Archive for the ‘Old English’ Category

“In the Eye of the Sun”   Leave a comment

[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.

ancestor-altar-in-circle-w-flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

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

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

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

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

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

The stones cry out anyway, to anyone listening.

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*Luke 19:40.

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April Ogham-ing   Leave a comment

For my divination today, I take up the ogham sail(le)/willow, which I mentioned in a recent post — the ogham stave each of us received during Mystic River Grove’s Equinox Ritual two Fridays past.

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perfecting the “garden gnome” look in our back yard, with snow receding, on Thursday, a day before new snowfall

A link from that post to an article on the OBOD site about willow (and here’s Wikipedia’s entry) examines a tree lush with meanings, especially significant to Ovates, the Druid spiral where I’ve been wandering and learning these past few years.

Already I know firsthand of willow’s love of water — ours flourishes by the north-flowing outlet of our pond. And its ability to sprout from fallen branches. (Until an inadequately-supervised landscaper  remove a sapling I’d started a few years ago from a green and fallen branch, we had a second willow rooted and growing, the future left side of a willow arbor I had planned. But given the tree’s predilection for rooting from green windfall and even low-hanging branches, it will be little trouble to replace.)

I went to the back yard this morning for windfall branches after last night’s gusts, made  offerings to both willow and pine, and returned with a suitable length from each tree which will launch a southern Vermont ogham set.

I find I can’t follow the OBOD weekly gwersi/courses for now, though I know I’m doing some of the work regardless. In the OBOD sequence, some gwersi come out of season — autumn work, for example, not right for spring. Some require herbs or trees I don’t have access to, though I can find reasonable substitutes. Some address work I’ve done, sometimes in other modes, so meditative sifting and re-integration are in order.

I make an annotated index of the coursework as I go, even if the gwers matches no opening in me, so I can lay hands on a gwers when I need it, or when it calls for my attention. Like many spiritual paths that depend on initiative and interest rather than simpler attendance at a weekly service, the path of the Ovate at times is trackless. As Antonio Machado writes, “Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again”.

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Ogham of new snowfall yesterday, a reading for early April. How many other readings come to us and remain unread? Flash of temper at some ego-obstacle a clue to new practice, bird-call lifting us momentarily out of ourselves, air redolent of wet earth and rot and renewal. Old Land, you become young again. Wisdom of guides, ancestors, spirits, land wights, all folk of good intent, may we hear you heedfully.

Ciggendra gehwelc wile þæt hine man gehere, runs an Old English proverb: “Everyone who cries out wants to be heard” (Lit., of-criers each wills that him man hears). How do I hear you, criers of the moment? Can I honor your crying and ask that you listen to mine? What is your crying? Not merely lament for worlds lost, species gone, ills still perpetrated, deep suffering. Also crying for attention now, worthy cries, cries of alert and alarm and warning for what is yet to come. No one person can answer all cries. (I don’t expect everyone to answer mine.) Let me honor them all, then choose (be guided to) those I can serve.

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Posted 7 April 2018 by adruidway in divination, Druidry, ogham, Old English, willow

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Toasts, Boasts and Oaths   Leave a comment

On Friday, Mystic River Grove, an OBOD group based in Massachusetts, celebrated a Summer Solstice ritual inspired by the Anglo-Saxon symbel or feast, and built around toasts, boasts and oaths. I couldn’t attend, but I want to reflect on these three components of celebration, apart from however Mystic River chose to celebrate beyond those three elements.

ASfeastWith a toast, boast and oath, you could certainly hold a fine solo rite. Toast your gods, land spirits, ancestors, teachers, living kin — whoever you’re called to honor. Then on to a boast, a celebration of excellence, a claim to honor for ourselves, for something we have achieved. Like gratitude, boasting’s a skill we neither teach or practice enough. My default boast is survival. I’m still here. But I can definitely claim more; this blog, my other writings, a good marriage, years of teaching young people, a circle of friends I admire and enjoy.

A solo rite still has witnesses: our own selves, hearing the words. Powers and beings of the world who attend because they were “in the neighborhood” so to speak, unless we explicitly ban them. And anyone we did invite to join us. But what’s the value of our community witnessing when we do these things? Why do these things publicly?

Toasts others make can remind us who we honor and who we might include next time. We learn of others’ gratitude. What I’m grateful for carries a story with it. It’s a window into a life, and speaking gratitude in a circle opens us to each other and our stories.

Boasts tell us something of the commitments and dedications of time and energy in others’ lives. If I’m proud of it, I’ve spent myself on it in some way, poured myself into it, and probably sacrificed in some way to accomplish it. Boasts also let us laugh — we can boast about silly things, or make fun of ourselves for how much even a small achievement may have cost us.

Oaths tell us what will matter in the coming days and months. What are others binding themselves to do? How does publicly announcing an intention, having others witness it, help energize us to accomplish it? An oath may include a spell of finding or binding, of opening the way, or shutting down obstacles, resistances, barriers, and so on. When I took part in Nanowrimo in past years, for instance, and wrote my 1600 words a day, announcing my progress online helped me keep going. You helped me persevere because you knew I’d set out to do it.

drinking horn

Depending on the size of the horn passed round the circle for each of the toasts, boasts and oaths, and the kind of drink you quaff each time, you may find your tongue loosened and the three acts easier to pull off!

Here the rhymer in me wants to add a fourth word, wrecking the lovely triad of toast, boast and oath, but creating in its place a new and balanced pair of rhymes: toast, boast, oath and growth. After all, a rite moves us to a new place and space, never the same as where we were before. As with yesterday and tomorrow, the difference from today may or may not seem like much, but just as the daylight lengthens and shortens each year, depending on which side of the solstice I’m on, so do the energies at play in my life. I can do things today not possible yesterday or tomorrow. And that’s worth a toast, a boast, an oath and the growth that comes with them.

Finally, if we’re going to be Anglo-Saxon about things, the Old English Maxims 1, lines 138-140, offer relevant insight here:

Ræd sceal mon secgan, rune writan, leoþ gesingan, lofes gearnian, dom areccan, dæges onettan.

Keeping to the spirit I feel lies behind these proverbial expressions, and unpacking their compactness and concision*, I take this to mean, roughly, “Let your speech be words of good counsel to others, write runes of wisdom, sing as epically as you can, deserve praise, test and expand your judgment, while holding nothing back each day”.

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*With even a little Old English, you can explore meanings and fashion your own translation with the help of the online Bosworth-Tollers Anglo-Saxon Dictionary here.

rǣd: advice, counsel, prudence, deliberation
sceal, 3rd singular of sculan: shall, ought, be obliged, must
mon, Wessex dialect form of man: person, human, mortal, man
secgan: say, speak, express
rune, plural of rūn: whisper (speech not intended to be overheard, confidence, counsel, consultation), mystery, secret, rune
wrītan: write, cut, draw, form letters (on wood, stone, parchment, etc.)
lēoþ: song, poem, ode, lay, verses
gesingan: sing
lofes, genitive of lof: praise, glory, hymn
gearnian: earn, merit
dōm: doom, judgment, judicial sentence, decree, ordinance, law
areccan: to put forth, relate, recount, speak out, express, explain, interpret, translate
dæges, genitive of dæg: day, daytime
onettan: hasten, anticipate, be active or diligent

Regenerating the Old Ways   Leave a comment

boe-coverYears ago “in my other life”, while I was studying Old English, I found myself returning repeatedly to a dialog about 40 pages into our class text.

We were learning from Bright’s Old English Grammar and Reader, one of those standard hardcover textbooks you really can’t afford to buy new without a trust fund, the kind of book that generations of students dutifully underlined and annotated and highlighted and struggled through in one or another of its many editions and revisions. (My used copy has at least two previous owners, and the annotations and exclamation points to show for it.) Open to the copyright page and you see the first edition appeared in 1891, 125 years ago. The book itself is now part of a tradition.

Much of the text consists of tables of declensions and conjugations to memorize, alternating with Old English readings, both heavily footnoted. Fortunately, our teacher knew from experience that as long as you sought only to read, you could dispense with a good deal of that memorization. Learn a few core patterns and a high percentage of the time you could understand the grammar of the rest of what you read, recognizing a great deal by analogy and context.

But what about speaking? For “dead” languages — and what language is really dead if we still study it? — conversational examples are generally pretty thin on the ground. Language learning techniques have improved over the decades, especially for living languages. But many of those same strategies work just as well for tongues whose last speakers lived with horsecarts and cobblestones, hearthfires, oil lamps and emperors. So while you won’t necessarily be chatting right away (at least until you devise the needed vocabulary) about rap and drones and global warming, you can still access the living spirit of a language through conversation. So what amounted to a conversational fragment, really, still set my imagination turning.

Here’s that dialog in my translation, somewhat condensed. The tone of the original is just as heavy-handed and more than a little pedantic.

Teacher: Today we’re going to speak the language of the West Saxons. Are you ready? Tell me, students, what is that language?

Female Student: It’s the speech of our ancestors.

Teacher: That’s right. Our ancestors spoke it a thousand years ago.

Male Student: A thousand years ago? Those ancestors have been dead a thousand years? [Did he just wake up in class, halfway through the term?!]

Teacher: That’s right. Their bodies are dead.

Male Student: They don’t speak any longer. So then their language is just as dead as they are. What need is there for us to learn it?

You have to admit that this literal and clueless male student (in Old English, leorningcniht — in bad translation, “learning knight”) has a point. And if you’re thinking that Druidry, like any other human creation that once flourished and underwent a sea change over time, once faced a similar challenge, you’re not wrong. (History repeats itself to get our attention.)

If you’re wakeful enough this time of year, in spite of the tendency to drowsy half-hibernation that besets many of us in northern climes (or southern ones six months out from now), you may also be thinking that the problem is circular. I mean: As long as we see and treat something as dead, it has no life. We can always find someone or more than one asking plaintively, “What need is there for X?” But perceive it and use it as a living thing, and it revives in the doing. Our attention brings to it a very real and living fire.

That Old English dialog concludes in the next chapter:

Teacher: Well, young man, tell me now: everything that’s new, is it all good?

Male Student: No, sir. It’s not.

Teacher: And it’s also the same: not everything which is old is bad.

Male Student: Still, we can’t hear our ancestors.

Teacher: Miss, what do you say about this?

Female Student: I say that though we can’t hear their voices, nevertheless we can read their words.

Teacher: (Summarizes the deeds of the West Saxons). Now we are their heirs. If we don’t want to be foolish, let’s learn the speech of the West Saxons.

Now we are their heirs.

The ancient Hebrew people in exile in Babylon faced a similar problem: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” When the landmarks of your practice, whether cultural, geographical, psychic or some combination of all of these, are no longer present to support and sustain you along your path, the disorientation can be profound. What can you do?

“Still, we can’t hear our ancestors.” But it’s a choice to insist on being so literal.

sakuramcOne of the weaknesses of modern practice, observes R J Stewart in his magisterial Living Magical Arts,

“is the literary emphasis on superficial technique; the right words, the correct authority, the proper way to extinguish a candle; such details are given quite spurious weight without recourse to the traditions in which they may have originated. Much of this nonsense is cut through cleanly by a simple magical law: seek to understand the tradition, and the techniques will regenerate within your imagination” (pg. 69).

In the case of a living tradition, the solution is self-evident: study the tradition. But what about traditions that have no living point of contact?

I take comfort from Stewart here: seek to understand the tradition. The effort itself can help lead us to sacred sites and other contact points, links, resources, people, spirits (and in the case of “dead” languages, texts and practices and those first faltering attempts to spell out our life in a new tongue).

Our attention is a living and revivifying fire. “The techniques will regenerate within your imagination.”

A gift of Yule. (And since I’ve been doing Old English: Glæd Ġeol! Glad Yule!)

The next post will examine how well this works in practice — for me, anyway — the only person I can understand from the vantage point of inside knowledge.

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IMAGES: Bright’s grammar; magic circle.

Thirty Days of Druidry 17: A Triad to Welcome Possibility   Leave a comment

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A brief triad from a weekend workshop on spiritual possibility and growth: “Wait, listen, don’t run away”. The breakout group that came up with this piece of wisdom laughed when it emerged, recognizing themselves in it. My impatience, obliviousness and fear sabotage so many spiritual gifts before I can even receive them. I resist the very opportunity I’ve asked for, or turn — run — away from it. Maybe it arrives decked out in dirty clothes — one whiff and I wrinkle my nose in disgust. Or it slinks in all shifty-eyed and lurky, then lounges at the bar, hitting on attractive patrons of both genders, when I expected elegance, grace, tact, self-restraint. Or — just to reveal how contrary I’ve become — it clearly exudes all those things and I’m bored already, longing for excitement, surprise, mystery. But if I can’t even recognize what I asked for when it lands on my doorstep, how can I receive it and work with it?

“Wait, listen, don’t run away” (WLDRA) counsels me that human time is just a subset of a larger cycle. A different pace might open doors — or let me see those already open before I speed past. Or if I really have to keep moving, let me at least pay attention. Salamander in a vernal pool today, creeping toward a patch of sun. Wait and listen on a day like today “when the world is mud-luscious” as e e cummings describes it in his poem “in Just-.” It gets easier, when the world begins to answer that patience. Not always. Just enough to keep me trying. Enough that surprise can still fill me like sap. I feel it all up and down my nerves and joints and sinews, sticky-sweet.

“Don’t run away (yet).” Sometimes it’s not fear that shoves me off, but a weariness with the same-old that drives me out of doors and away. And one second later, after my back is turned and I’m off to the next new thing, there it stands behind me, a little breathless, waiting — like I could have been — partner, companion, familiar other, element of the universe just my size, carved out of the vast flows of energy by my need and calling. And do I welcome it? Do I even see it at all? Ah, friend of so many missed chances yourself, you know the answer. I do not. But I could. Can, the next time. “Wait, listen, don’t run away.”

(Bard-crazy, I play with that abbreviation WLDRA. Trying to pronounce it, it comes out wooldruh, almost like wuldor, the Old English word for “glory.” Wuldra gehwa “each of (the) glories” — and I’m off in words. Conjure them and they will appear. The word, the thing it names. If I wait, listen, and manage, this time, to stay put long enough to witness and welcome and wonder at what comes.)

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