Archive for the ‘spiritual practice’ Category

Imbolc in the Belly   Leave a comment

I don’t know about you, but I often have a gut feeling about the seasons. Two weeks out, as you keep reading me write here. Around two weeks before one of the “Great Eight” festivals looms on the earth’s calendar, the coming celebration begins to kindle little fires in my peripheral vision. Imbolc, Imbolc. We notice things, it seems to us, simply because they’re notice-able, but our noticing makes them also makes them more pronounced, more prominent, more accessible to our awareness.

It’s a common enough experience: get a new car, a new dog, a new god, and suddenly you notice them all around you. This should (re)alert us to our realities. We’re seekers of saliency — biologists and psychologists try to keep this fact (a whole level of irony in that) in our awareness. “I’m going to pay attention to whatever stands out for me in my world, because that’s obviously what matters”. Yes — but hard and fast on the tails of that comes a potent corollary: what do I want to discover? What do I choose to empower with my attention? And what am I pushing away and refusing and denying, because it doesn’t fit — because it may well bring (the horror of it!) change. Answering such questions is enough to keep a Druid up nights.

I’ve learned to tell when things are stirring because I start to get snarky.

“But I don’t believe in _____ “. Doesn’t matter. Or at least it doesn’t matter that much right now. Invite some direct personal experience into your life, and what you believe may take a holiday, or hibernate, or explode. Or stay exactly the same. You said you were looking for some excitement, right? Time to spin the Belief Roulette wheel. Why not? We do it with absolutely every other part of our lives. Why should our beliefs be exempt? After all, they’re often the least reliable part of us. When I’m kissing an attractive Other, their lips matter a lot more than their beliefs. Kiss a god three times and watch your beliefs do a backflip.

Google the word Imbolc for its origins and you’ll get a range of learned and folk opinion. The possible meanings can each lead to fruitful meditation and ritual. Old Irish i mbolc, modern Irish i mbolg, “in the belly” — the soon-to-be-born lambs of the season. Oimelc, an alternative name dating from the 10th century, meaning “ewe’s milk”. Old Irish imb-fholc, “to wash or cleanse oneself”, consistent with this festival of purification. English Candlemas, St. Brighid’s Day. A holiday dating “from the Neolithic period”, Wikipedia tells us, with overlays and cultural additions over time, making for a splendid richness and depth.

Go outdoors, after or before you’ve Googled, or instead, and if you’re in the Northeastern U.S. you probably see new snowfall.

Back yard, 10:16 am this morning.

I can learn at least as much Druidry exploring the transformed landscape as I can pondering the possible origins of the word Imbolc. If you live in a different climate, the same holds true. Maybe not today, but yesterday, or tomorrow.

A lovely example of our Druidry at work and play, from an online post: Want to celebrate this snowy landscape, invite something of what’s happening to earth, trees, and sky into our homes? Bring in some snow, melt it, and water the houseplants and pot-herbs with it, a winter’s blessing. Make tea or coffee with it. Save some to asperge the house with on Imbolc, or ceremonially deploy it during your Zoom ritual.

Your song and my song of Imbolc may be different, winter-song, desert song, sea-shore song, tropical song. What matters is that we listen and hear them and sing them, aloud or silently.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Greetings to Peru, newest visitor according to both the Flag Counter and WordPress analytics. Imbolc and Lunasa, Lugh and Brighid, linking the holidays as our planet is linked …

Midwintering   Leave a comment

A recent post in a Druid forum asked about connecting with the natural world in winter, especially in regions where cold and snow make the outdoors less inviting unless you plan to stay active and warm hiking or skiing and so on.

Especially in cooler climates, winter draws us inward. That nudge to hibernate, to drowse and sleep and inhabit an in-between is a valid one, one we can honor and welcome, rather than resist, or apologize for, or feel somehow shamed by.

That inward focus can lead to celebrations and insights into nature through drawing, writing, music, crafting, etc. — arts that spring from our own inwardness, a whole world we often step past in the more outward-facing months of summer.

Even water drowses, moves slower, curves back on itself, dreaming of a thaw …

Planning a garden, celebrating each midday point in these short winter days, watching the dawns or sunsets, etc. can all be conscious acts of dedication and participation during winter. And incubating dreams, keeping a dream journal, working on projects or issues or questions through dreaming, including daydreaming and drowsing, can all be richly productive. Objects I’ve collected in better weather now matter more. They’re important to touch and handle frequently: stones, feathers, shells, bones, pieces of wood, etc. Contours and textures of our worlds.

And this physical touch and connection, especially now when we hunger for it during covid, can include pets, who mediate wonderfully for us with the natural world. So we talk with them, cuddle them, spend even a little time outdoors with them and watch them play in the snow, and perhaps rekindle the wonder of winter, even if we don’t choose to ski or snowshoe or hike or sled, toboggan or romp.

The natural turn towards inwardness accords with the dark and bright halves of the year. The “yang-ness” of much of Western culture prods us to give some account for ourselves, to justify our hours and days with productivity, with gains and forward movement and progress. If we’re to e-volve, we have to “turn outward”, the word itself tells us. But that’s just half of it.

Part of the natural rhythm that Druidry can help us re-establish is a more sane balance between outer and inner activity. Anyone who thinks trees and animals aren’t “active differently” in winter can apprentice themselves to the natural world to find out just what’s going on. This can be another winter activity — reading, study, inquiry, research, pondering, finding out for ourselves, as well as walking outside to smell the chill air, marvel at winter sunlight, catch all the hues of gray and white, light and dark, shade and sun.

These queries and thoughts are fitting for the new moon that’s upon us. We’re just emerging from the Dark of the Moon after all, into a New Moon. Lunar questions, lunar contemplations. The tree for the month, following the 2021 Lunar Calendar (www.thelunapress.com) is Luis, the Rowan or Mountain Ash. As I look on the Rowan in our front yard, I try to honor its lesson, follow its lead.

Rowan, as an image of winter’s inwardness, you do well. Hard even to make out completely, set as you are against a background of other trees. Barren, and with the camera’s foreshortening, looking like you sit directly under electrical lines.

Often it seems trees wait because they “can’t do anything else”. So it can be revealing to do a tree meditation, to listen to what is going on with a particular tree. Rowan isn’t worrying about winter, or considering the starkness of its branches against other trees, or the sky. Its sugars and life-sap have retreated from where its leaves were, but it’s no less alive for all that. I hold the Rowan twig I picked up a few years ago from a dead branch on the ground. I’ve used a woodburner to mark the Rowan ogham ᚂ on the stave, another step. On such seemingly small actions we can build steps and paths to further insight and connection.

Whether or not I “finish” a set of ogham staves, I have these gifts from several neighboring trees to hold and connect with and listen through. Rowan’s magic, magic of hemlock, oak magic …

One great gift of the Others like trees and animals (as well as people) who share our worlds is that they help draw us out of ourselves, when necessary. Caitlin Matthews’ wise book, Celtic Devotional, offers this short meditation for the Thursdays of winter: “I give thanks for the wise qualities of the evergreen trees that have stood by me this day: may you show me how my own heart can be evergreen and growing through winter’s doubt and darkness”.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Matthews, Caitlin. Celtic Devotional. Fair Winds Press, 2004.

A Druidry FAQ   Leave a comment

This is a post that will become a page on this site, because the topics it addresses raise perennial questions. Its direct inspiration comes from discussions on Druid social media sites, and from your search terms here at A Druid Way.

/|\ /|\ /|\

If you bear in mind the popular saying “Ask three Druids and you’ll get ten answers”, you should be in good shape. This short FAQ arises out of one person’s experience, study and reflection. As with most things, a second – and third – opinion will be very useful and give you a broader and more informed perspective.

What is Druidry?

Druid author J. M. Greer gives an answer that’s held up well over time: Druidry “means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth … It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit”. While beliefs matter, more important is what Druids do each day. An openness to experiences and encounters in nature forms part of the Druid perspective.

Do Druids believe ____ ?

Some probably do. Many may not. No single creed or statement of faith unites all Druids, because Druidry is an individual spiritual practice or way of life rather than a set of beliefs. In this way, it’s like asking “What do carpenters believe?” This sets it apart from many Western monotheistic faiths, and also makes it possible to be a Christian and a Druid, an agnostic and a Druid, etc.

However, it’s possible to talk about what Druids believe using general statements with “most” and “many”. Here’s a Triad that probably characterizes a large number of Druids:

Most Druids are united by a love and respect for nature, and show an attentive attitude towards its rhythms and cycles that they may express in seasonal observances like the solstices and equinoxes. Secondly, many Druids also perceive a spiritual dimension to life, though that may or may not mean belief in a god or gods. Third, many Druids also express their perspectives and experiences creatively, through craft or art, carrying on in modern forms the traditions of the ancient Bards.

Do you have to have Celtic ancestry to be a Druid?

No. The ancient Celts were a culture, or set of related cultures and languages, rather than a single genetic bloodline. Given that the Celtic peoples apparently ranged across much of Europe, from Ireland and Portugal to Germany and Italy, and possibly further east, settling and intermarrying with other peoples, this shouldn’t be too surprising. It’s true there are a few and mostly small Druid groups who require their members to demonstrate a specific ancestry — often Irish or Scottish. But our ability to love and respect and live lightly on the earth certainly doesn’t need or benefit from genetic gate-keeping. Anyone anywhere on the planet can practice Druidry starting right now.

Where do the teachings of modern Druidry come from?

A range of sources. Many traditional stories in surviving Celtic literature like the Welsh Mabinogion point to Druid practices and understandings. In several cases, they also provide teaching stories and initiatory insights which several Druid groups use in their training. While a few individuals and groups claim to preserve ancient or hereditary Druid practices and beliefs, in most cases these are the common folk wisdom of most pre-modern cultures around the world: a knowledge of herbs and natural cycles, animal and plant and star-lore. More important than how old they may be is the question: “Do they work today?”

The Renaissance recovery of Classical sources, the influences of Neo-Platonism, Arabic learning in astronomy and medicine, mathematics and alchemy and astrological lore, and the British Druid Revival beginning in the 1600s, all play their part in helping to deepen Druidry. Practices of meditation and visualization also derive from a variety of sources. Most Druid teachings emphasize learning from our own locale. The trees, plants, animals and landscape, previous inhabitants and climate all have many things to teach.

How do I become a Druid?

For anyone alive today, the path to Druidry has been made smoother and broader by books and the internet. Many Druids are great readers. Books can give you a sense of the range and depth of Druid practice, and inspire you to adapt relevant portions of it to your own life and circumstances. (See Books and Links.) The internet can connect you to active and established Druid groups, who offer events and resources for members and non-members alike. But while these sources can be helpful and inspirational, a walk around one’s home area is an excellent prime starting point. What can I learn about — and from — the trees and animals and plants in my region? Who lived here before me, and what did they know? What local geographical features like mountains or lakes or the ocean influence the weather? How do I “fit” where I live?

Can I be a Druid without joining a Druid organization?

Absolutely. Even those Druids affiliated with an organization are often “solitary” Druids for 350 days out of each year. Curiosity, a willingness to learn and study what interests you, and reverence for the earth are the marks of a Druid, not membership in any group. (See my post Druiding without An Order.)

What do we know about ancient Druids?

Direct evidence is comparatively modest. We have archaeological discoveries and the accounts of Classical authors contemporary with ancient Druids. We can make intelligent guesses from some of these sources, but much remains unknown. The single best book on the subject is Prof. Ronald Hutton’s Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain.

How can anyone claim to be a Druid today, if we know so little about the ancient Druids or their practices?

Philip Carr-Gomm, former Chief of OBOD, the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, addresses this directly:

“Contemporary Druidry draws on a heritage of thousands of years, and yet many of its ideas and practices have only been formed over the last few hundred years. Unlike most of the established religions, which are based on doctrine formulated in the distant past, Druidry is developing its philosophy and practices in response to the spirit of the times. It is being shaped now rather than being preserved or simply passed on, and paradoxically, although it is inspired and informed by an ancient heritage, it is surprisingly free of the weight of the past. This leaves modern Druidry open to the criticism that it has been invented; but it also makes it a thoroughly contemporary spirituality that speaks directly to the needs of today” (What Do Druids Believe?, pgs. 2-3).

I love Druidry but I don’t like ____ . Can I still be a Druid?

If you already know you love Druidry, nothing more needs to be said. You’re in excellent company — the wider “Druid world” require very few things from a Druid except that love and respect for nature.

(For some people, magic or ritual are words they might put in the blank above. Stick with Druidry and you may well find out more of what they’re all about. But again, absolutely neither is any kind of requirement.)

We can apply/adapt the words of Jesus here (as in many cases): “People aren’t made for Druidry; Druidry is made for people”. Go with what truly works for you, and you’re walking a path with heart.

Are there initiations in Druidry?

Because you can be a Druid by yourself, no initiations are necessary. With that said, some Druid groups offer study materials that include self-initiations — opportunities to deepen and hallow your experiences and understanding. And some groups make initiations a prerequisite for advancing within the group.

Life presents us with a few initiations of its own that all of us experience. Practice Druidry over time, and you’ll pass through the initiations of death, sickness, loss, change, love and birth. Your Druidry can help you navigate those experiences with greater understanding, resilience, growth, and compassion for others.

I like what I’ve read about Druidry, but I don’t believe in _____ .

If you love and respect the natural world, you’re ready to practice Druidry. If you’ve read the other parts of this FAQ, you know you don’t need to believe to be a Druid — you need to practice. Many of your beliefs will come from those experiences. More encounters and reflection may help you get a clearer picture of Druidry and what it means for you. Books, experiences with groups, study, and time spent in nature can all help you clarify your next steps.

Which Druid order has the best ____ ?

The inside word on that is ___ .

What about people who say Druidry is ____ ?

You may have noticed that we live in an era where almost everything now has both ardent fans and unrelenting critics. The best way to respond (or ignore) is to practice Druidry yourself over at least a few years — then you’ll know what it is for you. The second best way is to attend some Druid events with practicing Druids, observe thoughtfully, and ask questions. The third best way is reading widely. As Druid leader, Her Majesty’s coroner (anatomical pathologist), actor, author, drag queen and popular speaker Kristoffer Hughes likes to say, “What other people think of you is none of your business” (unless you’re planning on running for office).

If you’d like an objective tool to assess any group, you’ll find Isaac Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame most helpful.

Can I be your student? / Will you teach me?

This blog offers more than enough enough material for you to pick up the practice of Druidry, and to locate diverse sources to answer your questions better than I can, and to guide a beginning practice. Ultimately, your best teacher is the Land you live on.

/|\ /|\ /|\

For the book titles cited, see the page Books & Links on Druidry. For the names of people, see the page Voices of Modern Druidry.

Nine Ways to Ground & Center   Leave a comment

Cycles and circles invite us to return to the beginning, to the starting point, to our foundations, to the spring and font and source of what we know and do and perceive.

Grounding and centering may receive attention in your individual practice or in a group, or a ritual or ceremony may touch on it only briefly, if at all. Nevertheless, the practice remains a core tool in our spiritual toolkit, never replaced, because in so many ways it represents the heart of everything we do. We wish to connect, to re-link, to “return to our factory settings”, to recharge, to balance and harmonize and attune. The science is increasingly clear — such practices have wide-ranging value.

clearing a path to the light, to the road, to a way

Our languages often contain faint echoes of such things: “Pull yourself together. Get a grip. I really lost it” — but generally don’t offer clues on how to do the pulling, the gripping, the re-finding of what I lost.

Below are nine ways to begin to do this, to open the doors, invite the presence of spirit, and dedicate ourselves to expressing its wisdom and insight in our lives, for everyone’s benefit. Nine’s a happy number — there are many more.

Some of our greatest service to others arises when we take care of ourselves.

ONE — with sound

Many traditions have holy names, sacred words, bells, chimes, gongs, etc., that envelop the practitioner in sound. Because of the definite effects of these practices, stories and legends have often grown up around them attributing magical properties to them. Direct experimentation is usually the best guide — go with what works for you, while being open to avenues for change as needed.

Asking for a word or sound can also help. Your willingness to make the request can itself open doors that help you notice what comes to you. You may find your attention focused on a word or sound or name in your reading or your conversation during the day, or you receive a nudge to find (or make) a bell, chime, rattle, etc. The act of making can itself induce positive effects — you’re following guidance you received inwardly, which clears the path for more.

TWO — with a ritual gesture

Many people find ritual gestures help them ground and center. The act of lighting a candle or incense, casting runes, opening a holy text to a random page for its guidance, standing before an altar, crossing yourself, bowing, or performing a more elaborate series of gestures — ceremonials favored among magical groups like the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram — all rely on the power of conscious, intentional action to bring about focus and clarity.

THREE — with attention on a focus point

Devotional attention placed on a sacred image or holy photograph is a long-favored technique. A personal contemplative practice may involve icons, statues, tarot cards, or other divination images or systems. Bringing the attention to a focus-point concentrates its energy. Many people report the sensation of being watched or stared at — we’re often sensitive to such things. Focused attention by another person generates enough energy that we feel it.

Through such practices we may also begin to discover how unfocused we often are. Such techniques increase our capacity to focus and ignore distractions. With so many faces and names on social media and in the news and in advertisements striving to grab and hold our attention to their advantage (and not necessarily ours), it can be a profound practice by itself to reclaim our attention and put it to uses that we choose, not someone else. Achieving and sustaining personal sovereignty can be a lifelong practice.

FOUR — with a prayer, chant, verbal formula, etc.

The advantage of a chant or prayer, especially one that we know by heart, is that it can help quickly generate the atmosphere and energies and focus we desire. (One downside of long practice, of course, can be eventual over-familiarity, which we can always work around with our creativity. Another practice!)

Group practices like communal prayer or chant can bring many people together quite rapidly. Similar effects come with prayers in other traditions. If you were raised in a different tradition from the one you now practice, you probably still recall some of its most common recitations, creeds, prayers, etc.

Many are interested in composing their own chants, prayers and recitations. The act of doing this can itself be a form of devotion, a practice of prayer and listening, and of grounding and centering. (If you’re beginning to realize that much if not everything we do is an opportunity for grounding and centering …)

FIVE — with a visualization

Many people believe that if they can’t see inwardly with as much clarity as their physical sight provides that they’re somehow “bad at visualization”. We forget that visualization is larger than the eyes. It’s the engagement of the whole imagination — and all of us imagine. For some it may arrive as a feeling, a tickle along the spine, something sensed with hearing, or inward presence, or sensed in a wide range of other ways. When we daydream, often we’re aware of being in a different space and place. The experience draws us in, and eventually we “come back”. From where?! Daydreaming can be one way to play with visualization, relaxing all our senses, so that we don’t censor them before they can take us to “lands away”.

SIX — with an associated physical sensation

By my bed I keep a Druid stone, one that I found on a local walk, that has featured in rituals, and that has consequently come to be a symbolic and ceremonial object for me. I can easily pick it up, feel its rough edges, sense the coolness of the granite, recall its presence at previous events, and add to its value and significance. Its flat bottom, as if it broke off from a quarry where stone-cutters worked, its density and weight and color all add to its sensory impact. Contact with it evokes previous contact. For me it is a touchstone, a measure of my days.

It’s among our more interesting human habits to collect such keepsakes and objects that call to us, and physical contact with them can help us ground and center.

SEVEN — with a direct prompt

Sometimes a direct prompt to “ground and center” can remind me to do just that. A simple printout with those three words “ground and center” posted in a prominent place, a screen saver on my computer, an automated, regular email I send to myself, a timer on my phone that helps me collect myself perhaps 3 or 4 times a day — all these can help me ground and center. If an object works and can do this, the prompt can simply be the presence of the object someplace I will notice it.

A friend of mine chooses a certain day to be an activation day. She’s on the road a lot for work, and every time she sees a road sign, she practices grounding and centering. It’s a kind of mental fasting from things we don’t need, things that can distract us. And the road signs themselves often try to do this, to rouse us from “road dreaming”, from the hypnotic state we can often enter behind the wheel: “Caution” — “Children at Play” — “Slow — “Work Zone” — “School” — “Pedestrian Crossing” — all of these are calls for our attention meant to benefit everyone. Using them as reminders to ground and center takes advantage of daily props as prompts to spiritual practice.

EIGHT — with the help of others

We can engage the companions of our days as aids in helping us. Partners, pets, guides, signs and omens, etc. can all serve as reminders. If I go to work, my return and the greeting of partner, pet, etc. can become a practice. Ground and center at the moment of our re-connection. Cats and dogs help us make it physical. Touching warm fur, feeling a nose or a tail against our skin, hearing a purr or a happy bark can all become reminders of how grounded and centered our pets are, and how they invite us to become as earthed as they are.

NINE — with food and drink

Many people have discovered the effect of food and drink on our attention and energies. A good meal can center us, make us grateful, and earth any random energies after ritual or practice. Yes, we wisely attend to the advice to avoid eating before and after ritual for this very reason. But again, our discretion and individual circumstances and experience can be our guides. Food helps close the psychic centers, especially when they’ve become over-active, or if we’re out of balance. The traditional heavy meat-centered meals of the holidays famously leave us sleepy afterwards — all the more if we normally go light on animal proteins most days, or avoid them altogether. After we receive an emotional shock or blow, food and drink can help calm us and aid us in dealing with the situation.

Ritual food, taken after a rite or ceremony or prayer, can have the same effect. Often a ceremonial or traditional meal accompanies rituals and religious practices in many traditions. Even if we’ve left behind such family traditions, almost everyone celebrates a birthday with food. We have many such openings in our daily lives to develop and extend a practice.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Cycles Ending, Cycles Beginning   Leave a comment

Here at year’s end, I’m finally getting around to reading the next-to-most-recent Mt. Haemus paper, RoMa Johnson’s “The Well and the Chapel: Confluence”. This ongoing series, sponsored by OBOD, has produced substantial papers on a range of topics since 2000, and last year’s 21st paper is of particular interest to me. Readers here know of my investigation of some of the intersections of Druidry and Christianity. In her paper, Johnson looks at five specific aspects of her topic: “Worldviews—Immanence and Imminence; Justice—Sin, Responsibility and Restoration; The Three—The Sacred Feminine and the Trinity; Immrama—The Soul’s Journey and Inspiration; and Confluence”.

Johnson also quotes Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton: “If I were more fully attentive to the word of God I would be much less troubled and disturbed by events of our time: not that I would be indifferent or passive, but I could gain strength of union with the deepest currents of history, the sacred currents, which run opposite to those on the surface a great deal of the time!”

Let me do a Druid transform of this with a few but significant tweaks, and make for myself a spiritual affirmation and guide: “When I am fully attentive to Spirit stirring throughout the worlds, I am less troubled and disturbed by events of our time: not that I am indifferent or passive, but I gain strength of union with the deepest currents of history, the sacred currents, which run opposite to those on the surface a great deal of the time”.

Often you can find this kind of spiritual wealth hidden just below the surface, as Merton’s words suggest, with a little meditation and creativity. At least, that’s one of my practices.

/|\ /|\ /|\

wood-snow, snow-wood …

A listing of the titles with links to transcripts of each lecture in the Mt. Haemus series provides a rich and broad source of contemplation and meditation seeds, as well as directions for study and practice. You can preview each paper, read it online, or download it for free from the OBOD site at the link above at the start of the paragraph.

More ambitious, and looking for study material for 2021? Or not a member of any Order, but looking for substance, as opposed to the ubiquitous fluff all over the Web? These 22 papers will give you a full year’s curriculum and then some, if you give yourself time to absorb them, follow up on bibliographical links, and explore their significance and implications in your own life and circumstances. The bios of the varied authors are also fascinating by themselves!

1: The Origins of Modern Druidry — Ronald Hutton
2: Druidry – Exported Possibilities and Manifestations — Gordon Cooper
3: Phallic Religion in the Druid Revival — J M Greer
4: Question, Answer and the Transmission of Wisdom in Celtic and Druidic Tradition — John and Caitlin Matthews
5: Universal Majesty, Verity and Love Infinite – A Life of George Watson Macgregor Reid — Dr. Adam Stout
6: Working with Animals — Prof Roland Rotheram
7: ‘I Would Know My Shadow and My Light’ – An exploration of Michael Tippett’s ‘The Midsummer Marriage’ and its relevance to a study of Druidism — Philip Carr-Gomm
8: Entering Faerie – Elves, Ancestors & Imagination — Dr. James Maertens
9: How Beautiful Are They – Some thoughts on Ethics in Celtic and European Mythology — Dr. Brendan Myers
10: What is a Bard? — Dr. Andy Letcher
11: Druidry & Transpersonal History — Dr. Thomas C Daffern
12: From solstice to equinox and back again – The influence of the midpoint on human health and the use of plants to modify such effects — Julian Barker
13: Magical Transformation in the Book of Taliesin and the Spoils of Annwn — Kristoffer Hughes
14: Music and the Celtic Otherworld — Dr. Karen Ralls
15: ‘Almost unmentionable in polite society’? Druidry and Archaeologists in the Later Twentieth Century — Dr. Julia Farley
16: Gathering Mistletoe – an approach to the Work of E. Graham Howe — Ian Rees
17: Tree Lore is Wisdom — Mike Darton
18: Lecture The Elementary Forms of Druidic Life – Towards a Moral Ecology of Land, Sea, and Sky — Jonathan Woolley
19: Channeling the Awen Within: An Exploratory Study of the Bardic Arts in the Modern Druid Tradition — Dr. Dana Driscoll
20: What Druidry does – a perspective on the spiritual dynamics of the OBOD course — Dr. Susan Jones
21: The Well and the Chapel: Confluence — RoMa Johnson, MDiv.
22: The Feminist Druid: Making Way for New Stories/New Work — Dr. Michelle LaFrance

/|\ /|\ /|\

Nine Days of Solstice 9 — Monday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

Blessings of the Solstice to you! From the South to the North, from the East to the West.

Five of us from Vermont’s seed group, Well of Segais, gathered for a Solstice Zoom last night. For all their quirks and e-glitches, such technologies have helped so many connect over these past months, when the need has been great. The size of a Zoom gathering, as many have discovered, seems to reach optimum around a dozen or fewer. Beyond that, unless the group has evolved good strategies for careful listening and turn taking (or had them imposed by organizers), participants can end up talking over each other. A ritual helps enjoin a more meditative pace, good for helping members sink into reflection and attention. Without a physical ritual circle, more of the work is open for doing inwardly.

During the ritual meditation, I saw each of us five braiding ribbons of light that encircled us. It’s rare that events like this bring vision with them for me — often the experience is more subtle. Beyond any accompanying intuition and emotional response at the time — useful in themselves as part of the “barometer” of an experience — the value of it lies in what I do with it. I’ve recorded it, and it will serve as a subject for contemplation. Recalling it, as I’m doing now, evokes gratitude. In the future, it’s useful confirmation, one more link in a sequence of experiences and encounters, insights and hunches, that make up the trajectory of my life. In a few months I may have forgotten it, until I re-read it: “Sunday, 20 December 2020. Alban Arthan/Yule/Solstice ritual with Well of Segais …” Though forgetting is now less likely, because I’ve grounded it by writing about it, reflecting on it.

As a visualization, it reminds me of my links to everyone else, and how we can all choose to tend such connections with care and love, or otherwise. A blessing on the power of human choice! In the middle of the next challenge I will face, it goes to form part of my toolkit. “Braid now for light, braid for love …” If any of this post resonates with you, it comes to form part of your toolkit as well. And so each gift we receive can ripple outward.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Each of the “Great Eight” seasonal festivals bears its attendant blessings. They’re not all the same, in part because we’re not the same, when we arrive at the time and place of them. Thank you for walking with me thus far, whether you’re new to this blog, or a long-time reader.

If there’s a ritual for the closing of this sequence of nine posts for Solstice, part of it surely comes in the form of the Scottish blessing that opens my “About” page on this site, which I’ll end with here. If you will, say the words aloud with me:

May the blessing of light be on you — light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you like a great peat fire,
so that stranger and friend may come and warm themselves at it.

And may light shine out of the two eyes of you,
like a candle set in the window of a house,
bidding the wanderer come in out of the storm.

And may the blessing of the rain be on you,
may it beat upon your Spirit and wash it fair and clean, and leave
there a shining pool where the blue of Heaven shines,
and sometimes a star.

And may the blessing of the earth be on you,
soft under your feet as you pass along the roads,
soft under you as you lie out on it, tired at the end of day;
and may it rest easy over you when, at last, you lie out under it.

May it rest so lightly over you that your spirit may be out
from under it quickly; up and off and on its way.
And now may the Spirit bless you, and bless you kindly.

/|\ /|\ /|\

The next post will be the Top 10 A Druid Way Posts for 2020.

Nine Days of Solstice 8 — Sunday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

“I could be bounded in a nutshell”, exclaims Hamlet in Act II, “and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams”. All right, Hamlet: Dream better.

That’s often the kind of advice we receive. On the face of it, it’s sound, solid. But utterly useless. “If I knew how“, many find themselves thinking, “don’t you think I would?”

Maybe that’s one reason the “how” has interested me for so long. How did you get where you are? How do you go where you want to go? How do you even find out there’s a “where” worth going to? And sometimes: What can I do right now, starting today, that will make any difference at all?

As even part-time readers of this blog know (and are probably weary of hearing me say), a practice is essential for all of these things. Most likely, you’re already doing a version of it and can build on it. It certainly needn’t look like somebody else’s practice. If you do something for love, you’re already half-way there. Nobody starts from scratch. Once you have that kindling, that’s where the Secret Fire lies. As my teacher likes to say, then you start with one small thing, and do it with all the love and attention you can. It may be tying your shoes. Sometimes starting that small is just right. Build from that single step, on your way to your kingdom. Our power lies in how far we can extend that kind of dedication and devotion over time. As it opens, you get caught by the vision, by the good dream, and you’re on your way.

A practice, it needs to be said, isn’t all easy going. Sometimes you run across barren patches. In a 2012 post I wrote:

On first sight (or much later, depending on the particular script we’re following), the world can be a forbidding place. We all go through emotional and psychological winters at times. Nothing seems to provide warmth or comfort, so we hunker down and endure. And we can get so good at this kind of half-life that we mistake merely surviving for full-hearted thriving. Well-meaning friends or family who try to console us with various messages of hope or endurance (“This too shall pass”) can’t budge us from our heaviness.

“Wind and ice are the only deciders of symmetry”, writes upstate New Yorker Linda Allardt in one of her poems. “Survival makes do for grace”. The instinct to survive, one we share with our animal kin, is often what carries us through. There’s a stoicism there which can serve us, if we don’t take it and make it our only stance worth cultivating.

The Solstices are times to watch for change and chance. The hidden changes implicit in the imminent shift of energy and consciousness which Druids symbolize and celebrate in the seasonal festivals also find expression in the starkly beautiful lines of “First Sight” by British poet Philip Larkin.

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

For that is how at least some changes arrive — immeasurable, ungraspable, unlike anything that went before. With a practice, we’re more able to work with their energy and momentum, rather than merely be swept up and along with them, or miss them entirely. In many ways, Druidry provides tools for navigating change.

A key insight I’ve found true in my experience sees expression in R. J. Stewart’s observation about magic. “The purpose of magical arts” — and here we can accurately substitute spiritual practice, or devotion to a craft or art — “is to enable the changes within the individual by which he or she may apprehend these further methods inwardly” (Living Magical Arts, pg. 3). A kind of teaching takes place through our practice. Our determination to persevere, to dig deeper, sets in motion a series of insights tailored to our particular circumstances and purposes, which gives us the experience Jesus talks about when he says “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. We find the spiritual principles that work for us because they meet us where we are.

These things can be hard to talk about for obvious reasons. Either one looks arrogant or deluded, or often enough a combination of both. But anyone with similar experiences can nod in recognition — and share their stories. J M Greer reminds us that

Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth … It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit.

Until you have the experience of it (whatever it is for you), you may have a range of beliefs about it, for sure, but it’s your insight flowing from your own contact with the realms of nature and spirit that counts more, and longer. The path, the only path worth walking, the “path with heart”, is to continue that contact, to see where it leads, to trust it, because trust also opens doors that will not otherwise open. Part of Greer’s point is that any authority worth having comes from within, not from another person. Our human tendency is too often to look for the next Holy Magister 27th-Grade Ipsissimus Archdruid Deluxe Squared for “the answers”, which usually won’t be our answers anyway. (For some amusing insights on this, do a search of my posts on One Genuine Real Live Druidry — OGRELD).

south yard, yesterday, after clearing the way to our woodshed

The most that any outside authority can do is help us recognize the fire inside us, to suggest ways of keeping it burning, to point out directions towards firewood, to guide us to lighting up the path along the way.

Our inner Sovereignty, you might say, can often look like a hearth.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Nine Days of Solstice 7 — Saturday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

What now, after making the Star? It’s a good question. After what feels like the completion of a cycle of manifestation, it can be a challenge to identify the next steps.

Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

says the Rubaiyat 73 of Omar Khayyam. We’re into the third Triad of the Nine Days of Solstice. What more? Well, the Bards have one corner of it, as usual. Khayyam lays it out for me in this stanza, if I’m willing to walk even some of the way with him, and listen. There’s a triad in human affairs, as in so many things: you, me, and “Fate”. Or as we could also call it, karma, the momentum of things we’ve already launched, that we’ve set in motion. The “sorry scheme of things” is one perspective on our making so far (not the only one, to be sure), and as with most human choices, once we receive what we wished for, we almost immediately aspire to something better. That’s an excellent feature of human consciousness, if I remember to treat it wisely and prudently. And yes, we can “remould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire” with the same abilities we moulded it in the first place.

The Green World is always green, whatever other colours it takes on.

The challenge for me is to decide on what plane I will do my remoulding. Try to do all of it here, I find, and I run into everyone else’s vision of Hearts’ Desire. I am indeed creating my possible futures — and so is everyone else. Our visions bump into each other, as often as not. I find that the place to focus the predominant part of my work is inwardly. Change my consciousness to match my desire, and the effects manifest far more easily than trying to the change the world first. It ripples out from each of us individually, when we do the work. That’s how the mass consciousness changes — one of us at a time, till we reach a critical inflection-point. You see it in birds preparing to migrate for the winter. Ones, and twos, and then larger practice flights, till it spreads like yeast through bread, “the whole is leavened”, and the entire flock is ready to take wing.

Jesus’s counsel to his disciples is clear: “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world”. The common denominator of mass consciousness, sometimes useful in brief bursts during ritual when properly tuned, isn’t something to try to sustain all the time. The apparent world isn’t the last word on much of anything. Part, just not whole. I can begin to overcome the less desirable effects of mass consciousness by breaking my agreement with it. Look at the vision of the world held out to us in most social media, and there’s not much to choose from. I can target where to place my attention, for the simple reason that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. How can I even know my “heart’s desire”, let alone manifest it, “remould” things nearer to it, if everything else is tugging at my attention, away from where I need to be looking?

Holding the Star in my vision, the Four Elements and Spirit, I pick up the Work again.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Nine Days of Solstice 2 — Monday

[Prelude |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9]

Look ahead, look back, look to now. Following the nudge, I’m posting links to previous Solstice posts I’ve made, part of my own looking back, as well as other events I can recommend.

Here’s a Beltane ritual with notes and suggestions that can be readily adapted to a Solstice celebration.

A year ago in December 2019 I posted a three-parter called “Gifts of Solstice” 1 | 2 | 3.

Solitaries and groups with a meditative bent may find these 13 suggestions helpful: Thirteen Gift-Day-Flames for Solstice Solitaries.

Here are 19 Ways to Celebrate Summer Solstice that can be adapted for Winter.

And on Saturday a friend reminded me of the earth song we all can enjoy as residents of this planet, which I wrote about here: 111 Hertz — Our Ancient Song of Healing and Attunement.

Those of you interested in an OBOD Alban Arthan/Winter Solstice ritual can find this year’s on both Facebook and Youtube. You can also find a solo ritual here.

John Beckett of “Under the Ancient Oaks” is offering one on Friday evening, 18 December (link to his specific blogpost, with discussion) which you can watch on Youtube (link to ritual).

Massachusett’s Mystic River Grove is holding one via Zoom I’m participating in. Our fledgling Vermont seed group celebrates one on Sunday, the eve of the Winter Solstice.

You can watch Stonehenge Winter Solstice live here.

A reminder to check out these links in advance, in case of technical glitches, to minimize disappointment.

Pause for an Anglo-Saxon interlude. I’m tutoring a small group of students of Old English via Zoom, and yesterday we spent a pleasant hour discussing an Old English riddle. The richness and density of Old English is everywhere, and often subtle, and in it echoes of ancestral wisdom, if I listen. As I was drafting this post, the refrain from the Old English poem “Deor” came to my mind regarding our current challenges. The line gets widely quoted: Þæs oferéode; þisses swa mæg – “That’s passed by – so can this”. But to me it expresses more than a medieval version of “Just suck it up, baby!”

Yes, it’s true we’re often we’re called to patience and perseverance, invaluable spiritual practices our ancestors knew well — often because they had no other alternative. Patience and perseverance can be hard work, and those “Two P’s” can feel awfully small and negligible in times like these, though they’re huge.

The refrain notes that this can (mæg) pass by, not merely that it “may” pass, which is a mis-translation. There’s room in our situations for our own efforts, our mægen (approx. “mayen”) — a related word — our spiritual strength. It’s our “might and main“, the descendant of that word mægen, and pronounced almost the same. Our mægen can make a difference, even — and especially — if we can’t see it at the time.

Mægen is part of our inheritance as living beings. One way to think of it is the Western version of chi, and it also can vary widely in quantity. Trees respond to it, and can help us replenish it, as many Druids have discovered. They can also help take away the blocks and leaks in our reservoirs of mægen if we approach them respectfully, and offer a gift in return, to help build the relationship and serve the balance, rather than take and take and take. I can learn to hoard my mægen like any good dragon, because my stash of it can run low, get depleted — and also recharged and topped off by skilful means. If you’re reading this, you very likely already know a fair bit of what I’m talking about. If not, life is laboratory — you can test it and find out for yourself.

Today is Monday, day of the Moon. I seek móna-mægen — moon energy — which need not be wholly dependent on the physical moon phase. Our human ability as time-walking beings means that, living in time as we do, we can nevertheless walk outside of time as well, and connect with ancestors for help and relationship, although they already oferéodon — have passed over. In the same way I can also align to a phase of the moon inwardly that may not be in outer manifestation. Even the saying of it, and the playing with it, begin to manifest it.

And so Matthews offers a meditation for Mondays of the Winter Season:

“Wise-men, Wise-women, Holy Ones of all generations, I call to you to send a blessing upon all who are stuck in the past and walk the spirals of an inturning maze: may your wisdom lead them by fresh and fruitful pathways to the blessing of the present moment”.

As we begin to move into our own identities as Wise and Holy Ones ourselves, we begin to send — and receive — these blessings, among the most powerful things we can do for ourselves and others. For I am Wise and Holy, as well as stuck here and there in the past. I carry both identities within, learning from them as I go. What we do for ourselves, we do for Others.

May Solstice wisdom lead you by fresh and fruitful pathways to the blessing of the present moment.

/|\ /|\ /|\

“Proto-Celtic Song Lyrics” and Other Searches

[Edited/updated 30 Nov 2020]

[Part 1 | Part 2]

Behind that particular recent search topic, among all the other searches that my blog utilities show are made on this site, lies a whole world of wonder.

What’s the weather on your inner sea? / Photo by Lynda B. / Pexels.com

In spite of appearances — which I find myself saying a lot these days, appearances being the slippery things they are — we often have an intuitive sense of what we’re looking for. Would I recognize “Proto-Celtic song lyrics” if someone posted them online? What would they look like? What inner knowing would confirm them for me? And what melody or rhythm would I use to chant or sing them? Perhaps asking for and incubating a dream experience with them is one direction that could prove fruitful for the querent. I’ve add that to my daybook as a meditation theme for just before sleep.

Underlying these questions at least in part is a thirst for authenticity.

Wyoming — Devil’s Tower, but ‘Bear’s Tipi’ in Lakota/Todd Trapani/Pexels.com

For a useful parallel, I returned to a Youtube video I watched recently, on the native Lakota people of the north central U.S. “When I speak Lakota I feel connected”, says a young Lakota woman around the 1:10 mark. “I feel connected to all my relatives in the previous generations … There’s nothing to compare to the feeling of being Lakota, in Lakota country, speaking Lakota”.

Language and identity are core issues for many Lakota, as they are for many tribal peoples facing challenges to their existence. Do modern Druids feel that native speakers of Welsh or Irish or Scottish Gaelic or Manx or Breton or Cornish are somehow more authentic as Druids? How much of that feeling arises from the minority status and threats to survival that the Celtic languages also face, though on a different scale than those facing the Lakota? I have no answers here, but I have a lot of questions.

The same program “Rising Voices — Hótȟaŋiŋpi — Revitalizing the Lakota Language” includes a segment at around 6:10 where a Lakota TV interviewer announces the day’s program topic as “the Lakota language” and asks several young Lakota a series of questions: “Did anybody speak the language when you were growing up? How much of the language do you need to speak to be an Indian?”

Their answers range widely: “A lot. None. I don’t know. Lots and lots …”

The interviewer keeps probing: “What if you used to speak the language, but you forgot it?”

Confused looks. Nervous smiles. Different answers.

“OK”, the interviewer continues, “what if you don’t speak the language? Are you suddenly not an Indian?”

Again, bemused answers. “I guess. No. Maybe. My tribal card says I’m an Indian, so I guess … I don’t speak it …”

“OK”, says the interviewer, “how about if you speak the language, but you also shop at Walmart, and you drive a big American truck? Are you more or less of an Indian?”

“Depends on the kind of truck” says one person, with a smile. “[You’re] maybe more” [of an Indian], says another. “[Nervous laughter.] I don’t think you’re ‘more’ or ‘less’ … [In Lakota, with subtitles: ‘I love Walmart’] …”

The interviewer pushes on. “What if you’re white and you speak Lakota really well?”

OK, you get the idea.

Many of us are instinctively reaching for a vehicle or a means or an access-point that will help us achieve the sense of deep connection that the speakers of Lakota feel and expressed above. Insofar as this can mediated through language, then learning an ancestral language may help. Or if you’re of German descent, for example, but Irish calls to you, learning Irish may be a way to show respect to a tradition you value, and one you long to understand more fully, regardless of your bloodline or ancestry. (Besides, who knows who and what and whose you were in a previous lifetime?)

Druids on other continents, where other and non-European languages have long been spoken, confront similar issues. Fortunately, from what I’ve experienced on my own journey, the spiritual world senses, values and responds well to honesty, and searches our hearts and our intentions, not just the particular language we happen to be using. We needn’t wait for fluency in our chosen ritual or spiritual language before we can live a spiritual life. But we might consider how the act of learning a language with such associations and history is itself a ritual gesture with its own consequences. To say, write, and think certain words and not others has a power we can draw on for more than we imagine.

C. is a friend of mine with a doctorate in archaeology who’s worked with many North American tribal peoples as a trained consultant and is learning Ojibwe online from a Native teacher. The class includes both Ojibwe and non-Ojibwe students. For C. it’s a worthwhile use of his time in lockdown. Over the decades he has made friends among Ojibwe speakers, he appreciates the cultural insight, and it engages him because it’s about communication, something he’s spent much of his professional career doing. He’s testified as an expert in court cases, advocated for Native rights, worked on the repatriation of cultural objects and remains, and so on.

I’ve picked up the merest handful of Ojibwe words from him during our socially-distanced breakfasts that ended with Vermont’s recent stricter pandemic policies. So when he says something in Ojibwe and explains it — often a greeting or farewell — at least I can say gidash “you too”. I may say it wrong, it may not even mean exactly what I think from my brief acquaintance with it, or it may actually be used in different contexts than how I use it, but my intention remains, nonetheless: you matter. I learned this expression from him and I use it for that reason with him, for a small moment of human solidarity.

Spiritual solidarity spreads outward from there. What language do I use to make spiritual connections? Is my heart in it?

/|\ /|\ /|\

I value the teachings of Druidry, and appreciate the Celtic origins of many of them. But I also find myself drawn to Old English, a different “cultural stream”, though I don’t feel an equivalent draw or tug toward Anglo-Saxon Heathenry, or Asatru or anything similar. Here and there I’ve put pieces of OBOD ritual into Old English on this site, I teach Old English classes online, while I still work on a constructed form of a Celtic language, as I’ve also documented in past posts.

I wrote earlier in this post about “access-points” — portals or paths that give onto a realm where we can more easily connect to what we are seeking. While some spiritual teachings attempt this by holding out a specific sets of beliefs or a creed, Druidry and others suggest that a practice and a toolkit of techniques like an ancestral or cultural language may help in accomplishing this goal.

Thus, knowing that at least one branch of my family tree is rooted in Kingsbridge, England offers me one kind of access point, through a place and a people. Places can seem near-eternal, though anyone who’s lived to see strip malls, parking lots and new apartment buildings rise in a former pasture or woods knows how unreliable that sense can be. Still, when I encounter older versions of the town’s name in records — medieval Kyngysbrygge, Anglo-Saxon Cyningesbrycg — I know a connection to place, to where some of my ancestors are buried, though I may never set foot in it. And through the magic of the internet I even know what some of the landscape looks like, though I haven’t (yet) smelled the air or felt the earth beneath my feet.

All Saints, Alvington, near Kingsbridge/John Salmon/Wikipedia

Now that’s admittedly a tenuous and vague experience, compared to speaking an ancestral language. It can feel at times that people of European ancestry in this lifetime minimize or even disown their own ancestors, out of shame at colonialism, or simply because they’re “not interesting enough”.

Yet such experiences as tracing a family tree, and finally being able to name a place where one’s ancestors lived and died, can also be a portal, and I can use it to access much more. Names can take us far indeed. We know the power of being called by our name. Extending the principle of “as above, so below” to the same-plane version “as here, so there”, what do I imagine other beings and places experience when I know their names and use them with love and affection and a request for their wisdom and assistance? Calling a rock formation on your land Bear’s Tipi is qualitatively different from naming it Devil’s Tower, whatever language you use. If we don’t yet know that truth, it lies within our power to discover it.

In his most recent post, John Beckett writes of five of his mistakes as a Pagan. They’re instructive to reflect on, because most of us have made most of them in some form, regardless of our own unique journeys. (If I think any one of them doesn’t apply to me, I probably haven’t dug deeply enough.)

John names them like this: refusing to start at the beginning, trying to ignore the gods, waiting too long to start attending Pagan gatherings, not working more magic, and assuming other people share my vision. Or as I might paraphrase them to fit my circumstances, forgetting the foundations, ignoring spirit, resisting the gifts of community, renouncing my own power — and assuming other people share my vision.

Fortunately, “learning from my mistakes” is something we all are working on all the time. It’s one of the most magical things we can do, transforming a past mistake into a piece of wisdom for ourselves and for others. No mistakes, only ongoing projects.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Ways and Means to the Holy

We don’t have to “go anywhere” to contact the sacred.

“Everything that lives is holy”, William Blake declares. Fine, Billy, but how do I reconnect when I’m just not feeling it? In my better moments I may know it’s all holy, but I’m kinda down right now, dude, and I could use some help.

Druidry, after all, delights in “doing something” as a spiritual solution to many problems. Christianity may stereotypically insist “Ye must be born again!” as a prerequisite before anything else can happen, while Druidry as stereotypically suggests “Let’s go for a walk in the green world”.

What if neither of these is a viable option at the moment? Suicide hotlines get callers who’ve often tried every option they can lay hands on, and they’re still suicidal in part for that very reason: nothing’s working. And even those of us not in crisis at the moment can feel overwhelmed by events beyond our control.

If we step even one pace beyond the stereotypes, we find in counsel like “Be still and know that I am God” a place where Druidry and Christianity can draw closer. Something happens in stillness that all our elevator music and muzak and noise and ranting and partisanship try to overwhelm but cannot silence, because it is already silent. What is it?

In a post from Oct 2017 I wrote:

“The practice of sacramental spirituality can be pursued apart from the various pathologies of political religion”, notes John Michael Greer in his essay “The Gnostic Celtic Church“. In sacrament rather than creed lies one potent meeting-place for Druid and Christian.

What to do when one of our most human, instinctive and immediate responses — to touch each other in comfort with a hug, a hand on a shoulder — are actions dangerous to our health?

If the sacrament of touch is denied us, what other modes does spirit have?

The Sacrament of Hearing

“The Voice of the Beloved sustains us”. Whether it’s a telephone call to or from that particular person, or a special video, or piece of music, sound can carry us into spirit. The human capacity for memes and mantras and ear-worms is one we can use to our advantage. Set up what I actually want running through my inner worlds, and I’m halfway home.

And — paradox alert, because that’s much of human experience — in the sacrament of hearing, of listening, we may hear what is singing behind the silence …

Kaisenkaku Asamushi Onsen in Aomori prefecture, northern Japan / Wikipedia /

The Sacrament of Washing

Taking a bath or shower, and visualizing the gunk leaving our bodies down the drain and away can be a spiritual practice. Many traditions urge sacred bathing. (Besides, in lockdown we can let ourselves get pretty grody.)

A Hindu turns if possible to Mother Ganges, Catholics visit holy sites dedicated to manifestations of Mary, it’s a lovely Japanese custom to visit an onsen, and followers of Shinto and plenty of non-religious people as well find hot springs, saunas and mineral pools to be restorative.

The Sacrament of Blessing

Seven words make up a lovely blessing some of my friends use often: “Bless this day and those I serve”. If I live by myself, I’m one of the people I serve. Let’s remember to bless ourselves. We need it. Pets or other animals, and houseplants, may rely on me for food and shelter and affection, so I can add them to those I bless. Outward to friends, neighbors …

What else can I bless? Asking that question thoughtfully can open many doors.

The Sacrament of Prayer

Prayer has long been a potent sacrament in the lives of many. The words and sounds can help restore our connections to spirit, partly because they’ve done so in the past. Like a spiritual battery, they’ve accumulated a charge. We jump-start more often than we realize.

The words of the Druid’s Prayer, or of a song or poem not “officially recognized” as a prayer may turn out to be your prayer. Sometimes we need something even more compact — just a few words from a longer form, a sacred name, a whisper — or a shout. If you’re alone, that’s easier. Try it, and note the power of prayer at the top of our lungs.

Grant, O Spirit, your protection

One simple prayer available to everyone is simply breathing. We hear in the Gospel of John: “The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit”. Experiencing the spirit in our own breathing is a doorway for some. It’s there — sacrament in the life action of our bodies.

You may see in several of the above sacraments how touch has managed to find its way to us. Hearing involves sound waves touching my ears, bathing makes me intimate with water, and so on.

The Sacrament of Cooking and Eating

Some of our most common acts are sacramental in potential, and we can activate them by according them the respect they’ve earned in our lives. Food and drink keep these bodies alive and moving. Preparing food has often been a holy activity, at least around our holy-days, if not every day. Combine eating with blessing, as many do, and I can heighten my awareness of spirit-in-substance. A blessing on the incarnate spirit which sustains us.

The Sacrament of the Image and Object

Photographs, statues, objects collected from a walk or a ritual or as gifts from another — all these things bear a power to tend us. They can evoke memory, their physical substance is imbued with all the times we’ve handled them before (touch seeks us out, once again!), and they have a power to shift our attention to specific places and times.

The Sacrament of Ritual

I talk a lot about ritual here, because we all do ritual constantly. Each of the sacraments above is a ritual, or has ritual elements in it. Part of the sacrament of ritual is to recognize how many things can become rituals — and more importantly, how much of their already-existent ritual power helps shape and influence and move our lives.

A barefoot Kris Hughes, recreating Iolo Morganwg’s simple summer solstice ritual on Primrose Hill in 1792, at East Coast Gathering 2015. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

A friend of mine makes a ritual out of starting to write. He lights a candle, or some incense, and invites the muse of the moment to his writing project. A few other friends explore the meditative and sacramental power that wood-carving and weaving and knitting have, as well as enjoying their concrete manifestation, resulting in useful objects and garments.

May you find and feed your lives with sacraments that mean and matter to you.

/|\ /|\ /|\

The Daily Menu, and the Specials

A good metaphor gives you a form, a shape to attach stuff to. If you have a free mantle or shelf, you can arrange pictures and other beloved objects on it. On Halloween, out come the black cats and the carved pumpkins. With a Christmas tree, you’ve got a place for the decorations that live most of the year in a box, in a basement, closet, or attic. Here’s a menu — a useful metaphor for any spiritual tradition.

Sometimes we need to pass through a portal in order to see a new menu. Or sometimes just turn a page. What metaphor works for you? Which ones “become real”? Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com.

Most traditions share at least one feature of their menus — they urge you to a daily practice. What shape that takes can be remarkably varied. But you generally know where you are with the daily menu. You’ve got your go-to’s. Like exercise, the morning or evening prayer or meditation or ritual or reading or other exercise or observance helps you keep in shape. Not only does each day tend to go better as a result of your improved spiritual and physical muscle-tone (you sleep better, you’re more flexible, you bounce back sooner), but you’re building a foundation for bigger things, too. You’ll be better able to handle the inevitable next set of changes.

That includes both challenges and blessings. Which is which can depend on my daily practice more than I anticipate. One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother, sing the Goddess-worshippers.

My wife and I do a short chant each morning to re-align and tune back in. (To what? you ask. Well, what do you want to connect to? There you go.) On those handful of days every month when we neglect it, we feel the lack. The reason doesn’t matter — the intrusion and bustle for a scheduled appointment, an unexpected phone call, a minor household emergency — something intervenes and calls us away from our routine. Both of us have our own individual practice, too — we just like to build couple energy as well. It’s something we’ve added to our lives, and now we can depend on what we call “positive inertia” to keep it up. Using our human habit-making tendencies to support a spiritual practice can be a winning strategy, especially if you tend toward laziness like I do.

The menu for my day is my regular practice, along with whatever longer-term project or planning I’m doing. A piece of that can be reading. It’s almost always writing, even if that’s just in the margins of my reading. Talking back to books, to other writers. Every few days, it includes posting here. (And thinking about and drafting posts, some of which will remain in draft form.) In cold weather, building a fire, which for me is both a practical and ritual act. In warm weather, hanging laundry on the line, which is likewise a form of concrete worship I’ve come to appreciate.

Sometimes the Specials are the “discoveries, insights and unexpecteds” that arrive in everyone’s day, if we give them even a little space to flower. A practice can help that to happen. The dream fragment, the chance comment, the meditation image or sensation or hunch, the phrase in my reading or in the day’s conversations gets into my journal, or not, depending. If it does, it’s one more help, one more gift. One and one and one and one and one do accumulate over time into a weight and a presence that have increasing value. And much of that value is how they talk to each other, echo and comment on and reinforce and confirm. Patterns, tendencies, directions, guidance, a path — a lifetime.

We encounter the Specials also in the larger events, like a full moon and a new moon every month, and every six weeks or so, one of the “Great Eight”, as I like to call them: the seasonal festivals of modern Pagan practice. They’re paired — the solstices and equinoxes that whole planet experiences, and the cross-quarter days of Celtic record, with their evocative names of Samhuin, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh — the four holidays of choice, you might say. Then all our individual and family birthdays and anniversaries, and the cultural holidays on the calendar of our nations.

These don’t come along every day, so their appearance pleasantly disrupts our routine in good ways. We human mysteries long for “something new” and “something familiar” in such varying and idiosyncratic proportions that no ritual calendar can wholly satisfy us. But let a friend message me with ideas for ritual, let a neighbour send a photo, let us hold a special Zoom with family far away or an online class or discussion or ritual, and the Special also takes shape. What’s on the menu? Ultimately, we are.

/|\ /|\ /|\

E=MC(2): A Druid Equation

No, not Einstein’s famous equation: effect = mastery X cause2!

Our weird, worrisome and wondrous world is among many other things a laboratory for working out cause and effect. (In many ways, that’s what evolution is. Trial and error, with lots of discards. False starts, dead ends.)

“As above, so below” — just how far does it go? Can I ever really know?

Try out any current headline, fit it into the equation, and you see the same thing: lots of causing, little mastery, and voila! — a cascade of undesired effects from what initially might even have been a halfway-good idea. (We’ll discount our worst ideas here out of compassion for our own human shortsightedness.)

We introduce a natural predator to bring down the population of a creature we label a pest, and our solution becomes the new problem. [Wikipedia notes: “Harmonia axyridis (the harlequin ladybird) was introduced into North America from Asia in 1979 to control aphids, but it is now the most common species, outcompeting many of the native species” and is a pest itself in many areas.] We warm and cool ourselves with splendid new technologies, and end up overheating our world. We choose leaders trying out their own causes, and we become part of effects they set in motion that we did not anticipate.

If we work with the proportions that this version of the equation suggests, even a little bit of mastery goes a long way toward manifesting more of the effects we wish. A dash of cause and a truck-load of mastery looks like the way to go. Fewer broken dreams, broken bones, broken planets.

Because when I try changing the proportions — lots of cause, just a little mastery — the equation definitely shows how the effect will still be huge. It just won’t be what I wanted in the first place. Like almost any kitchen recipe, there’s some leeway once you know what you’re doing. You learn workable substitutions, you pick up subtle touches and turns and tricks, and in the process you learn a great deal of lore. (What does “season to taste” mean in this case? How much is a “dash” of cumin? How much longer should that turkey bake, since it’s bigger/smaller than last year’s bird, which took X hours? What does the dough feel like when it’s ready?)

Until then, though, I can’t exchange proportions of flour and salt “just because I want to” and expect anything other than disaster. Yes, freedom is my birthright; yes, I shape my universe and create my reality. So does every other being all around me. We’re all still learning, and our realities and universes keep banging into each other as we work through the lessons. (Often it looks like the trees and the bees already know valuable things we’re still figuring out, or are in serious danger of forgetting.)

What does mastery consist of in such situations, at least from a Druid perspective?

Much of Druidry, at least at the start, is a practice of learning how to harmonize with the many other causes all around us, human and non-human, before we barge in out of ignorance and arrogance and try to be causes ourselves. (In the old Greek myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and brought it to suffering mortals. In addition to cooking dinner, we’ve been burning ourselves and everything around us ever since. But is the point of the story that humans should give up fire?)

Part of it is simple math: the number of beings around me also launching causes into the cosmos far outnumbers me. Part of it is the very real possibility that over time some of these same beings may have learned things I don’t yet know, things I need to know before I set big causes in motion myself. And a third part, because threes are cool like that, is that as I learn about causes and effects from these other beings, I’ll also learn what I need for my own growing mastery.

A part of our practice is that as we learn about causes and effects from these other beings, we’ll also learn what we need for our own growing mastery.

“Doing Druidry” means we perform rituals, small or large, unintentional or highly planned, simply because we’re ritual beings. We strive to acknowledge and participate more consciously in the cycles of the seasons and our own lives. We meditate and pray, dream and imagine. We talk with trees, listening to their “slow gestures”, as U K LeGuin calls them. We study herbs, divination, the lives of birds and beast, bugs and branching things, out of amazement and empathy and neighbourliness, and simply because we find ourselves here alongside them, dying and living and experiencing what it’s like to walk around in these shapes of flesh. Occasionally a spirit or god flashes across or onto our path, and we try to find out what that means, too.

We’re called, in short, to pay attention.

Refusing to acknowledge cause and effect, yielding up our training for mastery, invites its own effects. Among the Wise in several traditions, it is said that the earth has rejected the initiation of cause and effect. In several of the older maps of the cosmos, the earth is the outermost realm. Within is the realm of emotion and imagination. And within that realm is the realm of cause and effect.

Now we “get” the physical world in many ways. We’ve become quite adept at working many of its laws of force, mass, acceleration and energy to achieve remarkable effects. And look at our cultures, with all our many images and arts and crafts, our music and stories.

We also get much of the second realm: we’ve learned how to evoke in other minds whole worlds of feeling and sensation and possibility. What we’ve just begun to do is work with the third realm, and choose whether the effects we can create should be created, and how to unravel tapestries we’ve woven that no longer serve us. We may say of the “next generation” of a thing that it’s both “new” and “improved”. While we do indeed get much of the “new”, we still struggle with the actually “improved”. Rapidly multiplying imbalances abound, and ripple outward all around us — unintended effects we often try to wish away, rather than owning. (We’re still calling many of them “side effects”, even when they’re fatal.)

One great beauty of Druidry is that it empowers people to find strategies and solutions from the bottom up. We’re directed to look to “what works”, which is an excellent rule of thumb. Druidry, you might say, is a way of domesticating a whole set of “rules of thumb” as a spiritual technology.

Cause and effect, which is our “classroom curriculum” for mastery, is also the thing that teaches us why we need mastery in the first place. And Druidry, which is after all a set of human understandings like anything else we may use to make our way through the curriculum, is one source of help with the challenges of mastery that lie before us.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Is all — or any — of this “true”? As many have said who’ve come before us, while we may never know if there “really are” gods and spirits, or magic (or a “curriculum”), the universe does often seem to behave as if they exist. I don’t know about you, but to me that’s well worth exploring for its own sake, far more interesting than spending time arguing whether or not it’s “true”. One test for truth is freedom; you know the old saying that “the truth shall make you free”. (Merely arguing about truth, without actually being free, doesn’t feel like freedom to me.) Part of my practice is acting as if I were free …

And “as if” seems right up there next to “cause and effect” as a important part of the curriculum.

Cauldron of Memory: Eighth Day of Samhain (30 Oct. 2020)

[Edited/updated 20:18 EST]

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

[1st | 2nd | 3rd | 4th | 5th | 6th | 7th | 8th | 9th]

First snow this morning. Facing east.

The late author and teacher Raven Grimassi published a 2009 book* with the same title as today’s post, and among several techniques he discusses for connecting with the ancestors, lucid dreaming has particular advantages:

If you have trouble with visualizations, or with pathworking in general, there is another method of ancestor contact at your disposal. This is accomplished through the Dream Gate, which is a portal to a particular area of dream consciousness.

There are essentially two states of consciousness in the dream state. The first level is the one in which the dream dictates a series of events or a storyline. At this level we are subject to the dream and we react to whatever is taking place. In effect we are a drafted actor without a script. In the common dream state our subconscious mind is operational but our conscious mind is a passive spectator.

The second dream level is one where we take conscious control and shape the dream as we wish. This is often referred to as lucid dreaming. The advantage of lucid dreaming (in an occult sense) is that we can come into contact with inner plane realities with both halves of our consciousness fully operational. This allows us to function in the magical setting of the subconscious mind (where anything is possible) while at the same time having the benefits of the conscious mind (where everything has connection and direction) (Cauldron of Memory, pgs. 140-141).

Now your reaction may be “But I don’t remember my dreams, so that’s not gonna help”. This is where the dream chalice technique from an earlier post in this series can prove useful. For many people, the light trance that sitting around a night-time fire brings can also help provide another alternative practice. Through such access-points we can stand at the doorway, and decide if we wish to go any further. Another of the many functions of ritual itself can be a similar light trance that we induce through repeated words, chants, gesture and dance.

berries through the snow

Simple candle-gazing also works well for solitaries. You may wish to establish a quiet period, perhaps with few other lights, so that the semi-darkness helps with focusing on your candle-flame. As with any ritual, what we bring to it makes all the difference. How we feel about it, how we set it up, what props we include, what significance we assign to them, what we do with our experiences, whether we choose to record them, and where they fits in with everything else that we are — these things build our spiritual lives piece by piece. And as we learn to choose where we place our attention, rather than letting it be grabbed by whatever is shouting most loudly, we reclaim a priceless spiritual tool.

The metaphor of a cauldron is a potent one. Some of us may experience memory as a thread, or the roots of a tree. Exploring our metaphors can reveal new practices. If memory is a cauldron, bringing to ritual, to our bedside, to our imaginal lives, an object to represent memory can be most useful. Magic shops market small cauldrons for such purposes, and you can make your own from clay. Those with foundry skills may find making a cauldron a remarkable project. Found objects, gifts and other things may serve as cauldrons. A bowl, piece of driftwood, a sea-shell — my own cupped hands — can all be cauldrons in dream and in ritual.

Alternatively, if memory is a tree, then images of trees and their roots, working with a favorite “tree of memory”, drawing or photographing trees, and meditating on the linkages between “roots and recall”, between the solidity and stability of a tree, and the persistence of memory, even memories we have stored deeply, can turn the experience of remembering into a magical and imaginal exploration.

This same cauldron or tree of memory includes “memory of the future” — visions and dreams, hunches and nudges, all part of our largely untapped ability to gaze up and down the time-track. Most of us get glimpses, while some may get more. We live in a particular time and place in the physical realm, because such focus is powerful and has its special lessons to teach us, but we can also learn to look and attend elsewhere, and remember/(re/dis)cover what is needful, whatever things in our long lives we have set aside, and take them up again and use them today, leaving other things in turn for our tomorrows.

What do I wish to leave in safekeeping for my future self, and for my descendants of blood and spirit? What is the spiritual heritage I am building day by day? Making a practice out of consciously leaving things for the future helps shape the futures we both desire and earn.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*Grimassi, Raven. The Cauldron of Memory: Retrieving Ancestral Knowledge and Wisdom. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

Grandmothers, Grandfathers: Sixth Day of Samhain (28 Oct. 2020)

[Samhain: Season to Taste]

[1st | 2nd | 3rd | 4th | 5th | 6th | 7th | 8th | 9th]

When I realize it’s not “about me”, my sense of “me” can often enlarge, and — paradoxes teasing us and breaking up our rigidity as they do, gift of the gods to ease us open — I may know myself a part of all that is. Most humans, if we judge by interviews, polls, sociological surveys, etc., have experienced such moments. Consciousness expands, barriers drop away, and we re-connect. The ecstasy that can accompany such moments underlies a surprising amount of experimentation with altered states of consciousness — through drugs and alcohol, ritual, chant, jogging, yoga, dance, and so on.

Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional offers a “Threshold Invocation for the Festival of Samhain (to be said at the front door of the house on the eve of Samhain, 31st October, in the evening)” that begins:

Grandmother Wisdom, open the door,
Grandfather Counsel, come you in …

This sense of living ancestors, of cultural guides and totems, of others with us who simply join in “without their skins on”, still flourishes among many traditional peoples. It’s one of the things much of Druidry has also striven to reclaim and re-animate in our lives.

Part of our experience of these things lies in any welcome we give or withhold. Last night I joined a Zoom discussion on inner guidance. We talked about trusting what we receive, about learning to recognize its signs, those nudges that aren’t merely fear or ego or desire, about staying alert for the confirmation that often comes in outer circumstances that we’re on the right track.

For Christians, Jesus says “I stand at the door and knock”. As far as we can tell, there’s a lot of knocking going on in our lives. Yes, sometimes the message is urgent enough we may receive a visit uninvited. But in either case, what we do or don’t do in response often forms a core part of the significance of the visit. My listening, my acceptance, my questioning or doubt — in sum, my engagement in some way — is a good half of most experiences of contact and connection. In the language of his day, Winston Churchill remarked, “Men [i.e., humans] occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened”. In Heather Hughes Cullero’s The Sedona Trilogy, one character says, “This is the gift of Spirit to you. What you do with it is your gift to Spirit”.

East Coast Gathering, 2017. Spirit may take any form to reach us.

If you’re fortunate to know the names of your ancestors, particularly beyond your four grandparents, you may more readily gain an intimate sense of the curious timelessness of forming part of an immense ancestral line. Though my wife and I don’t have children of our own, we stand in the middle of just such a Long Line, like everyone does. As I mentioned in a previous post, live to 70 or 80 and that puts us squarely in the lives of five to seven generations within our living memory and connection. I recall my late grandmother who died at 81 in 1977, and I know her living descendants down to her youngest great-great-granddaughter Ashley — five generations already.

Try out the implications of reincarnation, and you could easily be one of your own ancestors. Take stock, look at family patterns, and it can often help clarify things: who I was then is part of who I am now. Step outside this world and its particular laws, and others come into play. Lifetimes like beads on the string of spirit, linking this brief span of decades to others, backwards and forwards. (Do I want to know the future? I’m building it day by day.)

Rather than being that flaky guest at parties who insists he was Julius Caesar or Rasputin or Charlemagne — that she was Cleopatra, or Madame Curie or Queen Elizabeth I — why not explore the major themes at work in life today, and link them up to nudges and hints about “who we were before”, to help map out a larger spiritual purpose and vision? (It sure beats the hell out of watching and worrying over current headlines — though that has its place, too, if we choose — if it doesn’t choose us.) Even as a purely imaginative exercise, it can open up perception and awareness — which seems to be one of the purposes of reincarnation anyway. (Is everything a metaphor?!)

Grandmother Wisdom, open the door,
Grandfather Counsel, come you in …

Yes, you can purchase Matthews’ book — it’s a good one. You could also use this as a prompt for your invocations. Grandmother Wisdom, what message do you have for your descendants? Grandfather Counsel, how can I best move through the next year? Among other things, Samhain is about tapping into the larger Selves we all are. The rest is often “just” holiday bling, Halloween decorations. But like the family heirloom or old metal toy or yellowing photo, such seemingly small things can loom large, and offer a link between generations.

We hear about ancestors of blood and also ancestors of spirit. If I have a difficult family, or one divided for any reason, my ancestors of spirit, and the current family I make out of friends and loved ones — families of choice — matters just as much. Mentors, supporters, our own cheering section, school classmates, colleagues, “chance” acquaintances who become beloved, spiritual ancestors whose art or music or books matter deeply to us — all of us gather such ancestors in addition to the people in blood relationship to us. These too are our ancestors at Samhain, and can form part of remembrances and prayers and invocations.

Bard initiates with Kristoffer Hughes (left, back row) at East Coast Gathering. What is the awen saying?

Samhain is not, or not primarily, “darkness and death”, but the realities deeper than these, which may wear them as masks. (The masks themselves can be fun, depending.) One measure of our lives is how and when spirit works to get our attention, whether it can keep it this time around — and what we choose do next.

morrigan
The Morrigan personifies the challenges that prove and test us all. Photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty.

%d bloggers like this: