Archive for the ‘ritual’ 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)

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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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Towards a Full Moon Ritual   Leave a comment

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Full Moon, May 18, 2019 @ MAGUS Gathering. Photo courtesy Marianne Gainey.

With last night’s May full moon, and searches from this blog for the words “full moon ritual”, it feels like time to talk a little more about ritual. Google “ritual design” and you’ll find many helpful sites. John Beckett’s helpful A Pagan Ritual Outline derives from his own long experience.

Ritual is at heart a form to focus awareness, like a melody focuses sound, like a kata or “form” focuses movement in the martial arts.

OBOD founder Ross Nichols observed that “Ritual is poetry in the world of acts”. That is, it’s distinguishable from other actions we do by its intent, its shape and form, and often by care for its appeal to the senses. Poetry and song rely on rhyme, rhythm, melody, harmony, counterpoint, emotion, symmetry, repetition and variation (chorus and new verse). It’s no surprise that effective and memorable ritual draws on the same components. Theater also underlies ritual with gesture, movement, surprise, audience participation, intonation, staging, lighting, costume, etc.

The full moon, by its shape, suggests completion of a cycle, a high point or climax in a developing change, a major turn in a process (you can’t get fuller until you empty again). More imaginatively, it can also suggest an open eye, a womb, a mirror of the sun, and so on.  These and many other associations and symbolic patterns can feed into a moon ritual. (Take a moment and write down your associations for the sliver of new moon, and you’ll be on your way to a new moon ritual.)

It helps to work with an outline or script — not as something prescribed, or to be rigidly followed without thought, but from a sense of flow and sequence. Even “spontaneous” ritual, especially for solitaries, often flows from a sense of rightness at the moment. In neither case do you need something written down to read from or use as a guide. But if that helps, or makes a big difference in quality, why not use it? Think of a favorite song you know by heart. Is knowing it so well a weakness?

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Li Bai (Wikipedia/public domain)

A few lines of the famous poem by Tang dynasty poet Li Bai (701-762), rendered more or less as “Drinking Alone with the Moon”, offer us a ritual moment:

Among flowers sits the jug of wine.
I pour alone, no other friend nearby.
I lift the cup to invite the moon
and with my shadow we make three.

(That’s my plain rendering. You can read multiple and more poetic versions of the whole poem here. The Chinese words: hua1 jian1 yi1 hu2 jiu3/du2 zhuo2 wu1 xiangqin1/ju3 bei1 yao1 ming2 yue4/dui4 ying3 cheng2 san1 ren2.)

Sometimes simplest is best. The experience of the moon shining through the flowers onto the wine, the solitary drinker, the cup, and the whole evening all around participate in the ritual just as much as the few words the speaker says to welcome the moon. Yet the ritual wouldn’t be complete without the words, because they’re called for. How does the solitary drinker “know what to say”? What fits the moment. And being alone (and possibly already a little mellowed with wine) helps shape what fits the moment. The moon is both familiar and wholly new in the moment, as are the feelings and thoughts of the drinker. A poem becomes a ritual. A ritual becomes a poem.

“Bigger” rituals work the same way. And planning and preparation can be just as effective in providing a form for rituals where gods speak, fire falls from the heavens, and the Earth Mother whispers her deepest secrets to gathered mortals.

In a Druid triad of ritual, three things happen: you open the door to the ritual, the heart of the rite takes place, and then you close the door. In Li Bai’s poem of informal ritual, the wine, moon, cup, speaker, flowers and moment each play their parts to open the door. The moon is present, and the flowers and wine and place. The speaker feels the moment, says the words, drinks, and the moment passes. The poem-as-script (re-)establishes the moment, records it, and closes it when the poem ends. Or think poem-as-ritual-photo. It’s not actually the speaker performing the ritual, but it records some part of it.

Let’s expand on the Druid triad of ritual. Below are twelve components to consider as you develop a ritual:

1–INTENTION — why are you performing the ritual? The whole ritual follows from this. A clear intention, large or small, leads to effective and enjoyable ritual.

2–MATERIALS NEEDED — cycle back here to add to your list as you develop the ritual. “Keep it simple” is a good principle. Ritual stuff isn’t the main event. But lacking the one or two things you DO need in the middle of the ritual, once the script grows to include them, is a real downer. That ritual knife, candle, bell, bowl of water, smudge stick now needs to be there. Do you need ritual clothing, body marking, etc.? Make sure it gets on the list.

3–PARTICIPANTS and ROLES — how many does the ritual need? Again, cycle back to update your “cast of characters” as your ritual plans develop. In the event of missing participants, how can you double up on roles?

Is there something for guests to do who aren’t speaking or performing major ritual actions? Can there be? Do participants — or visitors — need to prepare in advance in some way? Learn a short chant by heart? A melody? A ritual gesture? Vigils, fasts, prayer, meditation, questing, etc. can help participants bring their full ritual selves to the rite from the beginning.

4–PLACE and TIME — flexibility is key, especially if weather, reservations, or schedules have other ideas for your ritual. Pre-planned alternative locations in case of rain, etc., announced in advance, keep crowd control, confusion and disappointment to a minimum. Is accessibility an issue for any participants or visitors?

5–RITUAL HOUSEKEEPING — “Please turn off your cell phones!” Run through any details guests need to know. “This is what we’ll be doing. Don’t break the circle, or cut yourself a door in it, or ask a ritual celebrant to do so for you. Restrooms are at the end of the hall, or 20 miles away; find a tree. That’s north, so this is west.”

6–FORMAL OPENING — some combination and sequence of purification, grounding, centering, welcoming, proclaiming ritual intent, honoring and inviting Others to be present. Bells, singing bowls, incense, water, fire, salt, chant, drums, etc. all can help. Casting a circle, establishing sacred space, erecting or acknowledging altars, redefining the status of participants, the place, objects nearby or some combination of these may be appropriate. Choose who does these things, and why, and how others can take part. Less talk is usually better. So is simplicity.

7–The MAIN RITE — what you’ve gathered to do. Re-enacting a myth; marking the changed status of a participant through initiation, etc.; celebrating the season, a date, festival, harvest, planting, boat-launch, new home, new family member, etc. Healing, defending, strengthening, commemorating, blessing, gifting. Where you do the stuff specific to your tradition, practice, gods, calendar, and so on.

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MAGUS 2019 Maypole!

8–FEAST, ritual meal, distribution of ritual objects, etc. — a piece of maypole ribbon, a slice of apple (showing the star), a drink, a stave of ritual significance, a card or picture, stone, sea-shell, etc.

9–READINGS, Music, Poetry, Blessings, Prayers — this important portion of a ritual can accompany the Feast, etc. to help sustain the ritual energy, hold focus, minimize side chatter, etc. It also gives everyone present a chance to contribute personal requests, blessings, songs, etc.

10–CLOSING — reverse what you did for the opening: thank Others you invited, uncast the circle, return ritual elements to their original places, desanctify what need desanctifying, take down the altar. Ring the bell, beat the drum formally, close the ritual. Re-establish the world before the ritual began. Again, simple is good.

11–ANNOUNCEMENTS — upcoming events, requests for help with clean-up, calendars, thanking visitors, etc.

12–CLEAN-UP — leave the ritual space as pristine — or more so — than when you arrived. Make this a ritual act of service and gratitude.

Conversation following the rite can be an opportunity for formal teaching, Q-and-A, casual discussion, ritual debriefing and a post-mortem “how did it go?”, planning for another event, a meal at a favorite restaurant (which can be announced on Meet-up, etc., as an outreach tool).

Were you expecting a script for a specific ritual here? No need — you know enough to develop one of your own better suited to you, your situation, your practice and your intention. And after a few run-throughs, you’ll be on your way to developing your own ritual design “best practices”.

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Looking for more detail? Check out Isaac Bonewits’ excellent Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals that Work (Llewellyn, 2007), available used for just a couple of dollars.

Linking Our Times of Fire   1 comment

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photo courtesy Srinivas Ananda

Here’s a set of lively images from just a couple days ago of Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Society’s 2019 celebration. Twice a year, at Beltane and Samhain, the Society stages an event featuring fire, drumming and dancers drawing upwards of 10,000 spectators.

Past posts on this blog may help provide inspiration for your own observances and practice.

• Two recent posts on Beltane 2019 — my own local Druid group’s ritual and a reflection on Beltane north and Samhain south.

• What is it with fire and Beltane? Well, the name Beltane itself, according to some etymologies, means the “Fires of Bel”.

• In my “30 Days of Druidry” series, I take up Beltane again — the ancient Celtic fire festivals of Beltane and Samhain still live in many forms today. A local example — a group of Morris dancers (article, pix and short amateur video) braved a chilly May 1st morning yesterday on nearby Putney Mountain, VT, to “bring in the May”.

• In 2015 I wrote this series of posts on “touching the sacred” — something we can often do most easily through fire and fire festivals. No surprise that cultures around the world have for millennia recognized fire as a sacred metaphor and vehicle. Let me take you there, says fire (and also Led Zeppelin’s vocalist Robert Plant, especially in “Kashmir”. Lack direct access to transformative fire? A shaman like Plant can help!).

• “The Fires of May, Green Dragons and Talking Peas” assembles the words of bards and a set of images to suggest to ear and eye what it is we seek and thrive from when we find it.

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wooden totem at Four Quarters Sanctuary, PA

• Want to experience a taste of a larger Beltane Gathering? Here are posts from 2018 and 2017 on the first two years of the Mid-Atlantic Gathering.

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Northern Vermont Beltane 2019   Leave a comment

Beltane yesterday, with our Vermont OBOD Seed Group, the Well of Segais, was a windy, sunny welcome to spring in the north half of the state. With many dirt roads washing out after all the recent heavy rains, members scrambled to reach hardtop roads, scouted for accessible ritual locations, and found this marvelous, recently-constructed stone circle in a municipal park overlooking Route 2.

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A short walk over this preserved covered bridge, and across a boggy meadow, took us up a hill to the circle.

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Between the initial location-scouting and our arrival yesterday, someone had found and placed a striking large quartz rock on the central stone. With some careful shifting on our part, it settled into place upright, serving as a stable windbreak. With five of us, we had just enough members to fill the ritual roles  — and to reach out hands to form a ritual circle around the central stone!

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Just as Imbolc for Vermonters often marks the start of “sugaring” — maple syrup season (or at least a midwinter thaw) — so Beltane celebrates the first leaves appearing on the trees, the first brave daffodils often pushing through the last of the snow, and the onset of “mud-” and then “stick-” season, two short but memorable intervals sandwiched between the long Vermont winter and the often wet spring.

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Calendula –Wikipedia Creative Commons

A group member brought calendula seeds as a ritual gift for all to plant. An “all-arounder”, the calendula is a member of the marigold family, bringing color, medicine, edible blooms, dye, tea, and other uses. Technically an annual, the plant can reseed itself and become effectively a perennial, if you don’t deadhead the flowers and if you allow it to mature into its seed-bearing form.

Looking to welcome the moon along with Beltane? Wait till May 4, and you can work with the New Moon, as Mystic River Grove in Massachusetts will do this year.

“Within me the powers of Sun and Moon. With my right hand (or wand) I father the Child, with my left (or chalice) I mother it. Within me lives the alchemy of this union. Let the magical child of my creative nature blossom and thrive in the inner and outer worlds” (adapted from OBOD ritual).

Beltane blessings to all!

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 2   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

INTERLUDE

Druids have grappled with Christianity since it first arrived in Europe. While today we might take St. Augustine at his word (“that which is known as the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist”*), exploring it in new and creative ways (tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine!), most people throughout Christian history have understood the assertion as narrowly as possible. That is, Christ started a new religion focused on belief in the divine power of his sacrificial death and resurrection, which saves the believer. Pairing this with a transformation in awareness, the convert takes on a new life in Christ.

For many, however, Jesus Christ, or least the religion that bears his name, is problematic at best. (To choose just one among myriad issues to explore, note that neither Druids nor non-Druids use the name Taliesin, for instance, as a “swear-word”!) Many non-Christians today have suffered from unloving and aggressive evangelism, family harassment, workplace tension, physical threats and social ostracism, whether they practice a non-Christian spirituality or simply remain “outside” the Christian church.

I’m addressing this series of posts, then, primarily to a vast “excluded middle” — neither the “born-again” believer nor the scarred (and possible tarred and feathered) “heretic”, but the people awake to the “magical and generous” possibilities all around us, because you’ve already experienced them, and they answer a deep hunger in you like nothing else can.

Or as Krista comments:

Dean, I’m always especially interested when you write on this particular topic. Having been raised in the Christian Faith, and having had no quarrel with the Christianity of my youth, my own Druid practice always has something of a Christian flavor to it even though I no longer consider myself a Christian. But I don’t consider myself Pagan either. Always was a bit of a square peg. So throughout my Druid journey I’ve become very comfortable blending and assimilating and it works quite well in my private practice. It’s a bit more challenging in community practice, but I’m working on it and I adapt when it’s called for. I think it would do the Druid community a world of good to acknowledge, and have more discussion about, different Druid perspectives rather than focusing almost exclusively on the Pagan perspective. Thanks for taking it on!

One less-than-flattering label for this is syncretism. But religions and spiritualities, just like most human cultures, thrive by cross-pollination, as careful study of them across time will bear out. Similarly, in our genetics we’re mongrels, hybrids, blends, mixes. (Our sometimes uncomfortable surprise at recent DNA test-results illustrates one aspect of this.) Our current sensitivity to “cultural appropriation” is our heightened awareness of the violence behind forcible mis-appropriations. Or as John Beckett puts it bluntly in his The Path of Paganism, “Always credit your sources, never pretend to be something you’re not, and steal from the best”. It’s the lack of credit, the pretense, and the poor selection that make up most of our problems with shoddy cultural (mis)appropriation. The “weekend guru” offering workshops, intensives and retreats, and cashing in on an inferior grab of unacknowledged and imperfectly-mastered practices from another culture currently perceived as somehow more “authentic” or “powerful”, gives all borrowing and mixing a bad name.

[Lest you take issue with the possibly glib tone of John’s “triad of appropriation” above, let’s hear him at greater length from a recent post:

Are you being respectful to the traditions and cultures you’re drawing from, or are you grabbing whatever looks shiny to you? Are you working with them as whole systems, or as mix and match entrees on a spiritual buffet? And as a polytheist, my biggest concern: are you treating the Gods as holy powers and as persons with whom we can form relationships, or as objects to be used where and how you see fit?]

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Another under-explored overlap is Druid and Hindu practice | another link | a third link | which offers some very provocative insights into cultural similarity and preservation of ancient traditions over long periods of time, and at “opposite ends” of the Indo-European area of cultural and linguistic origins and influence. Everything from archetypal themes in stories, to names of gods, music and musical instruments, and spiritual practices, show common ground in the cultures of Celts and the peoples of the Indian subcontinent.

And so I write these posts partly in the spirit of “doing the Druid community a world of good to acknowledge, and have more discussion about, different Druid perspectives rather than focusing almost exclusively on the Pagan perspective”. And as always, I’m exploring my own practices and perspectives as I go — one of the chief benefits of blogging.

The EMPRESS

03-EmpressThe Empress of the traditional deck, with her 12-star crown and sceptre, and the astronomical symbol of Venus next to her chair or throne, is another goddess figure. As an aspect or representation of the energies along the journey of the Fool or Seeker, she grounds us in the earth. The wheat growing at her feet, the waterfall to her left, the forest behind her, all place her “in the world” of both fruitfulness and change. Whether as Mother Earth, or Mary, or another goddess, or a living but impersonal archetype, or the fertile and fruitful energies within us, the Empress is a potent force and presence.

As Caitlin and John Matthews describe Guinevere in their version** of this card, as “the Empress of Logres (the Inner Britain), she creates the conditions for growth, establishing peace and contentment. She spins a thread of inner concord which is woven into the fabric of the land and its people. She imparts sensitivity to nature and harmonious awareness of all life” (The Arthurian Tarot. Thorsons, 1995, pg. 28).

What is the “thread of concord” between you and the land where you live? Only you can answer that: it can become a practice first to find out, and then to honor it in ways that you work out between you and the land. A grounding exercise of weaving or braiding a thread to carry with you as a reminder may help incarnate this awareness. Ritual can serve our need here, as in so many places.

What are the “conditions for growth” for whatever you wish to bring into your life? How can you begin to work them into your day to day work and awareness, so that they can manifest what you need? How can you serve others who are doing the same? Asking the questions can help the chance manifest, if I’m paying attention. If not, then next time around.

Archetypes, it should be said, aren’t something to “believe in”, and even less something to “worship” — though you certainly can if you choose to. (Let us know how it goes — you may discover something valuable to share.) Instead, and probably a better use of our energies and attention and time, they’re something to work with to see what they can help us do and understand about our lives.

The EMPEROR

04-EmperorThe Emperor in the traditional deck hews to traditional symbols and representations of patriarchal power: beard, crown, scepter, throne, armor, harsh and rather sterile landscape, rams’ horns adorning the throne’s arms and back. (It can be helpful for such reasons to consult other decks for different images and symbolism.) The fact that we’re experiencing the negative effects of imbalanced masculine energies in our lives simply tells us a piece of what needs healing and re-balancing. Scan most headlines and you realize many people haven’t a clue about how to begin to do this — itself a measure of how out of balance the energies have become for many. We’ve often jettisoned outmoded forms of spirituality, true — but neglected to replace them.

The Emperor’s number 4 is also represents the fullness of the human world, four-square in its founding on the four physical elements, before we shift our awareness to spiritual realities within and beyond them. The Pagan and Christian star alike points to the five-fold nature of all things, both physical and non-physical — a vital reminder of how the cosmos is constituted, which we overlook, and have overlooked, to our peril.

The spiritual, you might say, is what the physical *is* under its mask. Or to say it another way, the spiritual is always clear and apparent; it’s the physical that’s the mystery, the cloak, the concealer, the mist-filled branching off the path. We have simply forgotten to work our polarity magic, to walk a spiritual path of stewardship, to put it in Christian terms — we’ve thrown our planet out of balance over time, and now must spend at least as much time over the coming decades and centuries working to bring it back into balance and harmony.

The HIEROPHANT

05-HierophantThe figure in the traditional deck of the Hierophant, the “one who shows the holy”, may bring further associations of institutional authority and entrenched structures and imbalances.

Some decks re-order these first few cards, change their genders and assign them different symbolism, in an attempt to represent one or another version of a more balanced set of images. In the Matthews’ Arthurian deck the card depicts the bard Taliesin, the poet-as-way-shower-of-the-holy, especially of ways that stand outside formal structures and institutions. Today we find our bards and prophets among artists and performers, actors and politicians.

(Check out fansites and Facebook, Twitter and other social media, if you want to know how much the words and music and performances of artists matter to so many, if you don’t already have a deep appreciation for the power wielded by a multitude of visions and their visionaries. Again and again, people post how a performance or a lyric saved their lives, brought them down from suicide, changed their outlooks, gave them strength and courage and a vision to persevere through often impossible circumstances.)

Like the Hierophant, Taliesin is a guardian of tradition. We know all too well the dangers of distorted and abusive holders of traditional authority and power. Seemingly every other day, headlines trumpet the fall of another person — often a man — from a position of trust, authority and power. Such things have given tradition a bad name — except, again, in our modern reverence for everyone else’s traditions except our own. Traditional holders of wisdom, Native American or Tibetan or Mayan, still retain something of the original value that a tradition is meant to preserve.

For the other and often neglected face of tradition is that conserving function. We may conceive of tradition as “guarding from”, but more as “guarding for”. In his Elves, more than in any other expression in his fantasy works, Tolkien captures the sense both of preserving much wisdom and beauty through time, and of pervasive sadness at its seemingly inevitable loss. To cite just one example, even among the more hopeful, Gandalf addresses Aragorn in Book 6, Chapter 5 of The Lord of the Rings:

This is your realm, and the heart of the greater realm that shall be. The Third Age of the world is ended, and the new age is begun; and it is your task to order its beginning and to preserve what may be preserved. For though much has been saved, much must now pass away.

Our contemporary sense of loss and disorientation at our crumbling institutions, corrupt as some of them have become, is also an opportunity to reconnect with legitimate traditions, many preserved inwardly by their keepers, where we can recover them through vision, gratitude, ritual, and readiness and humility to ask for guidance. Taliesin, in the Matthews’ rendering, is one such preserver or conservator. He “sits in a firelit hall. He tells the story of his initiatory transformations to two children who sit at his feet listening intently. The golden links of tradition pass from his hands to theirs” (The Arthurian Tarot, pg. 30).

And our efforts in this quest (“lest any man should boast” as Christian scripture says [Ephes 2:9] of “works”, which by themselves can never be the only component of a quest) are part of our purification, our testing, a step along the path, not the sole key to growth. We are each one being in a cosmos of other beings, each with intentions and purposes, some which can align with ours. The hand of tradition, the wisdom of the Ancestors, the spiritual reality of the worlds, reaches out to grasp ours when we show we are ready.

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*Augustine of Hippo. The Retractions, ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari, trans. Mary Inez Bogan. Vol. 60, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1968), 52. [Book 1, Chapter 12, article 3.]

**Here are the names of the cards in the Matthews’ Arthurian deck: (0) The Seeker, (1) Merlin, (2) Lady of the Lake, (3) Guinevere, (4) Arthur, (5) Taliesin, (6) The White Hart, (7) Prydwen, (8) Gawain, (9) The Grail Hermit, (10) The Round Table, (11) Sovereignty, (12) The Wounded King, (13) The Washer at the Ford, (14) The Cauldron, (15) The Green Knight, (16) The Spiral Tower, (17) The Star, (18) The Moon, (19) The Sun, (20) The Sleeping Lord, and (21) The Flowering of Logres.

Listening to Each Other — Recent Comments   5 comments

A series of recent comments here has been helpful to me, even as I try to gauge how to approach these posts, and how far and where to take them.

I had breakfast with a Druid friend this morning, a short while before he’ll be off for an extended cross-country skiing trip, far from regular tourist routes, hiking in and out, and camping and staying in trail-side shelters. I value him in part because he’s a good listener, and as a consistent character trait, he seeks to find balance in his own reactions to his daily inner and outer life, even as he shares them with others. It makes for some priceless insights, if I shut up to catch them.

Such reflection is a gift, something to cherish and encourage in others. I try to listen here in the same spirit, when you comment in posts about what’s going on in your worlds and experiences. Often of course I don’t not know enough of your circumstances to comment usefully, but I keep listening partly for that very reason. Who knows the whole story, even of our own lives? (The late ABC commentator Paul Harvey called his popular broadcast The Rest of the Story. We keep paying attention, if we’re wise, because the story hasn’t ended yet by any means, and we’re all part of it, telling our piece as we live it. And if you suspect reincarnation is an accurate aspect of the story, its chapters can grow quite lengthy indeed.) Listening, patience, gratitude: a triad cutting across all traditions, proven countless times over and over in its profound power.

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Krista writes:

Dean, I’m always especially interested when you write on this particular topic. Having been raised in the Christian Faith, and having had no quarrel with the Christianity of my youth, my own Druid practice always has something of a Christian flavor to it even though I no longer consider myself a Christian. But I don’t consider myself Pagan either. Always was a bit of a square peg. So throughout my Druid journey I’ve become very comfortable blending and assimilating and it works quite well in my private practice. It’s a bit more challenging in community practice, but I’m working on it and I adapt when it’s called for. I think it would do the Druid community a world of good to acknowledge, and have more discussion about, different Druid perspectives rather than focusing almost exclusively on the Pagan perspective. Thanks for taking it on!

How many of us hear even a part of our own experiences in what Krista shares here? Neither Christian or Pagan. It’s a perspective and an experience I suspect is more common than we recognize. “Square-pegged-ness” could probably define a number of us, and in fact much contemporary spiritual practice across traditions echoes this sense of having to find and tread our own paths. Because what price “purity” of belief or practice strictly within the confines of one tradition or school, church or community, if spiritually we’re suffocating or starving there? It can take a deal of work just to recognize such a priority, and honor such a spiritual imperative.

The influx of the divine that swirled and took shape in and around Christianity still has valid things to teach us, even as individual churches and whole communions and major denominations struggle to find their way.  The existence today of over 20,000 Protestant denominations, to say nothing of other Christian traditions, testifies to the difficulty of satisfying the questing individual soul with system and conformity, doctrine and creed.

Group practice and community often mean more to many people than words of affirmation recited at a particular portion of the weekly service, though they may describe much of value, too. But the flame that burns at the heart of what is called Christianity does not appear to keep itself neatly smouldering within any bounds set by humans, any more than it does in other spiritualities. If it did, how much would it really be worth? Instead, it kindles and warms anyone who brushes up against it for any length of time. Inconveniently so, dynamically so, wonderfully and provocatively and endlessly “inspiritingly” so.

What other perspectives or flavors of Druidry do we often overlook, besides the Christian one(s)?

Until we can begin to answer that question adequately, I’m borrowing, for the space of a quotation anyway, some monotheistic but non-Christian flavor from Tolkien’s Silmarillion, hearing in it an echo of Druidic awen, and a further gift of the elemental fire that kindles us all:

Then the themes of Ilúvatar shall be played aright, and take Being in the moment of their utterance, for all shall then understand fully his intent in their part, and each shall know the comprehension of each, and Ilúvatar shall give to their thoughts the secret fire, being well pleased.

And disabledhikernh writes:

Thank you for this post. I am hard pressed to find other Druid Christians, so I have felt kind of isolated as such. Now I don’t 🙂

Isolation, that challenge to solitaries — and how many of us are solitary, even if we enjoy a local community of others, before and after we gather with them? The anvil of solitude can forge us spiritually in ways nothing else can, though the costs can be correspondingly high.

(One of my spiritual practices, for what it’s worth, found in other interesting places, too: If this experience is happening for me rather than only to me, what can I take from it? Where can I travel with it? What doors does it open, and not just close? What beauties glow behind the doors? What deities flare and bloom there? How far, I whisper to myself, half in fear, half in wonder, how far can I really go?)

Steve has been sharing something of his journey in previous comments, and writes:

This series of posts is proving to be a thoughtful and thought provoking treatment of what is a “delicate” subject in many circles. When I first encountered some of your earlier posts on the intersection of druidry and christianity I admit to taking a very cautious approach, almost an attitude of “this is too good to be true”. With time to read and think about what you are saying it seems more likely that you are speaking from hard won, first hand experience. Thank you for doing this.

“Delicate” is apt. Steve’s caution here sounds at least as hard-won — and needful — as any experience of mine, and vice-versa. My caution in how definitively I assert something, how deep I dig, how far I push, what I ask that I can’t answer, is ongoing. Rather than encounter walls, or provoke readers unnecessarily with observations I can’t back up from experience, I want to explore respectfully — mostly so I miss as little as possible of value as I go.

One of the most startling overlaps or intersections of traditions for me happened during an initiation. I still don’t know altogether what it “means”, though it was over five years ago now. In a clear inner encounter, all the more unexpected because I hadn’t opened a Bible in many years, I saw how

out of his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and his face was like the sun shining in its strength (Revelation 1:20).

Rather than “meaning” anything at first, the experience shaped me within its own context, just like other profound experiences, whether of pain or joy, grief or wonder, which we analyze only later, and put labels on, as we “process” them, seeking to incorporate or reject them, expanding or contracting them to “fit” what we can accept at the time. At the time, this experience confirmed for me the energy and love behind the initiation, flagging it as powerfully memorable.

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Milan’s bosco verticale — vertical forest, completed in 2018*.

(After a car accident over three decades ago now, I surveyed the overturned and totaled car I’d been driving, walked gingerly over a puddle of broken glass to retrieve my wallet, flung from the dash out the window by the impact, massaged a sore neck that was my only physical outcome of the event, and marveled in gratitude that no one had been hurt. Anything the accident “meant” came only later: Insurance claims. My sometimes-psychic brother, agitated all morning before my phone call home to explain what happened and ask to be picked up. The eventual replacement of the car. The job interview I was returning from, the mantra I’d been chanting, my mindset, the weather, the other driver, and so on.)

Part of the gift of the initiation experience is that I was largely able to let go of what it “meant” at first and focus on accepting its effects on my awareness. What it “meant” and “means” has continued to unfold, though not necessarily along “orthodox” lines. And that no doubt drives some of what I write here. Images and metaphors as divine “transparencies” or hierophanies, ways to connect to the limitless, ways it “shines through”, are part of our spiritual furniture, and part of my bias or individuality or inner architecture. They may or may not be yours, but you have yours.

May you find and explore them richly.

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IMAGE: urban trees — public domain; Bosco Verticale — Milan, Italy’s “vertical forest”.

*For more info and pictures of the Vertical Forest, see this article.

Oh, Slip Away to the Wilderness!   1 comment

Slip away to the wilderness and pray.

I bless and consecrate you with water … with spirit, and with fire.

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How often we’re put off by language — or drawn in and inspired, and for mostly the same reasons. The first piece of wise Druid counsel above comes, in fact, from Luke 5:16, describing what Jesus often did. Seems like a piece of uncommon good sense these days for anyone to practice, a sacred intention to add to our hours.

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Another version* puts it like this: “Jesus often went away to other places to be alone so that he could pray”. Does that feel like anything most of us need to do regularly, to get off by ourselves so we can hear ourselves and our awen speak, and not merely listen to the strident echoes of the “24-hour news cycle”? Hear what life is constantly saying to the chakras and energy centers of our being**.

The second line above comes from Matthew 3:11-12, where John the Initiating Chief (Christians may know him as John the Baptist) names the powers he and Jesus invoke when blessing and hallowing others who seek out that particular ritual. Water, spirit, fire. What is baptism but blessing — literally, dipping in water and other holy substances or elements? A baptism in an initiation, and vice versa, symbolized by elements that have always been holy worldwide: water and fire, and spirit that animates them all. Call them elemental sacraments as I have, if that brings them into closer kinship and familiarity and comfort.

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One of my teachers observed that just as we can choose to go through initiations organized and conducted by others, we can initiate intentions and directions in our  own lives. An actual ritual can help to impress this on the mind and senses, reifying it, to use technical language — making it “thingly”, bringing it through “right down to the physical”.

So I find my own ways of slipping away into wilderness to pray, listen to the trees, sing the awen, and prepare.

And initiation? Many have long looked at the Biblical Book of Revelation as a guide to our inner spiritual architecture, with the seven churches it describes in detail as the varying focus and health of our seven inner energy centers, typified in various traditions as chakras or by other names, the spiritual eye among them, along with the halos on pictures of saints, the sacred heart, the gut instinct, and so on — yet another piece of the philosophia perennis, the Perennial Wisdom we cloak with our regional robes, names and forms, then “name and claim” as the Sole Truth of the cosmos (which we just so happen to be in exclusive possession of).

So you have a vision, and it’s natural to be told to get it down in words before it fades:

Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden candles is this: The seven stars are the messengers of the seven Gatherings, and the seven candles are the seven Gatherings. (Revelation 1:20).

Then you work to initiate your vision, with the Messengers (Instant or otherwise), and the Light sources you find at hand, LED, spiritual, human. A little paraphrase that I assert does no injustice to the original, and we’re on Druid territory. And why not vice versa? Rework a Druid ritual in Christian terms, and see what you may discover.

We can initiate or baptize our complete body, energies centers all working together, to (re)call it to its holy purpose as an Ancestor-in-the-Making, a Walker-between-the-Worlds, a Holy One. If the world around us, or some other world we’ve walked in lately, seems sacred or holy, or some other ideal summons us, we can “level ourselves up”, to use the language of gamers — shift energy and consciousness, so that we mirror and embody — incarnate — that holiness, rather than working against it.

So I choose the time of ritual with care, honoring the harmonics of the planets and stars, the tides of earth and our lives. Three days, or maybe seven, beforehand, I slip away to the wilderness and pray. As part of my ritual — perhaps the core of initiation, or perhaps other words come — I say, “I bless and consecrate you with water … with spirit, and with fire”.

And perhaps I close with some version of the blessings from recent posts, drinking what seems right to drink, making an offering from that drink to whoever it feels right to honor at the moment of the rite:

I now invoke the mystery of communion, that common unity that unites all beings throughout the worlds. All beings spring from the One; by One are they sustained, and in One do they find their rest. One the hidden glory rising through the realms of Abred; One the manifest glory rejoicing in the realms of Gwynfydd; One the unsearchable glory beyond all created being in Ceugant; and these three are resumed in One.

May the blessing of the Uncreated One, of the Creative Word and of the Spirit that is the Inspirer be with us always …

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*Easy-to-Read Version, 2006, Bible League International.

**Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev. 2:29).

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