Archive for the ‘Monty Python’ Category

Spiritual Quests — “Deliciously Druidic”   1 comment

“What … is your name?” asks the Bridgekeeper. “What … is your quest?” Monty Python and the Holy Grail is definitely onto some truths about the cosmos, veiled in the form of humour, a potent magic. Looking for a Noble Quest? It will demand of us an account of who we are and what we seek. Do we really know? Can we answer truly?

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When does the excitement of the Quest of our lives first dim? We set off, full of a consuming certainty that This is It. The Big One, whatever it is. Sooner or later, though, we run smack into some kind of Wall. Our first Obstacle. (All the Great Quests include them!) Often enough, it takes on the form of a Rule. We face a “No”. A Can’t, Shouldn’t, Mustn’t. Often, human life being what it is, the Rule comes to us through a person. Our Bridgekeeper of the Moment stands before us.

Enough people have turned away from — and been turned off by — “rule-religions” and the “morality police” that it can sometimes come as a surprise to encounter any mention of spiritual law apart from the dogma and doctrine of a particular faith group. Yet a successful Quest navigates via spiritual law — navigates it with style, with flair, with panache. We instinctively respond to a good quest story because it “rings true”. Its spiritual melody harmonizes with something deep within us.

Windham Pinnacle Trail. A Golden Path to …

We’re usually not surprised by the existence of physical laws, like Newton’s laws of motion that govern the movement of physical bodies. In our first dozen years on the planet we typically pick up enough firsthand experience with gravity, acceleration, mass, and so on, even if we don’t call them by those names, so that by the time we start to operate cars and trucks we don’t (usually) have to start from scratch and repeatedly crash into trees, walls, or other vehicles just to learn how to drive.

Indeed, we spend our first years falling down, getting knocked over, getting up again, bumping into things, getting hurt and recovering, because we often learn best by doing. (The trick of good parenting is letting that happen under reasonably safe circumstances.) We may then spend the next several decades learning (or not learning) how to apply versions of the same lessons to our relationships, jobs, goals and dreams. Yes, our lives provide such good material for song lyrics and film scripts that we should all get a cut of the box office proceeds and royalties.

For example, at some point I may find myself pondering old proverbs such as ‘birds of a feather flock together’ and ‘like attracts like’. I run into some version of the law of harmony, or harmonics. By the time we arrive in our 20s or 30s, we’ve seen people careen from one bad relationship to another, while it can seem others ‘have all the luck’. We’ve also met enough exceptions to such proverbial wisdom, maybe in our own lives, that many situations we find ourselves in deserve more than a fixed or set response. Sometimes it can seem like “other laws are at work”. Often enough, we’re not wrong. When things “go our way”, we’re often going their way. We’ve aligned, however briefly, with a current, a larger flow in the cosmic stream. And that’s usually a pretty damn cool sensation — a kind of “effortless effort”, a sense of connection to something bigger.

View northwest from Pinnacle.

The Shape of the Quest

A helpful approach in studying spiritual law is one of curiosity and experimentation, an echo of the effortless effort. I don’t want to just listen uncritically at the outset to somebody else’s moralizing about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ — their version of “No” — mostly because it offers little more than just the kind of fixed or set response I mentioned above. Instead, I want to find out for myself what laws exist, how and when they operate and interact, and how I can work with them, like a sailor learns to sail with, across or down the wind. ‘When the winds blow, how do I go?’

Most formal moralities express a codified version of spiritual law. Too often, it’s one that’s either clumsily taught, or taught without imagination and human insight, taught hypocritically and humorlessly, or in ignorance of its underlying purpose. Someone “holds the the rules over us”, rather than setting them down so we can stand on them to reach the stars. Good teaching liberates rather than confines. It opens up possibilities and new pathways, rather than shutting them down. The old insight that “the truth shall set you free” means spiritual law is for our benefit and growth, not for our limitation and restriction. We learn the steps so we can dance — we learn the notes to join the song.

What makes our quests so deliciously Druidic is that “we can look to the world of nature around us for help in understanding our own nature, recognizing that if a theory about the nature of the universe proves to be a mistake when tested against the world around us, it will also prove to be a mistake when applied to the world within us … ‘the visible is for us the measure of the invisible'” (Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, pg. 15).

To put it another way, my life is my laboratory, my studio, my garden, my craft space, my canvas.

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Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

Knight, Gareth. The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend. Aquarian Press/Thorsons, 1983. [More recent reprints available from other publishers.]

I’m reading Knight’s book as I draft a workshop proposal for the 2019 Mid-Atlantic Gathering. In spite of my tendency to discount such coincidences, I’ve found scant evidence for them. More often than chance could ever explain, two events will turn out to be not just linked in some way, but in a way I can learn from and grow by. And if you conclude I simply haven’t dug below my claims of coincidence into the sheer pervasiveness of chance that underlies it and rules the universe, I’d chuckle at the depth of your superstitious belief in chance, and continue learning from coincidence, a much richer journey altogether. Events talk to each other, and I want in on the conversation.

Maybe you can explain it by my suspicion of the universe, one of my admitted biases. I find this an odd but useful approach. It sounds like I’m a skeptic, still a popular stance in a world that nevertheless keeps on not conforming to our desires, whims and wishes, in spite of things like the Law of Attraction (which tends to operate inwardly, I’ve found, not in the world of physical form). I apparently get to keep a doubting and superior viewpoint, which is what so many unexamined beliefs afford — protection for the ego. But deep down, a part of me knows there’s almost always much more going on than meets my ill-trained eye. My ego’s been pummeled often enough along the way to discovery that I take yet another instance of it as a good sign I’m getting warm. This universe, it turns out, has a will of its own.

I say “ill-trained”: raised in some of the materialist and psychically-polluted environments that pass for much of what is called Western civilization*, it’s little wonder I don’t see things for what they are. It took me the longest time to determine that most of the illusion is in me, not in things. We’ve been trained away from much of the truth of things. Like death and rebirth, polarity, spirit guides and companions, energy centers in the earth, the power of ritual, the centrality of the imagination in our emotional and physical health, the daily magic we all practice, the value of a spiritual discipline, the power of mass belief for good and ill. Basically everything you can find in that section of many bookstores, however obscured by bad writing and incomplete knowledge. And much more importantly, it’s our vast human heritage, the largely unwritten world of experience our ancestors keep whispering we really need to pay attention to, in our DNA, our dreams, our daily lives.

Veteran comedian Steve Martin used to mock human pretension and idiocy in his 70’s routines with references to things like “how I turned a million in real estate into twenty-five dollars in cash” or “how to make money off the mentally ill”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the problem of mental illness was less acute then or at least less visible, though its roots lengthened daily underground. Of course, large numbers of writers still practice this lucrative trade, on both sides of the bookstore aisles, and on the workshop circuit, stumping for stop-gap measures to make the status quo more quo. We thought the karmic consequences of Western civilization’s less happy choices would all appear on the physical plane, which is where, after all, we’d apparently set them in motion. But we didn’t expect the damage to ourselves to take form before the physical-world effects fully caught up with us. Or as the Wise say, all the planes of existence are connected. We couldn’t despoil a physical world without having already despoiled our own inner worlds.

grailachemyWhat does the foregoing rant have to do with Arthur, or a secret tradition? Knight gets right to it on his first page. He explains “the hold that the legends of Arthur and his Knights exercises on the imagination … they enshrine a secret Mystery tradition … which was also the guiding force behind the old stone circles and trackways of Western Europe”.

Or as Mara Freeman puts it in the first line of her book, “The Holy Grail won’t go away” (Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition. Rochester VT: Destiny Books, 2014).

Thank the gods for that.

As the French knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail tells Arthur, who has just pompously invited his master to join his Quest for the Holy Grail (and you can hear the capital letters in his voice), “He’s already got one” (around the 1:10 mark).

If I come at the Grail with a team of knights, appropriately theatrical music suitable to my nobility accompanying me on my way, and mounted like Arthur, I too may be met with the taunting the French knight offers Arthur and his companions. Grails are, paradoxically, a dime a dozen. One on every street corner. In every castle.

Nonplussed, Arthur asks diffidently, “Can we come up and have a look?”

Of course, no single source of healing will meet our need, given that we’re such a various and noisy and difficult tribe. (Or as the French knight replies to Arthur’s request for a look, “Of course not! You are English types”.) From so many paths and tracks, we converge at this present moment, and do what we will. And learn from that.

Knight outlines what he calls the Lesser Mysteries of Arthur, Merlin and Guinevere: lessons and practices for the individual, for the group, and for polarity working with both individual and group as part of spiritual service. But, you might say — and Knight does — that this is the introductory material. The Greater Mysteries concern the Grail, the old Celtic Cauldron of Regeneration we meet with in myth and legend.

My intermittent dissatisfaction with OBOD ritual and practice, as I’ve shared here, has slowly led me to developing my own practices connected with the Grail, in an idiosyncratic form and tailored to my quirky nature. It’s hardly a system**. Spend too much time systematizing anything, I keep re-learning, and too often it dies in your hands. (Knight notes (pg. 175) provocatively that “archetypes, like individuals, are capable of redemption”.) I’d rather practice what seems to work.

Pieces of it that may be of use to others I’ll try to share in the next series of posts.

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*Every civilization offers much to admire, and ours is no exception. The best music and art the West has produced rival the best of other civilizations. Coming to terms with the corresponding limits and faults of a civilization is part of the work of its maturation. No civilization lasts forever. This simple fact still seems to shock many, who apparently believe the West, or at least the United States, is somehow exempt. But if anyone doesn’t also glimpse the weaknesses of the West by now, that person simply hasn’t been paying attention. It’s doubtful, in fact, that such a one has even been conscious for the last 75 years. As with preceding civilizations, we will corporately (if not individually) deny our problems until they overtake us and execute harsh justice on its false suppositions and its deeds, and on those inheriting both their benefits and drawbacks. Which is all of us.

Arthurian legend as Knight examines it addresses such cultural and civilizational collapse as one means of renewal and rebirth.

Social justice warriors: we appreciate at least the relatively sane among you for sounding the alarm and putting a few of your fingers in the dike, but karmic payback on a scale you can’t achieve is already starting to take shape.

**Those seeking a system may find Freeman’s book and its associated practices and workings help answer that search.

Is Magic Necessary?

“I’m here to have an argument.” (Welcome to our daily flying circus.) I’m enlisting the aid of high art and low craft to get through this post.

This post is an argument — not a disagreement, but an argument in the older sense of the word: a proof, a seeking of an accurate assessment of our world. Did the title put you off? It’s going to get worse. Maybe you should just enjoy the Monty Python video, and let the net distract you from there.

Are you allergic to magic, having tried it and found it to be mostly flash and bluster? Does it simply not rouse in you any response — the kind of response you’ve learned to listen for, the kind you’ve come to trust intuitively along your spiritual journey?

You can sigh justifiably — go ahead! — as I pursue yet another topic tangential to your interests or needs. Check back in later. If you’ve been coming here for any length of time, you know I’ll roll around again soon enough to something you can use. Till then, compost and ruminate. It will do you more good. This post really isn’t a downer, but it’s one that will get few or no likes, and recede ignored into the archives.

Because mostly with this blog I’m arguing with myself, of course. (You’re all much too kind and rarely call me on my crap, for which I think I thank you.) But like a madman, I do the arguing semi-publicly, flopping and writhing on the sidewalk, because what else is worth doing, if I don’t also put myself on the line? Do I mean what I do and say, or not? All right then.

[If you’re not like me or most other humans, you move through life blissfully, largely untroubled by the shifts and turns of living in this world with a body that ages and will eventually die. If indeed you belong to that singularly uncommon group, please leave now. I have nothing to say to you. However, you perhaps have something to teach me. It’s likely you’re spending down a karmic store from a previous life. Spend wisely. But if in fact you’re an enlightened being here for the upliftment of others, and you have no personal life or what we now like to call issues but used to be more accurately called hang-ups*, please open your school/temple/retreat/grove/workshop and get on with your mission. The world needs your wisdom.

*hang-ups: those weak spots in our make-up that serve as ideal targets for tests and challenges and other people’s hang-ups. Shrike-like (warning: video at link!), they hang us up on the thorns of uncomfortable truths behind our comfortable illusions before they rip into us. Because pain is often the creator of awareness. I don’t know about you, but some of my most valuable learning has come at the price of pain. And — after the pain has passed — it’s usually worth it. Cancer, deaths in the family, end of relationships, arson, loss of friends: like most of us, I’ve had my share. And like you, I’m still here. The best revenge is living well.]

Having dispatched some of my readership with one or the other of the last few paragraphs, I ask those of you who remain to consider the following. If you want to grow or make changes in the world, or both, and you’ve been frustrated, recently or for a bad long while, here’s an observation worth trying out in the laboratory of the every day. To put it in concrete terms, if during the upcoming holidays you’re up against a Clinton or Trump supporter in your immediate circle (or, with a change of nation, Brexit or Erdogan or Putin or Modi, etc.) who just doesn’t see the world your way, step back a moment and prepare to get magical:

The tools of magic are useful because most of the factors that shape human awareness are not immediately accessible to the conscious mind; they operate at levels below the one where our ordinary thinking, feeling, and willing take place. The mystery schools have long taught that consciousness has a surface and a depth. The surface is accessible to each of us, but the depth is not. To cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others, the depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough. — J. M. Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Weiser Books, 2012, pg. 88.

For “magical” effects, read “transformational.” I’m a sucker for a good transformation. Aren’t you?

It may be that our wands, like Ron’s, simply need replacing. We’re all “truth (im)moral high ground rights victory” and what we really need is just a new, and appropriately charmed, stick of wood.

51qgd7w1ecl-_sx408_bo1204203200_To add to the mix, I’ll add a line from the Hebrew Bible (Proverbs 16:32) that’s resonated with me since I was a teenager (read in your own appropriate pronoun): “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”

Yes, I’m as subject to confirmation bias as the next person. I like this passage because I’ve seen in my immediate family the ravages that anger can leave. I’ve also shed any expectation that another person will or can do the work in my life that only I can do. (Politicians top that list, no surprise. Blame is always easier than change, and they’re so obligingly convenient to blame.)

iluupncRound this off with Gandhi’s admonition to be the change we wish to see in the world, and I’ve got a lot of changing to do. But better me than you, I remind myself: if I’m hard to change, you’re even worse. The world — by which I mean you and anyone else in my circle — refuses to do almost anything I want. Me, on the other hand, I’ve hand some success in shaping. Small steps, to be sure. “I love you, you’re perfect, now change.”

How to reach the depths? Like others who’ve learned the hard way, Greer lays out a number of testable, practical suggestions. (Because they’re not “new and improved” they get less attention than they merit.) You’ve already heard me grapple with a number of them on this blog.

What I’m proposing, then, once a week going forward, whatever else I’m doing, is an account of my own experience with some of these specific practices , together with my results. I like the spiritual laboratory of experience, not because I “succeed” but because my failures are often remarkably instructive. I learn how to hear and integrate wisdom or make room for enlarged awareness in my own odd life much better by making “mistakes” with it than I ever could merely by reading or giving intellectual assent to others’ ideas.

A sign I need to grow: I’m either strongly attracted to, or repelled by, a person, place, thing, idea, or feeling.

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Images: Wandlore; “I love you, you’re perfect, now change.”

 

 

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