Archive for the ‘Philip Carr-Gomm’ Category

Seven Paths in Freedom: A Prayer-Rant   Leave a comment

Druidry, writes Philip Carr-Gomm in his foreword to Nuinn’s (Ross NicholsBook of Druidry,

is a way of working with the natural world, and is not a dogma or religion … Druidry honours, above all, the freedom of the individual to follow their own path through life, offering only guides and suggestions, schemes of understanding, methods of celebration and mythical ideas — which can be used or not as the practitioner sees fit (pg. 14).

You could just stop there, and run with that, because this post eventually descends into a rant. Or irascible prayer. OK, you were warned.

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clover overtaking weeds — no mowing needed! (but woodchucks love it)

<begin rant>

The word “honours” matters in the quote above. Not “grants” or “permits” freedom. Druidry recognizes something that’s already there. Druidry says Pay attention, so you can recognize these things, too.

Freedom, guides, suggestions, schemes, methods, celebrations, myths. These are the “seven paths in freedom” I want to look at in this post. Don’t worry, it’s not really a numbered list. A different Song is playing. The Song matters more than any list.

Freedom, that much abused and misunderstood word, is an actual thing we can experience and live from, not merely a “concept” or an “idea”, though it’s these things, too. It’s not only “in my head”. Freedom, like any song, comes first, then we have thoughts about it. It’s a gift, just like our lives. A melody at the heart of things. And like our lives, we can end our own freedom in so many ways. Turn off the music. (At least temporarily, though the Spiral remains, all the way down into our DNA.) If you need to be reminded how, just read the headlines. It’s practically multiple-choice at this point. Fifty ways to leave your lover, sings Paul Simon. Shedding your skin, walking on the other side, is a really good option at this point. We do it every night in dream. How about while awake?

A free person gives freedom to those nearby. Freedom spreads, like air, fragrance, sound, waves. We all know others who take from us when we’re around them, just like we know people who give, who make space, and work not to impose their limitations on us. Sometimes we read of the “torch of freedom” — and though cynicism is a popular defensive shield these days, that’s a live metaphor for the sense of kindling and expansion we feel in the presence of a free person. May we meet — and be — such people!

Don’t want to, or can’t, join a Druid Order? You’re a Druid from the day you accept your freedom, and act from it. An Order’s just a form, a guide, a suggestion, to try or not.

If we act from freedom, we discover everything is a guide, a suggestion. The old challenge, Everything is permitted, provided you can accept responsibility for what you do, is a rich seed for meditation. How far can I go toward testing it?! Not Is it true? but How is it true? When is it true? In what ways is it true? These tests, and their results, work much more creatively and productively, at least for me, than a simple “yes/no” Is it true? Because I’ve found pretty much everything is both not true, and true, depending. So that question’s off the list, until I can come back to it on a higher spiral, when it may turn out useful once again, after I manage to learn a few more things. Consciousness makes all the difference: it’s the “depending”.

Druidry offers some things to try out. (Now I’m imagining that as my quick seven-word answer to anybody who asks “So what is Druidry?”!)

Ground a practice in the things of my world: air, water, fire, earth. Not just ritual, though that too. Expand my rituals. Thinking, this morning, while I wash two-days-dried dirty dishes in warm water: air/thought, water (obvious!), fire/heat of the water, of my blood, of the sunlight streaming through the kitchen window; earth of my bones and flesh, of the food scraps on the plates and pots and silverware, of the sink and walls and world all around.

Brother Lawrence wrote a wonderful classic, Practicing the Presence of God. You almost don’t need to read it, the title says so much. If you do read through, be patient with it and yourself — you’ll need to do some digging to excavate the gold, given the change of cultural understandings.

It’s a practice, not a one-time deal. You get better.

Listen to other beings. The white ants that come every summer to our kitchen have more to teach me than the last book I read, whatever it was. Practice asking good questions. I’ve spent at least four decades on that one, and no sign of stopping yet. You know — magic in, magic out. Or the opposite.

“My God is bigger”, said a Christian to an author friend of mine. “Maybe that’s because your need is bigger”, said the friend.

An infinite abyss separates any two moments in time, in eternity, says one of the Wise. I practice resting there, feeling the lightness of spirit, of creative fire, of the awen as it flows. I set my hand on a blank journal page, a computer screen blog post, and enter that abyss. If like me you flash on vertigo for a moment, know too how weightless is fire, always rising up, climbing the spirals we all walk. If a child falls in a dream, the Senoi people of Malaysia encourage the child to fall, and not wake up to escape the dream. “They taught the children to fall, knowing they wouldn’t be hurt, and to climb, to travel, or fly to unknown places, to unknown cultures, to learn new things. If they woke up instead, they would be advised not to escape from such dreams the next time they occurred”, write Stewart and Garfield in their 1972 book Creative Dreaming. Easier on everybody than the wrenching costs of the rising suicide rates in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Schemes of understanding, patterns, webs, networks, interconnections, links, circuits. Our “marvels of modern technology” work (when they work) by building with earth — metal, glass, rare earth elements. Technology grounds these sometimes abstract, intellectual facets of elemental Air and manifests them, re-alizes them, makes them what Latin calls res — things. Ground and center, counsels beginning practice, again and again and again. I always need to earth what’s goin’ down.

Heirs though we are of two thousand years of Christianized thinking, somehow we’re still more Gnostic than Christian, eager to flee this world, constantly forgetting the god at the heart of Christianity who incarnated, became flesh, manifested, took on a body, got as earthy as anybody can, and died that way too. Eucharist, literally thanksgiving — this is my body, this is my blood. The Things of Earth are holy, divine.

Pilgrim on earth, thy home is heaven. Stranger, thou art the guest of God(s).

And yes, William Carlos Williams, you turn out to be right on both counts: “It’s difficult to get the news from poems, but men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there”. You write about a fracking flower [short / long] and stake us through the heart. Bards, tell us how it is, how it can be. Now take out the comma. Bards tell us how it is, how it can be. I’m still practicing as I listen harder.

Or another take, if you like or need it: “Earth’s crammed with heaven” , says Elizabeth Barrett Browning. “And every common bush afire with God;/But only he who sees, takes off his shoes./The rest sit around and pluck blackberries,/And daub their natural faces unaware …” Another practice, taking off my shoes, and walking through the grass.

And that’s fine, too, says Druidry. The Spiral always waits. No one’s reached the end yet … There are always rest-points. We need ’em.

Methods, celebrations, myths. Five, six and seven, if you’re counting. J. M. Greer says one key is “embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit”.

Everything’s political? Nope — everything’s spiritual. Or mythical, if you prefer. Politics wants the power and energy, but without bothering about the spirit that powers them. (Zeus tried all that out long ago, and look where it got him!) Things of this world? Sure! But just know where they come from. Get the order right. That’s why we keep screwing ourselves over with men (and it’s still mostly men) of power. Give the women a chance to mess things up, too!

They can’t give us what we really want. But we keep handing politicians our freedom anyway, as if they knew better what to do with it than we do. Reclaiming, Starhawk calls her Witchcraft tradition. Get it back! Don’t give it away again!

<end rant>

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Fallen pine, cut into lengths: edging for more raised beds? Gateposts for my backyard grove?

Solstices.

Just as at the Winter Solstice we celebrate the shortest day and longest night, knowing that light will grow again, so at the Summer Solstice we celebrate the longest day and shortest night, knowing that daylight will now shorten. Here is a teaching of paradox: each peak, dark or light, contains the seeds of its own change. And as Taoist tradition teaches, “When Yang peaks, it shifts to Yin; when Yin peaks, it shifts to Yang.” — adapted from OBOD publications.

I begin again. A couple of deep breaths, to center myself. Then the awen, or another sacred word. Open the inner doorways.

Get out in the sun, advises the OBOD ritual booklet for Summer Solstice. Sit in a shadow. I love these two apparent contradictories, side by side! So perfect! Harvest your garlic. Sunburned, shaded, garlicked, I proceed.

Having neglected to grow either St. John’s Wort or Vervain for our Solstice rite next weekend, I’m on the lookout for them along the road, in fields nearby, or at a farmers’ market. We’re naming the local landscape and its creatures in our Solstice ritual script, listening between the words for their other names, ones they may not tell everyone. Indian Place Names of New England, in a hodgepodge of less-than-complete formatting for online viewing, gives one Native American name for our local Vermont region: Kawassentekwa “barren spot along the (Connecticut) River”! One more way to laugh, to stay humble, to see and work for possibility where, outwardly, things look bare.

Apparent world, crazy uncle at the door, we hug you and invite you in to join us at the Festival table. Meet the others here!

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Plucking the Web: Strands for Reflection   5 comments

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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 4: Elements, Tools, Guides   Leave a comment

[Updated 27 Jan 2019]

[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”]

bors-sees-child-galBors has given me a sword. I see and feel it pass from his hands to mine. Now among my tasks: how to determine its nature — how and when do I make use of it — and what are appropriate thanks and service for this gift?

To what degree does this brief inner experience, which I recorded this morning in my journal, arise not from holy sources, but from my personal Grail practice and from such reading as the following, from Knight’s The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend?

Galahad, Percivale and Bors accompany the Holy Grail back to Sarras, from whence it came. The maimed king is healed, and the three knights are borne away in the ship with the silver altar  above which hovers the glory of the Holy Grail … [I]n due time, Galahad’s wish is granted, and he leaves this life and ascends … Percivale remains in Sarras, and only Bors … returns to tell the tale. In this sense Bors is in the line of succession of great revelatory mystics and prophets, and the keepers and sustainers of the inner mystery traditions (Knight, pgs. 270-271).

If I want to track the experience to its birth, the answer to an either-or question of origins probably matters. But if I want to learn what it can teach me, that question matters much less. (I can explore it at my leisure later, when I’m not storming a castle, or de-rusting my chainmail.)

Mara Freeman asserts in her book Grail Alchemy: “the legends of the Holy Grail open up paths to the spiritual dimensions like no body of lore has done before or since”. I take this as a deeply experiential challenge, not one to be answered by mere intellectual debate, but by results. Once I’ve made a serious sustained effort, I’ll know whether or not these legends — and my practice — open up paths to spiritual dimensions — for me.

(Any desire I have for my way to work for anybody else may be simple generosity, but such an innocent motive can all too quickly sidle up to my insisting it’s the only way — and that should instantly set off all our crap detectors. I keep reciting Postman’s corollary like the holy mantra it is: the main source of bullshit I face is myself. Exhibit A — Bors gives me a sword: an experience to assess and explore for what it can offer. Well and good. But I’m hot stuff because of that experience: deep piles of fresh, steaming bullshit.)

The same holds true with animal guides. (As a wise Druid asked at last fall’s East Coast Gathering, “Why is it everyone’s animal guide is Wolf or Raven or Bear? What about tomato cutworm?”)

I’ve written elsewhere of my experiences with wild boar. Again, the test of any guide, tool or experience is (or can be) utterly practical. As the Galilean master asks, Does it bear “good fruit”? That’s how to “know” in powerful and grounded ways.

Sometimes I can’t quite reach the inward space I need to inhabit for healing. But I can reach for my inner guide, through long familiarity, and touch the bristly fur on his back. Touch was one of my first experiences of my guide — totally unremarkable to me, when I was looking for something more dramatic — and less “mundane”, less physical. For whatever reason, I can readily feel his fur, his pleasure at our connection. Only later, as I note in the post linked in the previous paragraph, did I read in the Druid Animal Oracle the entry for Torc, the Boar: “… he is a representative of the Goddess — his skin can heal you” (Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm, The Druid Animal Oracle, Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1994, p. 39). And I began to appreciate this “earthed” mode of access for what it was, a priceless gift. Once again — you’d think I’d know this by now as one of my ongoing biases — I overlooked the obvious, minimized a non-flashy spiritual connection.

Freeman continues with wise admonitions about “how to tell if you have made it all up or you are being deluded”. After all, you may be wondering where my precious and much-vaunted crap detector is in all of this. Freeman says,

… the imagination is the language of the soul. It is the equivalent of our most important sensory organ — sight — only turned inward rather than outward. Every non-physical thing that exists expresses itself as energy, or Force.  The imagination is a creative mechanism that enables us to give Form to Forces of the non-physical planes. (Introduction, Kindle location 349).

I’d generalize Freeman’s words slightly here: Every thing that exists expresses itself. How else do we know it except through its expressions? If I arbitrarily rule out any non-physical expression from my interest or attention — and here we can include emotion, hunch, imagination, intuition, gut feeling, creative impulse, dream, memory, love — I merely impoverish myself. Why on the deep earth or in the starry heavens would I want to do that?!

Several versions of the following story exist:

Once not so long ago there was a great drought in a province of China. The situation grew increasingly dire. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants offered prayers, and the Chinese burned joss-sticks and lit firecrackers to frighten off the drought-demons; but no sign of rain or wisp of cloud appeared in the empty sky. Finally the people said: “We will fetch a rain-maker”. And from another province a dried-up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself in for three days. On the fourth day clouds gathered and there was a great storm at a time of year when little rain was expected, and the town was filled with rumours about the wonderful rain-maker. Asked what he had been doing during the three days that had caused the rain to fall on the fourth, the old man said: “I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order; they are not as they should be by the ordinance of Heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in Tao, and I also am not in the natural order of things, because I am now here in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao, and then, naturally, the rains came”.

This wisdom story is easily reworded to speak in Druid terms. Like most good stories, it leaps cultures without significant diminution.

Another instance: many years ago I bought a used copy of Caitlin and John Matthews’ The Arthurian Tarot. I spent several days familiarizing myself with the images, and skimming the accompanying text (The Hallowquest Handbook, subsequently enlarged) which, beyond the usual short descriptions of each card, details a number of pathworkings and other exercises for the Grail seeker. One of the cards that particularly drew me again and again was the Sword Maiden. Here is the Matthews’ description:

Under a tree sits the Sword Maiden embroidering a scabbard … Dindrane, Perceval’s sister, is part of the Grail quest. She cuts off her hair in order to weave a belt for the sword which Galahad shall carry. She grasps ideas and materializes them; perceptive and discerning, she is vigilant in the cause of truth and justice; she cuts through difficulties by taking the way of self-sacrifice.

sword maidenWhen years later I read that Knight calls Dindrane “the perfect female initiate” (The Secret Tradition, pg. 270) and wrote of Bors that “he represents the initiate … rooted in the world” I realized that I had the makings of a personal practice of polarity working for a Grail quest. Rather than typifying or idealizing any stereotypically gendered element of expression, I see them as energies, inner and outer, available to the Grail seeker in mythic and archetypal forms.

Postman notes in the article I cited in the previous post:

So you see, when it comes right down to it, crap-detection is something one does when he starts to become a certain type of person. Sensitivity to the phony uses of language requires, to some extent, knowledge of how to ask questions, how to validate answers, and certainly, how to assess meanings … What crap-detecting mostly consists of is a set of attitudes toward the function of human communication: which is to say, the function of human relationships.

You might without too much distortion call crap-detection a kind of secular Grail Quest. Or the inverse: the Grail Quest is a holy version of crap detecting — in following it, I’m looking for and working toward a full(er) and healthier relationship with the cosmos and the beings in it, expressed in language and ritual as far as they can take me: naming things as lovingly and accurately as possible, knowing them by their expressions, and also pointing and following beyond words into being (t)here.

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IMAGES: Bors; Sword Maiden.

Grail 1: Exploring the “Cauldron Sound” of Awen   Leave a comment

[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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Year 7 at A Druid Way   Leave a comment

At the close of my seventh year with this blog, I’m devoting a post to taking stock.

First, thank-yous to everyone — nearly 10,000 of you this past year — who keep coming back to read, to ruminate, and to comment.  As I note on my About page, quoting Philip Carr-Gomm:

Just as the spiritual path can be characterised as the ongoing attempt to both remember yourself and forget yourself, so blogging can be seen as a challenge to both be more personal, more open, more sharing of the riches of a life and at the same time to take yourself less seriously, to let go of the concern about what other people might think about you, and to reveal rather than conceal your curiosity and amazement at the often crazy world you find yourself in.

As a spiritual practice, writing here keeps me turning over my experiences and perspectives — a good thing, I’ve found, for both consciousness and compost. This coming February 2019 I’ll join a panel of speakers with the rich topic of “Spiritual Lessons from Everyday Life”, and my time with this blog will definitely contribute. Human experiences have no “size” that I can determine, despite any labels we apply to them. Seemingly “small” ones deliver impacts that may not fully mature for years, while the splashier ones often fade quickly as dreams. You keep turning them over, turning them over, and good stuff emerges, which you know in retrospect mostly because it nourishes what will grow in the future. If I neglect this, soon all I have is a midden that smells, attracts pests, and I learn I’ve forfeited an opportunity for work that is real. Fortunately I can pick up the pitchfork and shovel at any moment and begin.

What other people bring to say, and how they respond to what I share here, seems to work much the same way. You learn it’s often not about you at all, whatever you thought. Each of us makes individual journeys so idiosyncratic and often difficult to get into words that what amazes me is we’re able to share anything at all. Or as I have occasion to exclaim to my wife, I’ve slowly learned that two things are simultaneously true, in the best traditions of paradox: that I’m nothing like other people, and that I’m exactly like other people — I’m an alien, or I’m your twin. This blog usually lands somewhere along that continuum.

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Three of the most popular posts this past year originate not from this year but from my 2017 “Druid and Christian Themes” series. This intersection of traditions still lights up for me, as it apparently does for a sizable proportion of readers. Otherwise, the only excuse I can offer for my choice of topics is also Thoreau’s: “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.” But beyond Transcendentalist Yankee Smart-assery, he makes a subtler point: go deep enough inside yourself and you will find things to say that resonate for others at least some of the time. The odds of this happening are about the same as for baseball, so an average of .300 is respectable indeed.

Looking a little further at the Druid-Christian intersection I recall how Philip Carr-Gomm notes in his book Druid Mysteries:

Although Christianity ostensibly superseded Druidry, in reality it contributed to its survival, and ultimately to its revival after more than a millennium of obscurity.  It did this in at least four ways:  it continued to make use of certain old sacred sites, such as holy wells; it adopted the festivals and the associated folklore of the pagan calendar; it recorded the tales of the Bards, which encoded the oral teachings of the Druids; and it allowed some of the old gods to live in the memory of the people by co-opting them into the Church as saints (p. 31).

Since I find I’m citing Carr-Gomm a lot in this post, I’ll end with one more observation by him that I find still most topical today, the 30th of December 2018:

One of the most important tasks that face us today is one of reconciliation, whether that be between differing political or religious positions … the Christian community, far from taking fright at a perceived regression to a pagan past, can ally itself with [Druidry] which is complementary, and not antagonistic to Christian ideals and ethics …

St. Columba said “Christ is my Druid” and I believe that if we take Druidry to represent that ancient wisdom which lies deep within us, and that can connect us once again to the Earth and her wonders, we can understand how we can be Christian Druids, Buddhist Druids or Druids of whatever hue or depth is needed for us at our present stage of development.

May we each find and recognize “whatever hue or depth is needed for us at our present stage of development”. Blessings of the coming New Year to you all.

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Colouring Outside the Lines   Leave a comment

“But what can we do?” people often ask. Whatever the need, the question is a perennially valid one. What action is best for me to pursue, yes. But also, what can I do before I act, before the main event, so to speak, so that I can choose more wisely how to act on that larger scale? The Hopi of the American Southwest use a ceremonial pipe they call natwanpi — literally, “instrument of preparation”. What can I do to make of my actions a natwanpi in my own life as often as possible? How can I act now to prepare for the next action needed? How can my deeds begin to form a shining set of links, not merely a random assemblage?

Philip Carr-Gomm writes,

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.

Of course, one key is to practice the Awen when it IS easy, so that it becomes a skill and a habit to draw on when “life is far from easy”. Right now I take this advice, pause from writing this, and chant three awens quietly.

After all, what good is any spiritual practice if it doesn’t help when I need it most? I find this holds true especially with beliefs, which is why so many contemporary people have abandoned religious belief, and thereby think they’ve also “abandoned religion”. All they’ve done, often, is abandon one set of perhaps semi-examined beliefs for another set they may not have examined at all. “Carried away, pulled off-centre” — we’ve all been there. But each moment, in the wry paradox of being human, is also calling us home, “back to a sense of ourselves”.

A few weeks ago I had cataract surgery on my right eye. I was surprised how the looming procedure, with its success rate of above 95%, kicked up old fears in me from the major cancer surgery I’d experienced a decade ago. Coupled with that was a series of dreams I’d had a few years ago about going blind. Altogether not an enjoyable mindset to approach a delicate procedure on the eyes.

But instead of the victim version of the question “Why is this happening to me?” I can choose to ask the curious version of the same question. Insofar as anything in my life responds to events and causes I have set in motion, it’s a most legitimate question.

The answers, I find, can be surprising.

I feared loss of spiritual vision, because I was drifting away from the other spiritual path I practice. This is clearly a cause I’ve launched. I didn’t approach the surgery as some kind of superstitious opportunity for the universe to “pay me back” for spiritual neglect, as if the cosmos operates like a sinister debt collection agency. But if I approach my whole life as an instance of an intelligent universe constantly communicating with me, my fears have a cause, and an effect, and my experiences will mirror all that I am and bring to each moment. Not out of some sort of spiteful cosmic vindictiveness, but because all things, it seems, prod us along the next arm of the spiral. We’re all part of the Web. The same force, I believe, that pushes up the first flowers in spring, in spite of the lingering danger of frosts, the force that urges birds to nest and hatch a fleet of fledglings, even though a percentage will die before reaching adulthood, is the same force alive in me and in my life and the lives of every other being on this planet. Even our seemingly static mountains weather slowly in wind and rain, frost and sun.

Christians focus closely about “being in right relationship” with God. Druids and other practitioners of earth-spirituality are likewise seeking harmonious relations with the world around us. Though a god or gods may not have exclusive claims on me, still, if one makes herself know to me, it’s not a bad idea to pay attention. Same with anything else that knocks for my attention — and deserves it. Day-to-day practice of an earth path like Druidry is an ongoing opportunity to seek out new kinds of harmony as well keep to ones I’ve tried and tested, an opportunity to balance claims of allegiance and attention and energy, to make good choices, and to stand by them as much as I can. (Of course I’ll mess up from time to time. Part of the fun is seeing if I can mess up in a new way this time, to keep myself entertained, if nothing else. Why hoe a row I’ve already weeded, unless it really needs tilling again?!)

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With Lunasa in the northern hemisphere comes Imbolc in the southern one. The ley lines linking the earth festivals around the world deserve my attention, I find, as much as the lines of connection between hills and wells, trees and stones on my continent.

So it is that Brighid of many skills, healing and poetry and smithcraft among them, pairs well with Lugh Samildanach, Lugh “equally gifted” in all the arts and crafts. Both at Imbolc with the kindling of a new cycle of birth and growth, and at Lunasa as first of the harvest festivals, we’re reminded of origins of the crafts of civilization. With human and divine inspiration and gifts supporting our lives, we draw our existence today. I eat because my ancestors tilled the earth and lived to birth and teach the next generation. I wear this body because spirit clothed itself in this form among all the other forms it takes. I peer out at the world and at all the other forms who are likewise looking at and listening to the ongoing waves of existence. From this perspective, how can I not celebrate in simple amazement?!

We’ve all felt those moments when life seems paradoxically dreamlike and marvelously real. Robert Frost, bard of New England and a Wise One I keep turning to for counsel, says,

Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes.
Is the deed ever truly done.
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Where love and need are one: how often do I separate them? Do I respect my need enough to love it, or truly need what it is I think I love? Can I align these two and make them one? Mortal stakes: is what I spend the greatest energy on actually contributing to life, my own life among others? After all, Druidry urges me to consider that each life is worthy and valuable, mine no more but also no less than others.

A Frostian triad emerges: There are three things fitting for the aspirant to wisdom — a seeking after unity of love and need, a work which is play for mortal stakes, and deeds done for heaven and the future.

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After the builders finished the weaving studio addition (visible on the left), they seeded the lawn with clover, and now we have a lovely nitrogen-fixing, weed-inhibiting perennial I refuse to mow. The bees have been loud and happy, cheering at my choice, and the crop will also hold down the still-loose soil against runoff, and help it firm up.

You can see, too, in the foreground the edge of the recent delivery of firewood I need to go stack.

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Postscriptus Magicus   2 comments

Inspiration, the awen of the Bard, isn’t all or nothing. Sometimes you get one corner, a kind of foothold, a vantage point, enough to see more, to see a whole landscape through a window just before the window closes.

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The house of fire —
no closed doors —
only porches and windows
opening onto flame.

A few notes for other stanzas, and that was it. But sometimes a fragment is enough. You can jump-start with it, from it, months afterward.

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Sometimes, likewise, if we’re open and available, the trees really do tell us what we need.

I help oak, and oak helps me —
we’ll join to hold the energy.

This little rhyme came to me while we meditated at the foot of an oak — part of our ritual prep for the main ley-line rite at MAGUS ’18 last weekend. As much as the oak ogham stave in my hand, the rhyme helped me focus during the ritual. Our outer duir oak ring was charged with gathering and holding the energy the ritual would generate, until the moment our ring moved to the center altar and charged the stones waiting there. One fellow outer-ring participant said it felt at first like a very small pup trying to corral a very large beach ball. But then we joined together to “become one big-ass dog that could tackle it”.

Not surprisingly, the carefully-planned ritual generated a lot of power. I know I can often be slow in picking up on magical energies flowing around me. “Obtuse” wouldn’t be too harsh a word, much of the time. So I knew I had to deal with doubts about my usefulfulness as well as concerns about my vulnerability.

Now it’s easy to rationalize almost all magic. I do it myself, and I often do it well. But rather than debating whether it — or any other experience — is “real” or “genuine”, I can opt to apply different criteria and free myself for more useful tasks. A good logic-fest can be fun at times, but it’s often a tail-chasing exercise. Whether we’re falling in love, writing a song, painting, gardening, caring for others, or working with a dream journal, logic typically isn’t the first or the best tool to employ. A chisel, sandpaper, a potter’s wheel — all produce markedly different effects. They’re so not interchangeable!

Philip Carr-Gomm addresses the issue in his characteristically understated way. In this short Youtube clip he proposes something other than logic for looking at and assessing experience:

Rather than obsessing over whether an experience is true or genuine, I can contemplate its effect on me and my life. Have I benefited from the experience? While not all experiences are easy or painless, is the insight, perspective or compassion for others than I have gained worth it? “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

Sometimes, a full answer to those questions may not come for months or years. And that’s OK. By themselves, experiences can resemble an afternoon at an amusement park. Pay your money, get your experiences. But their long-term effect and value is a more helpful measure of their worth.

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