You’ll be writing your own reconstructed Indo-European phrases and rituals with “conviction and easy authority”.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Gardner, John. (1978). The Life and Times of Chaucer. New York: Vintage Books.

Jolly, K. L. (1996). Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Lipp, D. (2006). The Way of Four Spellbook. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.

Mallory, J. P. & Adams, D. Q. (2006). The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Steward of the Woods. (2015). “Nine Sacred Woods: A Druid Walk in the Park”.

Ovid. (1929). Fasti (J. G. Frazer , Ed. and trans.). London: MacMillan and Co. (Original work published in 8 AD).

Serith, C. (2015). Proto-Indo-European Religion.

Three Cranes Grove. (2007). To Pray with a Good Fire.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (1987). The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Vergil. (1961). The Aeneid ( A. Mandelbaum, Trans.). New York: Bantam Books.

West, M. L. (2007). Indo-European Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

MAGUS 2017: The Mid-Atlantic Gathering U.S.

The first of what richly promises to be an annual event, the Mid-Atlantic Gathering U.S. (MAGUS) took place over this last weekend, Thursday to Sunday, at Four Quarters Sanctuary in Artemas, Pennsylvania.

magus banner -- W Flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

The initial inward glimpse of the Gathering came to one of the organizers almost a decade ago.  There’s yet another indication, if I need the reminder, of the possible time-gap between first seed and outward manifestation.

And our hosting venue, Four Quarters, an interfaith sanctuary launched in 1994, was the perfect place to hold a Beltane Gathering. As the Four Quarters home page observes, it’s

a membership-driven non-profit, a vibrant community of real people living real lives. And Four Quarters actually owns the Land, buildings and equipment that make our work possible, forever set aside from the vagaries of private ownership.

The lovely and wild 150 acres of the sanctuary lie in the Allegheny foothills in southern PA, just miles from the Maryland border. Home to a stone circle, labyrinth, retreat center with bunkhouse and dining pavilion, a brewery, a drum and dance circle, sweat lodge, a handful of permanent residents, and the clean-flowing Siding Creek defining part of its periphery, Four Quarters strives to

honor the many world traditions that reflect an Earth Based Spirituality, and we work to support those traditions and welcome their people. We do not teach “One Way” of belief. We do not have “The Answer”. We do have good questions.

Here’s the Stone Circle seen from the north, a work in progress (with annual megalithic-style stone raisings open to anyone willing to join the rope-pulling and log-rolling stone lifting team). Note the nearly three-foot-long camp bell suspended from the tripod in the foreground — a deep voice audible throughout the property.

circle w bell

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

A wide-angle shot can’t capture the majesty of the stones or the power of the circle. Here’s a closer view of some of the lovely rough surfaces, mottled with rust in places, asking for touch and communion.

stone closeup w flah

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

The first time I walked the circle Thursday evening, I sensed a quiet hum of presence. The next time I came more at ease, eager to touch and listen to the land and the inner voices. By the time I reached the eighth stone, sudden tears filled my eyes. The circle holds indisputable power.

Here’s one of the altars near the center of the stone circle. The ancestors speak strongly here, if I give even half an ear.

ancestor altar in circle -- W Flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

How to convey the blend of the speaking land, the personal and the tribal at such Gatherings?! You come as someone new to Paganism, or to OBOD more specifically. Or you come knowing you’ll reunite with your people once more, across the miles. If we saw each other every day, we might begin to forget the human and spiritual wealth that surrounds us. In ritual, in conversations in the dining pavilion (below) or over coffee during breaks, we’re reminded that we’re never alone, no matter how solitary we may live the rest of the year. Inner connection exists over any distance.

dining pavillion -- W Flaherty.jpg

dining pavilion — photo courtesy Wandy Flaherty

Typically when I reflect on a Gathering a few days after, one or two things stand out sharply. But when I started naming them over breakfast this morning, I ended with a list of a score of items — nearly the entire weekend as I experienced it, a blend not to be parcelled out in soundbites or highlights.

From the place, with its cool air crackling with oxygen from the vigorous trees, to the faces and energy of the Tribe and its rituals, formal and informal, to the songs of spiritual presence that all places offer, everything stands out in memory.  Impossible to narrow down. This post is a small attempt to hint at that Everything — to urge you, if you want a taste of a particular kind of marvelous, to attend a Gathering if you can.

The way of the Solitary can indeed be a blessed one, but the Tribe also offers a great deal to reinvigorate even the most hermetic of Solitaries. A Gathering can paradoxically reaffirm the Solitary, because you meet other Solitaries. You witness the integrity of the individual path, as well as the gift of the Tribal way. Gatherings have changed me into an avid Tribe-seeker, at least a few times each year, so that when I retreat to my own smaller circle, the closing words of OBOD ritual echo true: “May our memories hold what the eye and ear have gained.”

/|\ /|\ /|\

“Kindling the Flame” was our Gathering theme. We apparently also needed the blessing of Water, in the form of steady rain from late Thursday afternoon through the night, and intermittently all Friday, to help remind us that all the elements gather, whenever any one of them is invoked. “Thus is balance preserved”.

Thursday included an opening orientation by our special guest OBOD Druid Renu Aldritch, a workshop I delivered on “Kindling Our Sacred Fires”, the opening ritual, and preparation for Bardic initiations the next morning.

After breakfast Friday, we initiated 12 Bards. Like many others, I’ve come to see how priceless it is to support initiations and attend whenever I can, regardless of whether I have an assigned “role”. The rite washes over us all, renews the experience each of us had during our own initiation, helps us rededicate, and allows us to greet the newly initiated within ritual space.

Always there are small hiccups and endearing glitches during a ritual. I think without them we’d have to make sure we added them. And we come to expect them: they humanize a dramatic moment, when someone with a major or minor role misplaces a prop or drops a ritual spoken line, topples the incense or bowl of water, mispronounces a magical name, and so on. We laugh, disarmed, and then the next part of the ritual can reach deeper, because we’ve opened up that much more. Each initiation is unique: tears, laughter, the presence of Spirit, the call of bird or beast to punctuate a word or silence.

Friday gave us Renu’s workshop, “Kindling the Spiritual Warrior”, a theme that bears ongoing attention. Dana’s workshop “Land Healing on the Inner and Outer Planes”, her ritual later that afternoon, “Ogam Tree Galdr in the Northern Tradition”, her generous personal readings using her own tree divination system, and her conversation fired many with renewed love and commitment to this path. That evening also brought initiation to three Ovates under moonlight and the background throb of drums from a drum workshop. We couldn’t have asked for a better ritual setting.

Downhill from the Labyrinth, prepping for the evening Ovate initiation in the open air: Renu, Dave, Ahote, me and Cat. (We opted later for a covered stage, in case the rain continued.)

planning for ovate init -- gail Nyoka

photo courtesy Gail Nyoka

Saturday gave us Wanda’s workshop, “Awakening Your Beltane Sensuality” with its creative chance to heighten one sense by muting the others. Now that the rain had ceased, we could hold our main Beltane rite in the stone circle.

Here’s an evocative pic from Saturday night, the Fire Circle alight, a few dancers visible, along with Brom, our Fire Master, tending the flames.

magus beltane

photo courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers

By Saturday night I’d mostly finished my other ritual responsibilities, including providing a glitch for the main Beltane ritual where I had a speaking part — I dropped a line. “When that ritual pause goes on a little too long and you look around, you’re probably what’s missing”, as someone quipped over the weekend.

I was looking forward to enjoying the Fire Circle without performing for the eisteddfod, the Bardic arts portion of most OBOD festivals that welcomes the evening fires and the awen-inspiration of a Gathering and offers it back again in song and poetry and story.

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

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

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

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

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

The fire, friend,
the fire is in you.

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

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

/|\ /|\ /|\

Below is an informal altar by Siding Creek, which curls around Four Quarters, another voice audible through much of the Sanctuary as a background whisper.

siding creek altar -- renu

photo courtesy Renu Aldritch

Four Quarters brews its own mead, a taste of the Land to take inside the body. Warmed by place, fire and fellowship, we return to our lives richer by each person who attended. Long live MAGUS!

Coffee Dragon -- Wanda Flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

A final view of the Circle through the eye of the Mother Stone:

throught he mother stone -- Wendy Rose Scheers

photo courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers

%d bloggers like this: