Archive for the ‘Ovate’ Category

Rowan and the Ovate   Leave a comment

As the second tree of the Celtic ogham “tree alphabet”, the Rowan, ogham ᚂ and Old Irish luis, is associated with Ovates, the second of the three Druidic grades in much of modern Druidry.

Rowan, or Mountain Ash, is certainly up to that role, both physically and symbolically.

In Europe one common native variety is sorbus aucuparia; in the U.S. it’s usually sorbus americana. The rowan’s leaves resemble those of the ash, but the two trees belong to different families, the rowan being a relative of the rose. Standing out front of our southern Vermont house, “our” rowan was the first tree to alert me to the attention the previous owner, a native of Austria, devoted to certain plantings on the land. Not hard to notice, when our rowan stands near the road, offering its protection. In fact, roadsides are a common location for the rowan, often planted by bird droppings containing the seeds. Its European species name aucuparia means “bird-catcher” — the rowan attracts birds like cedar waxwings — we often see a flock of them come through in late winter, and strip any remaining berries for their sugars and vitamin C.

(A little digging uncovers research demonstrating the rowan’s central importance for humans as well, particularly in Austrian folk medicine, as an anti-inflammatory and treatment for respiratory disorders, as well as “fever, infections, colds, flu, rheumatism and gout” according to the article at the link.)

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The sky was overcast a few minutes ago when I took this picture. The red-orange berries are still ripening, and will be ready for harvest in October or early November, after a frost. Though our tree bears the brunt of winter’s north winds and a spray of snow and sand at each pass of the snowplow in winter, it’s a tough, scrappy species and still flourishes. Wikipedia notes:

Fruit and foliage of S. aucuparia have been used by humans in the creation of dishes and beverages, as a folk medicine, and as fodder for livestock. Its tough and flexible wood has traditionally been used for woodworking. It is planted to fortify soil in mountain regions or as an ornamental tree.

The rowan’s Old English name is cwic-beam, “quick” or “living” tree, which has survived into modern English as the variant name quickbeam. The name of one of Tolkien’s Ents in Lord of the Rings, Quickbeam is “hasty”; his Elvish name Bregalad translates to roughly the same thing — “quick” or “living” tree.

As a tree sacred to Brighid, the rowan also produces five-petalled flowers and fruit with tiny pentagrams opposite the stem — barely visible in some of the berries below, especially at the bottom left:

rowan berry pentagram

What put the tree before my attention now in particular is an invitation to serve in the Ovate initiations at East Coast Gathering in a few weeks. A rowan stave with a ᚂ on it will make a good gift to each of the new initiates.

The rowan shrugs off cold weather — it can be found at remarkably high altitudes; it flowers in white blossoms in spring and produces red berries in autumn. Thus it earns its nickname “delight to the eye” in the 7th century Irish Auraicept na n-Éces. As a tree to represent the toughness, persistence, and changing work in each season required to pursue the spiritual journey we’re all on, the rowan is a worthy candidate. It is often named the “most magical” of all the trees. As protection against another’s enchantment, it can aid us in creating our own.

Its mythological and folkloric associations are many. (You can find another rich link on the rowan here.) As a “portal tree” facilitating entry and return from other-worlds, the rowan invites contemplation under its branches.

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Image: berries — Wikipedia rowan.

“Deeds that move the world’s wheels”   Leave a comment

“Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere”. Elrond, Lord of the Rings.

One still-unidentified man stood up to a column of tanks in Tian-an-men Square after the Chinese army suppressed the protests there in 1989, nearly 30 years ago. The iconic photos spread world-wide.

Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat — in the colored seating section on a bus — to a white man, after the white section was full.

These and many other individuals may have caught the public eye and achieved a fame they never sought. It can easy to misunderstand in our media-obsessed age: we don’t have to win a golden hoard of likes on Facebook, or post the tweet that shakes the twitter-verse, for our lives and choices and actions to matter.

We may expect and wait and complain and despair, while the supposed “great” do nothing, even as all around us — and including us and ours — small hands and feet and voices and wills do what they must. And each of us does these things in our own ways every day, until “just one more” reaches and passes the tipping point.

Those who tell us there’s “no point” in individual recycling efforts, for example, because one person can’t shift a planet’s indifference, forget that in fact that’s how we reach the crucial tipping points of change. Like birds practicing migration, one and then a few and then a flock and then multiple flocks do short practice runs, till the whole group is ready, when they weren’t before. The small wings — hands — voices — deeds are in fact the most common way we launch changes, for both worse and better.

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What’s on your loom? What pattern are your deeds weaving?

If we’re prudent with our energies, we practice “starfish moves” (link to well-known short story). If we value each individual — as most of us say we do — then “starfish moves” are the only way most of us will effect change. We focus on one and one and one. Leaders take their cues from others as much as anyone does. And if they don’t, they’re not forever.  “When I despair”, said Gandhi, “I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it — always.”

I see the Rowan’s berries slowly ripen to red in the August sun. The previous European-born owner of our land planted the tree squarely in the front lawn, a proper tree of protection, but also of beauty, as it puts forth leaves and white blossoms in spring, then red fruit in autumn.

Second of the Ogham trees, luis, bright tree sacred to Brighid, the Rowan’s fiery nature is a good prod to Ovates like me, who need to bring light and fire on the journey through the dark of the inward paths they often walk.

Rowan, Rekindler, you face me each day I look out the front window, reminding me the depths of the Ovate way are not to be mastered like some sort of ego project to crow about, as if I can walk and gather and know them all, but respected as teachers. Always more remains to learn, to discover. You recall me to the need for humility before the unknown, coupled with boldness to do the necessary seeking.

I am an individual, yes — that’s how spirit manifests, the only way spirit manifests, in my experience. Rowan, human, leaf, seed, bee, birch. But a corollary: the universe also expends individuals ruthlessly, with appalling profligacy, every moment. A billion tadpoles each spring, and only a few reach full froggy adulthood. A thousand seeds from each blackberry, and only a few root and leaf and carry on the next year. The individual is a means, not an end.

I can respect my individuality most by treasuring the same manifestation of spirit in others wherever I encounter it, humans, trees, gods, bugs, snakes. And I do that by being an individual, respecting my own potentials and limits, just as I value the capacities and boundaries of others. Neither less nor more, false meekness nor arrogance, answers what we are each called to be and do. I need not apologize for swatting this mosquito landing on my neck — my blood is mine, and I defend it quite properly — but neither do I need scorched-earth tactics to rid the earth of every last biting and sucking insect, which would fail in any case — or doom me with them.

“I celebrate myself,” says Whitman, “and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”.

And as I’d also put it, tweaking and enlarging Whitman, one of our original Enlargers already, so he shouldn’t mind, “what you assume I shall also assume, for we both participate in this universe, this ‘one-turning’, together”. We rub far more than just elbows, living as we do cheek-by-jowl on this spinning earth.

“There was never”, says Whitman, “any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now”.

What then? A reason to despair? No, to my mind, anyway. We do not add to or subtract from hell or heaven, but move through them, manifesting them moment to moment by our choices and our small or large deeds. How will I move the world’s wheels next, in my own small and large ways? How will you? What have I learned so far?

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Acrostic of the Heart   Leave a comment

[An exercise from a draft of a book on Druid spiritual practices I’m writing.]

Using your own name, a specific goal boiled down to a word or two, a god-name, an ancestral name, etc., spell the name or word, giving a separate line for each letter (an acrostic). Then, in a meditation or ritual, dream or other prompting, ask for guidance. Write what comes to you. You may wish to do this on successive days, either with the same focus, or a succession of names.

Zita and Dean 1921For practice with this exercise, I chose my grandfather’s middle name, William. He died more than twenty years before I was born. We share the same first name — when I was young, I heard people talking about him using “my” name. I first saw a picture of him when I was 10 years old. (I always wondered why my grandmother had so few family pictures in general — maybe memory was painful enough without reminders. He died when she was still in her thirties, left to raise two children through the Depression.)

Hearing and sharing the same name set up a connection, and seeing his formal portrait, and later other pictures of him, confirmed a link I value to this day. I’ve deepened it with writing about him in pieces like the one below.

Though this one’s not specifically about him, it’s about connecting with the ancestral legacy we all bear, about the Ovate flavor of experiencing the inward journey, about the Bardic encounter with ever-deepening mystery at the heart of things. In the end, they’re not separate, and it’s a relief not to struggle to sort them out, but wait until they clarify, like a muddy stream will, in a few days, after a rainstorm roils the waters.

Just pay attention, whisper the Ancestors. That’s a good half of everything we ask of you.

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Ancestral

Washed out of my bones
I fly across an ocean green as glass,
lifting easy above whitecaps.

Loosed from cages of chest and skull
I see them all at once
along this dark shore — shadows, lights

moving to music I can’t quite hear,

am always hearing —
ash, ember, blood drum.

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Sometimes what you receive or create is for you alone. It is sacred, which means no one else has any say in the matter, nor any opinion to touch upon what is inmost in you, unless you grant it. What you welcome is not for others’ commentary or reaction or judgment, but for blessing and connection and the kindling of a holy fire within.

Other times, you may receive inward blessing to share, but these decisions themselves are not for debate with others. Choose prudently.

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In the poem above I underlined the letters of the name prompt. The two final lines, both beginning with the letter “a”, came after some listening time, later the same day. When I say the lines to myself I hear them now as a kind of breathing, or sigh, or a voice without words, a sound at the edge of hearing.

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Midsummer and Vervain   Leave a comment

I’m going all lore-y in this post, so if plants and herbal history aren’t really your thing, move along.

Vervain (Verbena spp) — “leafy branch” — known among herbalists since at least the time of dynastic Egypt, has associations with midsummer, most obviously because in the British climate where we get much of herbal lore in the English-speaking West, that’s approximately when it flowers. The 11th-century Old English Herbarium (Ann Van Arsdall, Routledge, 2010) describes gathering vervain, using the Latin name uermenaca, at Midsummer. (Any left over from the previous year was to be tossed into the Midsummer bonfire.) Fans of The Vampire Diaries know it for its colorful flowers and anti-vampiric powers. The TV series showed the variety Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata), an American species, and dramatized the herb’s toxicity to vamps and its ability to protect a mortal from compulsion by vampires. Who says pop television has no wisdom to offer?!

The range of vervain’s nicknames also indicates something of how firmly fixed it is in herbal history: enchanter’s plant, holy herb, herb of the cross, herb of Saint Anne (yerba del Santa Ana), Juno’s tears, pigeon’s grass, pigeonweed, turkeygrass, herb of grace, etc.

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Blue (or Swamp) Vervain (Verbena hastata)

I’ve been on an intermittent local quest to spot some growing wild. Many North American varieties of the plant are originally native to Europe and were brought by early colonists. In the sometimes quaint and often rewarding language of herbals and herbalists, vervain “has enough garden presence of a rustic kind to justify its inclusion, being in no way boorish or uncivil, and it is easy to start from seed and easy to grow” (Henry Beston*, Herbs and the Earth, David Godine, 2014).

Vervain varieties (over 250!) have been prized for numerous benefits, depending on dose and preparation, along with a few qualifications of sensitivity and toxicity at higher levels. It has tonic, diuretic, and anti-parasitic properties, and can stimulate both dopamine and serotonin, meaning it lifts you up and also slows you down. Leaves, roots and flowers, again depending on variety (harvest early in the season to avoid strong, even rank flavor!), make a soothing tea.

In herblore, vervain sprang, according to one story, from the tears of the goddess Isis as she wept at the death of Osiris. Greeks and Romans both used it as a sacred herb, sweeping it across their altars.  In Christian Europe the story runs that vervain was used to slow the flow of blood from Christ’s wounds (though logically this would merely have prolonged his agony), and so thereby the plant gained another of its nicknames — herb-on-the-cross.

Western medicine officially disdains to acknowledge much value to the plant. One site (drugs.com, sourced from Harvard Health Topics), notes “There is no clinical evidence to support specific dose recommendations for vervain. Traditional use for its astringent properties required 2 to 4 g daily in an infusion … Research reveals little or no information regarding adverse reactions with the use of this product” but adds that for pregnant and nursing women, “Documented adverse reactions. Avoid use”.

Nonetheless, many sites include recipes for nursing mothers, such as this one:

Combine 1 quart of water with 1 teaspoon of vitex berries, 1 teaspoon blessed thistle leaves, 1/2 teaspoon vervain leaves, 1/2 teaspoon nettle leaves, 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, and 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds; steep for 20 minutes; drink 1 to 3 cups a day.

I’m leaving out the source, perhaps to protect the guilty. But anyone who’s benefitted from herbal remedies, as I have, especially if nothing else has worked, can readily attest to their value from personal experience, in the face of official disdain and ignorance.

With all this history and attention, it’s little surprise that among the plants set forth for study in OBOD’s Ovate grade work, vervain occupies pride of place.

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Sources (besides personal experience): OrganicfactsDrugs.com; Mother Earth Living.

*Henry Beston (1888-1968) wrote, “Nature is part of our humanity, and without some awareness of that divine mystery man ceases to be man”.

East Coast Gathering 2015   5 comments

This last weekend marks the 5th East Coast Gathering I’ve attended, the 6th since its launch in 2010, and another gift of Spirit and mortal effort.

You can read my accounts of three of the previous years: 2012 | 2013 | 2014. A special thank-you to John Beckett, several of whose professional photographs illustrate this post. You can visit John’s own articulate and insightful blog “Under the Ancient Oaks: Musings of a Pagan Druid and Unitarian Universalist” over at Patheos here.

Camp Netimus -- photo courtesy Krista Carter

Camp Netimus — site of the ECG. Photo courtesy Krista Carter

 

Registration for the weekend filled within 20 hours of opening this last spring. Gatherings like this answer an obvious need in the Druid and Pagan community, and more are in the works in other locations. It’s on us to help make them happen. A dedicated team can bring the same joy, support, inspiration and community to other regions.

Yes, we’re all solitaries some or much of the time, but every solitary benefits from celebrating and learning in the company of others. That chance conversation, ritual insight, day- or night-dream, word or phrase that lights up just for you, the hugs you give and receive, the opportunities to serve the community through offering a workshop, cooking, cleaning, organizing, driving — these make Gatherings like this such richly rewarding experiences. The dark and light halves of each year are real, and we need all the help and laughter we can find to thread our way through the labyrinth of time.

 

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I arrived Thursday afternoon early enough to check in and unpack before the opening ritual. My cabin mates had already hoisted a banner, which also made the building easier to distinguish from the others in the dark, when the “9” on the door was no longer readily visible.

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Cabin banner. Photo by A Druid Way

 

Equinox marks the shifting energies of days and nights, rebalancing the world. A lovely moon bore witness, waxing each evening through wonderfully clear skies, lighting the path to evening events like the Ovate initiation ritual and illuminating the short uphill walk from the cafeteria to the nightly fire circle.

The crescent moon. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Crescent moon in a twilit sky. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

The theme this year was ritual, and the whole weekend focused our attention on its magical possibilities through a dozen workshops, demonstrations and ceremonies. You can get a sense of the range of approaches from the list of workshops here. We also welcomed returning U. K. guests Damh the Bard, Cerri Lee, and Kristoffer Hughes.

Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard and Kris Hughes. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard and Kris Hughes. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

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Damh’s workshop on “The Bardic Voice” underscored the centrality of the Bard in Druidry. Like many Druid groups, OBOD orders its teaching in the sequence of Bard, Ovate and Druid. But they do not form a linear progress or erect a hierarchy of achievement. They spiral. In an Ovate breakout group a day later, several people mentioned how they often return to the Bardic coursework, its insights deepening through their Ovate practice. And likewise with the work of the Druid grade.

Damh is a fine teacher, an animated storyteller and ritualist of deep experience. With his wife Cerri he leads Anderida Grove. [For an audio inspiration, listen to his hour-long recording for inner journeying here.]

Damh in teaching mode. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Damh in teaching mode. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

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Reminders of ritual possibility filled the weekend. Below is a picture of a labyrinth, another gift of the weekend, lovingly constructed by Cat Hughes and friends.

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Labyrinth by day — entrance. Photo by A Druid Way.

 

Volunteers switched on each light every evening, then turned them off again when everyone else had gone to bed.

Labyrinth by night. Photo courtesy Damh the Bard.

Labyrinth by night. Photo courtesy Damh the Bard.

 

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Kris’s workshop, “Laudanum, Literature and Liturgy — the Ritual Legacy of Iolo Morganwg,” featured the ritual — in Welsh — that Morganwg first performed on the Summer Solstice on Primrose Hill (London) in 1792, launching the Druid Revival and establishing the Welsh Gorsedd of Bards. Morganwg is also the author of the Druid’s Prayer, still used in many modern Druid groups including OBOD, and a major influence on generations of Druids from his time to the present. Kris’s Celtic eloquence in praise of Morganwg and his passion for Druidry took him off script and left many of us with tears in our eyes.

Kris during his workshop on Iolo Morganwg. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

Kris during his workshop on Iolo Morganwg. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

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Bill Streeter from the Delaware Valley Raptor Center, the charity designated for this year’s Gathering donation, brought six birds and made a fine presentation on raptors, their abilities, the dangers (mostly human) facing them, and the challenges of rehabilitating injured birds.

Bill Streeter of the DVRC with a golden eagle. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Bill Streeter of the DVRC with a golden eagle. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

These magnificent birds have often suffered neurological injuries that worsen over time. Though both the eagle above and the owl below look normal, both are blind in one or both eyes, or suffer other injuries like crippled wings, and thus could not survive in the wild. But the birds help save the lives of their kin through their appearances in info sessions like this one.

Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

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The Alban Elfed ritual celebrating the Equinox includes gifts from children, guests and each of the three grades of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Here are Chris and I holding bowls of acorns, part of the Ovates’ ritual gift, just before the ritual procession into the Circle.

Chris and I just before Alban Elfed ritual. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Chris (r) and I (l) just before Alban Elfed ritual. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

The evening eisteddfod (music and poetry circle) one night featured a splendid duet from Kris and Damh — see the image below.

Kris and Damh singing at the fire circle.

Kris and Damh singing at the fire circle. Photo courtesy Hex Nottingham.

Below is another pic of the fire circle one night. Our enthusiastic and skilful fire-makers Derek and Brom love large, carefully-constructed bonfires.

Fire. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Evening bonfire. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Once again Dana set up her meditation tent on the campground for all to visit and enjoy.

Approaching the tent. Photo courtesy Dana Wiyninger

Approaching the tent. Photo courtesy Dana Wiyninger

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Altar in Dana’s meditation tent on the camping field. Photo courtesy Hex Nottingham.

A small group made a side excursion to nearby Raymondskill Falls. Here’s a view of one of the waterfalls.

Raymondskill Falls. Photo courtesy of Gabby Batz Roberts.

Raymondskill Falls. Photo courtesy Gabby Batz Roberts.

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And for those of us who can’t wait an entire year, the Gulf Coast Gathering will celebrate its second year in March 2016. Blessings of the Equinox to all!

Growing Down   Leave a comment

greenworldThe green world burgeons all around me, though I fall silent. I don’t grow up like these eager stems, leaves and blossoms that surround this house of self in a blaze of green glory. So early this year, summer already launched in the heart of spring. Not up. No. I grow down.

The word itself brings the action. D o o o w w w n n n. Without thought, something bones and skin and gut do. Are doing. I shudder in a moment of vertigo. One world spins and collapses around me. Then I’m touching another, walls that shape the passage-way around my descent. Something deepens, I sense roots like fingers, fingers like roots, reaching into darkness, into cool earth and colder stone.

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I feel them ever so subtly at first, their branching shapes, the strength of this bark-skin, root and claw, fingertip and tendril, things that are somehow both my hands and also the tree roots I find myself grasping.

Then all at once, that subterranean tug of ancestors, my roots their roots, reaching and twining into the dream earth I crawl into each night and pull over me. I shiver, bone-deep. All that they were, I am. All that they feared and love, I too fear and love. In the darkness, a space opens. Water pools at my feet, a faint glow illuminating it, silvering the surface. Ripples die away and all lies still. My own breathing deafens me, too loud. The dark silver still shines with its own light, waiting … for what?

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I’m jerked upright, to my feet. Want to meet your ancestors? asks an insistent whisper. Look, the whisper says. Look, Pilgrim, in the mirror. The silver surface of the water steams, mist swirls up from it, the fog thickens, then furls back and away. I kneel down to look …

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Singing. I hear singing.

Three awens for the dead, who live again. Three awens for the living, who will die in turn. Three awens for those yet unborn, who know both worlds, who await a third.

O Walker between the worlds, do you wish to remember all you have forgotten? Then stand ready. The nine awens of change wash over you.

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Are you ready?

It’s not a question. Oh, it has the form of one, but it’s not. It’s a choice. I show I’m ready, or not, by what I choose. And by how. Not by thinking of an answer.

It’s a fair choice. It’s always a fair choice, I hear. Because it’s yours. But if I don’t know it’s a choice, if I listen to fear, or doubt, or judgment, or anything else but what I was born listening to, what shaped me while I was a mere thumbling in my mother’s womb, I miss the choice, and think it’s merely a question to answer, one that already has an answer, not one I answer in this moment, right now, by choosing. What will I choose? That’s the real question.

aceofcupsI gift you with a grail, the chalice of your desire, says the short powerful figure before me. I try to make out a face, but nothing other than an outline in this dimness.  And the voice.

What will fill it? Where will you pour it? The gift cannot be given to you until you give it away.

How? I hear myself shouting, how in the name of the Nine Druids do I give away a gift I don’t even have?

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I’m coming back. Ascending, though that’s not exactly it either. One world fades, another gains strength.

A final whisper. Wanderer, you have no other home. Home is where you serve.

Images: greenworldsheila-na-gig; lake at night; grail.

Posted 14 June 2015 by adruidway in ancestors, Druidry, grail, initiation, Ovate

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Inward to Ovate   4 comments

pathImagine a path you create as you go. We don’t need to call it “shamanism” or “Druidry” or “earth spirituality” or anything else in particular. If anyone asks, it’s “nothing special.” It’s just “what you do every day.” I call it my life.

You respond, or you don’t, to the guidance of hints, nudges, dreams, gut instinct, chance encounters, coincidence. You seek, or you don’t, for something that begins to answer the call inside you, the tickle or itch that won’t go away. Oh, you can dull it for days or decades with a wider variety of distractions now than at almost any other time in the last ten millennia.

Sometimes, perversely, it seems the call or itch or tickle is ITSELF the distraction. Can’t do it all. Just gonna live my life. Keep my head down. Leave me alone, will ya? Not gonna get suckered into a wild goose chase, a will o’ the wisp, a fool’s errand. (How many names we have for them …) YOLO. You only live once. Just do it. Live like nobody’s watching.

And the silence, which never quite goes away, which nothing ever completely fills, which opens ever more deeply inward.

Until the day it doesn’t. A barrier, a wall, a blockage. Maybe a guardian who challenges you there. Inside, perhaps, or outside. That restless partner, impossible boss, difficult co-worker, awkward relative, rebellious child. Just for you. Old story. New each time it happens to me, though. OK, so what is it this time?  What’s the point, the life lesson? Sometimes a pain in the ass can just be a pain in the ass and nothing else, right? Please? Can’t the growth thing give me a break?

Then, oddly, it does. A month, a year. Smooth sailing. What’s new? Nothing much. Your holiday notes are short because, blissfully, things are going well. If you’re the suspicious type, you wonder why. If you’re just grateful, you go with it.

