Archive for the ‘Samhain’ Category

Autumn Purposes

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the winter’s kindling, and 8-years-dry oak firewood, for lighting the woodstove

We’re drawn to where the action is. And in the Dark Half of the year, that’s often inward. Things may go to sleep, but they’re dreaming, and so it is with us. “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose” — not only “under heaven”, as the saying continues, but over and around and within heaven as well.

Southern Hemisphere, enjoy your Turn to the Bright Half of the year, as all the composting, nurturing, imagining, dreaming, and magical preparation burst forth in the physical world as gardens, fruition, construction, birth, renewal — that messy, joyous recreation of the world. Beltane is not somehow “past”, like a carton of milk beyond its “best by __” date, but engaged, active, igniting bird talk and tree bud and a host of things half seen, but nonetheless busy for all that we may not (mostly) be aware of them. Then again, in the half-light of increasingly longer days, you can sometimes catch a glimpse …

And for us “dark-half-ers”, care of the body can become a practice we may explore more fully. What does this bone-house (Old English bánhús “skeleton, body”) ask of me, in order to keep on serving me a while longer? What can I touch — and what touches me — that needs my attention and reverence? Where am I right now? The house is cooling as the temperature drops outside, as rain makes way for snow later today, a polar front dipping down from Canada. Time to step away from blogging and light a fire.

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Sometimes, too much light: woodstove with flashbulb

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“it takes dark to see fire best”: same burn, without flash

Likewise, Brighid isn’t only a goddess for Imbolc, or for the Bright Half. She’s at least as busy minding and reminding us to keep the flame lit the rest of the year, too. Or, if you’re not for the gods (though the gods may be for you), what else asks for your tending? And what is tending you, perhaps outside your knowledge? Particularly in America, loneliness is a common affliction. How deeply are we tended by things we have forgotten! But how do we reconnect, rediscover?

Fire-dreaming can help, says the woodstove. Rain on the roof, too, says November. Light, sound. The savors of root- and bulb-vegetable umami — onions, beets, garlic, turnips, potatoes. Don’t forget tastes, says the kitchen.

A beloved neighbor three miles down the road died suddenly over the weekend, out raking leaves, and we drop off a homemade raspberry cake for his widow. His Siamese is grieving, too — she was his cat, and where is he now? Touch, knows my wife, fitting action to word, making friends gently — respect for the Siamese temperament. Comfort, animal comfort of contact, beyond words.

I am the hallow-tide of all souls passing, writes Caitlin Matthews in “Song of Samhain”, from her Celtic Devotional (pg. 22):

I am the bright release of pain
I am the quickener of the fallen seed-case
I am the glance of snow, the strike of rain.
I am the hollow of the winter twilight,
I am the hearth-fire and the welcome bread,
I am the curtained awning of the pillow,
I am unending wisdom’s golden thread.

 

I pick up that thread again, and I pick it up, always dropping it, always — always — finding it again.

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“On the Third Day of Samhain, My True Love Gave to Me”

Those of you on Facebook may find much valuable reflection in this 31 October ’19 Samhain post from a regular series by the Anglesey Druid Order/Urdd Derwyddon Môn in Wales. Check out the other posts, too — a very worthwhile monthly series of good insight and perspective, from a member of the Welsh Order run by the estimable Kristoffer Hughes.

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Last night before our main ritual, we performed two Ovate initiations with Mystic River Grove — Samhain being particularly appropriate for Ovate work in the inner realms, the Otherworld, the ancestors, divination, etc. We all already do considerable imaginal work, consciously or not, and while photos can help nourish that capacity, at times it also feels right to forbear from posting pictures of private ritual sites, so no images this time.

By “imaginal work”, I mean the content of imagination, dream, and visualization, as well as self-conscious association and emotional loading of experiences. We come to new experiences well-equipped by our previous ones, for ill or good, to accept or reject or transform — and all of this often happens outside of conscious awareness. It can be the task of magic and of ritual and personal work to make such things more conscious, to work more deliberately with the Cauldron of images we each carry around with us, and out of which we supply much of the color and tenor and flavor of our days. Our instinctive likings and antipathies for people, places and things spring from this “pre-loading” of consciousness, and to take charge of our own reactions and responses can serve us very well.

Rather than mechanically pursuing or fleeing things that attract or repel us, we can begin to ask whether they are for our benefit or not. Rather than assuming the attraction or repulsion lies in the person or thing, we can begin to learn that it lies in us — the external is merely a convenient channel through which those energies reach us. Because one way or another, they will — we’re open to them, we’ve invited them in some way, and placed ourselves in agreement with them. The difficult thing that can strengthen us, the seductive thing that may weaken or distract us — this is the Long Work, the magnum opus we are all engaged in: to live out the consequences of our choices, yes; but even more, to choose wisely in the first place, to choose with love and foresight and wisdom how we will spend our lives, even as everyone and everything around us is doing the same.

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A year ago I drew a personal Tarot reading for the coming year and shared it here.

With 3 of the 10 cards coming from Pentacles, resources and the physical world will be a prime focus of the year personally and for the planet. Balancing feminine energies to the mature male energies in play are an immediate aspect of the present and near future. Destiny and past influences at work, though not inevitable, are ones we have both initially set in motion and strengthened by our sharp focus on materiality. Our outer fixation on security and stability may feel reasonable, given such destabilizing forces at work. But while our hopes and dreams focused on these things are valid, pursuing them along a still-material path, even with a renewed youthful vigor, will not return us to what is stable and safe. Other directions we have recently begun to explore can prove more beneficial. We’ll see moon-like changes, darkness and light alternating in phases.

I’ll return to this in a year and see how I did.

As a take on the times, both public and private, little here should be a surprise. (Was my reading too vague, or too influenced by my own perspectives? Quite possibly both.) “Our outer fixation on security and stability may feel reasonable … but pursuing them along a still-material path, even with a renewed youthful vigor, will not return us to what is stable and safe”. I take this most of all as a guide for my own focus: anything I wish to manifest outwardly rises from within, and that is where it is easier, more prudent and far-ranging to work, to spend my energies and time. Whether my region, my nation, my planet chooses to do that is much more out of my hands, unless I opt to engage it through a very large gesture. I could — so could each of us — but most of us will not, through a combination of inertia, distraction and providence. We see such radical gestures —  in the U.S., often accompanied by guns — from people who despair of any other avenue for change, or outcome.

(We always see individual actors attempting these things — check the headlines of your own country or region for the relevant political, military, cultural and economic actors at work in your spheres — but few achieve what they imagine they are pursuing. To look for a moment at my own country, whether Donald Trump or Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or Joseph Biden becomes president in 2020, most of the issues we face right now will still remain for us to deal with. A change of one face, or even of the faces clustered around that one face, will not easily shift large causes we have already set in motion over time. As egregores of particular vigor, nations have karma, too.)

As for personal applicability of the reading, I find in it valuable reminders of long-term trends and tendencies in my own behavior and outlook that I continue to grapple with and learn from. (Want to know what these are? You have only to read what I’ve been posting here all along!)

Consider doing your own divination, with your preferred oracle. Most of us are already doing this anyway: among our chosen oracles might be a best friend, partner, coin toss, stock market report, a horoscope, whim, toss of the dice, impulse, and so on.

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So — onward to a reading for the coming year, with the Celtic Cross spread. I make frequent references below to Rachel Pollack’s excellent 78 Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot, Thorsons/Element, 1997, both because many value her insights, and also because they offer me a corrective to my own biases.

celtic-cross-layout-240x3001: Ace of Wands (reversed) — the present, the Self, the querent’s state of mind.

2: 10 of Cups — the immediate influence, problem, challenge, etc.

3: Hanged Man (reversed) — destiny — in some spreads placed above as the “crown” of past experiences.

4: King of Pentacles — distant past, or some spreads, the future.

5: Page of Cups — recent past, or conscious focus.

6: King of Wands — future influence; or the unconscious, the underlying or the true driving force of a situation.

7: 7 of Cups (reversed) — The querent; the querent’s self-perceptions.

8: Knight of Pentacles — external influences.

9: 8 of Wands — inner emotions.

10: Temperance — outcome or final result.

Wands01Wands and Cups predominate in this spread — for me, a reminder of the need to balance fire energy with water, active with receptive, conscious with intuitive. Always good advice! But how might that work, more specifically? How do we “grasp” the fire of Ace of Wands? What “hand” or means do we use? Rachel Pollack in her magisterial 78 Degrees of Wisdom comments: “At the beginning of some situation, no card could signal a better start” (pg. 183). I take reversed simply to mean the challenges attendant on manifesting the energy of a card, or missing the opportunity it brings. The “crossing card” of the 10 of Cups is a Grail, the completing or fulfilling Cup — a balance to the fire of Wands. The third card, a reversed Hanged Man, to me signifies that every time I ignore shamanic, yogic, inner wisdom, I miss the insight of inner experience.

The four elements suggested by the shape of the hanged figure can serve our spiritual intention only when they are in the service of spirit: allowed to be fully themselves, not distorted through social expectation, but liberated from it. Given my age in this incarnation, the personal applicability of Card 4, the King of Pentacles, suggests past (even past-life) successes, which could lead to present complacency, which the fire of wands should help allay. The figure’s greenness in this deck also suggests the natural world. Moving on, Pollack comments that “the Pages all have a student quality” (pg. 192), suggesting that from the Page of Cups issues an appropriateness for a study program or course of discipline to develop intuition or psychic/inner awareness.

While Court cards like the King of Wands suggest people who exert influence in the querent’s life, they can just as well signify aspects of the querent, and also need not be associated with expected gender: male doesn’t have to mean “man”, but a kind of energy (now clouded and confused by our current political correctness, of course, but no more than at other times, with their own preconceptions and misunderstandings) — Angela Merkel or Lady Gaga, Elizabeth Warren or my wife.

The “final four”: for the 7 of Cups, Pollack insightful notes, “it is a mistake to think that daydreams are meaningless because of their content; on the contrary, they often spring from deep psychological needs and images. [But] they lack meaning because they do not connect to anything outside themselves” (pg. 198). The reversed Knight of Pentacles, Pollack suggests, offers a paradox inherent in Knight, even not reversed: “deeply grounded in, yet unaware of, the magic beneath him, he identifies himself with his functions. He needs to discover the real source of his strength, within himself and in life” (pg. 238). The 8 of Wands suggests completion of a cycle, “the addition of Pentacles’ grounding to Wands’ energy” (Pollack, pg. 172), and I’m finishing my 60th year, the fifth of a series of 12-year cycles, significant on the other path I also follow.

The outcome of all these forces and influences, in play for the year, the self, the world?

14-Temperance Temperance — and yet again, Pollack proves insightful. “If a reading shows a person split between say, Wands and Cups, activity and passivity … then Temperance, moderation, and acting from an inner sense of life, can give a clue to bringing these together” (pg. 109).

Adding the digits of its number 14, Temperance is a higher harmonic of 5, the Hierophant. We live in an era that has increasingly often rejected priests or outer spiritual authorities over our lives, so “perhaps the interpretation of the Hierophant as representing secret doctrines suits our age better. For then the doctrine does not tell us what to do, but instead gives us direction to begin working on ourselves” (pg. 55).

This reading suggests much of value to me, but also of value to our nation and planet. The perennial spiritual quest remains perennial, because we always will need the springs and founts of wisdom to be found in the quest.

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Hallows, and Revisiting Romuva

Happy All Hallows’ Eve! (Do we truly mean ALL Hallows? Will we honor ALL holy things?) A “hallow”, historically, is a saint (from Old English halga), not just any holy thing. But I’m taking the word in the latter, larger sense of any expression of the numinous or sacred. It could be the day, but also your cat, your neighbor, or that rock in your back yard. Even, occasionally, in the church down the road (though out of negative experiences, many Pagans would draw the line there, as if the holy could be found everywhere but there. And of course the churches often return the favor. Aren’t we all just hot messes?!).

That’s too much holy, I mutter. Give me one holy thing, and I can (mostly) handle it. But everything holy upsets my sense of “mostly profane, with dollops of holy here and there, if I’m lucky”. Yes, it’s hard to live on the heights all the time.

Finding your holy thing can be a bundle of work. But we keep giving each other hints, and from time to time the holy still peeks out at us from the eyes of things, from each other, and also from sun-rises and -sets, moons, fires, songs, mountain-tops, fogs and clear days, moments of connection and intimacy and kindling.

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I’ve written before about Romuva, the Baltic Pagan religion that managed to survive and has been growing again. The local analogue to Hallowe’en is Vėlinės — you can see an image and read about the holiday here.

Here’s a video of Romuva chant and ceremony by Kūlgrinda, the musical group founded by the late reviver of Romuva, Jonas Trinkunas (1939-2014), in a public celebration. The group forms one of the symbols of the Romuva religion around the 4:03 mark. The minor-key singing can send a pleasurable shiver up your spine.

“Mirth and reverence”, says the Charge of the Goddess.

May you know both, and find and share them in the coming holidays, the Hallowtides.

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Posted 31 October 2019 by adruidway in Druidry, Halloween, ritual, Romuva, Samhain, Samhuinne

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Octobering

[Updated/edited 22 Oct 2019]

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S. Vermont, Windmill Hill Pinnacle, looking west. Photo courtesy B. Blair.

Yesterday six of us, along with two malamutes, hiked the trail to the Pinnacle of Windmill Hill here in Southern Vermont. We’re well past the peak of autumn colors, but a blunt beauty remains, as oranges and yellows, ochers and burnt siena take the stage. The sky, restless, is already into November, brooding grayly over it all.

A week or so ago a friend was grieving for the end of a rich garden. The season can work that grief in us, ransacking the fields of our inward spaces, piling on change and loss and uncertainty in a thick melange, along with the aging of our mortal bodies, and whatever other challenges we face at the moment. Throw in the diminishing daylight here in the northern hemisphere, and the frosts and fogs and die-off of green vegetation, and it can hurt like The End, rather than a stage of the journey. One of the remedies she shared was her rediscovery of gratitude for the body, how the simple act of attention to breathing can bring solace. It goes in, it goes out. Draw in strength on the in-breath, then breathe out all that needs to go, that passes in time.

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Sometimes altars find us, rather than the other way around. A large boulder I’ve been meaning to drag and roll to my backyard grove has gained a partial moss and lichen mantle, so I took leaves I’d gathered on the hike yesterday, and a ritual bowl, a quartz stone and my ceremonial sword out into the afternoon sunlight and laid them across the uneven surface and took the photo.

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At the bottom right you can see one of the egg-shaped black walnuts that have been banging on the metal roof of our garden shed when they fall, or rustling as they subside in the grass.

The sword points south, toward the top of the picture, but the other directions don’t line up according to the SEA (standard elemental associations). To the east (left in the picture), our fishpond does its part to throw off the elemental alignments. The stone itself makes do for north, and also the earth, upholding everything else, while the leaves stand in for air. Even the sun seems to have found a different place in the sky than west, the shadows suggesting morning, not mid-afternoon.

You can call the altar a prayer, or a prayer your altar. Sometimes we need to “finesse our fanes”, to turn them on, help them reach us where we are, even as we stretch to find them, extending a tendril of thought, of feeling.

Breathe, and activate air. Drink, and water “comes back online”. Stand on the autumn earth, leaves crackling underfoot, melt from the morning frost glistening on your shoes. Sometimes presence already is prayer, our listening an offering, the few remaining crickets and grasshoppers sluggish in the low sun.

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The Faery Grail … is ultimately about the giving of food as a ritual of hospitality that creates communion between faeries and humans: the wisdom that it purveys is the neighborly consideration of all life that arises in human awareness as a consequence. Those who offer and drink from the cup in peace are the children of one universe, in communion with the natural world even as their ancestors were, who enjoy the ancestral feast. When the rules of faery courtesy are broken by violence, rapine and theft, the Faery Accord in broken. This is ultimately what causes the blight upon the human world that we call the Wasteland: the riches of the Rich Fisher no longer flow. Humanity enters into a warfare with Faery, displaced people wander the land without protection, and even the court of Arthur is visited by mocking and embarrassing tests. Fertility fails when the waters of the Faery Grail are withdrawn: but when they flow again, the land becomes fertile and is repopulated. People are brought once more into communion with their ancestral belonging (Matthews, The Lost Book of the Grail, pg. 274).

Faery Grail or Holy Grail, Christian or non-Christian, both cause and cure are the same, Matthews observes. (It is a symptom of our division and separation that we misunderstand and argue even about that, and suffer.)

Not as the world gives, do I give to you, says the Galilean Druid. Having scorned the gift, and abused the hospitality offered to us, how can we know the giver?

A topic for meditation and ritual and discernment, as the turn of the year that is Samhain approaches.

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“Many people”, this morning’s spam solemnly observes, “today іgnore the ability to see out of [t]heir [v]iew”. Like much spam, it’s badly edited, unidiomatic, and — often — true, albeit in sometimes truly weird ways.

How well do I see “out of my view”? Can I even begin to see out of someone else’s view until I see out of my own? Am I ever “in view of myself”, or am I the one thing I can never actually see? I don’t know about you, but with such questions I can easily pass a whole morning.

If there’s a supreme strength to the practice of Druidry, it’s in its potential to connect us where connection is badly needed — to the world that begins wherever we find ourselves, to our places, starting with our skin and bones, and flowing outward to the skin and bones of the world all around us. But though we named it uni-verse, “one-turn”, somehow we don’t quite believe our own label or the perception behind it — that it’s all turning together, intimately linked in every way. Hence, it often remains a potential, giving us a lifetime of work to explore how it — and we — manifest.

And if there’s a supreme weakness to Druid practice, it’s a naive belief that “it’s all good” — that everything would be fine if we’d just “get back in touch with nature” — that the “human project” can finds its whole purpose and satisfaction within this glorious physical world. Sustainable, reverent, cooperative, harmonious — these are enough.

We need more, because our own consciousness asks for more. Because when this “apparent world” fades, we confront other worlds with different challenges and questions. Now what?! A deist might say, “Pilgrim on earth, thy home is heaven; stranger, thou art the guest of God”. An animist has likely already encountered beings beyond the physical orders we encounter here — beings that wear different bodies than earth ones, clothed in astral or other forms. Even a staunch materialist would probably concede, along with Hamlet, that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. By “philosophy”, helpful footnotes inform us, Hamlet appears to mean our modern word science. And if there’s one thing most Druids would prudently admit, we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface. Of almost anything.

“As a spiritual tradition based on reverence for and connection with the powers of nature”, writes Emma Restall Orr in her Druidry and Ethical Choice, “more than anything else Druidry teaches us to honour life … Druid ethics are built upon the release of ignorance and the respectful creation of deep and sacred relationships”.

Release of ignorance, I keep whispering wryly to myself — out of humbling, extensive personal experience — is a full-time job.

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Unpacking the Triad Further

[Edited/updated 19 Oct 2019]

But if I’m honest (I’m continuing the conversation, if only with myself), the work I’ve done with my recent Triad is far from complete. My Western and particularly my American individualism needs radical tempering. I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that I was reading and would soon review Caitlin Matthews’ The Lost Book of the Grail (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2019). Now feels like an appropriate time — but I’ll blend it with further expatiation on that Triad. If the book’s worth my time, or yours, let me show something of that value in my own life.

First, here’s Matthews:

The Grail knights quest on behalf of those who are locked outside the story of hope, reconciliation, or healing, in order to move the stagnation of stasis into another hopeful condition. In the many psychologically based commentaries upon the Grail legend, from Joseph Campbell onward, there has developed a very modern stress upon the individuality of the Grail hero’s journey. However, this stress on the individual has served rather to point out the division in modern consciousness–often expressed as a vague loss of nature or holism–from the collective. The living context of this division speaks of how we are split off from ancestral or faery roots: and those who seek for help today are often weakened or unable to heal because they do not think, work, or imagine from a collective basis. How can we heal if we leave out the rest of the world from the equation? (Matthews, pg. 239).

Samhain is a wonderful time to look for ancestral guidance, to an ancestor who may be myself in a previous incarnation, waiting to reach out to a descendant (who may or may not be me again). And given how, in myth and legend, Otherworld time often runs differently than here, backwards, perpendicularly, non-linearly, a-causally even, we can heal in many directions, receiving and offering healing across what looks like temporal obstacles and barriers. I am inseparable from the collective, I walk with the body my ancestors have bestowed on me, I accomplish whatever work I do with their hands; I look out at you with their eyes. And so do you, with yours.

My little economies in the post on the recent triad — what do I need, what can I do, what needs to be done — ignore that collective. They’re a starting point. But merely squeezing a few more bucks out of some substitutions and shifts of priorities in my one household, while possibly helpful, ignores larger trends and patterns, and closes my eyes to our collective experience until it impinges on my little self to the point where I can no longer avoid responding. (Compound that with a fear of the Other stoked by far too many politicians in too many countries, and you get, not collective consciousness and honour and action, but collective targeting and collective hating and collective bashing. Because, let’s face it, fear is easy, and cheap, earns money for political campaigns, runs like a reflex off the reptile brain in us all, and moves people to pick up causes, banners, and bombs.)

Even gathering with the Massachusetts grove for Samhain on Nov. 1 will help awaken me to a more collective awareness. Stand in ritual with others, and the walls can come down. I can hear the many voices of those who stand around us, skins on or off.

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Rather than a set of OSFA* instructions for how to manifest the subtitle — “The Sevenfold Path of the Grail and the Restoration of the Faery Accord” — Matthews gives us stories and lore and many pointers for our own ways.

[*OSFA — one size fits all]

Here’s Matthews again, talking about origins and directions — the Grail is a kind of vector or arrow through and around time, continually answering human need:

The beginnings of the Grail myth go back to the very dawn of human consciousness, and to the desire of human beings to make some kind of direct contact with the divine, to receive healing, and to make right the wrongs of the world. The Grail appears as a vessel of mercy that, through different spiritual agencies, offers an opportunity to those qualified by courage and belief to bring that mercy. Whether we look to ecstatic and initiatic drinks of the ancient mystery cults, or to the miraculous manna found by the Israelites in their desert wanderings, or to Celtic myths of cauldrons that provide plenty, wisdom or eternal life, we find a collection of vessels from many cultures; each contains a substance that enables those who discover it to be healed, nourished, and experience divine communion (Matthews, pg. 22).

Two pointers right there: courage, and belief. Don’t have either? No problem — there are many others to explore, until I can serve them. I don’t need to have courage, but I can serve it.

Your cauldron 
I drink from it.
Your body 
I wear it.
Your hands
I raise them.
Your spirit 
It flames in me.

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Samhain/Samhuinn 2019

Ah, here we are, two weeks out from Samhain, Summer’s End, Samhuinn, All Hallows Eve. (And for those in our sibling hemisphere, Beltane approaches.)

And here for your delectation is an excellent 8-minute clip of Scotland’s Beltane Fire Society’s 2017 celebration of Samhuinn:

With it you can experience a taste of the whole event, different each year: celebration, and mystery.

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Hallowe’en, we often forget, is a hallowed evening, a sacred time, however we may treat it today. (The sacred doesn’t just vanish when we ignore it. It jabs us in our most tender spots instead, until we wake up again and pay attention. Exhibit A: Almost every headline you can find today.)

I wrote in 2017 (around the summer solstice) that

the sacred is a celebration. Cultures throughout human history set aside days and places to witness and commemorate seedtime and harvest, greatest light and deepest dark. The solstices and equinoxes are human events as much as astronomical ones, and predate any written scripture by thousands of years. We likewise mark births and deaths, and we make vows and promises to uphold our marriages, friendships, communities and nations.

Moses (ever tried a desert solstice celebration?!) gets to say it in Deuteronomy 30, that what we seek

isn’t too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It’s not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who’ll ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may do it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who’ll cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may do it?” No, the word is very near you; it’s in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Oh, hear talk of “obeying” and perhaps you resist. I know I often do. Too many times we’ve been ruinously misled by over-trust and heedless obedience. (Republican or Democrat, or whatever the party platform, it hasn’t let up yet.)

As author Peter Beagle describes it, “We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers—thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams” (“Introduction”, The Tolkien Reader). What we can rightly “obey” shares an affinity with dream. It’s what resounds in us most deeply, if we turn off the jangle of the other voices. Rightly, if not always safely. The sacred is no more “safe” than love is. Both can lead very far from where we thought our lives would go. But the “wrong” voices? What is mass culture but a form of consciously-accepted schizophrenia, if we end up listening to every voice except the first one, the original?

For any authority the sacred wields is not a “command” so much as the first law of our being. To “disobey” it, or attempt to deny or ignore the sacred, is like trying to live outside our own skins. A human without the sacred is exactly that — something eviscerated, no longer alive. We use the sacred itself when we deny it — we employ energies on loan to us even as we refuse them or cast them aside. What else will we do with them?

May our doing, our discovery, our celebration, take us ever deeper to the sacred heart of things.

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Local (Northern) Spring, Southern Samhain

Yes, it’s finally spring in Northern Vermont — or at least it was yesterday in West Danville, where residents “bought tickets to guess when a cinder block would fall through the ice at a local pond. The cinder block went through … on Thursday at 5:39 a.m.”

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The changing season elsewhere will soon also bring Samhain to Druids Down Under in Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa. Can I sense the sacred fires of life at the heart of Samhain, or perceive the Ancestors peering through for our upcoming Mid-Atlantic Gathering Beltane Maypole? (My mother would celebrate her hundredth birthday if she were still incarnate this May.)

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Katrina, Mike and me, spring 1999

I look at old pictures like this one, from a “just-pie-us” fundraiser in 1999, at the school where I used to teach. (That’s me on the right.) As both a ghostly image of the past of 20 years ago, a kind of ancestor of our “today selves”, and also a picture filled with the high hilarity and sun-vigor of Beltane, it seems fitting for this season.

Haven’t visited the Beltane Fire Society site recently? Check out the 2019 update!

Or catch a clip here:

Or here:

What’s one of your Beltane (or Samhain) stories?

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New Year, Old Year

Around a fire into the evening on Tuesday, a delicious and quiet Samhain with three others. Before that, a lovely group Samhain of 40 last Friday in Western MA. And one more Samhain celebration to come, with our Vermont Seed Group on Saturday, in two days’ time.

A fine invocation for Thursday evenings of the Samhain season, in Caitlin Matthews Celtic Devotional:

As the Winter closes about our ears, and the wind blows chill, I call upon my soul’s teacher to show me the progress of the day. In the depths of doubt and uncertainty, may we always be shown the next step of the road.

And we are.

Three years ago on Samhain I wrote:

We stand at the eve of winter in the northern hemisphere, with the change to standard time in the U.S. to underline the shift and bring on darkness an hour earlier in the evening. The change proves useful, I find, to draw me out of private thoughts and back toward awareness of the planet beneath my feet and all around me, awareness too of all the kin who whisper and flap and caw and bark and write blogposts and sit across the table from me.

I’m called to fast, I’m summoned to be born. Ignore the call, and I suffer, goes the divination.

Celtic-Cross-Layout-240x300So I heed my own words and listen.

What does the Tarot say? With the classic 10-card Celtic Cross spread, I ask about the shape of the coming year. Here are the cards I drew, with fairly standard interpretations of the positions first.

1–The present. Also, the self, or the querent’s state of mind: King of Pentacles.

2–The crossing card, placed over the first card; the immediate influence, problem, challenge, etc.: Queen of Swords.

3–Destiny; in some spreads, placed above as the “crown” of past influences: Devil.

4–Distant past; or in some interpretations, the future — to the right: 5 of Swords.

5–Recent past, or conscious focus, above: 7 of Cups.

6–Future influence; or the unconscious, the underlying or the true driving force of a situation — below: 9 of Pentacles.

7–The querent; self-perceptions: 4 of Pentacles.

8–External influences: Knight of Wands.

9–Inner emotions, a tangle of fears and hopes: The Star.

10–Outcome or final result: The Moon.

Detailed Analysis:

kingpentI start with seeing the major arcana as the soul’s journey, and minor arcana as individual human lives. Here, both as my own physical incarnation and as a wider representation of earthly powers and princes, card 1 with the King of Pentacles is dominant. The Court cards may be interpreted as personalities, with the king as an older male, and pentacles concerned with resources. The challenge or immediate influence of card 2 is the Queen of Swords, a feminine influence or figure in thought. As a past influence or tendency toward destiny, card 3 with the Devil is immersion in materiality, often polarized as male and female, or dual in nature. It can also represent dark magic, against and by the self most of all. Numerically his Tarot number 15 reduces to 6, linking this card, and the Devil’s influence, both to the future and to the unconscious — no surprise.

The distant past (or future) of card 4 in the spread is the 5 of Swords, a mental sorting or balancing. This can lead to a crisis or challenge all its own, because — arising from a single element — it is incomplete. It presages the later Star of card 9.

7cupsThe recent past and conscious focus of card 5 is the 7 of Cups,  magic, spirituality, results, completion, mixed with or focused on emotion. The unconscious or true influence of card 6 is the 9 of Pentacles, a fixing, ending or culmination of resources. Card 7, self-perception, is the 4 of Pentacles, stability or security — again, of resources. The external influence of card 8, the Knight of Wands, is a younger personality or presence, more fiery and ambitious. Card 9, the card of hopes and fears, is the Star, deeply important on the other path I practice, and present in our proverbs and idioms as guiding star, north or pole-star, and also as dis-aster, ill-starred-ness. Its Tarot number 17 reduces to 8, and hence influences or pairs with card 8. The final outcome or result of all of this is the Moon, whose Tarot number 18 reduces to 9 and pairs with card 9: a strong linking of the last three cards.

Summation:

RWS_Tarot_18_MoonWith 3 of the 10 cards coming from Pentacles, resources and the physical world will be a prime focus of the year personally and for the planet. Balancing feminine energies to the mature male energies in play are an immediate aspect of the present and near future. Destiny and past influences at work, though not inevitable, are ones we have both initially set in motion and strengthened by our sharp focus on materiality. Our outer fixation on security and stability may feel reasonable, given such destabilizing forces at work. But while our hopes and dreams focused on these things are valid, pursuing them along a still-material path, even with a renewed youthful vigor, will not return us to what is stable and safe. Other directions we have recently begun to explore can prove more beneficial. We’ll see moon-like changes, darkness and light alternating in phases.

I’ll return to this in a year and see how I did.

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1074Once again I’ve set out on the remarkable journey that is Nanowrimo, churning on toward my first day’s word-count goal of 1666 words (50,000 words divided by the 30 days of November). Not too late to join us!

 

IMAGES: The original 1910 Rider-Waite deck is now in public domain in the U.S.; these images from that edition come from Wikipedia.

Winter Quests, Visions, Pilgrimages

winter solstice 17

winter solstice, 2016

One of the great discoveries we keep (re)making is that in and around doing the work and not doing the work, this winter season is crammed full of vision and dream and inward turns. Any physical slump we may feel often comes courtesy of ancient programming to conserve energy, store fat, distill insights and experiences, lick our wounds and wait for the Light to strengthen again. The cold doesn’t help either, though it’s a marvelous tonic once we slough off the inertia and bundle up and head out to breathe air sharper than our athames and paring knives.

I write from my time and place, New England in winter. Translate to your own environment. You know it, are learning it with each day, ground under your feet, shapes of trees or endless grasses, desert or horizon or mountains in the distance, ocean blue-gray-green and immense beyond your sight.

Samhain may mark with a ritual day a time when the veil thins, but for me the whole season is paper-thin, a Japanese shoji screen between me and Otherworld, a spidersweb thickness away, the same soft, uncanny brush against the cheek of everything that “daylight brain” pushes away. But night brain rejoices, says yes! says come! says I know you! and speaks in exclamation points and question marks and all the punctuation you rarely see in our scientific waking life of categories and forms and lists and schedules and business hours.

I slip into daydream over breakfast, at work, while driving. Night threatens to take over. We turn to (more) caffeine, chocolate, anything to prop awake the animal self that seeks to settle into that intermittent twilight drowse. The season has already lifted the cover and left the door ajar. The challenge isn’t to do either of these things — they’ve already been done for us, courtesy of biology and the annual ritual of sun and planets and time — but to stay out of the rabbit hole, avoid the Cave, do the daylight things we’re called to do and not slide off into othering. Because night brain sends us thoughts and feelings unbidden, and it can be a rich time to set down in paint or on paper or in fiber or other craft something of the energies at work in this dark half of the year.

One way to see it and work with it: the mulch and compost and ferment already begun in us mean that the ancestors are putting forth their voices and desires. As their descendants, we carry on some of the work of their blood and sinew. At the same time, being wholly ourselves and not our ancestors, changes seethe and bubble upward from within, brew of the Cauldron. We quit a job, or a relationship, or others do these things for and with and against us out of their own ferment. We cast about for “what next?” and any answers may come not in daylight terms, necessarily, but in hunches and doubts and the same turns that dogs and chickens make before they lie down to rest and nest. Only we do this inwardly. Turn, turn, walk down the new-old bed we’ve made to lie in. And we try it on and test it for fit. Or walk away.

Often we expect any vision to come clear, to walk before our inner sight like TV characters do, crisp in their makeup and perfect hair and wardrobe, when often what comes is all shadowy and indistinct as faces around a ritual circle by firelight. A half-turn or blink and then it’s a single face we see in profile, up close. But what we think is I need to breathe or I gotta make a change. But we don’t or can’t talk easily about such things with anyone else, because it’s hard to explain the link between what vision gives us and what we feel. Just like in a dream, the inner journey brings me to a field of sunflowers and suddenly I know I have to change my life. The dream logic between the two is undeniable, even if it bypasses daytime reasoning. It’s not cause and effect, or before and after. No, it’s all one thing. And we seem to know it all at once, too. (But talking about it requires us to examine it piecemeal, like trying to push a whale through a sieve. It just doesn’t work. So we fall back on trying to explain that, too, and soon we’re twice removed from the original experience.)

So we make our pilgrimages through winter, pondering the pieces of dark world wisdom that arrive like that touch of coolness when we wake and find we’ve kicked off a blanket. Or in the dark, up to get a drink in the night, we step on a marble or raisin or kernel of popcorn and the surprise feels all out of proportion to the actual size of the thing that we set a tender foot on. Old photo or yearbook or holiday letter from the past, object unearthed when we were looking for something else. We sit with it and an hour passes in reverie. We chew and digest our lives and come to perceive something of their value and nourishment in such moments, unplanned, perpendicular to schedules and calendars.

Let me honor the dark, I whisper to myself.

Let me draw darkness around me like a blanket, feeling its folds.
Let me say its names as they come to me, strange sounds, rumbles and squawks in the throat, thing animals say to each other and us.

Let me caress the soft animal of my life.

Let me linger in the dark and its warm silences, welcome its cold shivers.
Let me weep when tears are tribute, salt and water to bless and purify.

Let me hold myself like a child in the womb,
rocking under the heart’s own rhythm, fetal and new.
Let me wake to darkness as to light,
and feel at home and welcome.

Let me honor the dark.

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3: Druid & Christian — Samhuinn & Sovereignty

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

In a 2013 post I wrote that when I remember the ancestors,

I make my very own Samhain-on-the-spot, the veil between the worlds thins, and I converse with the dead, with the Otherworld, with the generations stored in my DNA and blood and bone.  Perhaps you could call it racism in the best sense of the word — a celebration of all who have gone before me and who, by living, have delivered me to this moment of my own life, as I write these words.  It doesn’t last, but it also endures forever.

Samhuinn is remembering and honoring connection. One reason it looms so large in Pagan practice is simply that the essence of ritual is connection, and successful ritual means good relationships. On social media like Facebook, we think that we decide if we’re “in a relationship” or not. Westerners in particular like to imagine we’re free, among many other things free to choose. But many of our relationships that matter most aren’t matters of choice. Our existence itself, as a part of this universe of beings, is the first and greatest example. So the biggest “relationship” question often isn’t whether but how: how will I maintain good relationships — with myself, with other beings, with the planet?

In language many Pagans would find congenial, Catholic priest and eco-theologian Thomas Berry writes* (in The Great Work):

…we will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things came into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.

“Religious naturalist” Loyal Rue makes an immense and related claim,** deserving (as I try to approach such things) neither acceptance or rejection at first, but simple meditation and reflection:

The most profound insight in the history of humankind is that we should seek to live in accord with reality. Indeed, living in harmony with reality may be accepted as a formal definition of wisdom. If we live at odds with reality (foolishly), we will be doomed, but if we live in proper relationship with reality (wisely), we shall be saved. Humans everywhere, and at all times, have had at least a tacit understanding of this fundamental principle.

And we see a movement among some Christians towards a center that Druids and other Pagans also strive towards. Michael Dowd, former fundamentalist and author of Thank God for Evolution!, writes:

I am an unabashed evidential mystic—a sacred realist, a Christian naturalist. Reality is my God and evidence is my scripture. Big History is my creation story and ecology is my theology. Integrity is my salvation and doing whatever I can to foster a just and healthy future for the full community of life is my mission.

In Arthurian tradition, the Lady of the Lake gives Arthur his sword, affirming his right to kingship, and she receives it back again when, mortally injured after the battle of Camlann, he is borne away to Avalon to be healed.

We can see the Lady as a exemplar of Sovereignty, right relationship to the cosmos. As a representative of the inward reality that lies behind our outward world, she initiates and instructs the king — metaphorically, the archetypal “royal line” in all of us. Demonstrating again and again through her actions that leader and land are one, she shows that psychic wholeness and healing can never be isolated or merely individual. We are communal beings. Hermits and recluses often report dreams filled with people, a compensation for their outward communal “drought”. The famous Grail question points to this same reality: “Who(m) does the Grail serve?” Not just the one who finds it or achieves it! The cheap and shallow English labels “winner” and “loser” simply do not apply.

If we connect with our ancestors in the largest sense of the word, with our physical forebears and also with anyone who has helped us to reach who we presently are and may become, we may begin to see that even in spite of what may be our best efforts to live only for ourselves, we still end up contributing to the entire cosmos. Whether that contribution makes us worthy ancestors to those who will come after us is another matter, and our individual and communal charge.

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Interlude — a different preview of Edinburgh’s annual and marvelous Beltane Fire Society Samhuinn celebration. Samhuinn can provide us with a mirror to see ourselves as ancestors (don’t we all “see through a glass darkly”?).

Here’s the link to the Beltane Fire Society’s Samhuinn 2017.

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Right relationship — the first ritual goal I will strive to keep in mind as I finish drafting my personal Samhain rite.

This evening my wife and I will gather with another couple a few miles away.  We’ve shared several of the “Great Eight” festivals before, sometimes with a formal ritual, at others with that most ancient ritual of all, friendship, food and fire. One partner of the couple often faces a difficult time at Samhain, due to her psychic awareness and to past bad experiences with the day. So for us sometimes the kindest ritual is not to celebrate Samhuinn in any formal sense at all, but simply to be present and grounded ourselves, and to help be grounding for her.

A fire can help burn away negative energy, and making a practice of imaginally gathering and tossing into the fire any negative energy, to be consumed and returned to its elements for the cosmos to rebuild into healthy and balanced forms, is appropriate work. Doing it physically and unobtrusively can also be part of maintaining the fire.

A blessed Samhuinn to you all.

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*Berry, Thomas. “The Wild and the Sacred,” in The Great Work. New York: Harmony/Bell Tower, 1999, pg. 49.

**Rue, Loyal. Religion Is Not About God. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005, pg. 135.

2: Druid and Christian — Elemental Sacraments

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

In the previous post I wrote: “In sacrament rather than creed lies one potent meeting-place for Druid and Christian”. It’s this junction that I’ll continue to explore here.

What’s a sacrament? A means of perceiving the sacred. Though every culture has them, in the West our access points to the holy can feel few and far between, even more precious because of their rarity. Of course we’ve trimmed and peeled many of them away ourselves — some too soon, others well after their expiration dates.

 

fireworship-yi2

Fire worship among the Yi people in Kunming, China. Xinhua News.

Nonetheless, as a doorway, sacrament itself isn’t holy, except by association. It acquires a secondary patina of holiness that makes up part of the uplift we can experience when we turn its way, if it’s still working. For it can indeed be profaned, though the underlying sacred reality it points to is immune to human tampering. That reality wouldn’t be worth much, after all, if we could trample it in the mud.  (And we do our share of trampling. One of the more startling instances comes from Quebecois French, which intentionally repurposes Catholic vocabulary for profanity — including the word sacrament itself.)

water-heart

Hence, when “the barbarians are at the gates”, they (we) can destroy things of beauty, reverence and spiritual power, but the reality that gave them birth remains untouched. It will burst forth again in new forms and guises to open the eyes and the hearts of people yet unborn.

Will it? We certainly say and believe such things. Are they merely a kind of whistling in the dark?

One test lies in sacraments themselves. Many of them may receive scant acknowledgement in a given culture. Yet who among us who has deeply loved another person doubts that there is a sacrament made manifest? We can and do sentimentalize it, in part to avoid its sacramental power.

Other examples abound, instances that many cultures hedge about with rituals of word and action. A meal shared with others, a birth, a death, a “first” in a young life: first love, first kill, first sexual experience, first assumption of other adult roles and responsibilities. The fact that in so-called secular cultures we still institutionalize and legalize such things as drinking alcohol, driving cars, voting, joining the military, merely confirms a spiritual fact — awkwardly, perhaps, and blindly groping for its deeper truth, no doubt. That we confer grades of status by age attests to our discomfort with other criteria — ones that require wisdom, vision, insight. It’s easier to grant status mechanically, by the calendar, than to search a heart.

A sacrament, then, because it’s “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace” as the 5th century St. Augustine perceived, acknowledges something that already exists. We don’t create it, though we allow it to take shape and form, to have an impact, because we make room for it in our lives. (There seems to be a Minimum Sacramental Quotient, an MSQ, in every life: we’re all born, eat, and die, even if we shy away from, and struggle to avoid, every other divine intrusion on our human busy-ness.) We can midwife the sacred, and catalyze and welcome it, then, or resist it, but only up to a point. Grace is gratia, gift — and ample reason for gratitude.

When Druids initiate a new Bard, something happens that allows a sacrament that outward manifestation. When a Christian experiences the presence of God in prayer or Communion, the connection with the sacred moves from inner potential to outer expression. We can sense it, often, with our physical bodies. Or in the words of one of the repeating songs from Beauty and the Beast, “There’s something there that wasn’t there before”. Lacking other means of access, many people experience sacraments, or at least a sacramental flavor, in the “profane” world of Hollywood and the entertainment “industry”. So let’s be more profane, not less: pro-fane, standing near a fane or shrine, rubbing shoulders with gods and spirits outside, if not in the fane, or making a fane of our bodies and lives.

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One common friction-point in midwifing a sacrament is means. “What’s your fane?” Deny another’s access-points to the sacred by discrediting their sacraments, and you attempt to own and control and box in what is not, in the end, wholly subject to human will. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, “No salvation outside the Church”, just doesn’t work for many people any more. (Not to mention that sometimes what you’re looking for isn’t salvation but something else entirely.)

There’s a Pagan movement towards what has been critiqued as “inflation”, and a Christian one that has been likewise critiqued as “deflation”, of the human self. Pagans appear to deify, and Christians to abase, the self, Both meta-techniques strive to open the doors to the sacred by removing obstacles to sacraments. And making a proper container for what is holy can be a deal of work. Latter-day solutions like “spiritual-but-not-religious” attempt to bypass the need for containers altogether, but they offer their own problems, and containers tend to creep back in.

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Samhain. Hallowed Evening. Masses, rituals for the Dead-who-live. Calling out their names, those who have passed in the previous year. Hear them named around the evening fire.

“Look in the mirror, Ancestor. The veil is always thin.”

“What we have received, we pass on.”

“What do you bring from the Otherworld? And what can we offer you?”

“Assist me to erect the ancient altar at which in days past all worshipped, the great altar of all things” run the words of one Pagan rite.

Introibo ad altare Dei, intones the Catholic priest, using the words from Psalm 42:4. “I will go into the altar of God”.

“Look at the shape of the altar; it is your own consciousness”, says one of the Wise.

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Can we see here the faint outlines of a shared set of sacraments for Christian Druids and Druid Christians? What links followers of Grail, Cross and Star, who long to extend what each does best, sacramental elements, elemental sacraments in the broader sense of components, basic parts, building materials for the Door that is always open, the “Door without a Key”? Jesus says “I stand at the door and knock”, and Merlin waves and beckons from the other side. Earth and water, air and fire, blood and mistletoe, wine and breath, we bring you to our altars.

In our awkward groping ways, we all stumble on and into sacraments. For those looking to learn from these two neighboring traditions, ones with Trees at their centers, maybe one of the first sacraments to celebrate is humility with each other, humilis, an attitude and approach close to the earth, humus. “Earth my body, fire my spirit …”

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Images: Fire worship; “Living water“.

 

Samhuinn Fire Festival 2015

And because everything comes in pairs in this world of duality, here’s a second Samhuinn post, this time a 2 1/2 minute clip of the Beltane Fire Society’s Samhuinn Fire Festival from last year. You should be able to view it on Facebook without difficulty — it’s a Facebook rather than Youtube video.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fbeltanefiresociety%2Fvideos%2F1383835834967608%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Nettles for Samhain

‘Let there be mirth and reverence’, runs the Charge of the Goddess. I can do no better at this moment than repost this lovely song by Loam from East Coast Gathering: ‘Meet Me With Some Nettles in the Wood’. (Note that the settings require you to watch the video on the Youtube site — just one more click.)

(It’s a measure of my twistedness that when I first heard the song I was convinced that title and refrain were ‘beat’ me with some nettles, rather than ‘meet’ me. Sigh.)

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Becoming an Ancestor

From the OBOD “Inspiration for Life” for 26 October: “Our greatest responsibility is to become good ancestors” — Jonas Salk (1914-1995). Search for information on Salk and you’ll find, beyond his discovery of the life-saving polio vaccine, that the original quotation has  “be” for “become,” but “become” fits. It gives us room to grow into the role.

Growth? I don’t know about you, but most days I need all the help I can get. We can be as literal as you like. My father had a mild case of polio in the 1930s when he was a young man, and it stunted the growth of his legs. He would have been as tall as I am at 6’2″. When we sat, we were the same height, but standing, he was six inches shorter than me. He made up for reduced stature by work and persistence (if you’re uncharitable you might have called it cussed stubbornness). Sometimes we can feel like we’re cast against type in our own lives. What now?

If I approach the day, the season, this life, as roles, I can often feel my way into possibility. We’ve all slipped in backstage. From there we tried out for this role — like almost all the others we’re offered — just by being born. Set aside for a moment the question of whether any of us asked to be here.  If we do indeed get recycled from one part of this universe into another, perhaps our own ancestors called us, and our parents made bodies for us and brought us back to the longest-running show of them all. Have kids, and we’re doing the same for them. No kids this time around? You won’t escape that easy.

Live in this world more than a handful of years and you’ll meet others you instantly warm up or cool off to. Mere chance? Unlikely. Instead, one big noisy, contentious family reunion. You never liked Great-Uncle Louis, only now (s)he’s your one-year old niece Lucy who just spit up on your new silk shirt.

Or that annoying nephew Luke who always manages to bring back your car with a few more dings and scratches whenever he borrows it. You’d say no but you still owe his mother a few grand from that tight period some years back.

After all, karma’s one of the most efficient ways of polishing rough edges. Get back what you give out. Until you decide to play it differently. A different take. An original interpretation. A dramatic break-through. A sensitive and well-rounded performance that elicits sympathy for a potentially unlovable character.

What roles will I play in this ancestor ritual that is my life? Can I live large enough that I qualify as a “good ancestor”? Do my choices make the future lighter, wiser, more loving? (The signs tell me I’ll get to find out in person. Back in a century or three to check in and live my own consequence.)

Some days I get a foretaste. I wake, sliding slowly out of bed feeling I’m already halfway to ancestor status. You know, when your body’s now the best barometer for tomorrow morning’s weather. Low pressure and my lower back aches. Rain coming and my shoulder throbs. At such times it’s slender consolation that half a millennium hence my thighbone may decorate some family altar, or that my brother’s great-great-great-times-10 granddaughters will drink toasts from my lovingly preserved skull.

No, Salk probably meant something more. While not all of us will fall fighting to defend our land for our descendants, in every age too many of us do.

But just as many of our battles are inward, and many outwardly calm or seemingly easy faces conceal, it may be, most grievous private wars. It’s fitting, then — humbling, sobering and just — that we may well return to see what becomes of our own deeds.

For me there’s no better perspective. I find myself asked to forgive less than glorious forebears. “Judge not, lest you be judged” can cut painfully close. Knowing my own struggles and weaknesses, I’ll toast them with a generous measure of compassion — not because they may “deserve” it, but because they need it, and so do I — even as I honor the great among them, this weekend on Samhain.

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Great Hallows

Someone called Samhain that in passing — “Great Hallows” — and it’s fitting.

bryn_celli_ddu-exter

No, you don’t have to enter. But entrances await you, in sleep and waking, in the thought and feeling of a moment, in the earth around you, to leave the daylight world. The season itself recalls you: the cooling earth, that nip in the air, scent of dead leaves and woodsmoke, bursts of color around the next turn that linger in the eye.

img_1452

Not kings or nobles but shepherds know the hallowed times, like this turn of days towards the greater dark. In The Winter’s Tale the Shepherd says to the Clown (always a liminal, transitional figure in Shakespeare) “You met with dying things, I with things newborn.” That’s what I meet each Samhain season, both death and life. This is a Great Hallow, a tide of exchange between worlds. Not the tide of equinox, of balance, but what comes after the rebalancing.

Hallow: a word almost lost, a thing changing shape and name, a Samhain sign in itself.

Passage. That’s what Samhain offers, means of passage between the two realms. A holy occasion. Like so many holy things, misunderstood, feared, slandered. But most unfortunate of all? Ignored.

khughes

So I look at this image for just a moment, that gulp of time that’s all I need to jump-start wonder all over again. And I summon this liminal place within me, where all places also lie: Bryn Celli Ddu, the “Mound in the Dark Grove,” stand in for each of us and our own mythic image of the Place of Spiritual Exchange. (Here the Dead journey among us, looking for the same thing.)

We — all of us — have hallowed something all year long. Time to recognize it on All Hallows’ Eve.

What is dead, and what lives, in my life? How do they nourish and reflect and illumine each other? What Samhain question is my life asking me today and all this month?

Here at “summer’s end,” which is a good approximation of what Samhain* means, I listen. A full time job, that — all these voices now, as one cycle nears completion and the second takes its birth. Then the greater stillness of Winter, and its own energies and lessons.

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Image: exterior–Trish Steel; southern Vermont sumac; Bryn Celli Ddu interior — Wolfgang Sauber.

(I love how ddu “dark” [approx. “thoo”] in Welsh has that shape and spelling after a feminine noun like celli “hill,” that double dd, following the rules of sound and spelling change that run counter to English habit. Words as wands of transformation for the tongue.)

*irish Samhain, Scottish Gaelic Samhuinne, both from Proto Celtic *samonios. The Coligny calendar names a “three-night festival” trinoxtion samonii, in Gaulish, a older and now extinct relative of Irish and Scottish Gaelic: Gaulish samon “summer, Samhain.”

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