Archive for the ‘touching the sacred’ Category

“It takes night to see fire best”   2 comments

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Like so many truths, the title for this post is both a truism and a guide.

Want to perceive something? Set it in high contrast to something — often, anything — else. Human consciousness, biologists tell us, is built to detect patterns and contrasts. Among other things, consciousness is a sophisticated survival mechanism. What stands out from the background may be friend, food or foe. That’s one good reason why we won’t be color-blind any time soon, any more than we typically ignore hair or eye color, gender or height or clothing. These are all vital signals that convey information too useful to ignore.

Fire, full moon, night, autumn — as my wife said, after we’d sat for an hour talking and fire-gazing, “It’s very grounding.”

Why not “ground and center” with fire? Oh, I know the reasons: earth helps neutralize imbalances, reconnects us to our physicality when we may be lost in thought or feeling, and so on. Earth’s a great insulator. It helps deaden psychic forces, just like eating meat does after intense ritual or magic or a nightmare. Ground and center, that basic of Pagan practice, one that renews itself as we walk our paths.

But sometimes if I’m too grounded, neutralized and banked and bermed, I need fire. The centering’s still crucial — focus is part of our struggle in this age of so many distractions. In this case, it’s “spark and center”. (With water or air, then, it can be “bathe and center”, or “breathe and center”.)

Kindle me to action, don’t drug me to inertia. In our age of rampant anti-depressants and opioids, you might say we need new prescriptions if we’re to flourish and thrive as the gods invite us to do.

And by “kindle” I don’t mean “prod me to outrage”. That’s a “flash in the pan”. I’m going for a slow burn, the kind that makes good stews and soups, that’s perfect for barbecue so tender the meat falls off the bone, and the ashes keep warm for hours after the flames have died down.

That’s also the kind of kindling that keeps me warm through winter. In this counterspell to our times, I turn us counterclockwise, from West in the last post to South and Fire. As we edge toward Winter in the northern hemisphere, I evoke Summer in us. After all, my preparations of food preservation and stacking firewood and insulating and covering and closing all aim to shelter the sacred fire within.

It takes sacred fire to understand sacred fire, so I lit one last night. Like any dedicated practice, and like all good ritual, action and prayer embody each other.

In these times, the sacred shines all the more brightly by contrast.

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Keys to the Temple   Leave a comment

Solstice blessings to everyone! What are they? Read on!

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devil’s paintbrush, 21 June 2017

Solstice time is sacred time. That picnic or party you’re holding on the Solstice, alone or with friends, is just as sacred as my Druid ritual, or the monk or nun at prayer, if you’re comparing (un)conventional symbols and images.

As much as anything, I’m found, the sacred is a habit. It’s not only a habit, of course. But a desire to experience the sacred, and the placing of yourself in spaces where experience of the sacred can happen, help it along.

The front lawn I’ve resisted mowing for two weeks now flares with devil’s paintbrush (Pilosella aurantiaca), a weed here in the U.S., though protected in parts of Europe. Also called fox-and-cubs, orange hawkweed, and other names, for me it’s been a harbinger of high summer since I was in my mid single digits, just old enough to ask and remember its name.

I sit on the lawn and begin to count other plant species nearby. Quickly the number extends beyond my skill to name. The first wild strawberries of a few posts ago yield their lovely tartness when I reach for a few to taste. Clover is spreading over the north lawn, and I welcome it, since both bumble- and honey-bees love it, and it crowds out weeds and nitrogenizes the soil. When I was a boy we re-seeded our pastures every few years with clover because it’s such good food for cows and other grazing animals.

The sacred is a kind of love. It feels always new. Sitting on the lawn I forget everything else as I look around, breathe, listen, and feel the warm earth beneath me. Six months from now the ground here may be frozen, perhaps covered in snow, but that will not negate the marvel of earth underfoot, air in the lungs, the sky always changing overhead. Who has not longed for and known the kiss of the beloved? With these bodies and senses we greet the world each day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A habit, a love, a celebration. These are among the keys to the temple. “In every generation” (can’t you hear the movie trailer voiceover for that summer blockbuster, as it proclaims the words?!) whether we throw the keys in the grass, or take them up, use them to open marvels, and pass them along to those who come after us, the temple — oh blessedly and forever! — the temple always awaits.

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Touching the Sacred, Part 4: Beltane as “Found Festival”   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4]

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Bluets (houstonia caerulea) in our back yard

 

Bluets carpet our backyard lawn, an easy seduction into putting off the mowing I’ll need to do in another week. The air itself is a welcome. I no longer brace myself to step outside. Instead, I peel off an unnecessary extra layer and stand still, feeling my body sun itself in the coaxing warmth. Bumblebees chirm around the first blooms, goldfinches dart across the front yard, and our flock of five bluejay fledgelings from last year wintered over without a single loss and now sound a raucous reveille every morning.

In this last of a four-part series on Beltane, I want to look at our “found festivals” — how we also touch the sacred in the daily-ness of our lives. We don’t always have to go looking for it, as if it’s a reluctant correspondent or a standoffish acquaintance. When I attend to the season and listen to the planet around me, I touch the sacred without effort. The sacred encounter, like a handshake, is a two-part affair. How often do I extend my hand?

Susanne writes in a Druid Facebook group we both follow that finally in her northern location “the last bit of snow on the north side of the house melted away on Beltane day.” Gift of Beltane. Something to dance for.

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Rudolf Steiner school celebration in Great Barrington, MA

 

The ritual calendar of much modern Paganism meshes with the often milder climate of Western Europe where it originated. It doesn’t always fit as well in the northern U.S. or Canada, or other places that have adopted it. (So we tweak calendars and rituals and observances. Like all sensible recipes say, “Season to taste.”)

It’s a cycle that the medieval British poet Geoffrey Chaucer celebrates in the Canterbury Tales by singing (I’m paraphrasing lightly):

the showers of April have pierced the droughts of March to the root … the West Wind has breathed into the new growth in every thicket and field … the small birds make their melodies and sleep all night with open eyes …

A Vermonter like me looks at Beltane looming on May 1 and reads those lines of Chaucer’s and thinks, “About a month too early, Geoffrey.” Spring, not summer, begins at Beltane, though to feel the recent temperatures on your face you might well think Beltane is the start of summer indeed. Game of Thrones fans, never fear: Winter will come (again). But now … ah, now … Spring!

Susanne continues:

and even though they are a symbol of Imbolc, the snowdrops are blooming merrily followed closely by the daffodils. The peepers are peeping, the owls are hooting, the woodcocks are rasping ‘peent’ on the ground and twittering in flight.

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salamander crossing signs in our nearest town

 

Late April and early May here in southern VT, and in your home area, too, means an annual migration of some sort. Here it’s spotted salamanders. After dark, volunteers with flashlights man the gullies and wet spots to escort the salamanders safely across roads, and slow the chance passing car to the pace of life.

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Beltane finds Susanne with her hands in the earth, responding to the call of Spring:

The weekend was spent with Spring clean up, turning the soil and sowing the greens and peas in the garden. I was a bit disappointed in myself that I haven’t held a Beltane ritual but then I realized that this was the ritual…working with the soil, plants and spirits of the land, listening to my favorite songs …

May you all touch the sacred where you are.

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4]

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Images: bluets/houstonia caerulea — ADW; Great Barrington MA school celebration; salamander sign — ADW; yellow spotted salamander.

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