Archive for the ‘ritual’ Category

Brighid: Druid and Christian   Leave a comment

We could subtitle this post “Druidry — the Ironic Survival”. 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Although Christianity ostensibly superseded Druidry, in reality it contributed to its survival, and ultimately to its revival after more than a millennium of obscurity.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.  That Christianity provided the vehicle for Druidry’s survival is ironic, since the Church quite clearly did not intend this to be the case (p. 31).

Sacred sites, festivals and folklore, tales of the Bards, and the old gods: there you have the substance not only of Druidry but also of Druid and Christian linkages and considerable common ground.

Do we need all four to practice Druidry, or to honor Brighid?

Yes. We already have all four, to a degree that allows us to build on what we have, if we choose. While guided tours to sacred sites continue to make money for their organizers, we can gain access inwardly, through dedicated practice.

How?

On the day before the 19 Days of Brighid, we have many points of access, if we’re willing to explore them with attention, creativity and love.

1) Kildare is Cill Dara, “Church or Cell of the Oak”. Find an oak tree or leaf. “As above, so below. As within, so without”. Can you proceed from there? If you’ve been reading this blog, or have a practice of your own, you have an inkling or a clear idea of what you might do next. Here then is a first door to the Enchantment of Brighid.

Now for 18 more.

2) For a guided meditation, many songs exist. One I’ve posted about previously is Damh the Bard’s song “Brighid” . Enact the song, as your circumstances permit. Read through the lyrics first, or just listen through. Then do what comes to you to make the song come alive. What will you offer at the Well? If you have a bowl of water and a candle or tealight, enact the first appearance of the goddess. Say the prayer of the song’s chorus, or your own.

3) Using the help of the video in the previous post for making a Brighid’s cross, make the creation of your own cross — from reeds, strips of paper, fabric, etc. — an offering, a gift, an act of mindfulness, a devotion to Brighid.

4) Troubled by doubt? Blocked into inaction by hesitation, fear, or talking self telling you not to be ridiculous? Note the lines in Damh’s song: “But in her prison, she heard the spell the people were chanting: Three days of Summer, and snowdrops are flowering again”. The people — that’s you and me — help free her from prison. We imprison the divine, but we have the power to liberate it again in our lives. What chant comes to you? Listen for it as you go about your day, reading the headlines, listening to conversations, songs on the radio, and so on. Meditate, and write down what comes. This is a prayer the people are chanting.

5) Dance a dance you make up that has 19 steps. A circle, a square, some other shape or just steps as they come to you. Swing your arms, raise them, keep them at your sides, or clasped in prayer. Drum on a tabletop, a pot, a cup, bang two spoons together. Or step in silence. On the 19th step, say or whisper aloud or inwardly the name of the goddess. Dance when nobody’s watching. Except you and the goddess.

6) Brighid is goddess of fire. Light a flame and say “The fire is still burning. Nineteen priestesses tend the Eternal Flame. Oh but of you, my Lady, we are still learning”.

7) Educate yourself about Brighid. Here’s an easy “for-instance” — a short video (5 mins.) featuring Mary Meighan, who offers several clues to a practice.

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Brighid’s Well

8) Volunteer at a homeless shelter, dedicating the service to Brighid, an offering, a way of helping to keep the human fire kindled in others. We think of such things around the big Christian holidays of Christmas and Thanksgiving and tend to drop them from memory at other times. I’ve just sent off an email to one of our local shelters, 8 miles away, requesting info on volunteering.

9) Dedicate a practice meaningful to you for each of the next 19 full moons. Ask for insight and resolution — in exact proportion to how well you keep your practice. Ready? Set … Go!

10) Following bpott’s comment on a recent post, “[P]lay (with serious thought) with enchantment”. What does enchantment look like to you? When have you experienced moments of enchantment? How did they manifest? What was going on when they did manifest? What can you do to welcome them again?

11) Again following another recent comment by bpott, take your practice outdoors, however briefly. Especially needful in the Northeastern US, because we get serious cases of cabin fever. (Our area organizes “Cabin Fever Dinners” to bring people out of hunker-down mode and into celebration over a communal meal. One of the more popular ones in our area draws 75-100 people and is held in a local church.  Yes, plenty of non-church people attend. It doesn’t hurt that the menu and kitchen are overseen by the pastor’s husband, who’s a gourmet chef. It’s very much a Brighid experience, at least for me. Generosity, kindling the fire in others.) Enjoy the thaw that’s come to the region. And wherever you are, breathe outdoor air. Let the sun shine on your skin.

12) What can you kindle and smith, inspire and heal, in yourself and others? What wells and forges exist in your life? How can you use and serve them? What wells and forges have you possibly overlooked or taken for granted? Again, how can you serve and use them?

13) Set a dream intention each night for prophetic, healing or creative dreams. Record each morning what comes. If you think nothing came, write what you imagine coming. Read it that night before you go to sleep.

14) Choose a bowl of water or goblet, etc. as your Well of Brighid. Ask for the blessing of Brighid upon it. Drink from it each morning after sleep.

15) You visit the Fire Temple on the inner planes. What do you experience there? Write down what comes. Who greets you? What gets ignited? What gets burnt away? What kind of flame are you given to return with to your life?

16) Find a poem that inspires you. (Or write one.) Make the reading and saying aloud of the poem a practice for the 19 days. Make of your love for the poem an offering.

17) Practice intense devotion for a particular manifestations of the divine in the form of a god or goddess that draws you. In a post “Loop of Brighid: The Mysticism of Devotion“, Christopher Scott Thompson says,

Rather than talking in a hypothetical way about what the mystical experience actually is, I’m going to talk about how to get there yourself through your own relationship with the gods and goddesses you personally serve. This is not an attempt to import something like bhakti from Hinduism into modern western paganism, because devotional practice to specific deities is already naturally developing within the pagan revival. However, I will be using the concept of bhakti as an analogy for the most intense and mystical forms of modern devotional paganism, such as the mood expressed in this poem [included just above this extract in the original post].

18) Read Chris Godwin’s 19 Jan 2018 post on his blog, From a Common Well, on “18 Celtic Imbolc Customs and Traditions for the Feast of Brighid“. Choose one or more to try.

19) Give thanks to Brighid for the opportunity to give thanks. There’s a paradox and a profound insight to be practiced here.

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Image: Brighid’s Well.

 

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Nineteen Days of Brighid   2 comments

Imbolc, the February 1st or 2nd holiday, part of the seasonal cycle of the “Great Eight” Pagan festivals, has long been associated with Brighid. Goddess, saint, patron of poets, smiths and healers, Brighid is a potent presence for many Druids. Christian Druids can honor her in either or both traditions, and her legends and symbols — effective points of access to her — are many.

Among the traditions that have gathered around her is the significance of the number 19 — whether part of the ancient awareness of the moon’s Metonic cycle, or the Christian tradition for determining Easter, curiously associated with the full moon, or the 19 nuns at Kildare connected with Saint Brighid. Or the practice of 19 days of magic focused on devotion to the goddess-saint, which this post examines. As a Druid-Christian link, the number and practices associated with Imbolc and Brighid can join the others I’ve talked about in other posts here as yet another means to transcend argument or debate, and find blessing.

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Nineteen days with Imbolc in the center (on Feb. 1), the 10th day, begin January 23 and take us to February 10.

As this circle is cast, the enchantment of the apparent world fades … We stand together in the eye of the sun here and now …

So goes part of OBOD standard ritual. Why, you might be asking, if Druids say they wish to attune themselves to the natural world, do they practice ritual that sees the natural world as both enchanted and apparent?

Well, we still stand “in the eye of the sun”. Partly it’s “talking self” (see this and this post) that distracts us, that enchants us in the sense of holding us spellbound (and self-bound) rather than freeing us to grow. Circles concentrate energy and attention, contain them for the duration of the ritual, and can help charge us as instruments of the divine in order that we may “know, dare, will and keep silent”, as the old adage goes. So we circle alone and together to watch that particular enchantment fade, so that others can manifest more clearly. It’s a choice of enchantments. Do you like the current ones at work in the world? “She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes”. Sign me up!

Spending the interval from now till the beginning of the 19 days, a week from today, determining what service to offer, what magic to work, is time well spent.

I’ll be following up here with my experiences.

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Image: Brighid. My preference is for deity images that aren’t sentimental or “airbrush pretty”. Contemporary artists often portray sexy gods and goddesses, which is fine, but as an image for meditation I’d rather not use soft porn.

Applied Druidry: Cleansing after a Rough Day   Leave a comment

“What does Druidry do for you?”

Here’s an edited compilation of responses to a recent online question in a forum I follow, with wonderful suggestions for cleansing and purifying after work. I’ve removed all identifying personal information.

Q:

I have a challenging job and need to leave it behind, along with all the emotions and difficulties people around me have to deal with. What kinds of practices do you all do to cleanse and purify yourself after work?

A:

I find that something I can touch, smell, hear in a way that relaxes me and centers me is a comfort. Ritual object, drinking goblet, sacred stone, etc.

A quick “light shower” exercise — visualizing/feeling light pouring down on the top of your head and washing off the energies of the day. Combine it with a physical shower for fuller effect.

Or the “snowball” exercise — another visualization — balling up everything you don’t want/need, packing it tightly as you would a snowball, and then tossing it into a golden river to be washed away. Sometimes I do a more intense version of this, raking, shoveling the stuff and bulldozing it into the river. Doing a version physically with a piece of paper (“write the crap away”), stone, etc., and then burying/burning it, letting the elemental energies take it and transmute it. Or some combo of these — these are among my quicker go-to strategies.

I find the entrance to my home is an important transitional portal. I keep things around the door that mean something to me. These may include crystals, Medicine Wheels, fresh and dried herbs and plants or flowers. I get a visual and spiritual boost from these items when they greet me each day returning to my sanctuary (home).

One Native custom is to leave a basket outside your door where guests and yourself ‘dump’ any negative or burdensome thought into the basket before entering. (It’s considered rude to enter a Native’s home and start spilling your problems on them.) Hope this helps in some way.

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I also have a small covered porch at my front door and I load it up with seasonal greenery, plants, statuary, crystals, sage, sweetgrass, cedar etc. — all the things that bring me peace.

There are a couple of areas I jokingly call “psychic car washes” on the drive home — mainly white pine groves — that I use to recenter myself. As I drive through, I imagine the energies of the trees enfolding me and pulling away any gunk collected during the day. Tunnels and places where there are high rock walls on either side of the road also work well for this.

I always intention where “it” goes when it leaves me — body of water or into Mother Earth as fertilizer — not leaving it for an empathic type to stumble upon it!

You could clap around your aura to break up any stagnant energy and loosen up anything you want to release. Then do a body shake to shake it off. You could do this before you step into the house or upon entering the front door after you take off your coat and boots.

Some wonderful ideas here! Reading through all this, I had the feeling it is also good to get into a give/take balance. How about after getting rid of the stuff you say a prayer / blessing over a water bottle and drink it? For recharging yourself as part of the rite.

I love the idea of water as healer/cleanser — I like to charge up water in the 3 nights of the full moon!

Set up a “coming home” shrine. Add stuff to it you find soothing, Feathers, seashells, beach rocks — stuff that speaks to you about relaxation. When you get home, light some joss, spend 3-4 minutes with it.

I have so many inspired ideas from this great sharing. Here’s a variation on the ancient Jewish custom. Put something meaningful to you on the door frame. Kiss it each time you enter or leave your home!

I picture a ball of white light at my sternum and expand it quickly to the edges of my field — clearing away and neutralizing the negative and the energy that is not mine. At the edges of my field it dissolves.

I also sweep across myself cutting and removing all that doesn’t serve me and isn’t mine.

After either of these I ask the universe to neutralize the energy and release it.

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Please share your own techniques in the comments.

Devotionals   Leave a comment

On a Druidry Facebook group I’m a member of, the question arises a few times each year: what makes Druidry distinctive? In other words, if you’re looking over your options, “Why this and not that?”

Sustained contact with the green world is first practice, never abandoned, never out of date.

In a comment on the last post here, bpott said she was told in meditation to “practice devotionals to the gods outdoors. Lighting a candle to Brighid and sitting with her, or pouring water in a bowl for the moon to infuse its energy and listening to Manannan are such devotionals. There is indeed much to be gained through these spiritual practices”.

But this isn’t something for you to take anyone’s word for. It’s not that kind of observation. Words are meant guide us to own experience and back out again, to reflect so we can experience deeper.

Or as J M Greer puts it,

Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth.  It means 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.

We regularly need reminders like these, because Talking Self sidetracks us.

“Talking Self” — you know, that chatty, sometimes neurotic self we use to read and post on Facebook, grumble at headlines we don’t like, and cheer for ones we do. It can often persuade us that it is all of who we are, because its medium is language and the thoughts and feelings language kindles in us. Name it, says Talking Self, trying to keep everything in its domain of names and words. (The Dao De Jing quietly reminds us “the nameless is the origin of heaven and earth”.)

Druidry says take yourself out of talking self and into Self — the being linked in its sinew and blood, bone and spirit, to all that is — rivers and streams, woods and meadows, valleys and hills, tundra and deserts, bird and beech, beast and bass and bug.

When you come back, you can turn Talking Self toward song or ritual, if you like — give it something to do that it does well — but in the service of something higher than reactive gossip and self-importance and anxiety.

And “going outdoors” doesn’t have to entail a frigid January plunge through a hole in the ice at the local lake. It may be as simple as smelling an evergreen twig you picked up yesterday on a walk, and now you hold it as you meditate, on the change of seasons, the incense of a living thing on your fingers and in your nose. Crafting a banner or a poem for the next time your Grove meets — at Imbolc in February. Baking and taking a gift to an elderly neighbor or the local soup kitchen. Grooming your dog or cat.

All these things re-engage the body and give Talking Self a break. Poor thing, it needs one. These practices help restore our connections. They gift us with balance. For these reasons they are, in a curious word more often associated with another tradition, incarnational. They literally put us into our bodies, even as they give Spirit shapes and forms we can experience.

Many forms of Spirit, many bodies to experience them: earth body and dream body and thought body and memory body. And others we haven’t begun to explore.

I lay the makings of a fire in our woodstove, crumpled newspaper and punky dry strips of willow from a fallen branch two years ago, and thin strips of a log split and split and split again. Wood’s our primary heat-source — we’re far too stingy to waste money on our electric backup, except in direst emergencies, and then the power may have gone out anyway. I can pause a moment before setting the match to the kindling and honor Brighid. The makings of a devotional. Not “believe in Her”, not “profess my faith She exists”, but honor Her. Often something quite different.

As someone once quipped, more important than me believing in Brighid is Brighid believing in me. What god would care to waste attention on a human who isn’t ever here? But if I’m here and as I honor Her I sense She’s here, what’s left to believe? It’s the honoring that’s important. The connection.

The Druid experience continually “abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit”. Continually, because my rigidity will creep back in, and fire and touch can warm and soften and free me from inflexible habits and open me to change and love.

I met Brighid most intimately through the task of firing up the woodstove when we settled in Vermont in 2008.  Fire became a daily reality each winter (and much of spring and autumn, too). The wonder of fire and the opportunity of honor to Brighid needn’t be separate from the gathering of kindling and the match. Our winter-fires may not be the reverential fire of Kildare — though they can be. Every morning.

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Today I’ll take out the ash to the compost pile, the midden, lovely old word. I let the freshly-removed ash sit out in the hod for a week, so I’m not dumping a pile of embers outdoors on a windy day. Old ash out, new ash to the hod, new fire to the stove ,whose walls are still warm to the touch. I set the kindling, whisper a sometimes wordless prayer to the goddess, and watch as flames grow and spread.

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taking out the ash

 

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new fire

My devotional has to take a particular, concrete form if it’s to exist at all for the body and senses to engage. Spiritual-but-not-religious knows this, instinctively keeps seeking but then abandoning forms, because it distrusts forms even as it senses their value. But it’s the dead form and the opinions-and-then-dogmas of Talking Self that are the obstacle to spiritual connection, not form itself.

Oh, Lord [goes one prayer] forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.
Thou art Everywhere, but I worship thee here:
Thou art without form, but I worship thee in these forms;
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer thee these prayers and salutations.
Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.

Except they’re not limitations at all: the way to do them in time and space is with temporal and spatial forms. I find little limitation in building a fire and honoring Brighid too. My devotional is a matter of intention, of choice. When I’m on another plane, I adopt its forms. (In dreams I fly, with dream-power my earth body doesn’t have.) But now, here (no need to apologize for limitations*), these forms.

Without a form, no transformation, whisper the Wise.

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*The words “limit” and “limitations” are dirty words, far more obscene these days than any other. Obsessed with freedom, we miss what limits are and signify for us.

A shape is a limitation. Personally, I like shapes and forms. If I had no particular shape or form, I wouldn’t be “free” — I’d be monstrous, “de-formed”.

J M Greer notes in his Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. 2012, pgs. 42-53:

A field mouse, for example, has teeth and a digestive system that are fine-tuned to get nutrients from seeds and other concentrated plant foods, and so that is what field mice eat. They do not eat crickets, even though crickets are very nourishing; they leave crickets to the garter snakes. They do not eat herbs, even though herbs are very abundant; they leave herbs to the rabbits. They limit themselves to one kind of food, and as a result their bodies and their behavior are exquisitely shaped to get and use that kind of food. Rather than jacks-of-all-trades, they are masters of one.

… the elegant lines of the blade [of grass] have evolved to make the most economical use of limited energy and resources, for example, and the curve at which it bends measures the limit of the blade’s strength in the presence of the wind. Remove the limits from the grass, and its beauty goes away. The same thing is true of all beauty, in nature as a whole and in the subset of nature we call human life: beauty is born when a flow of nature encounters firm limits, and the more perfect its acceptance of those limits, the greater the beauty will be.

… The same thing is true of all power, in nature as a whole and in that subset of nature we call human life: power is born when a flow of energy encounters firm limits, and the more narrow the outlet left open by those limits, the greater the power will be.

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Storm and Story   Leave a comment

In a fit of New Year’s house-cleaning, I spent part of yesterday going through photos and papers my mother left to me. She passed sixteen years ago, but only now am I finally getting around to culling photo albums and memorabilia. Unlabeled pictures of ancestors I don’t recognize I’m discarding. (The clearest of them I’ll scan and post to ancestry.com — someone may perceive a link to their own story.) Together the images I’m discarding will make for a personal springtime ritual of memory, which feels now like it should be annual: to the unknown ancestors.

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a known ancestor — my great-great-grandmother Ann

Among my mother’s effects was a sealed envelope, with a notation in fading Victorian script: “Worth County Eagle of Feb. 10, 1881”. Worth County is rural northern Iowa, where my mother was born and grew up.

The paper is just one quarter its usual size, and the Feb. 10th issue opens with an apology, explaining that the recent three-day blizzard has delayed their paper shipment, and so the present issue is small, a single sheet, folded in half to make four pages.

The railroads are all blockaded. Possibly the BCR & N [railroad] may get trains to Albert Lea [nearby in Minnesota] by Saturday night, if they have no bad luck. The Minneapolis & St. Louis [line] is in very bad shape. Six engines are dead at Hartland and the road is full of snow. They cannot clear the road this week.

But the most poignant column of the issue, appearing on the third page, is more personal:

Last Friday afternoon, Joe Fleming, of Kensett, came to Northwood, on horseback, for a coffin, for the only child of Chas. Christenson. It was late on his arrival, and he did not think it expedient to venture out again, so near dark, and remained over night. Our readers all know what a day Saturday was, and it was unsafe for one to be out on the road, so Joe waited until Sunday morning. By then it was impossible for him to get his horse out of the barn, on account of the deep snow. But he made up his mind that the trip must be made, and so had the coffin fastened securely to his back and started on foot, during that severe snow storm. He arrived at home safely.

What we do simply to survive is worthy of story. Let’s not diminish the lives we lead today. One-hundred thirty-seven years ago a child died, a human grief, and that death sparked the human determination that became this particular story. What is remembered lives. But we chose what we remember. Storms occasion such stories, markers of our lives. Everyone has one or more to tell.

May you be warm and safe and cherish your stories, however hard-won. By living them you’ve earned them. Such memories number among things that need to be born.

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Prayer — “Grant” vs “Embody”   2 comments

If you join rituals of many of the contemporary Druid orders, you’ll encounter the Druid Prayer frequently. (In OBOD rituals it’s simply standard practice.) Some Reconstructionist Druid groups may eschew it because it originates during the “Druid Revival” period beginning in the 1600s, rather than from what we can recover of historical Druidry, but for all that, the claim often used to introduce it, that it “unites all Druids”, is more than wishful thinking. Or it could be.