Soon enough the sane plainness of it all threatens to run you stark raving mad. Something, anything different. The uneventful routine you longed for has sucked you dry as last month’s bread. You’d prefer a little drama, maybe — you hear yourself actually say it — a minor, manageable disaster. Just, you know, for some color. Something different.

monsterThe universe, remarkably compliant, gives us what we ask for (or what we fear, which is asking by negation; or what we’re least prepared for, which is a gift for our carelessness; what we never saw coming, which is “a little something” for our blind indifference), whether we want it or not. The universe: compliant, and monstrous. Monster under the bed, enormous, hairy and fanged. Or snake-slick and implacable. Or less distinct, and thus scarier: dark tunnel over there, on the other side of the light, which the whirlpool of this dream drags you toward, closer, closer …

If you know all this, have done all this, seen it all, heard it all before, know it inside and out, welcome. You’ve just finished the introductory material. Now for the actual beginning.

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In the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo sings of the path, his path as he leaves the Shire. (That’s old wisdom, not taught much anymore. When in doubt about something, make a song of it. It helps.)

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

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Walking two paths and contemplating the Ovate grade feels something like this to me right now. The real climb is about to commence. (Already has.) I’m standing where I’ve always been, which is on the way to somewhere I can’t quite make out. Glimpses, sometimes. A voice I know, then a good conversation one afternoon. Or a curve in the path opens onto a familiar vista. The waterfall, or lake, or mist over the valley. The call of a bird. A memory, piercing in clarity. A discovery, one that time brings you, or one that has nothing to do with time. Rest point. Then back out into it.

OdinThe start of Ovate is both the vehicle that has brought me here, and simply a step with a label off the shelf that I grab for convenience and plaster on my experience because it’s there (both experience AND label), because it caught my eye. “Oh-vate.” A little inspired, a little crazy. Vatic power, and all that. Indo-European *watis “inspired, mad, possessed, crazy.” Ancient word sent through its changes, re-surfacing in Old Irish fáith “seer, prophet” and then as Woden or Odin, god who hangs on the World Tree Yggdrasil for nine days for the gift of wisdom, for insight. God who sacrifices one good eye for the same reason. Your life comes asking “What’s it worth to you?”

Warrior, traveler, initiator, self. Homeless person you meet on a street corner, and turn from, because he reeks of sweat and urine, because he’s mumbling (or screaming) to himself. So not the Druid I was looking for.

And yet this, too, is useful, or not. We reach for images to see the invisible, to name the nameless.  The Way that can be walked isn’t the real (lasting, eternal) Way, says the Tao Te Ching. Six words in Chinese: dao ke dao fei chang dao. “Way can way not lasting way.” A mantra for the possible, for the (in)sane, for the despairing. “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go.” Same woods where Little Red Riding Hood meets a man-eating wolf on her path.

Carl Larsson's Little Red Riding Hood.  Wolf at your elbow?

Carl Larsson’s Little Red Riding Hood.
Wolf at your elbow?

But we walk it anyway, because there isn’t any other way. No way! people say when they don’t believe something. No path to understanding. I’m stuck in surprise and disbelief. Not a problem. You can “way” it anyway. “What’s love got to do with it?” asks Tina Turner in her signature song. What’s belief — or a clear path — got to do with it? Some people stop at the first line. But the Tao Te Ching does actually offer some useful advice mixed in with the maddening inscrutability of its lines:

True, the way you can walk ain’t no lasting way. The name you give it (or yourself) ain’t no lasting name. Give one thing a name and you find a whole world of (other) things. Long for anything and you may run up against its shape (or its opposite) everywhere. Give up longing, though, and it opens into a mystery. Both of these come from the same source. If I had to name it, it’s darkness. Darkness IN darkness, a door to understanding. Really? Uh-huh.

Understanding. Great word. When you stand-under it, and don’t grab at it, it comes to you of itself, like dawn, arriving every morning without any tugging on your part. Like a bird at the feeder which grows accustomed to your presence as you patiently fill and refill the seed each day. Feed your mystery until you feel its wings beat and hear its chirping.

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The last chapter of The Lord of the Rings (which is never the last chapter, another piece of old wisdom now fallen into sad disrepute) gives us additional words to Bilbo’s walking song:

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

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Images:

path; monster; Larsson’s Little Red Riding Hood; Georg Von Rosen’s Woden/Odin.

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