Archive for the ‘outdoors’ Category

“Not responsible for spontaneous descent of Awen”   4 comments

treesun-smNot responsible for spontaneous descent of Awen or manifestation of the Goddess. Unavailable for use by forces not acting in the best interests of life. Emboldened for battle against the succubi of self-doubt, the demons of despair, the phantoms of failure. Ripe for awakening to possibilities unforeseen, situations energizing and people empowering.

Catapulted into a kick-ass cosmos, marked for missions of soul-satisfying solutions, grown in gratitude, aimed towards awe, mellowed in the mead of marvels. Optimized for joy, upgraded to delight, enhanced for happiness.  Witness to the Sidhe shining, the gods gathering, the Old Ways widening to welcome.

logmoss-smPrimed for passionate engagement, armed for awe-spreading, synchronized for ceremonies of sky-kissed celebration. Weaned on wonder, nourished by the numinous, fashioned for fabulousness. Polished for Spirit’s purposes, dedicated to divine deliciousness, washed in the waters of the West, energized in Eastern airs, earthed in North’s left hand, fired in South’s right. Head in the heavens, heart with the holy, feet in flowers, gift of the Goddess, hands at work with humanity. Camped among the captives of love, stirred to wisdom in starlight, favored with a seat among the Fae, born for beauty, robed in the world’s rejoicing, a voice in the vastness of days.

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Knowing, seeing, sensing, being all this, you can never hear the same way again these two words together: “only human”!

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Images: three from a sequence taken yesterday, 3 Oct 14, on a blessed autumn day in southern Vermont two miles from my house.

 

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Shinto and Shrine Druidry 3: Spirit in Nature   2 comments

[Shinto & Shrine Druidry 1 | 2 | 3] [Shinto — Way of the Gods ]
[Renewing the Shrine 1 | 2][My Shinto 1 | 2]

Below are images from our recent visit to Spirit in Nature in Ripton, VT, some eight miles southeast of Middlebury as the crow flies.  An overcast sky that day helped keep temperature in the very comfortable low 70s F (low 20s C). At the entrance, Spirit in Nature takes donations on the honor system. The website also welcomes regular supporters.

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As an interfaith venture, Spirit in Nature offers an example of what I’ve been calling Shrine Druidry, one that allows — encourages — everyone into their own experience. Everyone who chooses to enter the site starts out along a single shared path.

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The labyrinth helps engage the visitor in something common to many traditions worldwide: the meditative walk. The labyrinth imposes no verbal doctrine, only the gentle restraint of its own non-linear shape on our pace, direction and attention.

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Beyond the labyrinth, a fire circle offers ritual and meeting space. Here again, no doctrine gets imposed. Instead, opportunity for encounter and experience. Even a solitary and meditative visitor can perceive the spirit of past fires and gatherings, or light and tend one to fulfill a present purpose.

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Beyond the circle, the paths begin to diverge — color-coded on tree-trunks at eye-level — helpful in New England winters, when snow would soon blanket any ground-level trail markers. When we visited, in addition to the existing paths of 10 traditions, Native American and Druid paths branched off the main way, too new to be included on printed visitor trail maps, but welcome indicators that Spirit in Nature fills a growing need, and is growing with it.

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The Druid Prayer captures a frequent experience of the earth-centered way: with attention on stillness and peace, our human interior and exterior worlds meet in nature.

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The trails we walked were well-maintained — the apparently light hand that brings these trails out of the landscape belies the many hours of volunteer effort at clearing and maintenance, and constructing bridges and benches.

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A bench, like a fire pit and a labyrinth, encourages a pause, a shift in consciousness, a change, a dip into meditation — spiritual opportunities, all of them. But none of them laid on the visitor as any sort of obligation. And as we walk the trail, even if I don’t embrace the offered pause, the chance itself suggests thoughts and images as I pass that the silence enlarges. I sit on that bench even as I walk past; I cross the bridge inwardly, even if it spans a trail I don’t take.

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Sometimes a sign presents choices worthy of Yogi Berra’s “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

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Perhaps it’s fitting to close with the North, direction of earth, stone, embodiment, manifestation — all qualities matching the interfaith vision of this place.

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This is the 200th post at A Druid Way. Thanks, everyone, for reading!

On to New Mexico and Arizona   2 comments

Visitors know New Mexico enjoys an eye-catching landscape — the state nickname “Land of Enchantment” burnished on its license tags (or plates, depending on your regional dialect) is no oversell. But what struck us more was the frequency of change in the landscape. The more familiar canyons and cliffs of Arizona aren’t quite here yet, but the New Mexican dells, dales, arroyos, vales, valleys, peaks, buttes and rises, along with fluctuations, almost by valley at times, in rainfall, vegetation and wildlife, underground water sources, altitude and geology, make for lovely and dramatic varying terrain.

Part of the surprise is that west from Texas into New Mexico, the landscape at first changes not at all.  Here through our bug-stained windshield is the arrow-straightness of interstate 40 and dry, flat prairie.

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But soon enough distant mountains shadow the skyline. If you’re intent on traffic (speed limit 75 mph) or keeping cool under a southern sun and escaping hynosis from the lull of hours passing, you may not notice them at first.

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The geologic “ripples” slowly and steadily edge closer till they insist on being seen. The land insinuates itself into your awareness, serpentine.

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And by Tucumcari NM, the buttes start in earnest.  Many like the one below are so etched by wind and heat and rain and time that they seem unreal, the work of a whimsical or apprentice set designer. Here, too, wet and dry stand side by side. As heedless easterners accustomed to the default of lush greenery and nearly endless water, we took to heart the endlessly repeated evidence of the vital importance of water here.

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Part of the pleasure of New Mexico — for me at least — is the omnipresence of Spanish — in place names, on road signs, menus, shops and gas stations. Not that I actually know much Spanish — only a bare reading knowledge, along with some cognates from French (high school level) and Latin (badly self-taught).

Here Anglo-Americans like us can’t pretend the planet speaks only English — it obviously doesn’t, and places like New Mexico, just like Northern Vermont and New Hampshire with the proximity of Francophone Canada to the north, can serve as gentle and pleasant reminders — introductions to an accessible foreignness. Almost every American can point to a smattering of a dozen or so Spanish words they half-know, courtesy often of Hollywood and Tex-Mex cuisine and its less noble fast-food relatives. And Spanish — real Spanish — runs deep here.

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This greener region was part of the “weaving tour” we took, northeast from Santa Fe, through Española, from there to Chimayó, into the highlands and through hill towns like Truchas (elevation 8000 ft., rivalling the Grand Canyon), and on to Mora with its Tapetes de Lana, the trees so far holding onto their green in the growing heat of summer. And by “weaving” I mean quite literally the craft of weaving — my wife had mapped out in advance weavers and studios she wanted to visit.

In Chimayó we made a brief pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayó, a stop urged on us besides by one of the local Spanish weavers my wife and I visited. Wikipedia names the humble and beloved sanctuary and community church “the most important Catholic pilgrimage center in the United States.”

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ARIZONA: OAK CREEK CANYON and NORTHERN SEDONA

After several days of exploring outward from our base of Santa Fe, which enjoys a very walkable and historic downtown, the Plaza, we drove on to Arizona. (With an eye for tourist dollars, Santa Fe developers overdid the adobe, with plenty of “faux-dobe,” as native cynics call it, nevertheless lending Santa Fe an admittedly distinctive look all its own.  The endless shades of pink and beige and unnameable variants between them simply mirror the land they derive from.)

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Friends in Sedona beckoned us south from the big state draw of the Grand Canyon, which would keep for the following day. This is a landscape that keeps whispering I have been here a long time, I am still here, and I will be here long after you are gone..

Sedona hogs most of the tourism for central Arizona, apart from Flagstaff as a portal to Grand Canyon, but a stunning preamble lies between Flagstaff and Sedona itself, along Oak Creek Canyon. Besides, whenever we could we like to get off interstates if mere distance traveled isn’t our main objective. So off interstate 17 and onto 89A takes you through these striking canyons.

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GRAND CANYON

Mather Point is the main overlook, the most photographed spot, a sort of “Grand Canyon Standard,” if one is needed. Yes, it deserves its primacy of place — and the crowds follow. But plenty of equally fabulous lookout points to the east deserve a stop, and draw far fewer visitors in comparison, making for a quieter, more meditative experience. (Our Sedona friends, and hotel staff as well, said to arrive at the south rim early in the morning. Good advice — we departed from the Canyon around 10:00 am, just when it seemed everyone else was arriving.)

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NORTHERN ARIZONA, or (as we came to think of it) MARS …

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Here’s the environment around Rt. 89 again, the northern piece of it, west of Page, AZ and SE of Kanab, UT, well north of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, though still called the Grand Canyon Highway, on its way through some wonderfully stark country. The image looks somewhat fuzzy until you realize you’re looking across a plain to a ridge some 30 miles away — the camera foreshortens the distance without clearly resolving the scale of what it captures.

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And a mere six or seven miles up and out of the valley, forests take over again, once sufficient elevation — and rainfall — lifts them above the heat of the plain. A few miles further west into hills and we pass Jacob Lake Inn. The coolness as we drive by, windows down, is delightful.

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Images: Santa Fe AdobeEl Santuario de Chimayo; all other images by the author.

Of Orders and Freedoms, Part 2   Leave a comment

[Part 1]

newgrangespiralIn the Celtic worldview (and also for anyone in the Northern Hemisphere it’s abundantly clear), we’ve entered the “dark” half of the year.  “Dark” drags in its wake many associations, many millennia old in primate consciousness, of fear, death, danger — all things we instinctively flee, unless we pause to examine cultural conditioning to see why this should be so.  If you’re still moved to flee after such a pause, at least you’ll be running with eyes open.  Watch out for the lemmings up ahead.

And here is another lesson about Orders and freedoms.  The planet we live on follows its own rhythms, regardless of our druthers, and as natives here, willy-nilly we move with the earth under our feet.  Earthquake, hurricane, flood, volcano; spring, summer, fall, winter.  We’re tenants, not landlords. As much as we try to banish winter cold and darkness, they abide just inches beyond our noses as we peer out our triple-glazed windows.  And that’s fitting, of course.  Among all its other wonders, the planet grew this wonderful fore-brain of ours that makes childbearing a challenge when it’s time to pass a large skull through a small birth canal, but that same large brain helps us live in temperate and even arctic climates, as well as virtually everywhere else there’s legroom.  A balance between order and freedom, limit and innovation, change and stasis.  We’re a part and apart, at the same time, courtesy of a species the planet’s still experimenting with, and probably always will be, till we die out or evolve, some of our descendants, into something else.

OK, you say.  Got it.  Had it before I came here.  Heard the lecture, took the tour.  Tell me something I don’t know.  And these are precisely the challenges to throw at all our ways of thinking, not just the privileged few that happen to irritate us because the horrid Others say them.  First assignment, due on your next day of reckoning, at your local time, or whenever is most inconvenient.  All our assumptions need a stir on the compost heap.  Political affiliations, marriages, jobs, habits, hobbies, what’s vulgar or profane (Miley Cyrus?  Death camps?  CEO incomes?  Ignorance?  Missed chances to use petroleum to prepare for a world without it?  Endless lolcats?  Taupe and mauve and puce?).  The once-over should include everything — especially whatever’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of your left hemisphere.  What don’t we know?  Got a hunch about that.  Isn’t our ignorance one more miserable discomfort, to join the ignoble quartet above — death, dark, fear, danger?  We don’t look because it’s hard.  It asks us to start over.  Not to reinvent ourselves, but to return to what we threw away because it seemed old, to pick it up, and see it again for the first time as utterly, endlessly new.  One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother.  Look it up, or consult the nearest young thing growing.  The Goddess makes all things new.

No Order can “teach” us such “wild wisdom.”  All it can do is point the way back to our bones, blood and sinew that always held it, gift that doesn’t turn away from us merely because we turned from it.  Change, cycle, spiral.  We see it celebrated, repeated (doing what it’s being) in Celtic art.  We can feel it in the flow of Tai Chi, the circular movements of dance and swimming, the serve and volley and return of tennis, sex, night and day, birth and death.  What goes around comes around.  What you do comes back to you.  Is this not a great gift, that we see the results of our actions?  Nothing is lost, and all is stored like seed in the earth, and returned at the next springing forth.  Only a short-sighted people would fear the fallow time, forgetting the blossom time after.  Only blind people would act as if this is all there is.  “This” by definition is never all there is.  Reconnecting with the natural world “lengthens” the sight.  Vistas re-established.  Perspectives re-balanced. Cure at hand for too much left hemisphere, too little humility.  When was the last time we praised a world leader for that trait?  And why is that?  OK, call me Groucho.

At the recent East Coast Gathering, Damh the Bard told a version of the fine story of the Hare and the Moon.  The Moon had a choice piece of wisdom to impart to the people of earth, and asked the Hare to carry the message.  “Tell them this:  you are all going to die,” said the Moon, and like a shot the Hare was off, bearing the Moon’s message to the people of earth in great leaps and bounds.  Of course, Moon had been showing the lesson each month, passing through darkness to fullness, waning and waxing, shrinking and growing, endlessly, patiently teaching.  But the people had forgotten, and when they received Hare’s partial message, they wailed bitterly at their wretched fate.  “We’re all going to die!” But the Hare, impetuous fellow that he was, had not stayed to hear the second half of the message, which was delayed in reaching the Earth:  “… and you all will be reborn.”  For Hare’s over-haste and obliviousness, when he returned, the Moon split his lip, and to this day the harelip is a reminder to hold in the heart the whole message, to find wholeness in the many pairings that a true cycle treats as “One Thing, moving” — a Uni-verse.

winterbrookSo what are Druids to do who feel Orders may not be for them, or at least not right now?  The whole world beckons.  If, as Robert Frost says in “Carpe Diem,” which must by all signs be the true religion of America*, “The present / Is too much for the senses, / Too crowding, too confusing— / Too present to imagine,” a few years later, his splendid poem “Directive” urges:  “Drink.”  This too can be religion, can be spirituality, can be a saving and healing practice that does not split the two, if you will have it: “Drink, and be whole again beyond confusion.”

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*Carpe Diem:  (Latin) literally, “seize the day”; Nike’s Just Do It; YOLO — you only live once; “in heaven there is no beer; that’s why we drink it here.”

Images: spiral at Newgrange, Ireland; winter brook.

Updated 6 Nov. 2013

Listening and the Land, Part 1   2 comments

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Much of my learning before and during the Bardic grade of OBOD Druidry has been about listening. I’ve walked different landscapes here and abroad over the last couple decades, and almost always when there are negative energies, they seemed to issue from human presences that felt negative to me, or disrupted the native energy. The land itself is simply the land, with all its other lives and forces and history and presences. It may not always feel comfortable or easy or familiar, but it has an integrity that asks me to pay attention.  And yes, I’ve done that with varying success.  But the human is always an overlay, unless the place has been inhabited for a very long time, and the humans there learned to attend to and respect the place they lived. Which is sadly not often enough, though places exist here and there which are dearly loved and cherished, places in which the land spirits dance their joy.

California Druid Gwynt-Siarad tackles this directly in his blog entry, “The Curious Case of American Land Spirits.”  I’ve taken the liberty of reposting the whole of his short entry here (Druids are always talking to beings they can’t see):

Recently I was involved in a discussion about land spirits. As the discussion progressed it touched on what I feel is a very important issue to us druids living in the Americas. That being, land spirits are more often then not, tied to the land and thus couldn’t come to us from Europe, and thus how do we treat with the spirits of this “new” land? The natives of this place have a long and good history of working with the land spirits here. Sadly, in most places, and certainly here on the west coast of the lower 48 the natives are almost completely gone. This is a very sad thing, but not the focus of this post. The question is, can those of us of European descent summon, honor, call, and treat with American land spirits? It was suggested that the spirits here are used to being summoned with certain type of ritual, that being those of the local natives. That the land spirits here have native names, and should only be addressed as such. ok…what if the name is not known, and can’t be learned? And what of the idea that they can only be summoned with native American style evocations? Where does this leave the modern druid? Even if I were able to learn, say the dances of the Umpqua Indians to summon the spirit of the Umpqua river, that would most likely be considered cultural appropriation and that’s just not P.C.

I have been tumbling these thoughts over in my head for several days now, and here is what I have come up with. First off, spirits are as individual in personality as people are. What might be ok with one spirit won’t be ok with another. How do we find out? I vote for good old fashioned trial and Error. Go out there and do what druids do in the way druids do it. If the spirit doesn’t like it, I am sure it will let you know, if you bother to listen. Let the spirits be our teacher. I think and feel with but a few exceptions so long as the spirits are approached with offerings, respect and love they are not going to be over critical if you said the right name, pronounced in the correct native dialect or be upset if you didn’t dance in the native way. Using a name the spirit is familiar with would be very helpful in treating with it, but not critical. So those druids that are inclined to work with such spirits, I say do your homework and get out there and get to know your spiritual neighbors!

No surprise that the spiritual world resembles this one — the spirits wish to be treated as individuals, because that’s what they are.  What of spirits of a species which was transplanted to the New World by Europeans?  Is it the “same” plant or animal?  The best way to find out, as Gwynt-Siarad observes, is to start the conversation.

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image credit: http://www.etsy.com/listing/59674255/fall-autumn-photography-new-england

(Check out their gorgeous prints.)

Druid in a Box, Part 1   4 comments

She was Druid.  When she needed to know things, a way would open.  She was learning to trust it.  Sometimes an opening way asked for patience, and that took work, still.  Waiting rarely looked hard when others did it, but she’d done enough herself to know better. A song made it easier, and when she listened a certain way, now and again songs came, tinkling on the air, or roaring out of someplace she didn’t know she’d gone to till she returned with a start, the phone ringing, or her cat Halfpint curled in her lap and kneading one thigh with paws tipped with needle claws.  Often the words came later, the melody already running ahead of her, in and around her attention till she got a version down on paper or on her music program.

She was Druid, she knew.  It was a long time coming, that knowledge.  Sometimes she’d resisted, convinced she was done with paths, and seeking and god-stuff, anything like that.  But through it all the gifts kept arriving.  Hard ones, and easy ones too.  Often enough it meant whatever the land gave her at the moment.  For proof, all she had to do was look at her house, filled with stones, bird bones, animal skulls, pressed flowers, carved branches, vervain and basil and mint, garlic and St. John’s Wort and other herbs she was learning as she went.  After Jack left with his secretary, she got the little ramshackle two-bedroom house and the six acres of pasture they’d planned to farm, and slowly the once-empty rooms filled with links to the green world outside the door.  Inside, too.  Spiders in the corners, mice in the walls, squirrels skittering across the tin roof, crows caucusing in the back yard.

Jack.  One of the hard gifts.  He left, and for a while the emptiness threatened to eat her alive.  A big hole she had to stop looking into.  No bottom, but walls dark with bitterness.  So she stayed busy volunteering and running the food pantry and substituting at the local elementary school, until one day a boy complained about the smell of incense that seemed to follow her wherever she went. “Witch” was the real reason, she heard from a sympathetic colleague.  Parents complaining about “that teacher.”  Though when the principal called her in “for a little chat,” what he said was they just couldn’t rely on her to be on time.  All she knew then was that her morning ritual had just cost her one needed source of income.  Hard gift.

A month of therapy, and “you’re stuck in a box labelled ‘wife,'” until she knew she could give herself better advice, and cheaper. When the box is the whole world, then I’m Druid in a box, she thought.  And thinking inside the box is a great place to start.  Hardly anybody else is in here.  They’re all outside, because that’s where they’ve been told they should be.  That’s where the clever ones are, the ones who want to be ahead of the curve.  Mostly people do what they’re told.  But almost always something held her back from doing what everybody else did, shoved her or kicked her sideways.  A kind of resistance, a suspicion, a compass set in her belly and spinning her some other way.  Ahead of the curve?  It was more than enough to be the curve, bird’s wing in the air, crescent moon, arc of water coursing over a falls.  The backyard junipers and oaks and one old willow bowing at the sky.

Then it was October, her birth month, and in spite of turning 30 in a few more days, her mood lightened.  She could feel a shift coming, something new trying to find her, a little blind, and maybe needing help.  She could help it.  Listen, she reminded herself.  It was one thing she’d finally gotten good at.

To be continued …

Digging for the Future   Leave a comment

One of the challenges for contemporary Druids is to reconnect with the land where we live and find old and new paths of harmony to walk on it.

Back in CT for the coming year, we won’t need right away most of the firewood we’ve carefully stacked in VT, except to warm the house during the occasional weekend jaunt back north to check on pipes and windows, and stay over for a night or two.

Seeing woodpiles, our own and others’, makes me realize how they’re among the treasures of the landscape, this long-inhabited place it’s our turn to live in and re-learn.  Energy for the future.  Trees cut locally (to limit  the spread of arboreal pests) mean an opportunity for a new generation to leaf and grow.  Once almost completely deforested in colonial times, both VT and NH are well-treed now.  We get it, our green gold.

And we’ve held on as well, as much of the U.S. has, to the legacy of at least some of the old names and their stories: Ascutney, Memphremagog, Queechee, Maquam, Missisquoi, Sunapee, Ossipee, Winnipesaukee, Monadnock, Merrimack, Nubanusit, Contoocook … and my personal favorite, because my wife tells NH family stories about it, Skatutakee (pronounced skuh-TOO-tuh-kee).  The names evoke for me a landscape of moose and bear, autumn fogs and spring mud, glacially fresh chill air and sky-blessed summer days, maple syrup and heirloom apples, blueberries and squash, small town greens and sheer church spires, seasonal tourist hordes and perfect frigid midwinter stillnesses.  A marvelous locale to be all Druidy in.

But here in CT I’m drawn back into the local landscape too, the names of trees on campus, copper beech (fagus sylvatica) and charter oak and smaller ornamentals we just don’t see in VT.  So I’ve resolved to “meet the locals,” and visit them in all four seasons, as we were reminded at the Gathering to do if we truly want to begin to know them well.  My goal is to learn 25 new trees this year. (I’ll let you know how it goes in a future post.)

Digging for the future is putting down roots, knowing your place — not in the submissive way that the expression is used so often, but literally.  How many of us have passed years of our lives and never known the trees who provide the oxygen we breathe, and shape the land we pass through and live in?  I know it’s many times I’ve ignored them.  But once the trees made themselves known to me, it seemed downright rude not to greet them every time I pass by, to cheer them on, if I’m walking to touch them, to cast my affection abroad, rather than hoard it tight in my heart.  I dig for the future whenever I lay down a layer of my life that will become part of the contours of next year, or five years, ten years on.  Excavation in reverse.  Living fully now helps excavate what’s yet to come, brings it into view, lets it breathe and stretch and begin to grow towards its own good self.  And trees?  Trees were the first Druids.

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Updated 26 Sept., 10:27 pm

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