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back yard, facing east

Also called the Gorsedd Prayer (Welsh Gweddi’r Orsedd), it’s long been part of the Welsh National Eisteddfod as well. The “inspired literary scalliwag” Iolo Morganwg composed it, and you can find several versions of it, including the Welsh originals, here. It’s survived because of its power:

Grant, O God (or Goddess/Spirit/etc.), Thy protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences,
the love of God (or Goddess/Spirit/etc.) and all goodness.

As a prayer of pure petition, it has value. The prayer makes no mention of reciprocity — the petitioner doesn’t promise to do anything in return for these very large gifts. In short, stripped of the politeness of the first word “grant”, the prayer says “Give.”

But if the Granter gives, the effects of the gift do provide a kind of return. If we’re protected, strengthened, granted understanding, knowledge, love of justice, of all existences and of God, you could argue that large transformative effects will doubtless follow, and constitute their own return. We certainly won’t be the same, act the same, or — most likely — pray the same. If we can’t get there any other way, sincere and heartfelt petition can do the trick.

As with so many elements of our group practice, we too rarely talk about them; first we’re busy preparing and then doing them, and feasting and socializing after. The sense of having “held up our end” can be palpable after ritual: the atmosphere tingles with a sense of scales recalibrated yet again. Witnesses, petitioners, performers, vessels and channels for holy energies to enter the world through our own imperfect and holy lives, we’ve reconnected, remembered, listened.

But because I know how I can end up mouthing the words, even as their familiarity is a comfort and a part of the ritual energy flow, I keep returning to the practice of embodying rather than merely asking. I need something to stop me, shake me, take me out of myself, and yes, out of the ritual moment, while holding me to a higher standard than I came with. It’s a kind of second prayer, or personal ritual. It may take me 10 or 20 minutes to fulfill it, because I need to slow down to do it, whether I say the words aloud or bring them to awareness in some other way, feeling them in my bones, touching the earth, cupping a ritual flame, gazing at the horizon, repeating them till they sink in, carrying their vibration till a door opens inwardly, any and every one of these ritual gestures. “Do till it’s true”. I want to realize “as above, so below” however I can. All I know is that for me the energies of this different manner or form of prayer also differ — and I need that difference.

So here’s one version of the words, a small part of what feels to me more of an “embodying” prayer:

Holy Ones,
in your protection I stand here,
strengthened, understanding your ways,
knowing and loving your honor as the source of mine.
The justice I do today and every day
mirrors my love for the good things
you give, just as the love I receive
is justice, the sword of truth you raise
in my life, handle toward me.
Wherever I am, may I remember
and live these things always.

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Four Rituals for Happiness   2 comments

The prompt for this post comes from a Feb. ’16 article in The Week — nearly two years ago. The inevitable article or podcast or meme about how depressing the holidays can be merits a judicious counterbalance — it deserves an “on the other hand” in rebuttal. So here’s one contribution toward that goal. It may help to read the article in The Week first. Or not — your call.

Now the pop neuroscience that the article’s based on — “Neuroscience reveals 4 rituals that will make you happy”, the title crows — isn’t actually particularly astonishing in itself. But the “four rituals” are interesting because they’re behaviors every human already practices anyway. That means — to me anyway — I’ve already got something to start with and build on. The magical principle here: What we make conscious gains power from focus.

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Snow, then ice: 23 December 2017

At this point those who think ritual doesn’t interest or concern them may be tempted to turn away. (There is after all a whole Net out there to click through. Go ahead if you need to!) But as anthropologists and neuro-folk have discovered, to be human is to ritualize our experience. It’s as if we each need to wear t-shirts that say: “What rituals are you practicing today?” You know, just to keep the activity in mind. If we’re ritualizing, what are its effects? Is it a helpful ritual? What are we doing?

As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog,

From small rituals like shaking hands vs. bowing, or saying your culture’s equivalents of “please” and “thank you,” to family traditions at the holidays, and outward to public ceremonies like reunions, annual festivals, weddings, funerals, ship-launchings, inaugurations, dedications, etc., ritual pervades all human cultures.

Some of our most potent and invisible rituals shape our daily experience in profound ways. The trick, I conclude, is to domesticate my rituals, expand on the most effective ones, and put more of them to work on my behalf. (By the law of reversed effort, they may become much wilder as a result.)

In fact, we ritualize such a large portion of our days, that when something breaks our routines (read ritual as “habit” here), it may annoy or even anger us as much as it may pleasantly surprise or intrigue us.  Let me find road work or a detour along a customary route, a power outage, a closed restaurant I was counting on (but hadn’t called ahead for, because it’s “always open”), and I’m thrown out of routine, forced to reshape something I’d previously planned and ritualized. We count on ritual to streamline and organize experience. Maybe that’s why we discount magical rituals. Ritual is so commonplace, after all, that it can feel “nothing special” by itself.

It’s what we do with it that counts.

So here’s a Druidified version of the four rituals, each now associated with an element and a direction. The ritually minded can expand on these “core four”, rearrange the associations, and so on. After all, if ritual or magic can’t deliver even a smidgen of happiness, it ain’t worth much.

Earth/North: Practice gratitude.

Give thanks for good things. Gratitude, as my longtime readers know, is one of my go-to techniques. Pairing it with appropriate action helps intensify it — write it down, etc. Earthy forms of gratitude may loom particularly prominently in your awareness right now — sweaters, wool socks, hot drinks, etc. Go for it. Earth the gratitude. Ground it in awareness and in gesture, in action, etc.

Air/East: Name the negatives.

Turns out our capacity for shame, guilt and worry can be productive, says the article. (Good thing, since so many of us specialize in one or more of these. Collect all Three!) And though labelling often comes in for a bad name in our politically distraught and extreme age, it’s one of the things that language is for, what it excels at. One key is the appropriate label: “Name it and tame it”. And “getting a handle on something” can include naming it accurately. And also knowing when to turn off language altogether for an interval — a magical technique all its own. Trance, music, daydream — we hold the reins in our hands.

Interrogating habits, whether “good” or “bad”, can reveal unsuspected wealth both for themes for meditation, and for material for ritual. What we really want can surprise us: going through the motions of a habit can block us from discovering what actually powers the habit in the first place. Studying the habit, revolving it in clear daylight, returning it to consciousness, can teach us much of value. Ritualizing it empowers us to live its full potential rather than shoving to one side, where it collects dust and rust and small rodents as it putrefies. A purified habit is a happy habit.

As J. M. Greer notes,

[t]he tools of magic are useful because most of the factors that shape human awareness are not immediately accessible to the conscious mind; they operate at levels below the one where our ordinary thinking, feeling, and willing take place. The mystery schools have long taught that consciousness has a surface and a depth. The surface is accessible to each of us, but the depth is not. To cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others, the depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough (J. M. Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Weiser Books, 2012, pg. 88)

Fire/South: Make a decision.

Starting with small decisions helps me access the spark that follows this act. After consciously telling myself I will do this after writing this sentence, I rise and go put in a load of laundry. I’m back, and the act of getting up literally and psychologically to carry out, to follow through on a decision, is useful to enact and then to examine critically for its effects. A magical insight here: switch hemispheres frequently!

(Perfectionists may want to aim for “good-enough” decisions. Consciously wallowing in mud, working up a sweat, or making some kind of a mess — your choice! — may help defuse some of the OCD tendencies of perfectionism — short circuit it intentionally. Hey, it’s worked for me! Making a conscious decision about something very small can open up clarity on the decision-making capacity itself, without the distraction of the incidental content of the decision.)

If “ordinary thinking and willing are not enough”, there’s plenty we can do.

Water: Touch living things.

So many … loved ones, pets, plants and trees, the green earth. Touch as the most concrete of the senses can take us out of heads and into our bodies, letting the other elements do their work more directly, without all the wards and barriers and avoidance strategies we deploy whenever we practice unconscious black magic on ourselves. Which we do constantly. Connection drags us out of the solitary hells that the West has come to specialize in helping us to manifest. “Only connect!” goes the magical refrain — “Live in fragments no longer” (E. M. Forster, Howards End).

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Change up the elemental associations, and the rituals will shift subtly if not significantly. Armed with the earth of the body, the air of the breath, the fire of spirit and water of blood, we may ritualize our ways to places of surprise and delight. Happiness can’t be an endpoint anyway — it’s a practice to take up and improve.

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