Archive for the ‘OBOD’ Category

Solstice Season 2020

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My friend B’s sauna stove — fire in midwinter, fire of midsummer.

Light balancing north and south, nights and days in their interchange, sleep and waking and the opportunities during each for connection and discovery. May we hear the earth speaking, may the Ancestors alive in us show us the good paths, may each encounter give us space to practice our hard-earned wisdom.

French Visitors

2020-06-10

A burst of over 50 views from France so far today! Bienvenus, mes amis! Que les benedictions soient! A quick comment on any post is helpful — something you’re looking for, or would like to see more about in the posts here? Please let me know!

Winter and Summer Solstices

That time again … The solstices, winter and summer, are just a little over a week away. Our solstices — let’s claim them, not as something we “possess”, but as intervals and energies that embrace and sustain us. Alban Arthan, Alban Hefin [links to short posts on the OBOD Druidry.org site], the names OBOD uses for Winter and Summer Solstices, are often rendered respectively as the “Light of Arthur” and the “Light of the Shore”.

You can find some of my previous posts on Solstice here, for both Winter and Summer seasons. First, a three-part series from last winter, December 2019: Gifts of Solstice 1 | 2 | 3.

Flaming toward Solstice looks at the lead-up to our Vermont Summer 2019 celebration, and then there’s this  post of mostly images from that celebration. 13 Gift Day Flames for Solstice Solitaries offers practices for either Solstice. Days of Solstice can also apply to both seasons. 19 Ways to Celebrate Summer Solstice is pretty self-explanatory. But while focused on summer, it also suggests practices adaptable to winter.

Ritual of Installation of a New Chosen Chief

Solitaries, ritualists, O.B.O.D.-friendly Druids and anyone interested in ritual surrounding a transition of leadership in Druid Orders may find the recent OBOD installation of Eimear Burke worth time spent with this 25-minute Youtube audio-only recording. Close your eyes as the introduction suggests to increase your attention and you may gain additional insight from that focus.

Welcome, Eimear, and blessings to Philip for his 30+ years of service and leadership.

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That Fire Festival

There it is again, the nudge of an approaching Festival. Like the light of a full moon, it engenders a subtle wakefulness. The gods are stirring the embers, raking the coals, adding kindling and blowing across the hearth their living breath. Who wouldn’t spark into flame?

May, Beltane month, reminds us how every time is a liminal time. (Samhain certainly stands equal to the task of reminding us, if instead of Beltane, you’re Down Under.) Liminal, from Latin limen “threshold”. E-liminate something and you take it across a threshold and outdoors, and presumably leave it there. In that sense, Druids are always trying to eliminate themselves, crossing over and coming back, seeking expanse and connection with whatever is without, in the older sense of “outside, not within”. Several churches across Christendom have as part of their names “without the walls” — outside, e-liminated. If you’re outside, you make your own threshold.

Of course, once you’re outside, it’s the Within that may suddenly become attractive again. By a kind of spiritual gravity, what goes out comes back inside, and vice versa. Like a cat or dog that can’t decide which is better, and meows or barks to be let in and out and back in again, we look longingly at wherever we aren’t. Jesus gets it, knowing Self is the Gate: “They shall go in and out and find pasture” — on either side.

The grass is, in fact, always greenest wherever I am right now. “As above, so below; as within, so without”. It just often takes ritual to know it. We say the words, often without hearing ourselves, but do we mean them? Not to say that everything’s the same on both sides of the limen, but that they constantly talk to each other. And the limen is so often more interesting than the sides.

In some sense, festivals and ritual generally are opportunities and attempts to have it both ways. We get to make an inside and an outside wherever we are, out of the Möbius strip of reality, which has only the one side, though consciousness insists on two. And we get to be the boundary, the place of transformation, our native place. Practice it enough, and we get good at it. Become the exchange point, the crossing-over, the hinge. Then when a big event comes along like death or birth, disaster or first love, we don’t get thrown quite as hard. (Or maybe, we get better at throwing ourselves, so the cosmos doesn’t have to.)

By the power of star and stone, says the Herald at the opening of the standard OBOD ritual format. By the power of the land within and without, by all that is fair and free, be welcome! E-liminated at birth from the Land within, I emerge onto the Land without and stay awhile. At death I get re-liminated from the Land without, and turn back within. So it goes, till I can stand at the Hinge and look across births and deaths, springs and autumns, to What’s Really Going On, whatever that turns out to be. I aspire to be a hinge-Druid, bending rather than breaking.

Ritual is hinge-work. You and I write the ritual of our lives.

At Beltane, the hinges heat up in the growing sun. We long to touch, to connect, to be in communion. Virus or no, we still nurse at the breast of the cosmos. “Where the bee sucks, there suck I”, says Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Oh, who wouldn’t?!

Or take the case of Job in the Hebrew Bible. God dresses him down, and challenges him. The old King James/Authorized Version catches the flavor well, for all its increasing linguistic distance from us:

Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?
Canst thou put an hook into his nose? or bore his jaw through with a thorn?
Will he make many supplications unto thee? will he speak soft words unto thee?
Will he make a covenant with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant for ever?
Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?

The ritual answer to these insistent questions is “Yes!” That’s one of the things ritual does: it lets us answer “yes” to a cosmos whose very strangeness and majesty and terror otherwise impel us to answer “no”. Who, me? Of course not! No!

Stand at the hinge, and we come into our own as Children of the Most High. For Christians, Jesus is that Hinge, that Gate. The advantage of Person-as-Hinge isn’t exclusive to any one religion or spiritual practice, of course. Talk to the cosmos and it talks back. Persons everywhere, spirit incarnating, doing its thing. We’ve just fallen out of the habit. Ritual is one way that re-awakens us to possibility. But so many us are un-hinged, lost, disconnected.

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the “Mother Stone”, Four Quarters Sanctuary, Pennsylvania

Through the windows and doorways of ritual, we can see again what we lost sight of.

ancestor altar in circle -- W Flaherty

Four Quarters Sanctuary stone circle and altar

Sometimes the Face that Cosmos wears to reach us is familiar, sometimes not. Sometimes an Ancestor, sometimes an Other. We’re particularly bothered by things that speak to us that don’t have faces. Ritual can give a face to Things without them.

Ritual also opens an opportunity to organize my altars. Yours may look like this shelf of mine, all hodgepodge. Stones, peach pits, coins, figures, feathers.

shelf

Yes, the Wiccan chant reminds us, One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother. But not every thing, not all at once. Ritual says go with one thing, watch it change, celebrate the transformation. Be the hinge.

So we’ll gather (Zoom-Beltane, May 2 for us here in VT), and say the words: By the Power of Star and Stone …

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“Howling to the Moon”

For a different take on our current world, here’s OBOD chief Philip Carr-Gomm in his most recent “Tea with a Druid” weekly episode from yesterday, 6 April 2020. During the 28:30 broadcast, he offers a number of useful techniques, meditations, prompts and perspectives, as well as his characteristic warmth:

 

Six Things for the Sixth

ONE

Now that I’ve got the melody of one of the fonn stuck in my head, I’m reminded yet again how we can establish new habits surprisingly easily, and can often re-program ourselves more readily than our rational “But-I-can’t-really-change” argumentative self will admit.

“… the interval created by if“, writes Robert Hass in his poem “Spring Drawing”*, “to which mind and breath attend, nervous as the grazing animals the first brushes painted, has become inhabitable space, lived in beyond wishing”.

TWO

Yesterday I spent time clearing out glossy buckthorn (frangula alnus), a fast-growing invasive in the north and northeastern U.S., along our property lines where it’s been trying to establish a foothold for the last few years. A native of much of Europe, and originally planted as a natural fence in parts of the midwestern U.S., glossy buckthorn’s invasive because it’s so vigorous. It stays in leaf longer, shading out native plants, it reproduces through both berries and runners, it has few or no natural enemies, and it tolerates wet soils and pollution.  In some ways you might say it’s exactly a bush for our times, tough and adaptable, if it weren’t so successful. Bees, birds and even a specialized butterfly relish its flowers and fruit.

frangula-alnus

glossy buckthorn in leaf and fruit

The bush has value to humans, too — as charcoal it contributes to gunpowder production, and its dried bark has been used as a laxative. In older lore, the ancient philosopher and physician Galen asserted its protective qualities against against “witchcraft, demons, poisons, and headaches”. Even his name has an associated value relevant to today: Γαληνός, Galēnos means “calm”. A mini-ritual in the making — invoke Galen’s calm along with the purgative and protective qualities of buckthorn.

THREE

“Is muggle a real word?” runs one popular search on Google. Like most magical and spiritual things, the question holds the key to its own answer.

Consider proper names that have become known in the last few decades. Is Lady Gaga a “real name”? To me anyway, more interesting than the question is what a person will do with the answer. Realness often depends on aptness — on fit. Does the (new) name fit the thing it names? If it does, the name is likely to catch on. If not, it probably won’t. To put it another way, if it ignites interest and attention, it becomes real. This is a key to many insights.

We tend still, in spite of more than a century of training from many directions that should have helped us know better, to think of things magical as pure marvel, a kind of “conjuring out of thin air” — creation ex nihilo, on a par with what the monotheistic God does “in the beginning”.

But a mage, like any creative person concerned with manifestation, studies patterns, tendencies, and energy flows. J. K. Rowling builds her names out of tendencies, patterns, sound symbolism and existing English word-forms. An arbitrary word like zlimpk is much less likely to catch on in English than muggle — it violates English word formation patterns. Magic — and spirituality — follow similar laws or patterns. A quick online look at muggle lists a whole set of antecedent associations at play for Rowling to work with. And a further test? Plenty of people now know the word muggle who have never read a word of the Harry Potter series. A magical act: something there that wasn’t there before.

FOUR

I’ve written several times about Thecu and the runes of storm I received from her — “created out of thin air”, if you ignore section Three above.

Here’s the first image I have of them from my daybook where I wrote them, the entry from 19 July 2017 — nearly three years ago now.

runes2

We often surround manifestation with all sorts of coverings, labels, shrouds, mystiques, and shrines, even though in varying forms we all do it all day long. “Thus saith the Lord”, the Biblical prophets write. When the circumstances of manifestation are particularly powerful, it can certainly feel like an external source impels it. If you’re predisposed to think in terms of deity, then a god/dess is a convenient point of origin — and you’re neither “wrong” nor “right”. You made yourself available as a collaborator with the cosmos. The labels you choose to understand and account for your experience and its results may help or hinder you in dealing with manifestation and its consequences.

The next step for me is to incise the nine runes onto the metal sheet I mentioned in a post not too long ago. Eventually it will live on an altar — possibly the lichen-covered altar stone I’m in the process of shifting to my grove. I’ve been looking at the best way to inscribe a nonagon on the metal, and you’ll see my results in a subsequent post.

In part I’m writing this section to reflect on my own experience of manifestation in connection with Thecu, and to understand what it is I’m doing, as well as what it is Thecu wants me to do.

I also reflect that here I held a warning of coming changes three years in advance of their physical appearance. “Nine paths of storm” for “riding change” indeed!

FIVE

Tomorrow night, members of our OBOD Vermont seed-group will hold a virtual “moon-moot”. It’s a full moon later that evening, around 10:30 pm local time, and we’ll have the waxing moon at our shoulders during our gathering. OBOD suggests a peace meditation on full moons. I’ve held my own rites at different phases of the moon, and find the dark and new moons of equal interest to the full.

I don’t need to go any further than the daily, monthly and yearly cycles to find “transparent witnesses” for “what it all means”. One post from a couple years ago has been receiving surprising numbers of readers, I suspect because it contains the words “spiritual meaning”.

Spiritual meaning often isn’t separate from physical ones. The sun rises and sets, coming to its full strength, then diminishing, and returning again. So to does the moon. And the length of days follows the longer annual cycle. A triad of planetary and astronomical pointers toward spiritual meaning: things run in cycles, and have a natural cause or origin, a life cycle, and an end.

Of course spiritual traditions around the world also include expressions like “seeing the sun at midnight” (which isn’t necessarily the same thing as the “land of the midnight sun”). Physical events are always themselves, and may also serve as pointers to things beyond them — at least to human consciousnesses. A great deal of ink (and blood) has been spilt arguing whether these things are “real” — for one take on the matter, see muggle above.

SIX

“All I know is a door into the dark”, writes Seamus Heaney in his poem “The Forge”. Bards like to sound dramatic. Heaney’s both telling the truth and lying through his bardic hat. But if you read through the link above to the “sun at midnight” you might spy a connection.

All I know is a door into the dark.
Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;
Inside, the hammered anvil’s short-pitched ring,
The unpredictable fantail of sparks
Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.
The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,
Horned as a unicorn, at one end and square,
Set there immoveable: an altar
Where he expends himself in shape and music.
Sometimes, leather-aproned, hairs in his nose,
He leans out on the jamb, recalls a clatter
Of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows;
Then grunts and goes in, with a slam and flick
To beat real iron out, to work the bellows.

Any teacher knows the frustration of helping students move beyond thinking “Oh, it’s a poem. It can mean anything you want”. Of course: anything can mean anything. But try that out, and you quickly see such an understanding leaves you standing in mud. Rarely is it useful. It’s only when things mean something specific for us that they touch us, move us, arouse us to transformation and manifestation, those quintessential human acts.

Yes, quintessential: the five essences that underlie human activity. We know them as the four elements, and spirit — the pentagon, pentagram, pentangle or pentacle of both Pagan and Christian understandings.

Where is my real iron, to look again at the last line of Heaney’s poem? How do I do the work I need to do?

May you test and find your metal and mettle.

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Hass, Robert. Human Wishes. New York: The Echo Press, 1989.

Heaney, Seamus. Door into the Dark. Faber and Faber, 1969.

Image: Frangula alnus — creative commons image by Sten Porse.

Creativity’s Messy–1: The Druid’s Prayer

In previous posts [A Celtic Conlang |Invoke for a Tongue 12 | Druid Ritual Language 123 ] I’ve written about the inspiration and the rudiments of creating a ritual Celtic language. And one of the first obvious places to try it out is with the Druid’s Prayer.

(As a small offering, this is in partial repayment of a sacred vow to Brighid and Ogma, mentioned in “Invoke for a Tongue” above.)

asc-steps

June trail on Mount Ascutney to the north

The prayer’s widely known, though it hasn’t yet fulfilled the preamble it’s often given in OBOD ritual — “Let us join in the prayer that unites all Druids”. Yet the energy released just by saying those words (preamble, or prayer, or both), even if they’re not “true”, deserves a separate meditation all its own: “the truth against the world”. (In Welsh, that’s y gwir yn erbyn y byd. And it sounds good in both languages. But what is it?)

You can find a few other forms of the prayer at this link, but here’s the OBOD version I hear most often in the States, so I’ll work with it, because it’s familiar.

Grant, O Spirit, Thy protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences,
the love of spirit and all goodness.

In OBOD group ritual, “Spirit” works for most of us as an acceptable choice in the first line, among other versions of the prayer that offer “God, Goddess”, etc. — one of which we may prefer for private rites. (I tend to sing the awen much more often than I offer any sort of prayer, but that’s my animism talking. As verbal as I often am, a non-verbal approach short-circuits a lot of my mental crap and attunes me more quickly than most “talky” methods can.)

With some basic knowledge of Celtic languages*, I can set myself the challenge of respecting the sensibility and intent of this prayer as I “other” it into a fledgling ritual Celtic language. For a start, I’ve got an approximate dozen words to work on, most of them nouns: all, existence, goodness, grant, justice, knowledge, love, protection, spirit, strength, the, understanding, and your (thy). And that’s not even counting the title of the prayer, which in Welsh is Gweddi’r Derwydd “Druid’s Prayer” or Gweddi’r Orsedd “Gorseth Prayer”.

One of the great gifts of this kind of David-Peterson Game-of-Thrones constructed-languages special-interest “nerdiness-on-steroids” activity is that it compels one to look very closely at the words we say year in and year out. Great gobs of assumptions, some inherited — no surprise — from Christianity, pervade the Druid’s Prayer: does Spirit grant anything in response to this prayer, and if so, under what conditions? What does “protection” mean, concretely? What kind of “strength” are we asking for? How are “knowledge” and “understanding” different? (They’re tricky to translate!) “Justice” means different things to different people — is it the same thing we mean by “equality”? Or something else? How many of us actually do “love justice” in any useful sense, if we look at the world right now as any sort of evidence? And “existences”? Is that the same thing as “anything that exists”? Then why not just say “all things”? And so on.

Now that I’ve irritated at least some of my readers in the process of unraveling this prayer, and emptied it of almost any meaning until I can answer even some of these questions for myself, let’s move on to unmaking it in another mode — everyone’s favorite torture from secondary school: grammar!

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Because we’ve got a few Celtic grammatical processes to work out, too, for our language: (1) the imperative of grant, which is simply a more formal word for give; (2) the vocative or “direct address” form for spirit, rendered above as “O Spirit”, which can mutate the following noun (one of my students was named Megan; she hated that in Irish her name became, more or less, a Wegan “O Megan”); (3) any grammatical changes that happen to nouns following a possessive pronoun, here thy, or your; and (4) any changes that happen to nouns in phrases like “in protection”, or after other nouns, like “knowledge of justice”. (For those of you in the know, these are the famed Celtic mutations that bedevil the learner.)

But for the purposes of the draft below, I’m ignoring all four of these. Time for tweaking later.

Pesad an Derwidhe

Ri, a’h Isprid, do iscod;
ha’n iscod, nerth;
ha’n nerth, doithus,
ha’n doithus, gothved,
ha’n gothved, gothved cowireth,
ha’n gothved cowireth, i cared,
ha o’i cared, cared pob an bode,
ha’n cared pob an bode, cared Isprid
ha pob an mat.

This works out, more-or-less literally, to the following: Prayer of the Druids. Give, o Spirit, your shielding, and in shielding, strength; and in strength, wisdom; and in wisdom, knowledge; and in knowledge, knowledge of fairness; and in knowledge of fairness, its love, and out of its love, love of all worlds/existences, and in love of all of worlds/existences, love of Spirit, and of all goodness.

I know you have a range of reactions to this: (1) Cool! (2) Uh, what? (3) Why go to the trouble of making and teaching yourself a fake Celtic language when six real ones already exist? (4) Does Spirit care what language we use? (5) You’ve changed some of the meanings in the prayer. (6) Get a life! (7) I love this! And so on.

(1) Ah, you too suffer from the same pleasant affliction I do regarding language — this stuff is awesome, our most amazing creation ever!

(2) The tryptophan still hasn’t worn off yet. This is just a dream. You’ll wake up in a few more hours and everything will be fine. Stay away from any more turkey, though.

(3) Only six? There are several other Celtic conlangs out there. The more the better, I say. And if you want to make one, you need to know something about “real” Celtic languages. Besides, if I can speak it, and you could if you wanted, and we could pray in it, and find meaning and comfort using it, what exactly makes it fake?

(4) Yes and no. Unverified Personal Gnosis says it can swing both ways. Spirit doesn’t care, and spirits may care deeply.

(5) Meanings change every time we mean them. Take a look at the different versions of the prayer. I’m still reflecting on “God, impart Thy strength; And in strength, power to suffer; And to suffer for the truth …”

(6) I’ve had several so far, and will probably have several more.

(7) You sound like you’re a happy person in general.

I’m copying this prayer into my day-book, so that I’ll have it on hand at my bedside, and I can think and dream with it, trying it out. Already it feels more usable to me than either the English or Welsh version. And if I use it and gain benefit from it — if it sparks further development of this language for prayer and ritual — that’s a definite good, to my thinking.

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*some basic knowledge of Celtic languages: If you have a gift for languages, you can pick up a linguistic knowledge of one in a handful of hours — a sense of what the basic word order is, where the complexities lie, points of potential common ground with any other language you may know, and so on. It’s like visiting a city in a foreign country with a good map and helpful suggestions from natives: an afternoon can give you a general sense of how the main streets lie, what some of the prime tourist spots are, where to eat, how to “sample” the city without pretending to the intimate knowledge only a native or long-time resident can acquire fully.

Plucking the Web: Strands for Reflection

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tree swallows sunning themselves — mid-April 2019

In a comment to John Beckett’s blogpost of March 28, Gordon Cooper covers several topics and throws out material very rich for reflection and experimentation.

Cooper first addresses the development of modern polytheism:

How can polytheists who honor non-Indo-European gods replicate the successes that Druidry has had?

I would suggest that the success OBOD has had and continues to have is rooted in some fairly simple and old fashioned tools — a correspondence course, mentors, and lots of engagement by the members. The first time I went to the OBOD Lughnasad gathering at the Vale of the White Horse, I was deeply impressed by the amount and quality of work I saw. One person learned ceramics, built a hand-painted and fired series of tiled walls on her properties with elemental dragon meditations she’d realized. Others had voluminous scrapbooks filled with meditations, plant studies, ritual walks, etc. Their other secret weapon is Philip. He’s an international treasure for all druids, at least in my experience.

The combination of well-thought-out instructional materials and mentors, together with a dedicated and generous leader, and the developing nature of most strands of Druidry as supportive and inspirational practices, have proven its value yet again. If the non-European gods have means of access to power in this realm, through their priests and their own natures as deities, can they inspire and help manifest similar supports for their devotees and adherents?

And yes, much of modern Druidry and Paganism in general finds a priceless resource in books. Cooper continues:

If a group chooses to start from Nuinn’s [Ross Nichols, founder of OBOD] druidry, as it seems to be articulated in “The Cosmic Shape” it is possible to arrive at a non-IE druidry by treating this as an embodied expression in ritual, artistic and land-based practices that manifests over time and space differently in each era and place. I strongly encourage reading the entirely of ‘Cosmic Shape” as one point of departure.

Cooper next tackles a particular source-text — Iolo Morganwg’s Barddas (link to complete text at Sacred Texts).

Moving to the Barddas as a possible base, regardless of how one considers the authenticity of Iolo’s writing, his notions around ritual, nature study and the sciences, poetry and justice are values that I think can be applied to many circumstances and cultures. Besides, anyone borrowing from an Egregore that includes Iolo, William Blake and a French Spy-cum-Mesmerist alchemist is likely to be in for an artistic and interesting ride.

All of us have experience with egregores of groups we’ve joined, been born into, or witnessed from outside as they variously manifested their energies. Political parties, churches, families, clubs, sports teams, other special-interest groups and so on are non-magical examples. Consciously-created and energized egregores deployed magically are potentially just “more so” — stronger, more durable, more capable of great (and also terrible) things. The principle at work is “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Magic as an amplifier simply magnifies that whole.

Cooper then goes on to suggest provocatively, in a quick paragraph, one way to develop a valid Paganism or Druidry that grows organically from wherever we find ourselves, one that need not worry over cultural appropriation or validity:

I’m working on a very small group-focused practice that’s designed from the ground-up to be derived from the local biome and skills of the folks living there. It is being field tested in Bremerton [Washington state] now with the Delsarte Home Circle. It incorporates Ecopsychology, poetics, local kami, nature studies, personalized and group moving meditations and other meditation forms along with a customized ritual calendar derived from the specific region. It is appropriation-free and includes classical Spiritualist training. If interested, please contact me for details.

On the issue of Pagan or Druid chaplains, Cooper also speaks from (local) experience:

I’d say that Pagan chaplains in hospital systems are likely to find themselves in an ethical bind from time to time, as they’d be called on to engaged with YWYH on behalf of ill or dying patients in hospitals or elsewhere.

The VA Chaplains don’t serve or acknowledge the validity of druids and witches, at least at the Seattle VA. This isn’t going to happen with the current staff, and as I receive all of my medical services there, I am not inclined to fight an uphill and contentious battle.

Not all of us are called to fight outwardly — a misconception activists of all stripes are especially prone to. Following your own path is often powerful enough — the patient persistent effort of being a genuine self in a world of delusion and false directions is a forceful life stance, an essential kind of witness both to others and oneself, with consequences we often do not see. Not all music is scored as trumpet fanfare. Some of us are strings, oboes, flutes, drums, or the rests and silences between notes.

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Grail 1: Exploring the “Cauldron Sound” of Awen

[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”]

Image result for awenWant a good overview of the awen in the life of another Druid? Don’t just take my word for it. Read Druid-in-two-traditions Dana Driscoll’s account here. [I’ve written about it, among other times, here and here.]

Looking for the lost melody of your life? For that sense of spiritual freedom you may have touched as a child? For the heart-song that so often eludes us in the busy-ness of 21st century living?

If there’s such a thing as a “container” for the awen, beyond the bodies of all things, it’s the Celtic Cauldron, proto-grail, womb, goddess symbol, under- and other-world vessel, humming on the edges of our awareness. To participate in its sound is to begin to manifest some of its properties. Put myself in sympathetic vibration with it, and I discover its powers of transformation. It accomplishes change through vibration — no surprise, when we know that every atom of the cosmos vibrates at its own particular frequency. That’s also part of why every major spiritual tradition on the planet includes chant, song, mantra, spoken prayer. The whole thing sings. When the bard Taliesin exclaims in one of his poems, “The awen I sing, from the deep I bring it”, he points us toward the pervasiveness of awen, its habitation in the heart of things, its flow through us, both lesser and greater, as we sing, and bring.

Dana observes, “One of the most simple things to do is to invoke Awen regularly as part of your practice.”

A tangent. An article from a few days ago somewhat ruefully acknowledges that there’s actually a specific day — January 17 — when Americans see many of their New Year’s resolutions fail. (Your own culture, if you’re not a Yank, may exhibit lesser or greater persistence.) Since we seem to addicted to bad news these days, feel free to indulge here in some delicious negative thinking, if you wish. But then read closer: “Contrary to widespread public opinion, a considerable proportion of New Year resolutions do succeed,” notes a psychology professor in the article. Even at the 6-month point, according to studies, some 40% of resolutions — and their “resolvers” — stick with it. While the data pool may well need refining, still, that’s an astonishing figure. Better than the best baseball average. While “two outta three ain’t bad”, as the Meatloaf song tells us, even “one outta three” is pretty damn good, in so many human endeavors. And if you’ve read this blog for a while, you know my strategy for success with resolutions. Start so small that it’s next to impossible not to begin. “Oh, anyone can find 30 seconds a day”.

And this holds true with so many practices, spiritual or otherwise. A habit is simply an expression of equilibrium. The resistance to change is the resistance of all set-points and stasis and inertial systems — their first “response”, if we think of them for a moment as conscious beings, is to absorb the new thing rather than change on account of it. It’s a survival mechanism, after all, evolved over eons, to prevent dangerous over-reactions and hyper-compensations to what are often only temporary blips in the environment. We can’t afford to be thrown off by “every little thing”.

Why would this apply to something like the awen, a pervading cosmic sound and vibration? It’s already flowing through us, at a sustaining level, keeping us alive, the heart beating, the electrical system of the body sparking along. But upset that equilibrium unwittingly, kick the carefully calibrated network of bodily systems, and you risk the same thing rash occultists and yogis do when they raise the kundalini unprepared, force their way onto the astral plane too abruptly, shift the body’s and psyche’s equilibria by force of will, and then face all the unexpected consequences — illness, accident, poor judgment, disharmony — all the attendant symptoms of dis-ease, of a complex equilibrium under abrupt, too-rapid or even violent change.

So I begin small, and gradual, and see how it goes, if it’s worthwhile, if it adds to and builds on my life — as I already live it. This latter point is keenly important, I find. And I encourage you to try the awen, or — if you’re drawn elsewhere — its kin in other traditions. (Maybe one living near you: Om, Hu [link to an mp3 sound file], etc.) Give it a year of serious practice, and I will personally guarantee positive change, or your karma back. Other practices have their established value, but sacred sound is special.

The “rewards” of such a practice are not always easy to “calculate”. (Revealing that we even use such language). But practice, as you’ll discover, opens many doors we didn’t even know were there. As OBOD Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm notes,

Try opening to Awen not when it’s easy, but when it’s difficult: not when you can be still and nothing is disturbing you, but when there’s chaos around you, and life is far from easy. See if you can find Awen in those moments. It’s harder, much harder, but when you do, it’s like walking through a doorway in a grimy city street to discover a secret garden that has always been there – quiet and tranquil, an oasis of calm and beauty. One way to do this, is just to tell yourself gently “Stop!” Life can be so demanding, so entrancing, that it carries us away, and we get pulled off-centre. If we tell ourselves to stop for a moment, this gives us the opportunity to stop identifying with the drama around us, and to come back to a sense of ourselves, of the innate stillness within our being. And then, sometimes, we are rewarded with Awen at precisely this moment.

“The Holy Grail won’t go away” — and for very good reasons.

Next post: A Path, By Walking It.

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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.

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initiates and officiators, after the Bardic initiations

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

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

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

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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:

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

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

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

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

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

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Gathering attendee prepping for Druid Staff workshop

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

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

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

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

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

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Images: Kris Hughes; Llywellyn Press Celtic Tarot.

Review of “Falling in the Flowers”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“Sorry, You’re Doing Druidry Wrong”

What is it about our insecurities, that headlines like this draw readers? Partly it’s just clickbait, of course: we read out of pure curiosity or boredom or distraction. “What fresh hell is this?”, critic and author Dorothy Parker supposedly exclaimed, every time her doorbell rang. But partly and too often, we ARE insecure. Taught to trust authorities over our guts, or to ignore our guts altogether, we get taken for a ride, conned, hustled out of our own good instincts.

Doing Druidry Right (DDR) Principle 1: Always take into account what the gut has to say.

Are there ways to do almost anything wrong? Sure. That’s not news, however, and the universe usually lets us know first of all, before anyone else has the slightest inkling. If you’re not sure, there’s always Facebook, where you can post and invite potential mockery on a worldwide scale never before available. A piece of unsolicited advice in the form of a question: who really needs to know absolutely everything you’re thinking and doing and feeling right away, before even you have taken time to reflect on it, at least twice, if not a good Druidic three times? Practice only that much of wisdom, and a good half of our current hysteria would die off like flies after the first hard frost.

Now that research confirms the the “second brain” of the nervous system surrounding the gut [link to Scientific American], the old proverb gains new life. “Gut is second brain, and sometimes better”.

DDR Principle 2: Unless death is imminent, I have, and should take, the time to pause and reflect on whatever I’m thinking, doing and feeling — and more than once. Only then, and  only perhaps, should I speak — or post about it. “Dare not to overshare”.

“The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad”, says Thoreau, “and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?”

The opposite, of course, holds true just as often: “The greater part of what others think is bad …” In these days of extremes, I no longer always take this as literary exaggeration but good counsel. If I carry suspicions around like nutcrackers, I often find the meat of an issue still untouched in much debate and controversy and shouting.

DDR Principle 3: Keep asking, like the rallying cry to the soul that it is, that old Latin tag: where is wisdom to be found? Ubi sapientia invenitur?

When you know your answer truly, you’re usually halfway to an answer for others, too. Then it may be time to share. Not because you know, but because you know your way to knowing. And your way (not The Way), is a useful guide to encourage similar trust and perseverance in others as they manifest more of who they are becoming.

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“Congratulations, you’re doing Druidry right”.

That’s much more useful and salutary feedback. Ignore for now — unless they’re life threatening — any glitches along the way, and focus on growth. Build a store of successes, a reservoir of energy, and then tackle the inevitable pests and parasites that have accumulated around your growth.

The Well of Segais, Vermont’s new OBOD seed group (a first step to forming a Grove), met to celebrate Lunasa yesterday at Mt. Ascutney State Park on a rainy and gorgeous day.

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Seek out even semi-wild places in off-weathers and you’ll often share the space with non-human inhabitants. We had this pavilion “to ourselves” for ritual and after-feast. The mountain presences greeted and participated with us.

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And what a dreamlike scene across the valley — the view from the pavilion of impossibly rich shades of green, and mist-cloaked mountains.

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Five of us gathered to celebrate this first of the the three harvest festivals, with a lovely ritual and a feast of the season.

“It is the hour of recall. As the fire dies down, let it be relit in our hearts. May our memories hold what the eye and ear have gained”, says the close of the OBOD ritual.

And so they do.

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“(Not) Your Grandmother’s Druids”

1–Your grandmother’s Druids were most likely members of a fraternal order, similar to the Masons.

Many contemporary Druid orders seek to assist members in developing a spiritual foundation and fostering a training equal to the challenges humans face over the coming decades and centuries, where new understandings will help us adapt successfully to more limited resources, a hotter planet, rising oceans, pollution, species die-off, massive social unrest and population migration, and still other shifts and changes we do not yet foresee.

Even if the challenges remain exactly as they already stand today — even if all predictions, forecasts, and extrapolations from available evidence are hopelessly inaccurate — it’s clear we already need wiser approaches and clearer thinking to grapple with them. In this predicament, however, we do not confront anything new. The human experience over the history of our species is one of frequent and sometimes dire challenge and change. In any case, one of the benefits of Druidry is the gift [link to “Seven Gifts of Druidry”] of wisdom and foresight — always useful skills.

To explore a play on words, the difference between change and challenge is lle — the Welsh word for “place, room, accommodation”. As soon as we “make room” for actual reality, then, we can deal more effectively and creatively with change. It is only when we deny, balk, block, resist, fear or ignore a challenge that the initial change has no place to manifest, and so it pools, darkens, and accumulates into something much more difficult later, when it finally breaks through, whether it’s an individual illness, societal breakdown or planetary shift. Further, a major “secret” to dealing with challenge is respect for place, for the “room” or space we inhabit. Our ability to care for it, listen to it, learn from it and live in it more fully will help many thrive.

2–Your grandmother’s Druids generally sought and found inspiration and example in both the limited information surviving in classical sources, and in the Druid Revival beginning in the 17th century, which drew on practically every source that didn’t run away first, and on some that did.

As the growth and development of modern Druidry continued, and with contributions from Celtic Reconstructionists like ADF, who stressed historical authenticity and searched for the half-hidden remnants we still possess of older Druid traditions*, new teachings, practices, insights and shifts in emphasis emerged in many established Revival orders like AODA, OBOD and BDO. These “new” teachings are in fact often very old, reintroducing images, stories, understandings and quite specific herbal knowledge tribal peoples worldwide have long possessed. (As a single example, see the work of Druid and master herbalist Ellen Evert Hopman.)

3–Your grandmother’s Druids were generally, officially and at least nominally Christian. While other varieties no doubt existed, it was often both dangerous and illegal until surprisingly recently to be too open about believing and practicing anything other than some version of Christianity.

Today’s Druids span a much wider range of backgrounds, with atheist, pantheist, animist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu and other traditions influencing and being influenced by Druidic perspectives and practices. As with Alexandria and Rome in the centuries before and after Christ, a stir of Gnostic, Egyptian, Chaldean, Christian, Neo-Platonist and Pythagorean mystery teachings, practices, ideas and perspectives produced a potent ferment that still pervades much contemporary culture worldwide.

4–If your grandmother’s Druids were challenged with the oft-heard critique “You can’t be a real Druid because we know hardly anything about ancient Druidry,” they might readily concur and acknowledge that their Druidry is a fraternal order, inspired by the romantic image of the Druid as a learned leader and cultural arbiter and repository of tribal memory.

Today’s Druids still hear this increasingly ridiculous challenge, about as accurate as early challenges that “Christians practice cannibalism” because they ritually drank the blood of Christ in the Mass.

In fact, a surprising amount of information survives about older Druid practice and training, outside of the fragmentary Classical references, largely in Irish but also in Welsh sources.

Members of OBOD can trace the increasing influence of these sources in the revisions of the OBOD coursework, first in the transition from Chosen Chief Nuinn/Ross Nichols to Philip Carr-Gomm, and in the new Chosen Chief Eimear Burke, who has said that OBOD “isn’t broken so it doesn’t need fixing”, but that an increased focus on Irish material will be a natural outcome of her Irish identity and experience.

For a quick overview of the hundreds of sources available, of varying age, usefulness, completeness and provenance, check out this link at the Celtic Literature Collective. Here’s just a small fraction:

Colloquy of the Two Sages / Immacallam in da Thuarad. 12th century Book of Leinster.

Trioedd Ynys PrydeinTriads of the Island of Britain. Versions in 13th century White Book of RhydderchLlyfr Gwyn Rhydderch, the Red Book of Hergest / Llyfr Coch Hergest, and the Peniarth Manuscripts.

The Mabinogi(on) / Another link. One of the most famous of sources listed here. Welsh tales, legends, philosophy, magic, training, etc., from the medieval period.

Book of Ballymote / (Wikipedia link.) Leabhar Baile an Mhota. 1400s. Includes the “Instructions of King Cormac”, stories of Fionn Mac Cumhaill, and other tales.

Auraicept na n-Éces / Another linkAn ogham treatise dating from the 7th century, with later interpolations.

Dindsenchas / The Lore of Places. A “recounting the origins of place-names and traditions concerning events and characters associated with the places” (Wikipedia) and vital as a gateway to understanding much of Irish myth and legend. Many are found in the Book of Leinster.

Brehon law / Senchus Mor or “Gael Law” — numerous collections (see link at beginning of sentence), the earliest dating from the 700s — “possibly the oldest surviving codified legal system in Europe” (Wikipedia). Focusing on restorative rather than punitive justice, and on care of the land. See also Laurence Ginnell’s 1894 The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook, full text online here.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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*Luke 19:40.

March Sanity

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one tree, two trunks — our old willow

We stand a little past the Equinox, and here, east of the Green Mountains (a hopeful name!), the snow’s half-gone, or going. As of today where I live in southern Vermont, sunrise came at 6:46 am, and sunset tonight will clock in at 7:06 pm — the day now 20 minutes longer than the night.

As always and forever, the planet — and that includes our neighborhoods on it, wherever they are — matters more pervasively, and holds more true and enduring interest, than whatever’s shrieking for our attention in the media. Politicians trade places, and learn with us the pointed lessons of one kind of power. Meanwhile, another and greater power plays across the earth, in our marrow, in our hearts and the roots of things.

IMG_1854Here in the Northern Hemisphere, flocks of geese wing towards hatching grounds in Canada, foraging along the way in snow-fields, and shivering in half-frozen ponds and lakes. A mated pair of cardinals bob and swing at the feeder in the front yard, now up again after the bear alert.

The first brave flowers push through snow, snowdrops here, and a friend in Boston, two hours to the east and moderated by the Atlantic, reports honeysuckle and monkshood. In the back yard, boulders with their thermal mass warm each day in the strengthening sun and thaw a semicircle in the snow around them.

The willows everywhere hold out their green-yellow twigs, waiting, preparing. I stand for a moment with the great willow in our lawn. Last autumn a large upper branch snapped in a storm, and amazingly it hasn’t yet fallen, half-supported by a nearby pine. In another few weeks I’ll climb and saw it the rest of the way. Willow deadfall — the tree sheds like a Labrador — light and punky once it dries, has served as our principal kindling all winter long.

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backyard blueberries, red sap rising

Here in Vermont, NG, a Druid in the north part of the state, has launched our first seed group, the initial step towards forming an OBOD grove. As with seedlings, the first steps of care ask for our regular attention. We may gather at midsummer to bless the young sprouts and tender shoots of that initial intention — it depends on whether we reach the critical mass all groups need in order to move from idea into manifestation. There are possibly a half-dozen of us so far around the state linked by a mailing list, a May website.

This afternoon I’ll gather with Mystic River Grove in Massachusetts for their Alban Eiler/Equinox rite. Members and friends come from Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont. After, it’s feast time, a chance to (re)connect with the many members of OBOD’s first and largest Grove in the U.S., see how we’ve all wintered, and celebrate the turn towards warmth and light. “By the power of star and stone …”

May the light, clarity and sanity of March bless you all.

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Orders, Hierarchies & Solitaries

Maybe you are (or you know you prefer to be) an Order of one. It’s simplicity itself. Spontaneous rituals can be, well, spontaneous. Or you live far from any group you know of, your work nights and sleep days, you’ve been burned by groups in the past, your spirits or guides take you where no group goes … Whatever the reason, you feel allergic to Orders, groups, traditions, the whole degrees and status and rules and standard-ritual-format thing. You honor your own life and its direction by walking and practicing alone.

I hear you. And for 350 days out of each year, we could be twins. Or at least close cousins. As a mostly-solitary, most if not all of your reasons are also mine.

Except.

Even solitaries belong to a Tribe. We’re distant kin. If evolutionary biologists have read the genomes right, we can all trace our ancestry back to a few ultimate grandmothers, and possibly even just one. So cousins it is.

People need people. Even (or especially) if your ideal dosage is low.

I’ve written of my experiences with Gatherings on several occasions. I “belong” to OBOD, the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, in the sense that I study with them through a postal course. No membership card, no annual dues beyond the cost of coursework mailings. I’ve completed the work of the Bard, the first of OBOD’s three grades, and I have a tutor in the U.K.. for my current Ovate study. Apart from any Gatherings I choose to attend once or twice a year, that’s the extent of my group involvement. It’s almost as solitary as it gets. And I certainly don’t restrict my reading or practice or ritual work to OBOD. Nor am I ever asked to.

I maintain a lively interest in several other orders — from a distance. I know several people who have studied with more than one Order. And compilers of the course materials of several of the larger Orders like OBOD and BDO, the British Druid Order, have consciously designed their coursework to be complementary. Study with more than one group and you’ll gain from different emphases. And any overlap, beyond serving as useful review, can deepen understanding because it issues from a different perspective and experience and set of practices.

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Renu Aldritch, OBOD Druid and founder and editor of Druid Magazine*, interviewing OBOD Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm at East Coast Gathering ’17. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

The current leader of OBOD, Philip Carr-Gomm, has wisely observed that OBOD is a “flat hierarchy”. What matters are individual Druids and their love of the earth. Beyond them, any Groves they may opt to form or associate with. Philip is respected — and teased — and held in generally solid affection by most OBODies I know. But I could complete all three grades of OBOD coursework, never meet him, and never need to meet him or know anything about him. I could self-initiate, and practice on my own, with the useful focus that the study materials of an Order can offer, and never encounter hierarchy at all. Unless you count correspondence with the home office about mailings, or subscribing to the Order’s journal Touchstone, or exchanging letters or emails with a tutor.

I know four other Vermont OBODies, as members informally call themselves. Two of them live three hours away to the north. Another two live 10 minutes to the south. The “Northerners” attended the recent East Coast Gathering. I hadn’t seen them for a year or more. One member 10 minutes to the south joined me and we celebrated Lunasa about two months ago. But we three local OBODies have never managed to get together for coffee, in two years of trying. Solitary, often, right in the middle of being “members of an Order”. As they say, organizing Druids is like herding cats.

In the end, whether you’re an Order-member or a Solitary isn’t an either-or thing. Seeing it as such presents us with a false choice. On the strength of my limited experience as one person, I’d assert that everyone needs both in some form.

Because if I don’t spend time alone with trees and beasts, and energies of human and planetary existence that I can acknowledge and learn from and participate in, I won’t be more than half a Druid at best. And if I don’t learn from others — whether in the quiet company of books, the conversations we all have with “teachers of the moment” that we meet wherever we go, or in the noisier online worlds we’ve made, or the physical Gatherings that can provide so much recharging and good energy and fellowship and new friends — then I miss out on half that the Druid path can offer.

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*Druid Magazine is published online free, three time annually. You can find the current issue, as well as more information, here.

East Coast Gathering 2017

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East Coast Gathering’s host camp. Photo courtesy Krista Carter-Smith.

Once again the Tribe — as many as could attend — converged on a hilltop in northeastern Pennsylvania near the autumn equinox for the 2017 OBOD East Coast Gathering. Some travelers contended with the after-effects of Hurricane Irma, others with more personal challenges. If you can make the effort, you experience the reward.

This year featured a Croning Ritual honoring nine women who requested this rite of passage, and a coming of age ritual for a young member. As Druid (and other Pagan) groups mature, similar opportunities will continue to arise to commemorate and honor such capstone events of our lives.

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The spirits of the Land know us and often have a message for those among us who can hear them. And this weekend in particular we were urged simply to listen — more on that later.

The Land near ECG. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

The overriding theme this year, twinned with our official theme “Discovering Awen: The Bardic Arts”, was clearly gratitude. Our delight poured forth on the several Facebook pages we frequent. Again and again, attendees wrote of their thanks to others for simply coming. With their presence and conversation, workshops and smiles, they reminded us of the beauty, fellowship and vitality of our chosen path.

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Members of Mystic River Grove. Photo courtesy Dana Driscoll.

This year marked my seventh Gathering in the PA hills. ECG opened its gates in 2010 and has subsequently given birth to the Gulf Coast Gathering and, last year, to MAGUS as well, the Mid-Atlantic Gathering (my review here).

Once again the event sold out quickly, and once again part of the draw, besides reconnecting with friends, was our special guest, this year the Chosen Chief of OBOD, Philip Carr-Gomm.

Philip and his wife Stephanie had been in the States longer this time. They’d just come off the previous weekend of giving workshops with the Green Mountain Druid Order in north central Vermont.

OBOD Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm with attendees. Photo credit Elysia Cook

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Partly to honor the Chief, the Opening Ritual received special attention. Mystic River Grove, with members across New England, prepared thoroughly.

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Mystic River Grove prepares for Opening Ritual. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

Because of a new job, Saturday was the only day I could attend, so I made the most of it, rising early and driving to camp to arrive at breakfast.

Saturday included the main Equinox ritual, as well as a lunchtime talk by Philip, Ovate initiations, and as always the bonfires to draw the Tribe together after nightfall. I missed the Opening Ritual, ably led by Mystic River Grove, the oldest OBOD group in the States. The pictures hint at how marvelous it was.

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Brom putting the final touches on another masterpiece, with Alkandra helping. Photo courtesy Nadia Chauvet-Thanasoulas.

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Interior of a camp cabin — home for the Gathering. Photo courtesy Jo Ami.

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Cat and Gerfalc of Mystic River Grove in ritual garb as Owl and Moose. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

Loam introduced us to the Indian practice of rangolee or kolam, a form of ritual painting with rice flour. Below you can see the rangolee ogham (a splendid merger of Hindu and Druid traditions!) taking shape in the fire circle.

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Loam and a friend laying rangolee, ritual painting with rice flour, around the firewood. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

The unusual warmth of the weekend spurred me to stay robed from the afternoon ritual all the way through until the evening Ovate initiations. (Thank-you’s again to my wife for choosing a very breathable fabric when she fashioned my robe!) I’m sitting and gazing into the fire below. The rangolee remain vivid in firelight.

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After the Saturday evening Ovate initiations. Photo courtesy Steve Cole.

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Cat spearheaded the ritual planning and mask-making for Mystic River Grove’s Opening Ritual. Here she is as Owl. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

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Sarah F. as Salmon for Mystic River Grove’s Opening Ritual; she also served as Grove Mother during initiations. Her long-running astrology blog always has something to teach. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

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“Again the Labyrinth” — Cat gathers a team to set up the scores of electric tea lights in paper bags, switching them on and later off each night. Photo courtesy Steve Cole.

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Late Saturday — last night of the Gathering, people linger

“May the harmony of our circle be complete” go the words of standard OBOD ritual. If we’re growing at all as Druids, we keep getting reminded just how large our circle is.

Those who attend the Camp before and after us each year all contribute their energies, and not everything meshes automatically. But in particular, Druids can imagine themselves more in tune than others, and this in turn can lead to an arrogant obliviousness to what the Land is actually saying, and to a disrespect of the expressed wishes of the non-human inhabitants. As guests, the messages ran, we can do better.

As a result of the experience of past years and this year in particular, by both organizers and some attendees, and messages received from the land spirits of the Camp, next year’s Gathering will reflect a change in approach and perspective. These changes will appear on the ECG website. Listen, respect, celebrate. Old lessons, perennially new.

Here’s to the spiral of 2018!

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Trees of Camp Netimus. Photo courtesy Elysia Cook.

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