Archive for the ‘reverence’ Category

Listening and the Land, Part 1   2 comments


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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On Not Straightening a Bent Genius   Leave a comment

Henry David Thoreau wrote in his manifesto, Walden, that he wished to follow “the bent of my genius, which is a very crooked one, every moment.”  Let’s suspend belief about the “every moment” part for now.  Most of us slack off; we’re not up to full time bent-ness.  But I suspect every genius is “bent” by the time it emerges, after the intense discoveries and trials of childhood and adolescence.  It is, after all, a time when we each face a personal apocalypse which — apart from recent 2012 apocalypse kerfluffle (a profoundly scientific and precise term), itself only the most recent instance of a few millenia’s worth of end-times hysterias* — is at root not a disaster per se, but an unveiling, a revealing.

That’s why the Biblical apocalypsis, a Greek word, gets translated “Revelations.”**  A revelation needn’t be a disaster.  We may seek from many sources for revelation or insight into our lives and situations.  But as far as adolescence goes, whether it’s some profound additional shock, or the more routine experience of our physical bodies running mad with hormones, hair, smells, urges and general mayhem, it can be a real humdinger of a decade.

Among other things, we begin to come to terms with the full measure of shadow and light we each carry around with us, a personal atmosphere with its own storms and sun, its seasons of gloom and glory.  As Hamlet exclaims to Ophelia (Act 3, scene 1):  “I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all; believe none of us.”

Quite a catalog of self-condemnation.  But on our “crawl between earth and heaven,” we can choose to do more than indulge in self-loathing.  It’s not a competitive sport, after all.  No prizes for “arrant-ness,” to use Shakespeare’s word.  This being human is a mixed bag, a potluck.  We work out our own answers to the question of what to do crawling between earth and heaven.  It’s an apt description: we truly are suspended at times, halfway to both realms, too rarely at home in either.

And so, rather than New Year’s resolutions, I prefer to look at themes and nudges.  If I take my own advice, courtesy of Yoda, and tell myself “do or do not, there is no try,” then “small moves” becomes the game.  Nudge a little here, prod a little there.  Few life trajectories change overnight.  If yours does, then all bets are off.  You’re probably in full-on apocalypse mode right now — and that’s apocalypse in the 2012 “all-hell-about-to-break-loose” sense.  It’s time to rewrite the manual, reboot, do over.  But the rest of the time, the smallest change can eventually lead to big consequences.  Lower expectations. Make it almost impossible for yourself not to follow through.

Now you’re not trying to change; you’re playing with change — which has a very different feel. If you want to commit to half an hour of exercise a day, for instance, make it five minutes instead.  Psych yourself out or in, your choice.  Small moves.  Make it foolishly easy, like using a credit card.  It’s just a piece of plastic, just a small thing you’re doing.  A game really.  I’ve been surprised how I can make changes, as long as I make them small enough, rather than big enough. Seduce yourself into change so small you can’t resist, like those bite-sized pieces of your current favorite snack addiction.  “Nobody can eat just one.”  And so on.

We think too much of ourselves.  I’ll think less, on alternate days, to see how it feels.  This is real trying — not an attempt that focuses on probable failure, but the testing, the probing, the experimenting, as in “trying the cookie dough,” or “trying a kiss on the first date,” or “trying on a new set of clothes.” There’s self-forgetfulness available in the fascination of the game-like quality life takes on when we cease to take ourselves quite so seriously.  Instead, we may come to revere some other thing than the self.  Because one of her insights is apropos of what I’m getting at, I’ll close here with Barbara Brown Taylor, from her 2009 book An Altar in the World:

According to the classical philosopher Paul Woodruff, reverence is the virtue that keeps people from trying to act like gods.  ‘To forget that you are only human,’ he says, ‘to think you can act like a god — that is the opposite of reverence.’ While most of us live in a culture that reveres money, reveres power, reveres education and religion, Woodruff argues that true reverence cannot be for anything that human beings can make or manage by ourselves.

By definition, he says, reverence is the recognition of something greater than the self–something that is beyond human creation or control, that transcends full human understanding. God certainly meets those criteria, but so do birth, death, sex, nature, justice, and wisdom.  A Native American elder I know says that he begins teaching people reverence by steering them over to the nearest tree.

‘Do you know that you didn’t make this tree?’ he asks them.  If they say yes, then he knows that they are on their way (20).

So maybe I’ve seduced you into trying or tasting your life and its possibilities instead of getting hung over changing it.  May you find yourself on your way, may you celebrate what you discover there, may you delight in reverence.***

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*See John Michael Greer’s Apocalypse Not (Viva Editions, 2011) for an amusing take on our enduring fetish for cataclysm and disaster.  You’d think that after Katrina, the Gulf oil spill, the Japanese tsunami and nuclear disaster, hurricane Sandy, and the yearly shootings we endure, we’d be fed up with real actually-documentable apocalypses.  But no …

**The name of the Greek sea-nymph Kalypso means “Concealer.”  Undo or take off the concealment and you have apo-kalypse, unconcealing: revelation.

***Once my attention is off myself, I find that change often happens with less wear and tear.  Reverence can seduce us into other ways of being that don’t involve the stressors we were “trying to change.”  We may not even notice until later.  I get so busy watching the moon rise I forget what I was angry about.  Anger fades.  Moon takes it.  Reverence, o gift of gods I may not know or worship, I thank you nonetheless …

Updated 2 Jan 13

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