Archive for the ‘solstice’ Category

June Heptad

ONE

Solstice season, say the wights and spirits. Not just one day.

Ozoliņi, ozoliņi, sings the Latvian ensemble below. “Oaks, oaks …” A fine summer song, celebrating Jāņi, the Latvian summer solstice, June 23 and 24, and the strength of the oak.

TWO

I weave the cincture of protection, sings Caitlin Matthews in her Celtic Devotional for Wednesdays in the Summer, and for Winter Wednesdays, this:

I kindle my soul at the hearth-fires of Winter,
warmth of welcome,
warmth of working,
warmth of nurture,
be upon my lips, my hands, my being,
this Winter’s day,
till Winter’s night.

THREE

As distributors and sharers of the holy energies of the world, we forget to bless and offer them daily. I know I do. Just the recollection, the recall to do this, can become an essential part of a spiritual practice. Bless this day and those I serve, goes one succinct version. A helpful mantra in the middle of a tense situation, or one where I’m tired, stressed, irritable, and otherwise my tendency might be to snap, be short with another person. Instead — and how many “insteads” I find I need! — this recollection-habit can turn me at my less-than-best into a spiritual vehicle and an opportunity for blessing to happen. A space opens that wasn’t there before.

FOUR

WordPress obliges its bloggers with statistics and charts. Here’s one overview of the 9-year life of this blog as of this morning.

stats6-20

With 540 followers, and over 6000 visitors so far this year, I assume many find value in this blog. But how many of you have taken a few minutes to say it matters to you, in response to my recent request? Three. A lovely triad of supporters. But are there more of you?

This is, after all, a version of the ancient ritual wording whose Latin version runs like this: do ut des; da ut dem. “I give, so that you may give. Give, so that I will give (again)”. And so the exchange we agree to establish can continue.

For an explanation of this in Hellenic culture, as an example of ksenia, sacred hospitality, this article is excellent.

FIVE

Each of the four solar festivals in the ritual year, the solstices and equinoxes, is also a form of initiation. We can forget that planetary initiations come every year, releasing energy, subtly altering our spaces and awareness, whether we participate in them consciously or not. Spend any time out of doors and you can sense the shifts as they flow through us, and we through them, each year.

The same holds true with other initiations, sought and unsought, in the life of the cosmos. It’s through initiation that growth comes. From caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, one form is not the same as the previous or next one. Changes and movement occur in steps and grades.

Rather than accept such statements as some kind of wisdom for the ages, it’s a good idea to question them. Test them, try them out. If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research, would it? goes the quotation attributed to Einstein. Except a spate of research can neither confirm or reject that attribution. Sometimes we don’t yet know. Turn the words a little, and rather than worrying who said it, what value does it have of itself, for me, today? Time to keep trying out this amazing life for what it might offer next.

SIX

Follow a spiritual path for any length of time, and you’ll pick up pieces of things that may not always “fit” (now, or quite yet, or ever). What you do with those things, how you assess which have value and which you can wisely let go, will change as you move through your life. A friend traveling a theistic path has stationery with a heading that reads “What does this have to do with God-realization?” In a form that fits what we each do, in language that resonates fo us, it’s a good question to ask from time to time. Like the stack of pizza boxes and pyramid of soda cans after a party, it may be time to clear away, just to see that table again.

Here’s the nine-pointed star of Thecu I’m incising on a sheet of metal for one of my altars. It may rest on the north face of an outside altar for at least part of the year — that’s not yet clear.

thecu-star

What does my study of this portion of my path, of a possible goddess from the past, and her symbolism, have to do with the rest of it? Is it a piece of Druidry? Exploring that question is itself part of my experience of it. Or in the slang of the past decade, is the juice worth the squeeze? Creating the star is part of my working with possible answers. A capacity for following through is such a large component of so many things — relationships, jobs, creativity, awareness, self-esteem — that I sometimes think it should be a graduation requirement, and a prerequisite for bringing children into the world.

SEVEN

“Seven”, observes Michael Schneider is his marvelous A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe,

is perhaps the most venerated number of the Dekad, the number par excellence of the ancient world … A group of seven comprises a complete unit, a whole event. But a group of seven is different from other wholes we’ve encountered, particularly the Monad, Triad and Hexad. The Heptad expresses a complete event having a beginning, middle and end through seven stages, which keeps repeating. Seven represents a complete yet ongoing process, a periodic rhythm of internal relationships.

It’s well known that the regular heptagon is the smallest polygon that cannot be constructed using only the three tools of the geometer, the compass, straightedge and pencil, the tools that mirror the methods of the cosmic creating process. In other words, an exact heptagon is not (and cannot be) “born” like the other shapes through the “womb” of the vesica piscis

Use a calculator to divide each number one through ten by seven. They each yield the same result: the sequence of digits 1-4-2-8-5-7 cycling endlessly, although they each begin with a different digit. Six digits, like the six days of the week, are set in endless motion around the unseen Sabbath.

The common saying “at sixes and sevens with each other” refers to seven’s aloofness … (pgs. 222-226).

As a book of lore, a wise guide to numerological insight, a companion to the Tarot, a counsel for ritual patterning and form, a practice, a set of stories and images, Schneider’s book is a Druidic feast for those attuned to number.

/|\ /|\ /|\

 

Solstice 2020 — and a New Moon

The co-occurrence of astronomical events multiplies their psychological effect. Even if the new moon and the coming solstice (winter in the southern hemisphere, summer in the north) on this June 20-21 weekend offer no more than a psychological effect, they would be worth acknowledging and celebrating. But for many they offer much more.

newmoon

As markers of both sacred and secular time, they locate us in the moment. No thanks, you might be saying. Any moment but this. It can help to think of what our ancestors had to bear, but that’s often easier when our own troubles don’t crowd around us and nip our heels. At such times we may not have the leisure or perspective to be grateful our forebears survived long enough to keep the line going, to pass along whatever wisdom they’d garnered, along with their DNA. The advice to “live always in the present moment, because it is the only one that’s real” sounds wonderful — until the present sucks. Then it’s anywhere and anywhen but here and now. So we time-travel with a vengeance, distracting ourselves through whatever means we can lay hands on. Sometimes it can seem like the best prayer we can offer for others is may your distractions bring you comfort. Wine, weed, wool-gathering, to name just a few.

But pursued with intention and love, moon and sun festivals lift us out of ourselves. We’ve all had the experience of playing sports, or gardening, or some other activity where we’re so intent on what we’re doing we don’t notice the cut or scratch or other injury until some time later, or until we spot the blood or bruise. Only then, with the coming of our attention, do we feel the sting or ache. For an interval, something else was more important and more interesting than pain. Celebrating seasonal and planetary cycles can help us focus where we choose to look, not where our circumstances pluck and tug at us to look. Always? No. Often enough to help us reset and recalibrate? Yes.

Sun and moon, they reconnect us. The jarring frequency of fluorescent lights can bother the eyes, and the hum of them overhead can be an irritant. Sunlight and moonlight don’t feel that way. They energize, unfolding us to ourselves and our surroundings. They bathe us in light, in a vibration billions of years old, native to our atoms.

antelope-canyon-lower-canyon-arizona

Antelope Canyon, New Mexico — a play of light and form. Image: Pexels.com

As archetypes with physical analogues, moon and sun help tune us in to other archetypes, if we choose. We can begin with the physical realm, and let experiences accumulate without jettisoning our critical intelligence, taking us step by step more deeply into wonder and joy. Our ancestors painted animals on the walls of caves, danced the hunt, linked with a clan or tribal spirit, saw in animals a brother and sister that could guide and teach, advise and protect. An animal, they long ago discovered, isn’t “just an animal”. One of the large and wonderful lessons of Druidry, as in many other paths, is a simple and profound one: Things are more than they appear.

You might call it the iceberg principle. What’s immediately visible is a key to what’s underneath. We seem to get this with the people in our lives we know reasonably well. We see through a friend’s odd mood or gruffness or silence or manic laughter into a more underlying movement and wait or prod or listen as we’ve learned to do. Moon and sun reward a similar friendship and patience.

The next full moon arrives in just a few days, and I’m revising and tweaking the draft of my recent full moon ritual, and thinking about dark moon and new moon rituals, too. With the clearer skies much of the world is enjoying with the enforced reduction of traffic and travel, this could be an ideal time to deepen acquaintance with the Two Lights in our skies no one needs to plug in, or pay a utility to operate.

And so the voice of a Druid comes, and says to me, even as I say to you:

I bless you in each of your moons,
your fullnesses and your dark nights.
I bless you in your changing faces,
in the pearl shadows of your twilights.

Because who doesn’t need blessing, and to bless ourselves, and to bless others, and to welcome the blessings of others coming our way!

And we can say to ourselves, and to each other:

In between, when we dance or dream,
we trade places with tree,
beast, or spirit of the grove,
and soon or late we uncover
another doorway that opens
for us to walk the sky.

Some of our truest names are written in sun- and moonlight.

/|\ /|\ /|\

“The Purpose of Druidry”

“isn’t to make Druids”, a fellow Druid remarked to me over the Solstice weekend at our Vermont Gathering.

Huh. I thought. Right! As soon as you say it …

iris

strayed iris along our driveway

Druidry’s a practice to re-connect with Spirit. What aspect of Spirit you reconnect with, how you reconnect, why, and what you call yourself — these matters circle round the rim of the practice, however helpful or significant they may be. They’re not the hub, like the practice of connection is. (A wheel, of course, is more than its hub.)

devpaint

devil’s paintbrush (Hieracium aurantiacum; Pilosella aurantiaca) aka orange hawkweed — one of my favorite “unplanted flowers”. They set the lawn on fire!

The metaphors that bubble up when we try to talk about a practice matter, too. Circle, spiral, wheel. The patterns of the oldest games we play as children, the deepest truths of existence we perceive.

When you’re reconnecting, the tree-wisdom that is one probable etymology of the word Druid is at work in your life.

How does it manifest?

For me, it takes increasingly specific forms that become my practice by themselves. I know something larger than me and my hopes, fears and dreams. I find I want to honor it, and strive to live in harmony with it. The more I give it my love and attention, the more numerous my encounters. I slowly discover how interactions and exchanges with it are mutually beneficial. I work to bring more of my life into a dance with its rhythms.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Part of my particular how of connecting and manifesting lies in where I find myself, as does yours, if you’re seeking to connect.

I bless the previous owner, as you know from previous posts, for the Rowan in our front yard, and also for the row of three old blueberry bushes in the back. We’re letting blackberries grow up near them. Both like the acidic soil we try to provide with pine needle mulch, and after the spate of bitter weather this past January, we’re seeing some die-back among them and the rhododendrons out front. As if to compensate, this has been a particularly wet year, and a warm one, once it got going.

Blessings on Europe, and a request to Spirit to temper the heat burning there. Balance, balance.

blueberries

Everything wants to make a gift of itself to you, came the insight one morning some years ago.

Sh*t! I remember thinking. Really?!

But the message wasn’t done yet. Reject it and the gift often comes harder, more insistent and difficult, in less easy forms.

All right, I think. Well, no. A little right. This will take some getting used to.

Everything?!

Difficult gifts … I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Yesterday was too rainy, so it wasn’t until this morning I finally thought to get a shot of the two pine trunks I rolled from where our friend and neighbor Chris helped to cut them into manageable lengths with his chainsaw in May.

For a month they lay there, too heavy to move.

So thank-yous to all of you who contributed Solstice energy to our recent Vermont Weekend and helped me raise these “Alban Gates”!!

After meditating and listening for a bit about where I should set them, I raised them as gateposts for my backyard grove over the weekend. They now sit on stone footers, with wedges to steady them. I’ll be adding some side supports and possibly a lintel post later.

Below is a pic of them, looking west towards our house. The slightly larger left trunk is about my height, to give a sense of scale. Thank Spirit they’re pine. They won’t last as long, but I wouldn’t have been able to lift and set them in place if they were as heavy as oak, or the cherry of our recent Solstice bonfire.

I’m still listening about when to dedicate them. Lunasa, or the next full moon, maybe.

pillars1

Solstice energy to raise and open the “Alban Gates”! Facing west toward house.

 

pillarse

Same pillars, facing east — with the mystery of light on leaves

/|\ /|\ /|\

“Wood-month” is upon us. Or at least on many Vermonters. Everywhere, a store of winter fuel dropped off on roadsides, yards, driveways, ready for the work of stacking. Sweat equity for stacking makes up the significant difference between cost per cord and cost per gallon of fuel oil. As long as I can, I’ll sweat instead. I’m still more cheap than lazy at this point. Of course, I can virtuously claim to be a little “greener” as well.

3cords

We manifest here by applying effort. It’s one of our special abilities. Spirit (and other beings without physical bodies) need incarnate beings to achieve such things, and humans are especially good at this, at building and shaping and moving stuff around. Part of why we’re here is to learn to do it more wisely, at need and not merely at whim.

Solwom wesutai syet. For the good of the whole …

/|\ /|\ /|\

Vermont Summer Solstice ’19

cherrybonfire

Cherry deadfall bonfire wood stacked and drying — photo courtesy BW

The Southern Vermont Summer Solstice plans finally all came together this weekend, with about 20 people from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont groves and seed groups gathering to celebrate the Solstice and camp on the land of our host BW.

table -- FH

Potluck, Friday evening 21 June 2019. Photo courtesy FH.

evening-ease

“Friday evening ease”, 21 June 2019, BW’s house.

After dinner Friday, we drove to Putney Mountain to see the sunset of the longest day and watch the stars come out. A marvelous breeze kept the bugs off.

sunset-FH

Solstice sunset Friday 21 June 2019 on Putney Mountain. Photo courtesy FH.

The next day we drove and hiked to the Putney Stone Chambers, which I also wrote about here last September.

hike

Saturday afternoon 22 June 2019 hike to the Putney Stone Chambers

The walk to the most impressive of the chambers follows a Class 4 road.

moss

mossy stone on hike

Recent rains have kept the mosses and ferns green.

into-the-earth2-FH

Investigating a smaller stone chamber. Photo courtesy FH

birth

“Rebirth from the earth”

We nicknamed the largest chamber the kiva, after a similar design in the American southwest.

gathered

Gathered at the “kiva” entrance

kiva-FH

Entrance to the “kiva” — BW is standing showing depth of chamber. Photo courtesy FH

enter-earth1

“Into the kiva — 1”

SF looking up from inside kiva -- BB

SF in kiva — photo courtesy BB.

webwindow-GN

Spiderweb over kiva vent hole — view from inside — photo courtesy GN

at-ease

“Druid at ease” — MH in a tree near the kiva. Saturday 22 June 2019

2druid-dudes

Mugging for the selfie — BB (left) and me (right)

ignition

“Ignition” — bonfire Saturday evening 22 June 2019 after ritual. AB is blowing the sparks to flame.

after ritual -- CG

Shortly after ritual, as we watch the bonfire light. We’re still wearing red headbands from the rite. Photo courtesy CG.

fire1

Young fire. Saturday 22 June 2019

fire2

Young fire, Saturday 22 June 2019. Figure within flames?

fire-GN

Bonfire in full burn Saturday 22 June 2019. Photo courtesy CG

sunrise-moon-BW

Moon at sunrise this morning, Sunday 23 June 2019. Photo courtesy BW.

We closed the weekend this Sunday morning with offerings of cedar boughs and whiskey around a small fire, as we gave thanks for the weekend and the community we share.

cedar and whiskey -- BB

Basket of cedar and whiskey bottle. Sunday morning 23 June 2019. Photo courtesy BB.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Posted 23 June 2019 by adruidway in Druidry, solstice, spiritual practice

Tagged with , ,

Happy Longest Day (Night)!

Happy Solstices! — Summer in the Northern, Winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

Here is “Eagle Poem” by Joy Harjo, which we’ll be sharing tonight at the opening potluck supper of our Solstice weekend gathering here in Southern Vermont.

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River.  Circles in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon, within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

— Joy Harjo

/|\ /|\ /|\

“You’re Doing It Right”

One breath follows another. You’re doing it right. Keep going!

The air kisses you as soon as you step outdoors. No judgment!

camellia

Sun, stars, clouds, moon, rain, snow — they each greet you in their seasons. They’re with you, doing what they are, just like you do.

Fur companions in your life, their moist noses and soft, warm coats, a blessing. What I do is me*, they remind us. You do you. No one else can.

Trees do it every day, breathing out what we breathe in, breathing in what we breathe out. It’s a prayer-song — you may have already heard versions of it. If not, make one up right now. You can hum it to yourself around the trees, setting a tune, letting them know you know, telling them they’re doing it right. They know, but it’s good when we do, too, and we say so.

pond

“No one knows what will rise, when the pond is working” — Linda Allardt

Solstice, greatest of all the Feasts of Fire, beloved of the Faerie Folk

I don’t know about you, but I hear that and I’m there. It’s a line from OBOD ritual, and we’ll be saying it this weekend at our Alban Hefin/solstice celebration.

I whisper it now to myself, this word-charm, along with that earlier line about breathing, and I listen to the rhythm, the music, as I speak the syllables:

Greatest of all the Feasts of Fire, beloved of the Faerie Folk …
We breathe in what you breathe out, we breathe out what you breathe in …

And I imagine singing this as a round at our ritual.

The exchange between realms sustains both.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*See my recent post, with Hopkins’ poem.

Seven Paths in Freedom: A Prayer-Rant

Druidry, writes Philip Carr-Gomm in his foreword to Nuinn’s (Ross NicholsBook of Druidry,

is a way of working with the natural world, and is not a dogma or religion … Druidry honours, above all, the freedom of the individual to follow their own path through life, offering only guides and suggestions, schemes of understanding, methods of celebration and mythical ideas — which can be used or not as the practitioner sees fit (pg. 14).

You could just stop there, and run with that, because this post eventually descends into a rant. Or irascible prayer. OK, you were warned.

clover

clover overtaking weeds — no mowing needed! (but woodchucks love it)

<begin rant>

The word “honours” matters in the quote above. Not “grants” or “permits” freedom. Druidry recognizes something that’s already there. Druidry says Pay attention, so you can recognize these things, too.

Freedom, guides, suggestions, schemes, methods, celebrations, myths. These are the “seven paths in freedom” I want to look at in this post. Don’t worry, it’s not really a numbered list. A different Song is playing. The Song matters more than any list.

Freedom, that much abused and misunderstood word, is an actual thing we can experience and live from, not merely a “concept” or an “idea”, though it’s these things, too. It’s not only “in my head”. Freedom, like any song, comes first, then we have thoughts about it. It’s a gift, just like our lives. A melody at the heart of things. And like our lives, we can end our own freedom in so many ways. Turn off the music. (At least temporarily, though the Spiral remains, all the way down into our DNA.) If you need to be reminded how, just read the headlines. It’s practically multiple-choice at this point. Fifty ways to leave your lover, sings Paul Simon. Shedding your skin, walking on the other side, is a really good option at this point. We do it every night in dream. How about while awake?

A free person gives freedom to those nearby. Freedom spreads, like air, fragrance, sound, waves. We all know others who take from us when we’re around them, just like we know people who give, who make space, and work not to impose their limitations on us. Sometimes we read of the “torch of freedom” — and though cynicism is a popular defensive shield these days, that’s a live metaphor for the sense of kindling and expansion we feel in the presence of a free person. May we meet — and be — such people!

Don’t want to, or can’t, join a Druid Order? You’re a Druid from the day you accept your freedom, and act from it. An Order’s just a form, a guide, a suggestion, to try or not.

If we act from freedom, we discover everything is a guide, a suggestion. The old challenge, Everything is permitted, provided you can accept responsibility for what you do, is a rich seed for meditation. How far can I go toward testing it?! Not Is it true? but How is it true? When is it true? In what ways is it true? These tests, and their results, work much more creatively and productively, at least for me, than a simple “yes/no” Is it true? Because I’ve found pretty much everything is both not true, and true, depending. So that question’s off the list, until I can come back to it on a higher spiral, when it may turn out useful once again, after I manage to learn a few more things. Consciousness makes all the difference: it’s the “depending”.

Druidry offers some things to try out. (Now I’m imagining that as my quick seven-word answer to anybody who asks “So what is Druidry?”!)

Ground a practice in the things of my world: air, water, fire, earth. Not just ritual, though that too. Expand my rituals. Thinking, this morning, while I wash two-days-dried dirty dishes in warm water: air/thought, water (obvious!), fire/heat of the water, of my blood, of the sunlight streaming through the kitchen window; earth of my bones and flesh, of the food scraps on the plates and pots and silverware, of the sink and walls and world all around.

Brother Lawrence wrote a wonderful classic, Practicing the Presence of God. You almost don’t need to read it, the title says so much. If you do read through, be patient with it and yourself — you’ll need to do some digging to excavate the gold, given the change of cultural understandings.

It’s a practice, not a one-time deal. You get better.

Listen to other beings. The white ants that come every summer to our kitchen have more to teach me than the last book I read, whatever it was. Practice asking good questions. I’ve spent at least four decades on that one, and no sign of stopping yet. You know — magic in, magic out. Or the opposite.

“My God is bigger”, said a Christian to an author friend of mine. “Maybe that’s because your need is bigger”, said the friend.

An infinite abyss separates any two moments in time, in eternity, says one of the Wise. I practice resting there, feeling the lightness of spirit, of creative fire, of the awen as it flows. I set my hand on a blank journal page, a computer screen blog post, and enter that abyss. If like me you flash on vertigo for a moment, know too how weightless is fire, always rising up, climbing the spirals we all walk. If a child falls in a dream, the Senoi people of Malaysia encourage the child to fall, and not wake up to escape the dream. “They taught the children to fall, knowing they wouldn’t be hurt, and to climb, to travel, or fly to unknown places, to unknown cultures, to learn new things. If they woke up instead, they would be advised not to escape from such dreams the next time they occurred”, write Stewart and Garfield in their 1972 book Creative Dreaming. Easier on everybody than the wrenching costs of the rising suicide rates in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Schemes of understanding, patterns, webs, networks, interconnections, links, circuits. Our “marvels of modern technology” work (when they work) by building with earth — metal, glass, rare earth elements. Technology grounds these sometimes abstract, intellectual facets of elemental Air and manifests them, re-alizes them, makes them what Latin calls res — things. Ground and center, counsels beginning practice, again and again and again. I always need to earth what’s goin’ down.

Heirs though we are of two thousand years of Christianized thinking, somehow we’re still more Gnostic than Christian, eager to flee this world, constantly forgetting the god at the heart of Christianity who incarnated, became flesh, manifested, took on a body, got as earthy as anybody can, and died that way too. Eucharist, literally thanksgiving — this is my body, this is my blood. The Things of Earth are holy, divine.

Pilgrim on earth, thy home is heaven. Stranger, thou art the guest of God(s).

And yes, William Carlos Williams, you turn out to be right on both counts: “It’s difficult to get the news from poems, but men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there”. You write about a fracking flower [short / long] and stake us through the heart. Bards, tell us how it is, how it can be. Now take out the comma. Bards tell us how it is, how it can be. I’m still practicing as I listen harder.

Or another take, if you like or need it: “Earth’s crammed with heaven” , says Elizabeth Barrett Browning. “And every common bush afire with God;/But only he who sees, takes off his shoes./The rest sit around and pluck blackberries,/And daub their natural faces unaware …” Another practice, taking off my shoes, and walking through the grass.

And that’s fine, too, says Druidry. The Spiral always waits. No one’s reached the end yet … There are always rest-points. We need ’em.

Methods, celebrations, myths. Five, six and seven, if you’re counting. J. M. Greer says one key is “embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit”.

Everything’s political? Nope — everything’s spiritual. Or mythical, if you prefer. Politics wants the power and energy, but without bothering about the spirit that powers them. (Zeus tried all that out long ago, and look where it got him!) Things of this world? Sure! But just know where they come from. Get the order right. That’s why we keep screwing ourselves over with men (and it’s still mostly men) of power. Give the women a chance to mess things up, too!

They can’t give us what we really want. But we keep handing politicians our freedom anyway, as if they knew better what to do with it than we do. Reclaiming, Starhawk calls her Witchcraft tradition. Get it back! Don’t give it away again!

<end rant>

/|\ /|\ /|\

truckpieces

Fallen pine, cut into lengths: edging for more raised beds? Gateposts for my backyard grove?

Solstices.

Just as at the Winter Solstice we celebrate the shortest day and longest night, knowing that light will grow again, so at the Summer Solstice we celebrate the longest day and shortest night, knowing that daylight will now shorten. Here is a teaching of paradox: each peak, dark or light, contains the seeds of its own change. And as Taoist tradition teaches, “When Yang peaks, it shifts to Yin; when Yin peaks, it shifts to Yang.” — adapted from OBOD publications.

I begin again. A couple of deep breaths, to center myself. Then the awen, or another sacred word. Open the inner doorways.

Get out in the sun, advises the OBOD ritual booklet for Summer Solstice. Sit in a shadow. I love these two apparent contradictories, side by side! So perfect! Harvest your garlic. Sunburned, shaded, garlicked, I proceed.

Having neglected to grow either St. John’s Wort or Vervain for our Solstice rite next weekend, I’m on the lookout for them along the road, in fields nearby, or at a farmers’ market. We’re naming the local landscape and its creatures in our Solstice ritual script, listening between the words for their other names, ones they may not tell everyone. Indian Place Names of New England, in a hodgepodge of less-than-complete formatting for online viewing, gives one Native American name for our local Vermont region: Kawassentekwa “barren spot along the (Connecticut) River”! One more way to laugh, to stay humble, to see and work for possibility where, outwardly, things look bare.

Apparent world, crazy uncle at the door, we hug you and invite you in to join us at the Festival table. Meet the others here!

/|\ /|\ /|\

Flaming Toward Solstice

The heat is on — at least for a few days here in Southern VT, where temps yesterday and today reached 80 F / 27 C.

Do you feel it, that flaming toward summer solstice? If you’ve spent time outdoors, even at sunrise or sunset, you can sense the shift. The birds feel it, launching their first songs when the sun still lacks half an hour to cresting the horizon. Trees know it, their leaves finally fully unfurled and deeply green.

We’re two weeks out from the longest day — about the time I frequently sense a shift, turn my thoughts toward the next festival, and “listen harder”.

Just about year ago I posted 19 Ways to Celebrate Summer Solstice, and looking at it again, I see how many of the 19 Ways are for solitaries. Part of the appeal of Druidry is how any one of us can begin it, and deepen it, right where we are. We don’t need to find or start a group, though groups can provide fellowship and community, a hearth to cherish, a portable temple to support our practice, and also those chance conversations that can transform a ritual afternoon or evening, spark a friendship, mark a turning point, or open up a new direction for us to take. Yet most of the Ways could also fit group practice as well.

But I also want to yellow my nose with dandelion pollen as I sniff the flowers, stretch out full length in the grass, run my fingers over the bark as I listen to a favorite tree, anticipate the berries that will follow the delicate white flowers now on the berry vines, mark the slow dissolution of a fallen branch as the earth takes it back, ponder an anthill, study the mud-dauber wasp as it enlarges its nest. So many lives neighboring mine, why would I want to miss them? I have an appointment with the wild I will not miss.

The lore of the solstices is wisdom. Just as it reaches the heyday of its strength, the sun’s light yields, and the days once again start to shorten. And in the southern hemisphere, dark now rules over half of each day, but come winter solstice and the light will slowly begin to grow again.

From the traditions of OBOD, the Order I belong to, emerge older accounts of a three-part observance, a vigil till midnight (and for those willing, an all-night watch, interspersing periods of meditation with music, storytelling, etc.), a dawn ceremony to welcome the shortest day on Solstice itself, and a final noon rite several hours after that. Our local Vermont Druid group is hosting a full Solstice weekend, with a Friday evening mountain-top potluck, a sundown ritual Saturday evening, followed by night drumming, discussion and vigil, and a breakfast the next morning.

Harvesting and hauling firewood for the ritual a week ago, from the conservancy forest land where our “host for the Solstice” lives, we came on a large half-standing cherry, whose wood we cut and stacked, to await the bonfire.

cherrybonfire

Cherry bonfire wood stacked. Photo courtesy Bruce W.

We can read rituals and myths, imagine them enacted, choose a portion which we will enact and dramatize, or maybe leave in half-symbolic form. The Oak King reaches his greatest power at Summer Solstice, and we crown him with a chaplet made of his own leaves. Yet it is the Holly King who rises, going forward, as the Oak weakens. We pass the oak-leaf crown to each other, and perhaps some of us hold in our thoughts the ancient proverb: nomine mutato, de te fabula narratur. Change the names, and it’s a story about you. A little shiver in the heat.

May your Solstice burn brightly!

/|\ /|\ /|\

“The Provocations of Now”

[Solstice light and fire can fill us with energy to tackle the big stuff.  At least, that’s my sense of this post, after drafting and revising it. Here goes.]

fire circle -- crystal collins

MAGUS ’18 fire circle. Photo courtesy Crystal Collins.

The title for this post comes from a line in a recent column in the UK paper The Guardian. (I routinely skim the foreign press both as an escape from the breathless hyper-partisanship of U.S. media and also for key perspectives often wholly absent from American consciousness.)

Every age has ’em: the issues screeching for our attention, promising imminent peril and world-flattening disaster if we don’t ramp up our paranoia, doubt, fear and despair to the pitch of the writer, pol, preacher, activist, etc., etc. If you haven’t developed a nervous twitch just from hearing certain triggering labels in the 24-hour news-cycle, you obviously haven’t been paying attention.

Which is exactly what I try to practice and quietly urge on others, if they choose to give me space to talk. Often they don’t, and I don’t insist. Stop paying attention, which is a form of our energy, to absolutely everything, just because it asks for it. Pay attention specifically to what builds, to what gives joy and life to you and others. Otherwise, why bother?

What follows is geek-talk, if you’re not a Tolkien-fan. You might as well use the search box at the top left to find a topic that interests you, or wander elsewhere on the Net to track down what will feed and nourish your powers. Surf well.

OK, you’ve been warned.

Remember the Council of Elrond in The Lord of the Rings? In that remarkable extended scene with its many speakers, Gloin recounts how an emissary from Mordor comes to Dain Ironfoot, king of the Dwarves in Moria, and demands Dain’s compliance with a request. Dain answers prudently:

“I say neither yea nor nay. I must consider this message and what it means under its fair cloak.”

“Consider well, but not too long,” said he [the emissary].

“The time of my thought is my own to spend,” answered Dain.

“For the present,” said he, and rode off into the darkness.

We’re always asked to decide, to react — preferably as-quickly-as-possible — but certainly not to spend our time considering the messages we receive, or to originate a response that’s not simply a manipulated reaction for or against.

The time of our thought is our own to spend, if we reclaim it, which is precisely what we need to do if we’re to find a balance and poise that will let us act prudently, navigate our own lives with a measure of confidence and joy, avoid inadvertently assisting the dis-eases of our times, and possibly aid the forces of light.  (Yes, sometimes the admittedly exalted and grandiloquent language of fantasy has its place in a realist view of things. In times that feel over-the-top, eloquence and dramatic language fit perfectly. If they move us in any way to preserve our own integrity, they merit a place in the action.)

And we each need to do this in our own ways, which means no single formula that I or anyone else proposes will suit us all. No OSFA.* The Druid tradition of the triad quietly tells us to look beyond crippling polarities — it bids us ask where the third factor lies, and what it contributes to the situation — but it’s far from the “only solution”. Other factors shape any situation, but threes at least have the virtue of avoiding the potential deadlock of twos. A tie-breaker is built-in, so to speak. Freed from the grip of either-or, many a situation opens onto unexpected possibilities and directions.

I refuse — with the defiant gesture of Galadriel repulsing the Shadow — to spend my hours in despair, like Denethor, who thought he saw truly with his palantir, when all he perceived were the visions Sauron fed him. And a corollary: If I can’t contribute effectively to matters I care about, I will work where I can create and originate something positive, however modest. Instead of complaint, muddying the atmosphere for myself and those around me, I will build as much as I can.

And I vow — with the wisdom of the exchange of Elrond and Gimli following the Council — to keep faith with my own ideals, even as I test their validity.

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,” said Gimli.

“Maybe,” said Elrond. “But let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.”

“Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart,” said Gimli.

“Or break it,” said Elrond. “Look not too far ahead, But go now with good hearts!”

But what does that mean in my case? Showing up to write this blog, I reach 400+ people who find some value in what I say. If I can help raise spirits, I’ve found one way to serve. We each have many, and to identify them and give them attention can be a revelatory experience. We each matter much more than we believe or feel most days. (What dark magic have we allowed to enspell us that we think so little of ourselves?)

Lastly, I swear fealty to what I know of the highest and best, trusting that any purgation I face, should I fall short of my own ideals — as I have and will again, no doubt — will necessarily restore me at length to the commitment and service I aspire to.

There, a triad for myself, and for any others who may find value in adapting it to their situation, experience and capacities.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*OSFA: “one size fits all” — a personal meme reminding me to suspect the single fix, the one answer, the sole acceptable response, the cloned ideal, the mono-culture, etc.

19 Ways to Celebrate Summer Solstice

1–Keep a night-long vigil the night before the longest day. The company of friends, a fire, some music or reading, help a lot.

2–Take a bath in fresh herbs, including St. John’s wort [NIH info on St. John’s Wort and depression], long associated with summer — to bring the energy and healing of the season to your body in a physical way,

3–Pour a libation to a flourishing tree in your yard/block/region. (Avoid painful irony: check that the offering you pour won’t injure the living thing you’re celebrating.)

IMG_1938

Irises edging our driveway a few days ago.

4–Plant a tree in an area where you can tend and care for it until it’s well-established.

5–Celebrate with others. Check your local papers, TV, etc. for places and times. Live in a Christian area that discourages Pagan events? Celebrate St. John’s Day with Orthodox or Catholic communities. Or gather with a few friends. The sharing is the main point.

6–Erect a sundial. Wikipedia offers a particularly helpful and thorough article on sundials.

7–Take advantage of solar power. If you’re not able to add solar panels or pre-hot-water heating to your dwelling, consider investing in a local solar co-op that offers rebates, off-sets, etc. to your electric bill.

8–Give thanks for those things in your life growing and flourishing, in their prime, at or nearing their peak, etc.

9–Plant a second crop of quick-maturing vegetables like lettuce, chard, spinach, etc. Pot herbs and vegetables can be surprisingly productive, if you don’t have garden space but you do have a sunny spot to set the pot in. We’re growing peppers in pots because our neighborhood woodchuck ate them last year (!!) — this year we can move them at need.

10–Take advantage of the sun to dry grass and shrub clippings/remove excess nitrogen, then add them to your compost pile (the link lists things good and not good to compost). Don’t have one? Start one! Right next to your current garden, within reach of your garden hose, etc., where it’s easy to tend. No garden space? Start a worm bin for household scraps.

11–Make a flower crown and wear it for a day. If it might feel just a little out of place (or out of character) for the office, wait till the weekend and wear it at home.

12–Write a note thanking someone you’ve fallen out of touch with, or just letting them know you’re thinking of them — “bring light and sun in”. I did this with my high-school French teacher and got a lovely note in return — in French, of course — that detailed her life since retirement and recalled details from our class I’d forgotten.

13–Celebrate shade, too. Sit under a leafy tree and enjoy the coolness and relief if the day’s too warm. Find a pillbug (link to my previous post on armadillidium vulgare) under a board or stone and consider and bless the small lives that help clean and re-balance the land cycles.

14–Follow a link online to the opposite hemisphere, which now is approaching the winter solstice, and see what’s happening there. Or jump six months forward, and watch and listen to the classic Aussie Christmas carol, Six White Boomers (kangaroos!) — Christmas in the middle of the Southern Summer.

15–Fast from something you don’t really need or want anyway. Social media. A particular food. Soda. A habit you can alter — like the route you drive to work every day, the leg you first put into your pants, the side of your body you dry first when you step out of the shower. Anything that helps us notice things we do without noticing can be a place to discover, uncover and recover awareness and energy. You decide (that’s the whole point.)

16–Check out musical offerings in your area and choose where and when to celebrate with family. Make it special, especially if like many you have a limited budget for entertainment. It’s hard to beat a live performance of a musician or group you enjoy. Invite someone who wouldn’t normally go — especially go alone. Here is a link for some of what’s happening this summer in my home state of Vermont.

17–At this time of maximum light and energy, commit to a small change you desire — or simply one you want to try out. As I’ve written elsewhere, one of my strategies with making changes is to make them so small and so easy you almost can’t not do them. Do it for a week and it’s likely to stick. Then try a month.

18–Finish a project — or take another look at one you’ve laid aside — to see whether in this time of energy you have new insight, a different approach, a rekindling of the fires that launched you in the first place to start it. Or clear it away to make room for something new.

19–Make a prayer/dream stick. Include found feathers, twigs from trees whose energy you want to include, a leather thong holding a piece of quartz found on a walk, a bone whistle to blow each time you pick it up — anything to personalize it and incline you toward handling it, renewing the intention, the focus, the request, or the goal you carried in its making.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Posted 11 June 2018 by adruidway in Druidry, earth spirituality, ritual, solstice

“In the Eye of the Sun”

[Updated 14:26 8 June 2018]

Þurh mægen steorran and stānes,
þurh mægen þæs landes innan and ūtan,
þurh eal þæt fæger biþ and frēo,
wē ēow welcumiaþ tō þissum,
ūrum gerȳne þæs sumerlīcan sunnstedes.

Sometimes you need to see the familiar with new eyes. Above are the common opening lines of OBOD ritual for celebrating the “Great Eight” annual festivals — in Old English.

The exercise isn’t meant to obscure the words or come across all mysterious — here they are in more familiar guise:

By the power of star and stone,
by the power of the Land within and without,
by all that is fair and free,
be welcome to this our ritual
of the Summer Solstice.

And as usual, words set me thinking and asking. (Join me in mind-mode.) What IS the “power of star and stone”? We say this, or at least hear it, eight times a year, every six weeks or so. Is it the same thing as the “power of the Land”? What is the “Land Within”? The Otherworld? My own imaginal experience of the outer Land? And what’s excluded from “all that is fair and free”? All that is “homely and bound”?

Dude, just enjoy the poetry of the lines! And I do.

But does it matter that in the fourth line the Old English reads “we welcome you” rather than “Be welcome”, because it sounds more natural that way? Is any part of ritual “natural”?!

(And the people all answered “No!” “Yes!”)

What do I do with the word “ritual” itself? The OE word (ge)blōt means “sacrifice” and has Asatru associations which belong more fittingly to Northern Heathenism with its offerings to Northern gods, and less to Druidry. The OE word I chose, geryne, is related to “rune” and is a plural meaning “mysteries”, but that’s not exactly right. (I mean, yes, there are mysteries, but the rite isn’t for “members only”. If it’s public — in “the eye of the sun” — you can come and stand in the circle with us, whoever you are, as long as you’re respectful, and participate in mystery as much as any of us. Do we have tools that can help matters? Of course. Otherwise, what’s a Druid? But the “first Druid” started where any visitor can start — in curiosity, gratitude, reverence and even — though the word’s out of fashion, now — awe. Not awe at our amazing Druidness. Awe at being here, alive, at all.)

And hālgung — “hallowing or consecration” — no, that’s not quite right either. The elements, the day, are already hallowed and sacred. That’s why we’re celebrating them. We consecrate or hallow our awareness — I’ll grant that much.

No exact translation. We get it. But it’s more than that.

By tradition, from the Druid Revival onward, most Druids hold major rites “in the eye of the sun” — in public, where guests are welcome. Join British Druids at Glastonbury, or any of hundreds of other spots around the world where the Summer Solstice gets celebrated Druid-style. It’s all there for anyone to hear.

True, you probably won’t attend one of the all-night vigils some Druids observe before the Solstice, so you’ll miss the great conversations that often happen around night-long fire-circles. (You can stay up through the shortest night of the year on your own, or with friends.) Many “9-to-5” working Druids need their sleep and can’t take part. But carry the kinds of questions I asked above with you into such spaces, and you may well receive insight. Probably indirectly. Even if you ask outright, someone may smile and change the subject. Those particular questions simply don’t interest them. How this batch of mead turned out, or what last year’s ritual foretold, or whether the gods really reward the effort to learn the languages of those who revered them in the old stories — those things, now, they deserve pondering and reflection.

IMG_1936

Above is the ley line stone I brought back from MAGUS ’18. It’s “cooled off” since the ritual, but it still hums in the hand. Power of star and stone indeed. For a small stone, it’s curiously heavy. I chose it because its hue recalls the ochres, rust-browns and other shadings of many stones in the great stone circle at Four Quarters Sanctuary which hosted our Beltane gathering. Take a look at the shot of the Circle below and you’ll see what I mean.

ancestor-altar-in-circle-w-flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

“In the Eye of the Sun there are no shadows”. Really? Sometimes stone wisdom arrives, all authoritative-like, and you find yourself wanting to accept it. It came, after all, gift-wrapped, unbidden, dropped on your inner doorstep, sitting there glistening with morning dew when you opened the inner door to your Grove. It sounds true. And so on.

Not everything stands forth in bright light. And more likely I remain, rather than blessed or cursed with certainty, perpetually astonished instead, my mouth open in an O of surprise, just like the stone head of the Ancestor on the altar above.

I didn’t get to the stone-carving workshop that weekend of MAGUS, so mine remains blank. I’ve thought of it since as a Daoist “uncarved block“.

There’s been a bit of banter on Facebook since, about how centuries from now, anthropologists and archeologists may uncover our stones etched with ogham and wonder who put them there. Mine will settle contentedly into the earth, causing no such inquiry. Its power may have no words except the ones I give it, but power remains, wordless, a thrum on the edge of hearing. It talks with no words to the other stones from the ritual.

Jesus was talking to the Pharisees; he said about his disciples, “If they keep silent, the stones will cry out”*.

The stones cry out anyway, to anyone listening.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*Luke 19:40.

Spoiler Alert: No Coincidences

Manhattanhenge2_rotated+sharpened

Manhattanhenge pic

The title for this post comes directly from a Druid friend’s recent Facebook post. “Spoiler Alert — there are no coincidences”, he writes. “Details later”. That’s a teaser for a whole lifetime.

[Manhattanhenge — and  full moon too!]

He’s right, of course. And wrong, in another sense. Everything is coincident — it happens together with at least one other thing, and usually along with whole bunches of things. How could we recognize any event if it didn’t come wrapped up in everything else? Consciousness depends on noticing differences and distinctions. That’s how our primate brains are wired. We catch things that stand out from other things. We scan the field or background looking for what’s most salient — and that becomes foreground. Food? Sex? Danger? Beyond those three, we can get down to the business of culture, civilization, a lovely meandering conversation with a friend, drinks in hand, on a balmy summer afternoon, discussing unintentional magics like Manhattanhenge.

In this sense, looking for signs is wasted effort. Everything’s a potential sign, because everything is coincident with something else. Events arrive together like a large litter of puppies or kittens (your preference), and we lift one up to our faces to cuddle it, feel its softness against our skin, smell that delicious newborn animal smell of fur and warmth and milk-fed baby-hood. For the moment, at least, that’s our sign, our focus, our access-point to now, the thing that fills most or all of our attention.

But soon enough there comes a moment when our attention, which has dis-membered the whole of the moment in order to grasp at one piece of it, subsides, turning to the next thing, while intuition, the subconscious, a whole host of perceptions and awarenesses linked to but not the same as conscious attention, have been having their own party and we — by which ego often means conscious self — can feel  we weren’t invited. The hint, the nudge, the ache, the sense of missing something, until we re-member some of the original whole and just maybe pick up on other elements we didn’t track and hone in on the first time round. But we often suspect this re-membering because it doesn’t originate with that first conscious attention, but pushes up from beneath like a touch of green where we didn’t plant anything. And we have to wait an interval to see whether it’s a weed or not. If like me you’ve been well brainwashed ahem trained! by many Western methods of education, your response is to uproot it at the first sign of its non-approved life.

What’s all this got to do with Druidry? The gifts or original blessing that Druidry takes up and acknowledges in its rituals and perspectives, this embodied existence, along with all the other access-points of awareness and connection, is one key to spiritual practice. We’re not here “for a reason” — reason’s not some kind of cause of things, which if we deciphered it would finally open all the doors. What launches us, and the Land, all its many inhabitants, the whole cosmos, comes before our thoughts about it. Thought is a stop-gap between us and immensity. We’re not here “for a reason” because reason is simply too small to contain more than the most minute fraction of that immensity. But we can treasure and acknowledge being here, and make the most of it — not in some consumerist way, or antagonistic self-against-the-world way, but in an amazed self-in-the-world-with-other-selves way. Of course, reasons may come out of existence, rather than the other way around. Funny, though — they’re no longer reasons as commonly understood, but purposes — oodles of purposes waiting for us to notice and choose and commit to them. No longer the often forlorn quest for a “because”, but so many quests for “in order to” available, sitting or standing, playing their guitars or sleeping, each of them dreaming and longing for some particular one of us, in their Quest Waiting Area. (Settle into even some modest silence and you can hear them breathing and whispering as they dream.)

Druid practice, ritual, harvesting St. John’s wort (it’s almost Solstice, after all!), the work with animal oracles, the curve of a bird’s wing, gardening, the whispers of the Ancestors, the nudges of an animal guide, the fascination of so many branches of learning as they touch on greater mystery the deeper they reach, the quest for wisdom — these are all ways to participate in the blessing, and many more besides.

As far as we can tell, that blessing is inexhaustible. Or if it isn’t, no one’s seen the edge of the cosmos yet. Like the old medieval maps, announcing the edge of the world beyond which yawns emptiness or dragons or an eternal drop into nothing, our little human reason doesn’t do well trying to dissect the cosmos and “figure it all out”. So we try instead to set it to work on things it’s actually good at. Load it with purpose and it takes off like a rocket.

Look at the numbers of people who really want a purpose, but feel they lack one, and the greater culture has no other answer than consume (and spend even more time online).

Time to get to true work, time — we discover with amazement — time to get to joy.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Image: Manhattanhenge (Wikipedia public domain).

QWERTY Spirituality

“The Solstice is coming! The Solstice is coming!”

Festivals such as the Solstice, like any enduring spiritual practice, offer times for ritual connection, because ritual is one way to touch the sacred, to sing the awen again.

The challenge, often, is for those who’ve either never experienced ritual and are put off by the thought, or for those who’ve grown allergic to it and are also put off by the thought. Ritual is QWERTY spirituality: a set of keys most of us have heard about and probably know in some way, and second nature for anyone who uses an English keyboard.

IMG_1885

first full rhododendron flower, front yard, 5 minutes ago

QWERTY keys aren’t the only set, or the “best”, or any other exclusive label we may try to put on them. But one of their great advantages is that they’re accessible. And practicing them long enough gives us the confidence to try out other combinations — other keys on the keyboard which we may not even have seen, before we gained familiarity with QWERTY. We make the path by walking.

Can I work with that funny word QWERTY and generate a useful though admittedly adhoc guide for ritual planning? Let’s see.

Questioning, wondering, expecting, readying, touching, and y — a dependent variable. We might call it manifestation, or coincidence, or fit. Sometimes it’s the path of least resistance.

Questioning: What’s the ritual for? (Do I need a ritual?) What’s the issue? Who else is involved, visible and invisible? When is the best time? Who can I ask for help? Who’s attending? How many people will take part? How can I maximize their involvement?  Where should the ritual take place? How simple could it be? What does divination suggest? What other signs should I consider? How can I acknowledge my guides?

Wondering: Where has my attention been recently? I wonder how my dreams and the coincidences of the past month play into this moment and the ritual I’m considering. What’s my vision of an ideal ritual here? I wonder how I can involve chance, serendipity, inspiration, the awen.

Expecting: I expect about X many people. I imagine good energies at play. I play through a possible ritual in daydream or guided meditation, I anticipate the materials I need, I collaborate with friends, I bless and ask for blessing of the undertaking.

Readying: I clean and purify the ritual space as needed, inwardly or outwardly, I rely on others to do their part, I drop unneeded attitudes and thoughts, I gather materials, I double-check, I do another divination as needed, I listen to guidance, I practice common sense, I rehearse with others.

Touching: earth under our feet, breath in our lungs, light in our eyes, blood in our veins. Gifts already granted. Sweet incense, woodsmoke, breeze, rich scent of flowers, buzz of insects, animal calls, hawk crying overhead at the moment the ritual shifts, a burst of wind, sun emerging from behind a cloud. Touch and be touched.

Y — the dependent variable: Sometimes we won’t perceive this till well after a ritual. Sometimes it arrives in the middle of doing it, unbidden, grace or spiritual presence. Sometimes one person is led to act or speak in a way that makes all the difference. Whatever the dependent variable is, I can’t control it. It’s the universe participating, it’s the magic of manifestation, or coincidence, or fit. Sometimes it’s the path of least resistance spirit takes, like water along a channel, or blood through the veins. Almost always it’s saying “yes” to possibility, change, inspiration, growth and transformation.

And the awen, I notice, asks for “we” from QWERTY. We can find it in community, in the middle of the ritual, in the common experience we all share.

/|\ /|\ /|\

 

Toasts, Boasts and Oaths

On Friday, Mystic River Grove, an OBOD group based in Massachusetts, celebrated a Summer Solstice ritual inspired by the Anglo-Saxon symbel or feast, and built around toasts, boasts and oaths. I couldn’t attend, but I want to reflect on these three components of celebration, apart from however Mystic River chose to celebrate beyond those three elements.

ASfeastWith a toast, boast and oath, you could certainly hold a fine solo rite. Toast your gods, land spirits, ancestors, teachers, living kin — whoever you’re called to honor. Then on to a boast, a celebration of excellence, a claim to honor for ourselves, for something we have achieved. Like gratitude, boasting’s a skill we neither teach or practice enough. My default boast is survival. I’m still here. But I can definitely claim more; this blog, my other writings, a good marriage, years of teaching young people, a circle of friends I admire and enjoy.

A solo rite still has witnesses: our own selves, hearing the words. Powers and beings of the world who attend because they were “in the neighborhood” so to speak, unless we explicitly ban them. And anyone we did invite to join us. But what’s the value of our community witnessing when we do these things? Why do these things publicly?

Toasts others make can remind us who we honor and who we might include next time. We learn of others’ gratitude. What I’m grateful for carries a story with it. It’s a window into a life, and speaking gratitude in a circle opens us to each other and our stories.

Boasts tell us something of the commitments and dedications of time and energy in others’ lives. If I’m proud of it, I’ve spent myself on it in some way, poured myself into it, and probably sacrificed in some way to accomplish it. Boasts also let us laugh — we can boast about silly things, or make fun of ourselves for how much even a small achievement may have cost us.

Oaths tell us what will matter in the coming days and months. What are others binding themselves to do? How does publicly announcing an intention, having others witness it, help energize us to accomplish it? An oath may include a spell of finding or binding, of opening the way, or shutting down obstacles, resistances, barriers, and so on. When I took part in Nanowrimo in past years, for instance, and wrote my 1600 words a day, announcing my progress online helped me keep going. You helped me persevere because you knew I’d set out to do it.

drinking horn

Depending on the size of the horn passed round the circle for each of the toasts, boasts and oaths, and the kind of drink you quaff each time, you may find your tongue loosened and the three acts easier to pull off!

Here the rhymer in me wants to add a fourth word, wrecking the lovely triad of toast, boast and oath, but creating in its place a new and balanced pair of rhymes: toast, boast, oath and growth. After all, a rite moves us to a new place and space, never the same as where we were before. As with yesterday and tomorrow, the difference from today may or may not seem like much, but just as the daylight lengthens and shortens each year, depending on which side of the solstice I’m on, so do the energies at play in my life. I can do things today not possible yesterday or tomorrow. And that’s worth a toast, a boast, an oath and the growth that comes with them.

Finally, if we’re going to be Anglo-Saxon about things, the Old English Maxims 1, lines 138-140, offer relevant insight here:

Ræd sceal mon secgan, rune writan, leoþ gesingan, lofes gearnian, dom areccan, dæges onettan.

Keeping to the spirit I feel lies behind these proverbial expressions, and unpacking their compactness and concision*, I take this to mean, roughly, “Let your speech be words of good counsel to others, write runes of wisdom, sing as epically as you can, deserve praise, test and expand your judgment, while holding nothing back each day”.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*With even a little Old English, you can explore meanings and fashion your own translation with the help of the online Bosworth-Tollers Anglo-Saxon Dictionary here.

rǣd: advice, counsel, prudence, deliberation
sceal, 3rd singular of sculan: shall, ought, be obliged, must
mon, Wessex dialect form of man: person, human, mortal, man
secgan: say, speak, express
rune, plural of rūn: whisper (speech not intended to be overheard, confidence, counsel, consultation), mystery, secret, rune
wrītan: write, cut, draw, form letters (on wood, stone, parchment, etc.)
lēoþ: song, poem, ode, lay, verses
gesingan: sing
lofes, genitive of lof: praise, glory, hymn
gearnian: earn, merit
dōm: doom, judgment, judicial sentence, decree, ordinance, law
areccan: to put forth, relate, recount, speak out, express, explain, interpret, translate
dæges, genitive of dæg: day, daytime
onettan: hasten, anticipate, be active or diligent

Midsummer and Vervain

I’m going all lore-y in this post, so if plants and herbal history aren’t really your thing, move along.

Vervain (Verbena spp) — “leafy branch” — known among herbalists since at least the time of dynastic Egypt, has associations with midsummer, most obviously because in the British climate where we get much of herbal lore in the English-speaking West, that’s approximately when it flowers. The 11th-century Old English Herbarium (Ann Van Arsdall, Routledge, 2010) describes gathering vervain, using the Latin name uermenaca, at Midsummer. (Any left over from the previous year was to be tossed into the Midsummer bonfire.) Fans of The Vampire Diaries know it for its colorful flowers and anti-vampiric powers. The TV series showed the variety Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata), an American species, and dramatized the herb’s toxicity to vamps and its ability to protect a mortal from compulsion by vampires. Who says pop television has no wisdom to offer?!

The range of vervain’s nicknames also indicates something of how firmly fixed it is in herbal history: enchanter’s plant, holy herb, herb of the cross, herb of Saint Anne (yerba del Santa Ana), Juno’s tears, pigeon’s grass, pigeonweed, turkeygrass, herb of grace, etc.

bluevervain-700x525

Blue (or Swamp) Vervain (Verbena hastata)

I’ve been on an intermittent local quest to spot some growing wild. Many North American varieties of the plant are originally native to Europe and were brought by early colonists. In the sometimes quaint and often rewarding language of herbals and herbalists, vervain “has enough garden presence of a rustic kind to justify its inclusion, being in no way boorish or uncivil, and it is easy to start from seed and easy to grow” (Henry Beston*, Herbs and the Earth, David Godine, 2014).

Vervain varieties (over 250!) have been prized for numerous benefits, depending on dose and preparation, along with a few qualifications of sensitivity and toxicity at higher levels. It has tonic, diuretic, and anti-parasitic properties, and can stimulate both dopamine and serotonin, meaning it lifts you up and also slows you down. Leaves, roots and flowers, again depending on variety (harvest early in the season to avoid strong, even rank flavor!), make a soothing tea.

In herblore, vervain sprang, according to one story, from the tears of the goddess Isis as she wept at the death of Osiris. Greeks and Romans both used it as a sacred herb, sweeping it across their altars.  In Christian Europe the story runs that vervain was used to slow the flow of blood from Christ’s wounds (though logically this would merely have prolonged his agony), and so thereby the plant gained another of its nicknames — herb-on-the-cross.

Western medicine officially disdains to acknowledge much value to the plant. One site (drugs.com, sourced from Harvard Health Topics), notes “There is no clinical evidence to support specific dose recommendations for vervain. Traditional use for its astringent properties required 2 to 4 g daily in an infusion … Research reveals little or no information regarding adverse reactions with the use of this product” but adds that for pregnant and nursing women, “Documented adverse reactions. Avoid use”.

Nonetheless, many sites include recipes for nursing mothers, such as this one:

Combine 1 quart of water with 1 teaspoon of vitex berries, 1 teaspoon blessed thistle leaves, 1/2 teaspoon vervain leaves, 1/2 teaspoon nettle leaves, 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, and 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds; steep for 20 minutes; drink 1 to 3 cups a day.

I’m leaving out the source, perhaps to protect the guilty. But anyone who’s benefitted from herbal remedies, as I have, especially if nothing else has worked, can readily attest to their value from personal experience, in the face of official disdain and ignorance.

With all this history and attention, it’s little surprise that among the plants set forth for study in OBOD’s Ovate grade work, vervain occupies pride of place.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Sources (besides personal experience): OrganicfactsDrugs.com; Mother Earth Living.

*Henry Beston (1888-1968) wrote, “Nature is part of our humanity, and without some awareness of that divine mystery man ceases to be man”.

%d bloggers like this: