Archive for the ‘ritual’ Category

Ritual Rummaging   Leave a comment

John Beckett (6 January 2019) writes:

A ritual is a series of interrelated actions designed to accomplish a spiritual goal. It may be a celebration, but it’s more than a party. It may honor certain spiritual persons, but it’s more than singing praises. It may work magic, but it’s more than a spell.

Couple this succinct overview of ritual with OBOD founder Ross Nichols’ “Ritual is poetry in the world of acts” and you’ve got a fair bit to go on, if you want to do some rummaging about in ritual spaces and energies.

ross_nichols

Ross Nichols leading a procession of the Cornish Gorseth in the 1970s. Wikipedia Creative commons.

For starters, form matters. What makes a lively seasonal festival ritual more than a party? After all, some parties also have a form. If it’s a birthday, maybe there’s a welcome period for everyone to assemble, settle in and get something to drink. Then food — a buffet or even a formal sit-down meal — followed by presents, and then games, or dancing, or some other group activity. Or maybe the whole evening is food, mingling and music, with presents dropped off on a designated table. There may be formal start and ending times, or apart from one announced activity — often, the food — there’s no set beginning or close. “Show up when you can”. Still, people often know what “birthday party” typically means. There’s some kind of loose format in most people’s expectations, unless the invitation says otherwise.

If a ritual has assigned roles, it can begin when all the participants have assembled. Beckett talks about how ritual ideally doesn’t have an “audience”. While it’s a performance, no one should be so detached as to be merely a spectator. At our most recent Vermont OBOD seed group celebration of Winter Solstice, we held a ritual “post-mortem” discussion as some dishes for our potluck dinner were warming in the oven. With just enough members attending that foggy evening to carry out the ritual-as-written, it’s true each of us “had a part”. But more importantly, as one member observed afterward, it’s what we do with and for other participants during the ritual that makes the difference. “I support them”, she said. While one person is assigned to speak the words that “call North”, for instance, everyone else can do so, too. Add your intention. Feel the direction. Visualize, sense it on your skin. Imagine the participant serving as North to be garbed appropriately for the direction, crowned and armed with symbols of earth. In fact, if we expect North or any of the other directions to manifest and be a palpable presence, just such group energy and support are essential. Otherwise, what are we doing calling the directions?

I’ve queried the opening words of the standard OBOD ritual format before, in previous posts. “By the power of star and stone, by the power of the land within and without, by all that is fair and free, welcome to this Rite of …” Lovely, but what IS “the power of star and stone”? And if I don’t know, then how do I know I want to call on it, invoke it, welcome the assembled group with and by it? Is it the same as “the power of the land within and without”? Do either of these have anything to add to our rite?

Or let’s say I chose to forego seeking and supplying a merely intellectual equation: “power of land = X”. I let the words move me wherever and however they’re meant to, trusting the ritual and relying on our group’s reverent and “heart-ful” performing of it to answer such questions in due time, if at all. Let the intention and the energy of the assembled members carry me over any rough spots, and all will be well. OK, but then how do I support the herald who proclaims these opening words, if I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing? If we all imagine different things on hearing the words, we generate a diffuse generic energy (or nothing much at all) that may not come anywhere near to what the “power of star and stone” could do, if we knew what we were about.

Mean clearly, and you can carry people with you.

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

franco-zeffirelli-1968

Olivia Hussey as Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version of the play.

Listen to an informed performance of Romeo and Juliet and when Juliet says these words, it’s the third “Romeo” that she stresses: “O, why do you have to be Romeo? Any other name would be fine. But no: you turn out to belong to my family’s enemies!” If you don’t know what you’re saying, you can’t mean what you need to mean. The words won’t mean what they could. Understand what Juliet says, and her next lines make perfect sense:

Deny thy father and refuse thy name
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy …

birth2_opt

Dionysus in ’69. Photo by Brett Brookshire.

Because drama is a component of ritual, films and plays have something to teach us about owning the words and actions of ritual in deep and creative ways. Ancient Greek drama was sacred to Dionysus. In Athens, no weapons were allowed in the theater precinct during the Dionysia Festival of tragedies and comedies. The ritual of theater was an act of worship, a sacred thing dedicated to the god.

Serious about addressing ritual glitches, the crew of MAGUS ’17 asked participants to memorize their parts. Come ready to speak with intention, since you won’t need a piece of paper in front of you. Improvise, once you know the energy of the traditional words. Call North, and let us hear and feel North. I was North, a small but important part. I did call North, with original words and images I’d been composing orally — I felt their power myself — then flubbed a short line North says a page or two later that I couldn’t remember and couldn’t for the life of me find, for an ungodly amount of time, as I pawed through the printed ritual in my hand. Ritual flow broken, I finally found my place and shamefacedly read off my line.

Fortunately, Druids are forgiving folks. It both did and didn’t matter. Ritual isn’t made or marred by a single person. Smiles and laughter heal many a weak line reading, dropped candle, overenthusiastic blessing with water. It took time before I could laugh, because I was so annoyed at myself — all the more reason I needed to.

Contrast this with my Ovate self-initiation: my wife away for the weekend, all lights in the house extinguished except for a single small candle. I sit on the floor in a dim and flickering circle of light, words of the open and closing ritual at hand, but foremost in my awareness a dedication I speak as the words come to me, along with a palpable sense of witnesses around me as I proceed. The ritual pacing my pace, the words my words, the experience my own and that of those who, I sense, share it with me. Powerful, personal, memorable, unscripted at its peak, and especially potent for that reason.

The two poles of ritual? Both valid, necessary — and each distinct.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: Ross Nichols; Juliet; Dionysus in 69.

Advertisements

13 Gift-Day-Flames for Solstice-Solitaries   2 comments

… that you can give to yourself and others. Many of these are simple, elemental — as they can and may be, needing nothing beyond what we have already. If not one flame coming as a gift, then welcome another. Try one a day for all 13, or choose one or more according to a rhythm that makes sense to you. If a nudge should come to try something else, ah, nurture it for what it can be. Flame sparks flame, light reflects light.

IMG_2095

recent mid-December dawn over our roof

Silence. What needs stillness? Find even a brief moment where you can give yourself quiet, if not silence. What flows from that interval? The flame of silence flares when we tend it, and dies back down to embers when we turn up our internal and external volumes. There’s healing in stillness, often because we can finally hear what we’ve been missing, as well as what we can give that we overlooked. Stillness brings a kind of space and light all its own.

Sound. What needs a voice? Music, the human voice, instruments, a happy dog barking, a cat purring, a child’s laughter. These too are gifts to cherish and celebrate. What do I have that I can say, what can I contribute to the conversation? What can I start (or continue) saying that I haven’t said before? What other voices can I listen to and help be heard?

Light. What needs illumination? The Festival of the Returning Sun that is Solstice means the days will begin to grow longer again after this Saturday. We may notice the lengthening more in mid-January, at least in the Northeastern U.S., with the cold, clear days that bespeak deep winter. What’s lighting up for me now? What can I help light up for others?

Ritual. What needs to be celebrated and made more conscious in my life? The smallest things may be asking and answering. Lighting a candle, or a fire. Bathing in a tub for a change, instead of showering (go all out with candles — or bathe in the light of a single flame). Sharing a meal. Watching a video together. Singing a favorite song. Wandering somewhere, off the clock, without a destination.

Kindling. What needs to catch fire? Think kindling as both the action and the materials for it. Go wide — be metaphorical, too. In addition to paper and twigs, think art of all kinds. Sketchbooks, fine paper and pens, glorious fabrics, seed catalogs. Parts, supplies, cleared spaces for projects. Plans, hopes, dreams.

MistletoeInSilverBirch

Mistletoe in silver birch. Photo courtesy Chris Miksic.

Prayer. What needs asking and acknowledgement? Wordless is fine. Asking is a good part of prayer, and there are many other prayers. Gratitude is powerful prayer. Linked with silence, it can become a dedicated daily practice. Or try out words. “Let my prayer rise like incense” says Psalm 141: “… the lifting up of my hands like evening sacrifice”. Find a verse or lyric, song or poem and let it be your prayer. Listen for the prompts everywhere: other people’s words, advertising jingles, casual remarks, a headline, a child’s question, the wordless eyes of animals, the “slow gestures of trees”, as UK LeGuin called them.

Service. What and who do I serve already? Can I build on that? Where are new forms of service looking for me? Who is serving me already that I can acknowledge? I start small, and the list grows. Dropping off a meal to a shut-in. Shoveling a driveway. Serving myself, saying “no” when I need time and space.

Change. What can I help be born? What is seeking to emerge? How can I help shape it? What can I let go of in my life, so that a new thing can find birth? What can I welcome that’s arriving?

Contact. What needs touching? Is it me? What can I invite to touch me? If I don’t have human presences, are there animals who enjoy touching and be touched? What can I bring into connection that’s separate right now? What parts of my life deserve to meet each other, and would flourish if they did?

Reading. What deserves my attention? It may be an actual book, of course, a collection of poems on my altar, or a beloved book from childhood that I can make a ritual of re-reading myself, or sharing with others. (And dogs and cats can make good listeners for this, too.) It may be things I’ve been noticing in my life. What am I reading in my life, in others’ lives, in the world, in my dreams, that wishes to offer guidance?

Memory. What can I recall? What deserves forgetting, letting go? What can I bless, regardless of where it’s going? What scrapbooks, physical or inward, do I turn over, or revisit? What does memory offer that I can enrich my life with today? Sorting the mix we all have, setting aside some images (burning them?), while keeping others, blessing all, a second time. And a third. What can I add to my store of memory? What memories deserve sharing with others? What memories do others have that also touch on my life? What memories can I honor that have little or nothing to do with me? What memories does this elm have, that hickory? Let me honor them.

Nourishment. What needs feeding? Is it for me to feed them, or for someone else? How have I been fed? What forms of nourishment can I bring into my life? What am I bringing in already? What forms can I share with others? What prayer of gratitude can I say, acknowledging those gone, those still here, for feeding things in me that might never have survived without their help?

Freedom. What needs to run free? What do I hold on to that would make both of us happier if I let go? What can I welcome that comes to me freely, unbidden, unlooked-for? What symbols of freedom speak to me that I can bring into my attention, my spaces, as reminders and for my growth?

As Mary Oliver exclaims in one of her poems, “so many questions more beautiful than answers”.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Applied Magic   1 comment

[Part One | Part Two]

If you’ve ever planned for the future, you’ve practiced a form of magic. Wait a minute, you say. That’s not magic.

Sure it is. You have an intention or goal, and you imagine it, seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting it in ways that seem so ordinary and commonplace we mostly pay no attention to the marvel of what we’re doing. Only when we find ourselves saying “But it didn’t turn out like I thought it would!” do we encounter a mismatch between the picture we painted and carried around with us, and the reality as it finally manifested. Obviously we held a pattern, image, blueprint, plan, etc. in our awareness. It took a few side-roads on the way to appearing here, where we can see and interact with it. No matter. More than before. Do it differently. Revise, modify, experiment.

I may be a visual person, or an auditory or a kinesthetic one, or some other kind of perceiver and manifester, by predilection and experience, that doesn’t have a ready label. Further, the event I manifested may or may not match what I expected or hoped, but it did manifest — as it never would have, if I hadn’t set it in motion in the first place. “As above, so below” — in this case, the above was my plan, and the below was the physical form it took. Schools that could teach us how to get better at this ability instead teach almost everything else but that. Often that’s because the teachers themselves have had the ability taught right out of ’em.

Plenty of folks would like to deny us recognition and use of this basic ability altogether, because it’s the key to freedoms and joys of many kinds, and so it cuts into their power plays. Our politicians insist that only they can fix what’s ailing the town, province or planet, our partners insist they’re essential to our happiness (or we are, to theirs). Priests, pastors and imams would prefer we not discover how independent of them we actually can be, so the ability gets labeled evil, sinful, diabolical, dangerous, forbidden, and any other convenient and manipulative name, even though every one of us alive uses it daily in its simplest forms. But the more advanced levels in particular, the ones that grant larger abilities to change and grow, are naturally more dangerous to the stable order of things, and to those who ardently desire to profit from “the way things are”.

That’s one reason fear is such a popular tool for control, and so widespread today. Keep people ignorant and afraid, keep them from using or even knowing the potentials of their own ability, keep them dependent on a big mommy or daddy for a pitiful, reduced version of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and you’re halfway home to power — of a sort.

Cover up the push into ignorance and dependency with a skillful blend of threats and promises, of magicking up a useful opponent to take the fall, the blame, the consequences of the fear you’ve sown in people’s hearts and minds — and there are so many opponents ready to hand — to distract people from what you’re doing to them, and you’re home free.

If you can attack the very freedom you’re taking away as the cause of the troubles the people face, you’ve graduated to “excellent dictator” status. Congratulations! You’ve mastered one form of debased magic, depriving other people of their birthright. No need to argue whether it’s successful — just look at today’s headlines.

If such low and often negative magic can accomplish so much, what of more positive varieties?

0-FoolExperiment with learning more about your animal familiar — an ancient and worldwide practice. Animal guardians and teachers abound in myth, legend and folktale for good reason. Many of us know instinctively why we keep pets, and every year we learn more about the health benefits and remarkable abilities domesticated animals bring into our lives. The tarot Fool sets out on the long journey toward wisdom already accompanied by an animal. Who are your companions and what can they teach you?

Formal study and practice of traditional magic may not be for you, temperamentally or practically. But if you decorate your living space with harmonious colors, bringing in plants and pictures that uplift you and establish an oasis of harmony and balance, you’ve magicked your dwelling to aid you in daily life. Or look at your musical tastes and contemplate the harmonics of sound that feed and nourish you. Investigate the effects and use of song, chant, rhythm, pitch, etc. Drums, bells, musical instruments of many kinds can assist you in sound magic. Again, many religious and spiritual traditions speak to the power of the word, voice, sound of creation, music of the spheres, names of gods and angels, etc. Long human wisdom testifies to the potency of sound magic.

Dream work can help put us in touch with levels of experience and consciousness beyond the daily news awareness that can seem like all there is. Plenty of resources exist for studying dreams, recording them, analyzing them, and learning from what they have to teach us. And inspire us. Work on anything that asks you for creativity, and if you focus long enough, the work will follow you into dream. Write, and your characters will begin to talk to you. Paint seriously, and you’ll eventually see patterns, colors, worlds of beauty inwardly nearly impossible to render with earth tones and hues. Garden, and you may be led to plantings and pairings you hadn’t anticipated, or to resources to help you and your plants flourish. Many gardeners know how restorative the work can be. And so with many professions and occupations. It’s hard in fact to think of one that lies outside the purview of dream power and exploration.

Rachel-Pollack

Rachel Pollack

The Tarot is a course of magical (and life) instruction all by itself. Find a good overview or book of practical exercises. Two texts I can recommend from long work with them are 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack and 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card by Mary Greer. They pair well together, these masterworks by acknowledged masters of the Tarot, complementing each other’s perspectives. When I just checked a few minutes ago, both were available used for $8 or less. Rachel Pollack’s pocket admonition: “To learn to play seriously is one of the great secrets of spiritual exploration”.

Another excellent and quite painless way to acquire a set of vantage points for a magical understanding is to immerse yourself in fantasy and mythology, while practicing visualizations and ritual work with the archetypes present in the latter in particular. Fantasy propels us into alternate realities through the written word, already a magical act. Add the further dimensions that film affords, combining sound and color and embodiment by (usually) skilled actors, and you expand the experience into one quite close to ritual. It’s no surprise that the magical and visionary arts have enjoyed a resurgence in the last century, when we have such preliminary training on hand in these popular forms.

To sum up, then, magic is our birthright, something we practice already, and can explore and refine, like any talent. We shift states of consciousness every day, and what we can’t do in one state, we can often do easily in another. The methods and techniques for shifting, because they bring us to face locks on consciousness, as the previous post indicated, allow us to begin to circumvent, break down or dissolve these impediments.

Then we begin to discover that there are many worlds, and at the same time we discover how to gain access to them, since we intermittently inhabit them already, in moments of heightened experience, in grief, joy, love, exaltation, intense focus and creativity. Each of us is and has a doorway, eventually multiple ones, that we can activate to explore and grow and delight in. And it is there that we meet and shape and begin to fulfill our destinies.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Expanding — and Focusing — Our Magic   Leave a comment

[Part One | Part Two]

In a recent comment, Steve writes:

A broader definition of magic sounds interesting, especially when compared with some of the ideas about it I have encountered over the years.

Do you have a working definition you could share or is this something you have developed in your blog?

I do have a working definition of magic, and I’ve also written about it in various forms fairly frequently, though not always under that label. But it’s good to regularly take out opinions and understandings, dust them off, rattle them, note what shakes free, scrape off the rust, and buff and polish the rest. So with the spur that Steve’s comment provides, that’s what I’ll do in this post.

Yevgeny-zamyatin

Yevgeny Zamyatin / Wikipedia / public domain

Our definitions come, mostly, after experiences. Before that, we don’t have much to attach them to, and if anyone who’s reading this is anything like me, your definitions at that point may not match things that you later DO experience. So then we get mired in the mismatch, rather than referring back to the original experience. Or — even better than looking backward — experiencing more, other, wilder. So I open up once again a page where I can re-read irascible old revolutionary Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937), whose essay “On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters” reminds me: “Dealing with answered questions is the privilege of brains constructed like a cow’s stomach, which, as we know, is built to digest cud”.

“Privilege”? Tired of a too-steady diet of cud, I aim to forage more widely.

So I’ll begin by asserting we all practice magic, and work outward from there, using this as a core assumption and seeing how it holds up. We do much of our magic half-consciously, so that we often don’t perceive the patterns, causes and effects of what we set in motion as clearly as we might. After all, like most of us, I insist on who I am: in my case, straight, white, male, employed, married, healthy, intelligent, rational. But when even one of these breaks down, as every one of them has for at least some of us over a lifetime, my world trembles violently, even if it doesn’t collapse outright, and I scurry and latch on to explanations for what’s going on.

Isn’t such an interval about the least likely time for any of us to notice the patterns, causes and effects of what we’ve set in motion? And even if and when we do, we tend to account for them only with naturalistic explanations (Pagans may add supernatural but not necessarily more accurate ones), including blaming other people, fatigue, stress, illness, the government, conspiracies, the Man, our reptilian overlords, a loveless marriage, plain bad luck, and so on, forgetting how much even of our conscious experience at the very moment of our explaining has been programmed by education, habit, expectation, culture, practice, a “reasonable explanation”, and a simple, overriding human desire not … to … be … weird.

magic

But … magic?!

At the heart of this often-inaccurate accounting is a precept that disturbs and offends Westerners in particular, taught as we are that we are free and independent beings, with wills and choices subject to our conscious attention. We are not so free after all, but if we can’t even examine this assertion in the first place, what are we to do? If we all practice magic, as I claim, we all need to, because as musician and mage R. J. Stewart observes:

With each phase of culture in history, the locks upon our consciousness have changed their form or expression, but in essence remain the same. Certain locks are contrived from willed patterns of suppression, control, propaganda, sexual stereotyping, religious dogma; these combine with and reinforce the old familiar locks restraining individual awareness; laziness, greed, self-interest, and, most pernicious of all, willful ignorance. This last negative quality is the most difficult of all to transform into a positive; if we truly will ourselves to be ignorant, and most of us do in ways ranging from the most trivial to the most appallingly irresponsible and culpable, then the transformation comes only through bitter experience. It may seem to be hardship imposed from without, almost at random, but magical tradition suggests that it flows from our own deepest levels of energy, which, denied valid expression by the locks upon our consciousness, find an outlet through exterior cause and effect (Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 20-21).

“[D]enied valid expression by the locks upon our consciousness”: we might think such a “locked-up” person simply needs re-education, or better training, maybe positive reinforcement, a decent opportunity. (I note here that it’s almost always some other person who’s the problem, or needs the help — never me. After all, I’m awake and in charge of my life.) This is also where we get much of the American program of self-improvement, “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps”, as it used to be called. Those who can afford it try therapy, or weekend retreats and workshops. Those who can’t may rely on pharmaceuticals or liquor or increasingly available weed. As the evidence mounts, as the growing dysfunction, suffering, addiction, unhappiness and all-around misery attest, something’s not working.

So why magic, of all things? Surely any number of other options would be preferable to something so half-baked, superstitious, irrational, etc., etc. — the list of slanders, some of them justified by pernicious snake-oil salesmen, is long.

J. M. Greer, ecologist, blogger, conservationist and mage, puts it this way:

[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).

To put it another way, in what is not a particularly poetic magical Druid triad: Magic stems from an experiential fact, an experimental goal, and an endlessly adaptable technique.

The fact is that each day we all experience many differing states of consciousness, moving from deep sleep to REM sleep to dream to waking, to daydream, to focused awareness and back again.  We make these transitions naturally and usually effortlessly. They serve different purposes, and what we cannot do in one state, we can often do easily in another.  The flying dream is not the focus on making a hole in one, nor is it the light trance of daydream, nor the careful math calculation. What we do mechanically and often without awareness, we can learn to do consciously.

The goal of magic is transformation – to enter focused states of awareness at will and through them to achieve insight and change. Often, for me anyway, this is nothing more mysterious than moving out of a negative, depressed or angry headspace at will into a more free, imaginative one, where I can problem-solve much more effectively, and also be much more pleasant to be around. Or so my wife tells me.

“The major premise of magic,” says R. J. Stewart, “is that there are many worlds, and that the transformations which occur within the magician enable him or her to gain access to these worlds” (R. J. Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 7).

The technique — a cluster, really, of practices and techniques — is the training and work of the imagination.  This work typically involves the use of one or more of the following: ritual, meditation, chant, visualization, concentration, props, images and group dynamics to catalyze transformations in awareness. “… [O]ur imagination is our powerhouse …” says Stewart. “… certain images tap into the deeper levels of imaginative force within us; when these are combined with archetypal patterns they may have a permanent transformative effect”.

Ouroboros-benzene.svgEven mundanely, golfers visualize a hole in one, carpenters see the finished design long before it emerges from the blueprint, chemists rely as much on inspiration as any artist for discoveries like that of August Kekule, who dreamt of the structure of the benzene ring via the archetypical image of a snake swallowing its tail.

Furnish the imagination with the food it needs, and it can be a powerful tool and guide. Abandon it to others who do not know us, nor have our best interests at heart, and we cast away our birthright.

PART TWO — Applications — coming soon.

/|\ /|\ /|\

(Re-)Huttonizing our Sensibilities   3 comments

NOTE: Normally I steer clear of politics, not because current events are insignificant, but because too often they’re already sufficiently chaotic and jangling in themselves to sway us from a focus on things of our own wiser choosing — things we need to hold in our loving attention, if we’re to transform ourselves first. This is indeed the only method I’ve found, over decades of living, to effect lasting and positive change in anything else. Of course, your mileage may vary.

In addition, often we know more down the road from an incident. Immediate commentary is frequently premature: we simply don’t have the overview and detail we need to make an informed assessment. Yes, we have freedom of opinion; no, not all opinions are equal — like everyone else, I’m free to be an idiot, or to act with discipline, love and wisdom. (Most of the time I arrive somewhere in between.) Political and cultural analysis isn’t my forte.

A year from now, it’s guaranteed some other event will have kindled outrage in at least some quarters.

However, silence can be assent. So if I raise an issue, you’ll know what you want to do with it.

With that said, therefore, if you’re seeking upbeat post-Thanksgiving reading, you won’t find it in this post. Instead, save it for some other time, or not all. OK — you’ve been warned.

/|\ /|\ /|\

British author and religious scholar Ronald Hutton, no stranger in Pagan circles, sets forth an admirable and down-to-earth “mission statement” for Pagan groups. In a December 2016 interview called “Reframing Modern Paganism” with Pagan Dawn magazine, Hutton observes,

For those in traditions which stress group work, training, initiating, supporting and coordinating is vital. The end product should be people who are decent to others in the group, as to humans in general, good communicators and effective ritualists, loyal to their fellow initiates and their tradition. They are the best advertisements for that tradition. Any Pagan who wins the respect of non-Pagan neighbours and fellows in a workplace, as a person, and then informs them of her or his beliefs, is doing invaluable work to gain regard for those beliefs.

While Paganism and Druidry certainly have their share of colorful characters who often seem at least subconsciously to resist any movement towards normalization, Hutton adds:

Pagans don’t squabble as much now as they used to do, at least in Britain. In my opinion Doreen Valiente – with whom I had a very strong mutual respect and affection – got it right at the beginning, in the 1950s, by recommending that Pagans spread knowledge of their tradition by writing attractive books about it (nowadays, we would add websites and social media), avoiding journalists and publicity stunts. Also important is a sustained, effective Pagan presence at interfaith meetings, cultural events and demonstrations concerning environmental issues.

/|\ /|\ /|\

The wise counsel Hutton gives above unfortunately flatlines in the face of events like the Saturday, October 20 hexing of U.S. Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh in a Brooklyn bookstore. Whatever our politics, we cannot honestly characterize this as a “sustained, effective Pagan presence”.

Event organizer Dakota Bracciale told Newsweek, “If [the hex] causes suffering and harm and trouble and chaos and mayhem for anyone in the GOP, I’m happy”.

The hex, according to another article in the Independent, was “livestreamed on Facebook and Instagram on Saturday” October 20.

Huffington Post notes, “Kavanaugh will apparently be a focal point for the hex, but not the only target. The public hex is meant to exact revenge on ‘all rapists and the patriarchy at large which emboldens, rewards and protects them,’ a Facebook page dedicated to the event states”.

Part of the ritual intent was to provoke and anger those on the right. The brief flurry of sensationalistic reporting from a number of news outlets made this possibly the most successful aspect of the ritual.

Bracciale conceded, “I don’t for a second shelter a hope within me that he [Kavanaugh] would ever have some change of heart and become a human being”.

In  what must be one of the more remarkable assertions of brash naivete and dubious publicity, “If you put it out there, then it’ll happen”, another participant said. “If you watch Oprah, then you know how to do witchcraft”.

Bracciale apparently proclaimed at one point during the ritual, “I will have my justice even if I have to face your jealous God, look Him in his eye and walk backward into Hell”.

The Mercury News recounts how San Jose exorcist and Catholic priest Fr. Gary Thomas offered masses to counter-act the hex. “This is a conjuring of evil — not about free speech”, noted Father Thomas.

Protestors outside the bookstore offered prayers and chants during the ritual. Presumably that also qualifies as “putting it out there” — the fighting of “ritual fire” with fire.

Reuters provided the most nuanced and objective comment:

The planned casting of an anti-Kavanaugh spell, one of the more striking instances of politically disgruntled Americans turning to the supernatural when frustrated by democracy, has drawn backlash from some Christian groups but support from like-minded witch covens.

By the sound of most reports, we can probably call the whole thing a draw. Like two competing cheer squads at an athletic event, whoever offers up more energy may help tip the scales slightly one way or the other, though usually without supplying a defining element of victory or defeat. Strength of intent, however, doesn’t equate to “justice”, or this would be a very different world.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Bracciale reportedly announced a secondary goal for the event: “If [attendees] come in beat up and leave with a renewed hope and a fire in their belly then I’ll know I did my job”.

Though it mostly got lost in the psychic noise around the event, here is a much more positive ritual goal anyone can set for themselves. Rituals that purge us of unproductive emotion have their place, freeing us for more clearly-defined action that can make a bigger difference. As a small example, after my first serious girlfriend broke up with me when I was in my twenties, I burned her picture — a common ritual many do at some point — and dumped a lot of anger into the flames, because I no longer wanted it. I certainly felt better afterward. With much of my anger out of the way, within a year I was freer to move into a relationship that has become a successful marriage.

If such uplift comes at cost to another, I need to examine my motives and priorities. Given the nature of magic, with dark workings any spear I choose to cast must pass through me first to reach and harm my enemy. That’s a cost few sane people are willing to pay. The mixed motives, ritual targets, sensationalism, scattering of focus, and admission of larger defeat permeating this recent hexing ritual simply do not model either best practices or beneficial outcomes for the greater good. We can understand and stand witness to the anger, bitterness and frustration of the hexing ritual participants without copying their methods.

We can do better.

Mending human relations has become even more challenging, and hence more necessary, at present. Not easy work — I can also testify to that firsthand. Frustrating, but worthwhile. I’ll close by reiterating Hutton’s words from the opening section:

The end product should be people who are decent to others in the group, as to humans in general, good communicators and effective ritualists, loyal to their fellow initiates and their tradition. They are the best advertisements for that tradition. Any Pagan who wins the respect of non-Pagan neighbours and fellows in a workplace, as a person, and then informs them of her or his beliefs, is doing invaluable work to gain regard for those beliefs.

/|\ /|\ /|\

 

Review of “Falling in the Flowers”   Leave a comment

srinivas-anandapic2

Photo courtesy Srinivas Ananda.

Granderson, Benjamin and James Granderson. Falling in the Flowers: A Year in the Lives of American Druids. Amazon, 2017. Kindle Edition.

stones-anna

Stone Circle at Four Quarters Sanctuary — photo courtesy Anna Oakflower

The Granderson brothers, a photojournalist and ethnographer team, key their book to the general reader, taking care to provide a short introduction to Paganism and some of the main strands of contemporary Druidry. But given their focus on a particular OBOD Grove, Oak and Eagle (hereafter abbreviated OAE), and largely on the two leaders of the grove, David North and Nicole Franklin, the text has a valuable immediacy often lacking from such studies. The 97 color photos also go far to bringing the reader into an experience of living Druidry, and grounding it in vivid sensory detail. (Respecting copyright, I include other images here to enliven the text of this review.)

The Grandersons are also careful not to generalize too far from their experience embedded with a specific Grove. Benjamin writes:

Unlike my previous project on Paganism, this work is a tighter focus; one which examines a very select group of Pagans who follow a specific Druid school of thought: The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, or OBOD for short. Starting with Dave and Nicole, my brother and I investigated the lives and practices of these individuals who called themselves OBOD Druids (pg. 10).

In addition to taking care not to paint all Druids or even all OBOD members with the same brush, the authors nevertheless back up assertions like the following with specific examples, detailed description and photos.

Since the OAE is more intensive than a typical Seed Group, the core members are very tight-knit and comfortable with one another, and often consider the others to be close friends and confidants. From woodland camps to the living rooms of suburban houses, there is a clear culture of openness, where one moment raucous drinking and jokes are interspersed with moments of deep discussion and potent ritual (pg. 23).

One comes away with the impression of the significant trust the OAE members placed in the Grandersons, and the authors don’t betray this trust in intimate portraits of OAE members and their practice of one form of 21st century Druidry.

planning-for-ovate-init-gail-nyoka

David North, second from left. Photo courtesy Gail Nyoka.

Catching David at a point near the completion of his Ovate studies, and the transition of OAE from Seed Group to Grove, Granderson perceptively observes,

While what constitutes “completion” of the course material varies from person to person based on the correspondence between them and their mentors, before all else, a person’s evolution through the grade work determines if they feel like they have achieved balance (pg. 35).

Much of the non-hierarchical and non-dogmatic character of OBOD comes across in comments like these, in large part one of the signal accomplishments of OBOD’s current leader, Philip Carr-Gomm.

The authors also show themselves sensitive to picking up on Druid cultural practices:

(a) widespread hugging in greeting and farewell, often even among those meeting for the first time;

(b) the relaxed quality of “Pagan” or “Druid Standard Time”, in which events happen in a fluid and intuitive way, not on a strict schedule, but more when the group as a whole feels ready, and almost everyone alert to group energies feels a subtle shift toward action;

(c) unspoken taboos against bad-mouthing other Druid groups (in part because people are often members of more than one, each affording a unique set of teachings and perspectives), and

(d) a kind of ritual respect, so that during unscripted moments in ritual, when attendees are invited to toast, offer thanks, blessings, prayer requests, etc., one forgoes invoking a deity or energy out of keeping with the group, or exclusive to one’s personal practice.

Part of the authors’ experience drew them in deeply enough that the boundaries between observer and participant start to blur. Undesirable as this continues to be in good ethnography, it confers the authority of personal witness to what the Grandersons can recount:

I situated myself on the floor, text in hand, and I began reading. The text started off like the beginning of the Imbolc ritual, with the calling to the corners and the centering of the self. While I read the text aloud, Dave moved from corner to corner of the room, gazing into the expanse—at what I did not know. The text then changed, and from that point onwards I began to lose any understanding, only picking up something about ancestors. I was intent upon trying to guess when to stop to give Dave time to perform the ritual, while also fighting my excitement about getting a good photo (pg. 81).

Something of the eclecticism present in OBOD practice emerges. While much of the study material is Celtic in origin or spirit, OBOD members come from such varied and often mixed backgrounds that the OBOD ethos encourages members

to throw away selectivity and investigate and study the wisdom and traditions of all their ancestors, spanning time and geography, to form a complete profile that honors all of those that came before … to be open toward other traditions and practices that do not belong to one’s ancestral background, and to be willing to recognize wisdom and truth no matter what source it comes from (pg. 89).

Recording the mood, participants, ritual actions and aftermath of several of the Great Eight seasonal festivals of Druidry and Paganism generally, the Grandersons caught the generally relaxed ritual mindset, as well as the personalities of individuals:

There were some slip-ups, with a ritual participant or two walking the wrong way at first, starting a line too late, or failing to light a candle due to a stubborn lighter. An occasional glance would be cast at Dave or Nicole, seeming to seek their validation. Dave looked on stoically, though always welcoming and patient; he knew from experience these rituals were never flawless (pg. 109).

Though much of modern Druidry is indeed visible, or at least detectable with some modest effort at inquiry, if one is interested, there is a quality of what might be termed “spiritual privacy” to even its public rituals. This is a cherished skill among the Druids I know, one for intermittent discussion, certainly, and always a matter of judgment and discretion. Each person assesses the line he or she prefers to observe in how public the individual practice of Druidry should be. The Grandersons capture it well:

OAE wasn’t afraid to be out in public, but they made that public space private. They didn’t hang a sign up saying, “Druid Meeting Here,” or make announcements on a loudspeaker. They also chose a pavilion that, by design and location, created seclusion; it was a reserved piece of land that they sanctified, and they created an island for themselves for a day. Again, this speaks to the contemporary Druid’s ability to take what is modern—a state park pavilion—and make it ancient, carry out their practices in the open air, and somehow remain largely hidden (pg. 124).

The authors divide their book in to poetically captioned sections: Introduction; What is A Druid?; Opening the Door; Naked Before the Full Moon; Into Spring; Beltane; Branching Out; Trip to Four Quarters; The Latter-Half of the Year; Living with Dave and Nicole (a ritually full time, with a wedding of Druid Hex Nottingham and his wife Daisy, East Coast Gathering, a baby-naming ceremony during the same Gathering weekend, a local Pagan Pride Day, etc.); A Detour to New York (with an interview with another Druid, Nadia Chauvet); and The End of the Journey.

img_1247

cabin banners at East Coast Gathering

This review has focused more on the first half of the book; the second half builds on it, with more interviews of members we have already encountered, and observations specific to their experiences.

magus-beltane

MAGUS Beltane fire-circle. Photo Courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers.

In sum, I recommend this book to the “Druid-curious” for its detailed reporting and photography, and for conveying, as close as text and photos can, something of the experience of what doing Druidry actually feels like. And to those familiar with Druidry who may also know many of the Druids it portrays and interviews, it’s a pleasure to read and ponder. Finally, as an insight into the energy, organization and personalities behind the very successful MAGUS gatherings of 2017 and 2018, it also deserves exploration by anyone interested in contemporary Druidry and in organizing focused and effective Pagan events.

/|\ /|\ /|\

“Sorry, You’re Doing Druidry Wrong”   Leave a comment

What is it about our insecurities, that headlines like this draw readers? Partly it’s just clickbait, of course: we read out of pure curiosity or boredom or distraction. “What fresh hell is this?”, critic and author Dorothy Parker supposedly exclaimed, every time her doorbell rang. But partly and too often, we ARE insecure. Taught to trust authorities over our guts, or to ignore our guts altogether, we get taken for a ride, conned, hustled out of our own good instincts.

Doing Druidry Right (DDR) Principle 1: Always take into account what the gut has to say.

Are there ways to do almost anything wrong? Sure. That’s not news, however, and the universe usually lets us know first of all, before anyone else has the slightest inkling. If you’re not sure, there’s always Facebook, where you can post and invite potential mockery on a worldwide scale never before available. A piece of unsolicited advice in the form of a question: who really needs to know absolutely everything you’re thinking and doing and feeling right away, before even you have taken time to reflect on it, at least twice, if not a good Druidic three times? Practice only that much of wisdom, and a good half of our current hysteria would die off like flies after the first hard frost.

Now that research confirms the the “second brain” of the nervous system surrounding the gut [link to Scientific American], the old proverb gains new life. “Gut is second brain, and sometimes better”.

DDR Principle 2: Unless death is imminent, I have, and should take, the time to pause and reflect on whatever I’m thinking, doing and feeling — and more than once. Only then, and  only perhaps, should I speak — or post about it. “Dare not to overshare”.

“The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad”, says Thoreau, “and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?”

The opposite, of course, holds true just as often: “The greater part of what others think is bad …” In these days of extremes, I no longer always take this as literary exaggeration but good counsel. If I carry suspicions around like nutcrackers, I often find the meat of an issue still untouched in much debate and controversy and shouting.

DDR Principle 3: Keep asking, like the rallying cry to the soul that it is, that old Latin tag: where is wisdom to be found? Ubi sapientia invenitur?

When you know your answer truly, you’re usually halfway to an answer for others, too. Then it may be time to share. Not because you know, but because you know your way to knowing. And your way (not The Way), is a useful guide to encourage similar trust and perseverance in others as they manifest more of who they are becoming.

/|\ /|\ /|\

“Congratulations, you’re doing Druidry right”.

That’s much more useful and salutary feedback. Ignore for now — unless they’re life threatening — any glitches along the way, and focus on growth. Build a store of successes, a reservoir of energy, and then tackle the inevitable pests and parasites that have accumulated around your growth.

The Well of Segais, Vermont’s new OBOD seed group (a first step to forming a Grove), met to celebrate Lunasa yesterday at Mt. Ascutney State Park on a rainy and gorgeous day.

IMG_1955

Seek out even semi-wild places in off-weathers and you’ll often share the space with non-human inhabitants. We had this pavilion “to ourselves” for ritual and after-feast. The mountain presences greeted and participated with us.

IMG_1961

And what a dreamlike scene across the valley — the view from the pavilion of impossibly rich shades of green, and mist-cloaked mountains.

IMG_1958

Five of us gathered to celebrate this first of the the three harvest festivals, with a lovely ritual and a feast of the season.

“It is the hour of recall. As the fire dies down, let it be relit in our hearts. May our memories hold what the eye and ear have gained”, says the close of the OBOD ritual.

And so they do.

/|\ /|\ /|\

%d bloggers like this: