Archive for the ‘transformation’ Category

Gates to the Otherworlds 2

[Part 1 | Part 2]

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One of the Putney, VT stone chambers

Unknowingly, we also shut most of the gates to Otherworlds ourselves. Hence religion — literally, “re-linking”. Both bad and good news here, for the keys (hidden, discovered, at the end of the quest — pick your legend) are in our hands.

As children all of us spent at least some time peering from the gates of an Otherworld into this one. That’s almost a definition of childhood. Imagination came so readily then that we thought nothing of it — it was our native tongue, our common language. We thought nothing of it because our journeys back and forth between the worlds felt completely natural, for the simple reason that they are. How many of us have heard children endlessly repeating a word or phrase, self-enchanting, practicing one form of word-magic to launch themselves into another world, another state of consciousness? Or the youngster who asks for an adult to read the same bedtime story over and over again, never tiring of it, making it part of the before-sleep ritual, that transition to another world, another state of consciousness? Or watching the same children’s movie day after day, delighting in the ritual of sequence, of beginnings and endings, of transport out of one state of awareness and into others? Or childhood games, with their frequent patterns of losing and finding, of repetition and transformation together. Anyone can be “it” — until the next round. (For whatever “it” may be this time, consult your right hemisphere.)

Almost effortlessly we arrive into this life, knowing firsthand, instinctively, how to make such journeys, only slowly letting go of that precious knowledge as we acclimate to this world.

With enough practice and experience here in this life, we’re able to mock up difficulties and obstacles of all kinds for ourselves in the opposite direction. In fact, we get r e a l l y good at it — when I have time, when I’m not so stressed, later, next weekend, when I finally get a break from work, when the kids are asleep, after the virus retreats, when I’m not so strapped for cash — never perceiving that it’s exactly such priorities which too often shut us off from the very wonder, healing and rebalancing we long for and so desperately need. Rather than slipping in and out of worlds with ease, we root ourselves deeply in just one, then struggle to connect to any others. Rather than tapping into sources and fountains of rejuvenation that would make this life easier, less stressful, more magical, we resolutely “put away childish things”, then wonder why we feel empty and unfulfilled. If we want a clear demonstration of elemental earth out of balance, we can look at its grip on us, holding us back from mingling with the other elements and with spirit. Hence the needful work with elemental ritual.

Through ritual we can let this “apparent world” fade, as OBOD rites describe it. And one strategy for doing that, given our busy lives, is to slip into such ritual spaces and places in the middle of whatever else we’re doing. This practice in itself mimics the between-the-worlds quality we seek, so it models what it induces. Make the intervals and practices small enough we can’t not enter them. They can also become components of the larger rituals we practice.

We don’t need robes, candles, incense, banners, deity and elemental figurines, gongs, bells, swords, wands, altars. True, things like these can help, but they’re not necessary. Sometimes a single short prayer-chant, practiced once an hour through the day, or on some other schedule (every 15 minutes, or each time you get up from your chair, or at each break, etc.), can begin to open doors.

With each breath I take I walk between the worlds.

The previous post offered a somewhat longer prayer: I invoke the three gifts of Mon …

And the usually brief triads are another short piece of poetry and singing, of verbal magic to enchant ourselves into other worlds.

200px-InfiniteOr if you’re more kinesthetic, and words don’t do it for you, a ritual gesture or kind of movement, or for other sensory orientations, sound, color, smell, and so forth. The previous post offered the infinity symbol as gesture or sign, a way of signaling the openness that always walks with us, the ability to slip in and out of other worlds in an instant, and then return. Drawing it might help. (Doodling is one way many of us enter daydream, another world, and to shift consciousness, etc.)

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In another few days this blog will hit 100,000 views — one indication that in the nearly nine years of its existence it’s continued to serve those who read and return to ponder the kinds of things I write about here. The international readership it’s acquired heartens me as well — it’s not speaking merely to a North-American base.

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cover of 1st edition, Wikipedia/Allen Lane

I do a lot of re-reading (“if it was worth reading once, it deserves at least a second go”), and right now I’ve returned to Richard Adams’ Shardik, his 1974 novel about “the power of God in a bear”. Adams, though better known for Watership Down, felt that in Shardik he had written his best work.

We have echoes of bear-and-human connections in the bear-cults of early Europe, and in the Korean Dangun legends of the bear-ancestors of humans. Jean Auel’s series that began with The Clan of the Cave Bear picks up on this, and there’s more than one Facebook page devoted to the phenomenon.

Some flavours and expressions of Druidry devote attention to the shape-shifting that can open doors, to the more shamanic aspects of our past and our potential, to the animal-human links that can help restore us to balance and fuller experience of humanity. Books can often point us in such directions.

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Devotionals

On a Druidry Facebook group I’m a member of, the question arises a few times each year: what makes Druidry distinctive? In other words, if you’re looking over your options, “Why this and not that?”

Sustained contact with the green world is first practice, never abandoned, never out of date.

In a comment on the last post here, bpott said she was told in meditation to “practice devotionals to the gods outdoors. Lighting a candle to Brighid and sitting with her, or pouring water in a bowl for the moon to infuse its energy and listening to Manannan are such devotionals. There is indeed much to be gained through these spiritual practices”.

But this isn’t something for you to take anyone’s word for. It’s not that kind of observation. Words are meant guide us to own experience and back out again, to reflect so we can experience deeper.

Or as J M Greer puts it,

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.

We regularly need reminders like these, because Talking Self sidetracks us.

“Talking Self” — you know, that chatty, sometimes neurotic self we use to read and post on Facebook, grumble at headlines we don’t like, and cheer for ones we do. It can often persuade us that it is all of who we are, because its medium is language and the thoughts and feelings language kindles in us. Name it, says Talking Self, trying to keep everything in its domain of names and words. (The Dao De Jing quietly reminds us “the nameless is the origin of heaven and earth”.)

Druidry says take yourself out of talking self and into Self — the being linked in its sinew and blood, bone and spirit, to all that is — rivers and streams, woods and meadows, valleys and hills, tundra and deserts, bird and beech, beast and bass and bug.

When you come back, you can turn Talking Self toward song or ritual, if you like — give it something to do that it does well — but in the service of something higher than reactive gossip and self-importance and anxiety.

And “going outdoors” doesn’t have to entail a frigid January plunge through a hole in the ice at the local lake. It may be as simple as smelling an evergreen twig you picked up yesterday on a walk, and now you hold it as you meditate, on the change of seasons, the incense of a living thing on your fingers and in your nose. Crafting a banner or a poem for the next time your Grove meets — at Imbolc in February. Baking and taking a gift to an elderly neighbor or the local soup kitchen. Grooming your dog or cat.

All these things re-engage the body and give Talking Self a break. Poor thing, it needs one. These practices help restore our connections. They gift us with balance. For these reasons they are, in a curious word more often associated with another tradition, incarnational. They literally put us into our bodies, even as they give Spirit shapes and forms we can experience.

Many forms of Spirit, many bodies to experience them: earth body and dream body and thought body and memory body. And others we haven’t begun to explore.

I lay the makings of a fire in our woodstove, crumpled newspaper and punky dry strips of willow from a fallen branch two years ago, and thin strips of a log split and split and split again. Wood’s our primary heat-source — we’re far too stingy to waste money on our electric backup, except in direst emergencies, and then the power may have gone out anyway. I can pause a moment before setting the match to the kindling and honor Brighid. The makings of a devotional. Not “believe in Her”, not “profess my faith She exists”, but honor Her. Often something quite different.

As someone once quipped, more important than me believing in Brighid is Brighid believing in me. What god would care to waste attention on a human who isn’t ever here? But if I’m here and as I honor Her I sense She’s here, what’s left to believe? It’s the honoring that’s important. The connection.

The Druid experience continually “abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit”. Continually, because my rigidity will creep back in, and fire and touch can warm and soften and free me from inflexible habits and open me to change and love.

I met Brighid most intimately through the task of firing up the woodstove when we settled in Vermont in 2008.  Fire became a daily reality each winter (and much of spring and autumn, too). The wonder of fire and the opportunity of honor to Brighid needn’t be separate from the gathering of kindling and the match. Our winter-fires may not be the reverential fire of Kildare — though they can be. Every morning.

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Today I’ll take out the ash to the compost pile, the midden, lovely old word. I let the freshly-removed ash sit out in the hod for a week, so I’m not dumping a pile of embers outdoors on a windy day. Old ash out, new ash to the hod, new fire to the stove ,whose walls are still warm to the touch. I set the kindling, whisper a sometimes wordless prayer to the goddess, and watch as flames grow and spread.

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taking out the ash

 

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new fire

My devotional has to take a particular, concrete form if it’s to exist at all for the body and senses to engage. Spiritual-but-not-religious knows this, instinctively keeps seeking but then abandoning forms, because it distrusts forms even as it senses their value. But it’s the dead form and the opinions-and-then-dogmas of Talking Self that are the obstacle to spiritual connection, not form itself.

Oh, Lord [goes one prayer] forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.
Thou art Everywhere, but I worship thee here:
Thou art without form, but I worship thee in these forms;
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer thee these prayers and salutations.
Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.

Except they’re not limitations at all: the way to do them in time and space is with temporal and spatial forms. I find little limitation in building a fire and honoring Brighid too. My devotional is a matter of intention, of choice. When I’m on another plane, I adopt its forms. (In dreams I fly, with dream-power my earth body doesn’t have.) But now, here (no need to apologize for limitations*), these forms.

Without a form, no transformation, whisper the Wise.

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*The words “limit” and “limitations” are dirty words, far more obscene these days than any other. Obsessed with freedom, we miss what limits are and signify for us.

A shape is a limitation. Personally, I like shapes and forms. If I had no particular shape or form, I wouldn’t be “free” — I’d be monstrous, “de-formed”.

J M Greer notes in his Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. 2012, pgs. 42-53:

A field mouse, for example, has teeth and a digestive system that are fine-tuned to get nutrients from seeds and other concentrated plant foods, and so that is what field mice eat. They do not eat crickets, even though crickets are very nourishing; they leave crickets to the garter snakes. They do not eat herbs, even though herbs are very abundant; they leave herbs to the rabbits. They limit themselves to one kind of food, and as a result their bodies and their behavior are exquisitely shaped to get and use that kind of food. Rather than jacks-of-all-trades, they are masters of one.

… the elegant lines of the blade [of grass] have evolved to make the most economical use of limited energy and resources, for example, and the curve at which it bends measures the limit of the blade’s strength in the presence of the wind. Remove the limits from the grass, and its beauty goes away. The same thing is true of all beauty, in nature as a whole and in the subset of nature we call human life: beauty is born when a flow of nature encounters firm limits, and the more perfect its acceptance of those limits, the greater the beauty will be.

… The same thing is true of all power, in nature as a whole and in that subset of nature we call human life: power is born when a flow of energy encounters firm limits, and the more narrow the outlet left open by those limits, the greater the power will be.

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Evaluating Values, Part 2

Here’s the second half of the set of values I began looking at in Part 1.

Let go and move on.
Set goals.
Care for self and others.

For a nation that claims to be forward-thinking and looking, we’re accumulating an impressive ability to lick old wounds and live in the past. “Times were better when” can afflict the best of us. But even if it’s true, I live now, not then, and I need to begin with what I have today. I’m older (any “wiser” part is an independent variable).

If I’m listening to here, safe in my home cosmos, and honest with Deep Self, I already have a foundation to build on (“here”, “safe” and “honest” are the first three values from Part 1), one that lets me proceed to the next three steps. (Hint to self, or Self: they’re not necessarily steps in a sequence. Repeat-practice any as needed. Each also offers me an extended theme for meditation.)

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Mantis, 4 Sept. ’17. Photo courtesy Jodi Klue.

Mantis, you landed on nearby steps to interrupt a casual conversation a few weeks past, so this time I invite an image of you here to do the same. You become a prayer I can pray often. Let me see interruption as spiritual opportunity, the green world and all the persons in it as companions and allies and teachers, not adversaries. If you offer difficult gifts, I will not just refuse them outright.

You are my divination and message-bearer. (Yes, “sometimes a bird is just a bird” — until awareness greets it like a friend, with understanding that makes good sense of experience. Nothing has the “final word”. The Spiral opens onward, even as it offers rest and respite. Keep questing.)

Plainly you’re turning with the year, the vibrant green of early adulthood now muted, brown as leaves that carpet the yard and driveway. Hunter, are you weary? What have you seen with those complex many-faceted eyes? The power of awen: the empathy to enter other lives and know them, to sing their energies and possibilities, to feel slender legs beneath me, two powerful ones raised and ready to clutch. To sing and die and rise again, to thread the labyrinth of time.

Ah, shape-shifting is a mighty way to “let go and move on”! We do it each night in dreams, a practice I can extend to waking hours. Who can I become to know this world better? What links of sympathy connect me to all life? How does this moment offer doorways into what the cosmos needs next? How can I serve? Out of self and into Self and into other selves. Brother fox and sister hawk, I hear you breathing, your lungs contract and fill in my own chest.

Sometimes I can serve by setting a goal. Let me take the last two practices together: I set a goal to take care of myself so I can take care of others. After all, I can only serve if I CAN serve. How often I misunderstand self-sacrifice! If I can only perform the sacrifice once, chances are I’m limiting myself.

O wisdom-guide, you whisper, Often the best sacrifices are ones you can keep doing. The point isn’t burnout. Make it sacred, sacri-fice it, so you can make it sacred again.

Those of us who attended the recent East Coast Gathering are resuming our “mundane” lives. How to integrate the vision and energy of a Gathering, or any time of intense spiritual uplift, back into daily living is a perennial challenge.

But slowly I am coming to see that I need to “get spiritual” just so I can begin to see that the “mundane” is also absolutely overflowing with spiritual energy. We need to re-charge, yes: so we can flow again. Or to put it another way, my ability to tune in to a seemingly “ordinary” interaction in line at the supermarket, or pumping gas, or climbing the steps at work can transform the apparently mundane into a spiritual connection. The “apparently mundane” in all its flatness and dullness is our workshop, laboratory, spiritual opportunity. Empty canvas. It’s easy to perceive and ride the spiritual currents during events like ECG. Then I get to practice during “everyday life”. I am transformer, I am catalyst, I am pathway in and of myself. It can always begin again with each of us.

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Is Magic Necessary?

“I’m here to have an argument.” (Welcome to our daily flying circus.) I’m enlisting the aid of high art and low craft to get through this post.

This post is an argument — not a disagreement, but an argument in the older sense of the word: a proof, a seeking of an accurate assessment of our world. Did the title put you off? It’s going to get worse. Maybe you should just enjoy the Monty Python video, and let the net distract you from there.

Are you allergic to magic, having tried it and found it to be mostly flash and bluster? Does it simply not rouse in you any response — the kind of response you’ve learned to listen for, the kind you’ve come to trust intuitively along your spiritual journey?

You can sigh justifiably — go ahead! — as I pursue yet another topic tangential to your interests or needs. Check back in later. If you’ve been coming here for any length of time, you know I’ll roll around again soon enough to something you can use. Till then, compost and ruminate. It will do you more good. This post really isn’t a downer, but it’s one that will get few or no likes, and recede ignored into the archives.

Because mostly with this blog I’m arguing with myself, of course. (You’re all much too kind and rarely call me on my crap, for which I think I thank you.) But like a madman, I do the arguing semi-publicly, flopping and writhing on the sidewalk, because what else is worth doing, if I don’t also put myself on the line? Do I mean what I do and say, or not? All right then.

[If you’re not like me or most other humans, you move through life blissfully, largely untroubled by the shifts and turns of living in this world with a body that ages and will eventually die. If indeed you belong to that singularly uncommon group, please leave now. I have nothing to say to you. However, you perhaps have something to teach me. It’s likely you’re spending down a karmic store from a previous life. Spend wisely. But if in fact you’re an enlightened being here for the upliftment of others, and you have no personal life or what we now like to call issues but used to be more accurately called hang-ups*, please open your school/temple/retreat/grove/workshop and get on with your mission. The world needs your wisdom.

*hang-ups: those weak spots in our make-up that serve as ideal targets for tests and challenges and other people’s hang-ups. Shrike-like (warning: video at link!), they hang us up on the thorns of uncomfortable truths behind our comfortable illusions before they rip into us. Because pain is often the creator of awareness. I don’t know about you, but some of my most valuable learning has come at the price of pain. And — after the pain has passed — it’s usually worth it. Cancer, deaths in the family, end of relationships, arson, loss of friends: like most of us, I’ve had my share. And like you, I’m still here. The best revenge is living well.]

Having dispatched some of my readership with one or the other of the last few paragraphs, I ask those of you who remain to consider the following. If you want to grow or make changes in the world, or both, and you’ve been frustrated, recently or for a bad long while, here’s an observation worth trying out in the laboratory of the every day. To put it in concrete terms, if during the upcoming holidays you’re up against a Clinton or Trump supporter in your immediate circle (or, with a change of nation, Brexit or Erdogan or Putin or Modi, etc.) who just doesn’t see the world your way, step back a moment and prepare to get magical:

The tools of magic are useful because most of the factors that shape human awareness are not immediately accessible to the conscious mind; they operate at levels below the one where our ordinary thinking, feeling, and willing take place. The mystery schools have long taught that consciousness has a surface and a depth. The surface is accessible to each of us, but the depth is not. To cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others, the depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough. — J. M. Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Weiser Books, 2012, pg. 88.

For “magical” effects, read “transformational.” I’m a sucker for a good transformation. Aren’t you?

It may be that our wands, like Ron’s, simply need replacing. We’re all “truth (im)moral high ground rights victory” and what we really need is just a new, and appropriately charmed, stick of wood.

51qgd7w1ecl-_sx408_bo1204203200_To add to the mix, I’ll add a line from the Hebrew Bible (Proverbs 16:32) that’s resonated with me since I was a teenager (read in your own appropriate pronoun): “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”

Yes, I’m as subject to confirmation bias as the next person. I like this passage because I’ve seen in my immediate family the ravages that anger can leave. I’ve also shed any expectation that another person will or can do the work in my life that only I can do. (Politicians top that list, no surprise. Blame is always easier than change, and they’re so obligingly convenient to blame.)

iluupncRound this off with Gandhi’s admonition to be the change we wish to see in the world, and I’ve got a lot of changing to do. But better me than you, I remind myself: if I’m hard to change, you’re even worse. The world — by which I mean you and anyone else in my circle — refuses to do almost anything I want. Me, on the other hand, I’ve hand some success in shaping. Small steps, to be sure. “I love you, you’re perfect, now change.”

How to reach the depths? Like others who’ve learned the hard way, Greer lays out a number of testable, practical suggestions. (Because they’re not “new and improved” they get less attention than they merit.) You’ve already heard me grapple with a number of them on this blog.

What I’m proposing, then, once a week going forward, whatever else I’m doing, is an account of my own experience with some of these specific practices , together with my results. I like the spiritual laboratory of experience, not because I “succeed” but because my failures are often remarkably instructive. I learn how to hear and integrate wisdom or make room for enlarged awareness in my own odd life much better by making “mistakes” with it than I ever could merely by reading or giving intellectual assent to others’ ideas.

A sign I need to grow: I’m either strongly attracted to, or repelled by, a person, place, thing, idea, or feeling.

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Images: Wandlore; “I love you, you’re perfect, now change.”

 

 

Holy Fire

Some things glow with it,
flame-keepers, hearths we return to
whenever the world dulls and grays,
whenever bodies earth themselves
too deeply, those mornings each of us
can count all two hundred and six bones
stacked here in our skeleton houses.

Some things touch and smolder,
some kindle, flare once, no more.
Others spark and ignite everything around them.

Fire says: be done with cataloging. I
will renew. In the end, leave everything
for a bright journey. Burn
slow and long.

Thirty Days of Druidry 24: Playing the Druid Card

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Could I be the Mage,
or might I be the Fool?
Should we learn to use our cards
like any kitchen tool?

When I search for wisdom,
when I peruse old lore,
do I seek just kicks and tricks
or something worth much more?

Is my quest a question,
things I already know,
or an “undiscovered country”
I rediscover as I grow?

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If “playing the _____ – card” means to take (unfair) advantage of some given of our identities, what might it mean to play the Druid card? Well, it certainly gains us nothing with either the gods or local land spirits.

Druid-card Holder (DCH): “Hey! I’m a Druid!”

Land Wight (LW): “Welcome. Have you listened to the land, spent time hearing what it has to teach, growing a portion of your own food on it, and feeling how each season and its energies shape the lives of all the creatures on it, including you? Have you, in four words, lived where you live?”

DCH: Well, no …

LW: Go away and do not return until you learn reverence.

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“I invoke you, goddess, for a change.”

Let me try again. If I live where I’ve lived, rather than almost anywhere else, I accept the gift of responsibility. Usually the word sounds heavy — something people try to flee rather than to welcome. But let me do my Bard word trick once more. I know I’ve often walked away from my response-ability, my ability to respond. I turn it off, drown it out, change channels, either because it’s painful or too demanding or or or. Third time’s the charm: find three or’s and I can successfully escape my ability to respond and maybe spend my whole life in someone else’s dream rather than one of my own. Success!

I often explore my own “weaknesses” because I find I learn more from them than from my strengths. (“Could that be one of their uses?! Hmm.”) We’re so accustomed to others being down on themselves that you may hear this as more of the same. No. I gain strength and insight from such cool, steady gaze. Don’t misunderstand. I’m as good at denial, deflection and depression as the next fellow. A 3-D life! A modern Western triad!

But what I want to get better at are the finely-tuned opportunities my weaknesses constantly point me toward. Lack something, and I sensitize myself to it everywhere around me. My lack magically energizes the thing to keep knocking at the door of my life. But rather than turning to my ability to respond, my responsibility, I do everything to reject the thing I said I wanted. But no worries, mate: it doesn’t actually vanish. It will keep knocking until I let it in. “Ask (I keep asking all the time) and it will be given to you; seek (we never really give up seeking, just take breaks for a day or a decade) and you will find; knock (oh, how it will knock back, friend!) and the door will be opened to you.”*

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Bala Lake in Wales, where Gwion Bach begins his adventure of transformation

More and more it seems that rather than missed opportunities, there are only ones I keep rejecting. If I really do “miss” one, it will re-group and when necessary take another form in order to reappear down the road and insert itself into my life. Come around the next turn and — ah! There it is, possibly in a guise more difficult to ignore, less easy to escape at all.

My fate pursues me like yours does you, like Ceridwen pursues Gwion through all his transformations. I might even evade my fate for a life or two, come back in another body, gender, set of circumstances, with a “clean slate” so to speak. Except not really. My one life is with me, my responsibility sharpens, clarifies, till I can live it fully, because there’s nothing else I can do, even if I wanted to.

That’s one corner of my “Druid card” — at least, living where I’ve lived, as I understand it so far. What’s yours?

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When I respond, link, connect, then I “beltane.” Let’s make it verb … Not to cheapen it, market it, no. To sanctify it. And you, my kin, my readers, when you last beltaned, what did you discover?

“Beltane is so much about the urge to connect, to blend and merge; to feel a part of something extraordinary; to at once lose one’s sense of self in that merging but also to paradoxically feel more absolutely and truly oneself because of it. In the desire to penetrate life’s mysteries, we need also to open ourselves to them, surrendering to the power of love that it may have the opportunity to transform us. Great things are born in us at such moments of union; this place of merging is where the tap root of our creativity feeds, without it we feel dry and disconnected. If that magical, alchemical moment of connection and merging were a colour, I suspect it might be perceived as many beautiful, vibrant shades but its foundation, I feel sure, would be the green of spring: ecstatically joyful – the irrepressible life and desire that leads us to love.” — Maria Ede-Weaving

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IMAGES: Ceridwen Centre logoBala Lake.

*Matthew 7:7 — an excellent Druidic number!

Updated 9 May 2016

“Every Sound Contains Its Echo”

soundimageIn the way of things, no sooner had I planned to explore further the transformative power of sound in response to comments on the last post than images, not sound, seized my attention.

Stay flexible, I told myself. Both inner and outer landscapes can turn out to be far more fluid that we expect. (Sometimes my inner voice can be a sanctimonious pain in the ass — especially when it’s also spot on.)

I’d struggled with a particularly troublesome habit which has persisted since my teens. It had been responding well to visualization and images. Problem was, that image practice seemed to siphon off energies that usually spark a new post for me. Nothing. The well was dry. Especially after recently re-dedicating myself to posting at least once weekly, this was distressing.

Finally, some two weeks later, with more than a little help from the awen, here’s that next post.

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You feel a subject’s yours to write about when it falls in your lap. I subscribe to a weekly inspirational e-message from OBOD, and here’s what popped up in my emailbox one Monday morning about a month ago:

“The harmony that holds the stars on their courses and the flesh on our bones resonates through all creation. Every sound contains its echo. Before there was humankind, or even forest, there was sound. Sound spreads from the source in great circles like those formed when a stone is dropped in a pool.

We follow waves of sound from life to life. A dying man’s ears will hear long after his eyes are blind. He hears the sound that leads him to his next life as the Source of All being plucks the harp of creation.” — Morgan Llywelyn, Druids.*

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Didgeridoo

You’d think with a prompt like that I’d suffer no lack of material. You’d assume the post would practically write itself. No such thing. (The universe effortlessly keeps us humble.)

Though it’s lovely and rich with insight, the very authoritativeness of this excerpt set me back on my heels. In Llywelyn’s novel, the Druid speaking these words knows these things viscerally. Sometimes a fictional character can project a greater presence and command higher respect than any historical sage or living pundit. Most of you, I hope, enjoyed just such enchantment many times in books and films.

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“Every sound contains its echo.” Sound can lead directly to transverbal understanding. I know this powerfully, repeatedly, over years. So do most of us, if we stop to think about it. Like music, both chant and mantra can take us elsewhere. Rather than engaging the mind with its opinions, attitudes, assumptions and arguments, sound drives right through logic headlong into experience. Belief? Disbelief? Nope. You just know … at least until the music falls silent.

Echo, original, where are you? I long to hear you again. Always.

Try introducing someone to a new singer or band. “Oh, these lyrics are so inane,” your too-clever friend may whine. Meanwhile you sing along whenever the song plays, and the music just carries you with it. The words may fit poorly or well, but never mind. It’s the sound that carries them on its current. Your liking merely helps the sound reach deeper. All successful music resonates with such sympathetic magic.

beatlesfans

Beatlemania

Great musicians often stand out in front of popular taste, expectation and consciousness. We have documented evidence from the last four centuries of music in the West, from crowds weeping at the premier of a new symphony by Beethoven, through the fear of the freedom and perceived license of the jazz age, Elvis “the pelvis” Presley, the continuous screaming that welcomed the Beatles’ performances, the blissed-out faces of Hare Krishnas engrossed in kirtan, and on to the Evangelical fears of Satanic influence in rock – the infamous claims of backmasking in songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” only the most egregious among many examples.

harekrishnachant

kirtan

I won’t claim all boundary-breaking is an unalloyed “good thing” — it’s not. But music – sound – possesses remarkable power to shift consciousness into new channels. We vibrate ultimately to what we long for and dream about, even if we resist it consciously. Our lives pick up and amplify the sympathetic vibrations, and start to manifest what we’ve set in motion. Imperfectly, sporadically at first, unless and until we learn to vibrate more consciously and healthily.

Much of what we do in chant and mantra is prime the pump, to mix metaphors. Start the vibration locally to attune to the vibration all around us, atoms alive with movement.

One of the best practices I know is to try out and compare different sounds, different vibrations, etc. Simply discover experimentally for yourself which ones actually work. Devote equal time to exploring awen, OM, HU, nam myoho renge kyo, the 99 Names of Allah, Gregorian chant, Tuvan shamanic throat singing, etc. — the extraordinarily rich human heritage of sound-working. Watch your mood, dreaming, creativity, insight and so on. In this way one can quickly dispose of much bad philosophizing with incontrovertible evidence from personal experience.

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To return to my own experience these past few weeks: working with images helped tremendously in shifting my energy and attention away from the habit. Yet occasionally the desire would boil up and flood my awareness with all of its original force. What to do? Sound. Working with sound provides a way to re-tune the reservoir of energy that often accumulates behind a habit and begin to help it shift in new directions, into new channels of flow. Image alone won’t do it, I’m finding: it needs sound.

The “why” of the power of sound lies in demonstration. Like so many of our most potent and valuable experiences, we have to hear it to get near it, play it to say it, flow with it to know it most intimately.

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*Llywelyn, Morgan. Druids. Del Rey, 1992.

IMAGES: female figure; didgeridoo; Beatles’ fans.; Hare Krishna kirtan.

Boku no Shinto: My Shinto, Part 2

[Related posts: Shinto & Shrine Druidry 1 | 2 | 3 || Shinto — Way of the Gods || Renewing the Shrine 1 | 2 || Boku no Shinto — My Shinto 1 | 2 ]

PYogananda

Paramahamsa Yogananda

“Its technique will be your guru.” With these words (ch. 11 of his famous Autobiography, online here), a young Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), founder of Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) and a principal exponent of Kriya Yoga in the West, counsels a peer he has just initiated into the tradition he follows himself. With these words he also points toward a kind of spiritual path that Westerners, rightly wary of super-sized personalities and god-realized con-men, can approach and walk.  A flexible and potent technique can be a trustworthy, profound and endlessly patient guide.

Technique as guru:  as a practitioner of OBOD Druidry and Eckankar, I know firsthand that a technique responds to practice and devotion as much as any teacher.  Religious and spiritual practice will always be as much art as science, because they welcome (and can profoundly benefit from) our subjectivity, even as they also point to their scientific aspect — definite and repeatable results we can achieve from dedication and regular practice.  My emotions, my commitment, my ambition and drive, my struggles and dreams can all contribute to my practice — leaven it and enrich it and make it “mine.”

my double -- b/c we were both angry at each other

“other” as double: both of us angry at each other

My anger at the driver who cut me off in traffic last week, on my way back from dropping my wife off to stay with her cousin, can help me uncover other unexplored pools of anger I can work to identify, learn from, and transform.  Anger by itself need not be bad, only unconscious anger, anger I act from unthinkingly, little different from a live wire I brush against in the dark, unintentionally — or attach to a light fixture and illuminate another step along the way.  Without the experience of anger, I might well miss the wire altogether, and forfeit a chance at illumination.

I can, if I listen, come to see that my whole life is laboratory — not only what I close the door on at 4:00 or 5:00 pm each weekday and return home from.  The individualistic-narcissistic-tending “MY spirituality” gets whittled down to more beneficial size through ongoing spiritual practice. And paradoxically reveals a personalized curriculum tailored to me, right now and here.  Anger?  Yup — that’s on my curriculum, though it may not be on yours.  And my life is ideally set up to help me work with precisely that curriculum point, just as yours is for your distinct points.  Yes — we share a “common core,” too.

compost is transition

compost: just another point along a transition

A practice like Druidry that places me in the natural world immediately begins to slim down ego in concrete ways and immediately accessible ways:  merely walk out the door, and at once it’s clear I’m not the center, nor even the “most important” thing in the universe.  I constantly meet the “spirit other”: animals, birds, trees, and beings without skin on — or bark, or fur, or scales.  I am a paragraph in a chapter, not the whole story. And that’s a good thing, because the world is guru, too. Hard limits of some kind are the only way a world can work (try seriously to imagine one without them), but if I engage them wisely, they build spiritual strength rather than frustration, nihilism and despair.  This physical body is eventual compost, like everything else: but not yet.  And this interval is all.  (Whether it is also “only” is an experiential question, one which only experience can accurately answer, not some dogma to be believed or rejected.)

“My Shinto,” my Way of the Spiritual Order of Things — let’s call it WOTSOOT — begins with the circumstances of my life today.  Here I am, a 55 year-old white male, a teacher, a cancer survivor, married, nearsighted, in fair health.   The initial details of your personal WOTSOOT naturally vary less or more from mine.  They’re also often quite superficial — party chitchat, gossip in my cul-de-sac. Because I am also a point and vector of conscious energy situated in widening networks of energy exchange.  I breathe, and chlorophyll all around me gets inputs it needs.  Bacteria on my skin and in my gut flourish, and help me flourish too, if I stay alert to their balance. I sweat and crap and piss, and nutrients move where other beings can begin to use them.  I consume some of these other beings — not too many, if the system is to remain in equilibrium — just as some them will consume me.  New networks arise, as older ones shift or die.  And part of my practice is: all praise* to the WOTSOOT!

Such processes of the physical realm are both fairly well understood and all too rarely incorporated into larger networks that spiritual teachings of all kinds tell us glow and ripple and transform and pervade the universe.  Scientific insight begins to catch up here and there with spiritual wisdom.  Not dogma, not theology, not creeds — that’s merely paparazzi spirituality — but insights into living networks — the shin-to, the “spirit-way.”  As I write and you eventually read this, we use an electronic network we’ve crafted that simulates in surprising ways organically occurring ones, and we can acknowledge the remarkable power and potential of such interactive patterns of energy and information flow as analogs to the ones we are born into.
calhobresolution

One valuable key to working with the WOTSOOT that I keep reminding myself of is “small steps. ” This works both as a starting point and a successful process, too. Any attempt at change, on any level, meets what we experience as resistance, because of inertia and equilibrium implicit in networks. (Otherwise, without inertia or resistance, they’d never have a chance to grow and develop at all, shifting and falling apart at the least push or pull from outside.  They wouldn’t become “things,” which are semi-lasting whorls and eddies in the flow of WOTSOOT.)

We all have heard that “If it works, don’t fix it,” which is fine, except that a corresponding inherent tendency toward change means that even as it’s working, it’s also changing, or accumulating energy toward change.  Often the changes are small, and if we model ourselves on this larger pattern, our small changes will accord with the flow around us.  (Small ongoing changes help us avoid really disabling larger ones, that can manage to accumulate a staggering wallop of energy if we don’t make those smaller changes.)

“Change your life,” counsels your friendly neighborhood deity of choice.  Okay: but do it in manageable chunks, unless a cataclysm conveniently presents itself to you, ready-made. I have a profoundly messy office right now: too much for a single day of cleaning, without a herculean effort.  Sometimes I can muster one.  But one box today, one shelf tomorrow? That I can manage most days.  Thus both my spiritual paths exhort me to daily practice. (With two paths, as long as I get in at one least set of practices, I’m usually ahead of the game.   I double my options — and find overlaps and interweave and insight from such doubled options — the paths are no longer nearly so separate, but feed each other and me.)

gmplogo

our local VT electrical utility

In concrete terms of just one network, in one person’s life? — Let’s choose the physical for convenience, since we’ve established and can understand a set of fairly common labels like physical measures.  My wife and I have reduced our “garbage” to an average of 8 pounds a week — mostly non-biodegradable packaging and other non-compostables at this point — and I’m working to bring it down from there.  (Why? Throw it “away”?  Nothing goes “away” — it always ends up somewhere, and the nastier it is, the deeper it usually sinks its fangs in my butt when it returns.  Part of my practice, then, is shrinking my “away” — out of pure self-interest, mind you!)  Everything else we’re able to compost or recycle, thanks to recycling options in our region of southern Vermont. We continue to tweak our car and woodstove emissions by wise use, insulation, consolidation of trips, carpooling, etc.  Infrastructure shifts will eventually impact these, as mass transit improves and efficiencies increase, or whole modes (like petroleum-sourced energy) eventually fall out of use.  Only this February 2014, out of the past 24 months, did we use more electricity than our solar panels generated, so we’re in the black there.  But a chunk of that comes from liberal surplus buy-back subsidies from GMP, our local electrical utility company.

Cap'n Henry T.

Cap’n Henry T.

All told, apart from property taxes, our annual shelter costs run roughly $600 — for firewood.  I mention all this as evidence for one person’s start at working with one network among many — by no means an endpoint, nor a claim for any kind of praise or desire for virtue** or self-satisfaction.  It’s part of practice, a point along a continuum, remembering my practice is both a “what to live for,” and also a “how to live” at all.  And again I repeat: your practice, because you are you, necessarily differs.  As H. D. Thoreau observes, “I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.”

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Images:  Paramahansa Yoganandathat “other” drivercompostCalvin and Hobbes resolution;  Green Mountain Power;  Thoreau.

*I don’t know about you, but I can feel gratitude without needing a target, a recipient or respondent:  a magnificent cloudy sky or bright flash of plumage or swirling blizzard evokes awe and gratitude I love to express.  Do I need to say I’m grateful to Anyone?  Can’t I simply be grateful for? Of course! Gratitude feels good.  Why deny myself such pleasure?  There’s a motivation if you need it: practice gratitude out of selfishness, because it makes you feel good, if for no other reason!  Or if I choose to thank a spirit or Spirit, that in no way detracts from my gratitude.  A target for it is another kind of pleasure I choose not to deny myself.

**Except for virtue in the older sense of “strength” or “power.”  This kind of “original virtue” is literally “manliness” — what a vir “man” ideally accomplishes that makes him worthy to be called vir — to de-gender it, “what humans do at their best.”  And what’s “best”?  That which accords with the Way, the Tao or pattern of the universe.

Updated: 7 July 2014

Of Bridges and Leaders, Part 2

[Part One here]

And so the tale unfolds, its apparent focus on the actions of men.  But what of Branwen, sister of Bran?  She is not merely passive, an unwitting pawn in the hands of her brother, her family.

In her story a second and hidden teaching lies in plain sight, so to speak.

“She tames a starling and teaches it human speech,” goes one version.  Such an innocent line.  Does she achieve this before her mistreatment begins at the hands of her new husband, Matholwch king of Ireland?  During?  In either case, her deed stands as a marvel.

The -wen affix in Welsh is one way to form feminine names: Branwen, no less than Bran, is a leader, a bridge. A Raven.  For if she tames the starling before she needs it so desperately, foresight and guidance are hers because she listened and acted on them.  And if after, to her belong inspiration and determination and a singular courage.  To win the trust of a wild creature, to teach it speech, even if it is mimicry, to impress on it the urgency of her plight, to teach or guide it where to fly to find Bran, and on finding him, to repeat the message — each is remarkable alone, to say nothing of all of them together, while being abused and degraded.  This is the power of the animal in us, of Raven wisdom.

I do a quick internet search for “raven wisdom” and through a marvel worthy of the story, within seconds “A Bit about the Raven” appears among the links.  What are some characteristics of Raven Wisdom, according to the site?

  • Rebirth without fear
  • Ability to tear down what needs to be rebuilt
  • Renewal
  • Ability to find light in darkness
  • Courage of self-reflection
  • Introspection
  • Comfort with self
  • Honoring ancestors
  • Connection to the Crone
  • Divination
  • Change in consciousness
  • New occurrences
  • Eloquence

Each of these is apt and fitting, without forcing the issue. Deserving of meditation. Fear would rule you if it could. In Branwen’s case, with abuse and pain and betrayal at the hands of your husband, trapped in another country, all your blood kin, except for your child, across the sea, out of reach. Raven brings rebirth without fear. Branwen realizes the gift of self-possession, and “possessing” the self, a kind of paradox, she — we — have all that is needed.

I’d take a good Black Ops team any day, or barring that, a revolver, you think. And in the short term, these advantages would serve. But how well would they serve?  Rescued, delivered, you return to your old life.  No change, no growth to speak of, only new sorrow, and harrowing memory.  A resolve not to be married off without your consent?  Maybe it started as a love match, not just a political marriage.  Who can say, from what the story itself offers?

raven2But if you “learn” from the experience, but do not also transform as a result, you learn not to trust your own judgment, not to trust the judgment of your family who supposedly love you, who launch you into such a disastrous marriage. Not to trust life to bring you home.

Raven offers more.  It asks us about our own consciousness, about our attitudes to kinds of wisdom we may not (yet) value, or which we may even disdain or abuse, but which remain as gifts given before we can see and claim them as ours.  Raven is nowadays ubiquitous as a Craft name, a Pagan nickname, or initiatory identity.  Raven was the first degree of initiation among the devotees of Mithras.  And Raven is the trickster and initiator par excellence among traditional peoples of many cultures.

For the story does not end merely in rescue …

Part Three coming soon.

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Image: Raven

Revisiting Old Magic(ian)s

rjstewartIn this post I enthuse about an early and continuing inspiration in my practice, and inevitably drag in other more idiosyncratic but hopefully still relevant associations along the way.  So first, the “old magician” of the title.  Scottish-born R. J. Stewart (b. 1949), a composer and author, is among the handful of contemporary practicing magicians whose work has done much to clear away accumulated Medieval and Victorian superstition and obscurity from magic.  Why, for instance, should I intone or vibrate a particular name during a ritual, unless I know what it is and what it’s meant to accomplish?

Inspired by Celtic tradition and the teachings of his mentor Ronald Heaver (1900-1980), Stewart has developed practices designed to heal both magician and environment, among other reasons Druids may be interested in him.  (His website deserves a visit if you want to learn more about him and his magic.)  Along the way, with his Inner Convocations and Inner Traditions practices, he’s also helped to articulate a comprehensible theory of how magic works and can be effectively practiced, reflected in workshops, audio projects, and books like Living Magical Arts (hereafter LMA).  That book was my first deep introduction to magic more than two decades ago, and I sit with my dog-eared copy in front of me now.

I value LMA in part because in it Stewart states basic truths succinctly and clearly — truths I find I need to come back to again and again. His work derives from personal experience.  That means that unlike too many texts on “magic,” it is no pastiche of the work of others, or a mere catalog of magical correspondences that do little by themselves to advance actual magical practice.  On the page, correspondences may look  nice (or scary, depending on your own personal fear factor) and decorative for the armchair magician — and who isn’t one of those, with all the books on magic you could read and leave lying around to impress or intimidate guests?!  But anyone half-way into a serious first-year study of magic can (re)create from experience their own list of equally effective correspondences.  That doesn’t render them somehow invalid or useless, but shows that they’re dependent variables rather than constants.  I wanted the constants, “unrealist” that I can sometimes be.

The fact that magical traditions worldwide share much common ground in things like tables of correspondences, while annoyingly refusing to agree on some presumed “basics,” like which direction is associated with which element, should of course give us a clue about what “matters,” what’s convention, and what the difference is.  (For more on this, see Mike Nichols’ wonderful “13 Reasons Why Air Should Be North,” now promoted to the status of a “Sacred Text” at ISTA, the Internet Sacred Text Archive, which if you don’t know, you should know, if only to “waste” large amounts of time exploring.)

spiralimgIn LMA, Stewart offers overviews, rationales, and a coherent and profound magical philosophy for what he presents. As he defines it, “magic is a set of methods for arranging awareness according to patterns.”  Worked with consciously, these patterns can help catalyze a transformation: “the purpose of magical arts is to enable changes within the individual by which he or she may apprehend further methods [of magic and transformation] inwardly.”  This transformation can come about because “magic attempts to relate human consciousness to divine consciousness through patterns inherent in each.”

One reason for the magical dimension of human reality is simply that, as biologists have been discovering, we’re pattern-seekers and pattern-makers in profound ways. That’s how we make sense of the world, the “one great bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion” of things*.  Find the pattern — or impose one, if nothing helpfully steps forward as a clue to whatever’s going on in front of our noses.  Note that this predilection towards pattern-making is neither “good” or “bad” by itself — though it makes sense to assume, as at least a provisional view of reality, that if pattern-recognition is so successful as a survival strategy across so many species, it may actually have something to say about what “reality” is like, or how it comes across to consciousnesses still evolving to “grok” it.

fmofhrFor we share this “blueprint of consciousness” with other mammals, which is why I suspect we were ever able to domesticate animals like dogs, cats, sheep, geese, ducks, chickens, cows, horses, and pigs that have contributed so hugely to human civilization.  They’ve served us as sources of food, clothing, transportation, power for machines, defense, pest control, and companionship.  (Growing up, I remember a picture my dad displayed prominently in our house of five cows, each one representing a different breed of dairy cattle, with the caption “Foster Mothers of the Human Race.”   We kept a herd of the familiar black and white Holsteins, the most common breed in the U.S., the breed most people think of when they think “cow,” but the other four breeds were still important enough to our farm family that as a child I also knew Brown Swiss, Jersey, Ayrshire and Guernsey cattle on sight.)  If domestication isn’t a marvelous and far-reaching act of magic, what is?

So pattern-making is a “keeper” in our toolkit of magical strategies and techniques.  I sense the shades of my born-again and otherwise Christian ancestors flinching and cringing and flagellating themselves.  But magic is not a religion, and is certainly not anti-religion, but rather “a coherent set of traditions regarding human potential.” Or it’s becoming one, in the hands of competent modern magicians like Stewart.  And he goes on to assert that the god and goddess images of religion are imaginative images “engineered to a high standard of performance.” What that means is that magicians, without ever denying the power or value of such images, work through and beyond them because they want to experience and work with the reality which lies behind images and which energizes them.

Stewart’s style both in LMA and later books is educated and not a breezy, colloquial one.  If you’re hearing worship in my words, try again.  I don’t expect everyone will (or should) agree with Stewart. I don’t always. But his common-sense, grounded, characteristically practical outlook is refreshing and unusual when you look at the sometimes careless, unscholarly, irresponsible and misleading books on the market which promise a lot and don’t deliver. Use your reason and intelligence fully, as Stewart would urge, because they’re tools too. He remarks late in the book, “if the intellect can be turned to prove to itself that conditioned life patterns are false, it becomes a useful tool towards liberation.” No quick fixes here (I’m usually suspicious of books which promise those anyway), but a path worthy of prolonged dedication.

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Stewart, R. J.  Living Magical Arts.  Blandford Press, U.K.  1987.

*attributed to author and psychologist William James (1842-1910)

Images: R J Stewart; magicHoard’s Dairyman “foster mothers”

The Four Powers: Know, Dare, Will, Keep Silent–Part 5: Silence and Self-Transformation

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4]

Butterfly-TransformationOne of the great benefits of silence, at least about one’s inner work or “self-work,” is that no one will dump their opinions and energies onto what you are doing, and distract you, or load you with their attitudes and claims, weaknesses and dreams, if you limit their access to your work of changes.  (Let them see the results instead.) Choose your audience wisely if you feel you must talk about such experiences and insights.  American culture in particular suffers at this time from a compulsive confessional mode.  Purge, share, spill, vent! it says.  But keep silent by default, at least at first, and you will have many fewer obstacles to deal with.  Ignore this ancient counsel to keep silent, and you’ll find out from experience why it’s an integral part of magical training, and one of the four powers.

That said, the magical journal is a fine outlet for a “space to talk.”  Not surprisingly, many who keep a journal find it useful to write at least some entries in a code or cipher, in another language, etc., to maintain the veil of privacy necessary to maximizing effort and energy put into the work.  As with most paradoxes, “guard the mysteries; constantly reveal them”* illustrates valuable teaching.  Say nothing; get it down in words.  More about the journal later.

Sometimes the strain  of inner work can lead to imbalances; we choose means and modes of change and growth that cost us more than they deliver.  The French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) records his struggles for insight and inspiration and poetic fire through a program of conscious “derangement of the senses” through means both culturally acceptable and unacceptable (his life bears study!). I quote here from his youthful letters**:

I am lousing myself up as much as I can these days.  Why?  I want to be a poet, and I am working to make myself a seer … the point is, to arrive at the unknown by the disordering of all the senses.  The sufferings are enormous, but one has to be strong, to be born a poet, and I have discovered that I am a poet.  It is not my fault at all.  It is a mistake to say: I think.  One ought to say:  I am thought.

I is for somebody else.  So much the worse for the wood if it find itself a violin.

I witness the unfolding of my own thought: I watch it, I listen to it:  I make the stroke of the bow: the symphony begins to stir in the depths, or springs onto the stage …

I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer.

The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses.  Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, and keeps only their quintessences.  This is unspeakable torture during which he needs all his faith and superhuman strength, and during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed — and the great learned one! — among men — For he arrives at the unknown!  Because he has cultivated his own soul — which was rich to begin with — more than any other man.  He reaches the unknown; and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them.  Let him die charging through those unutterable, unnameable things: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where he has succumbed!

So, then, the poet is the thief of fire …

Rimbaud wrote this in 1871, when he was just 16.

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Much to note here — more than I will address in this post.  First, his age:  in fact he composed all of his poetry before he was twenty, when he abandoned further creative work, though he was to live almost two more decades after that.  Some of his furious intensity, drive — and imbalance — stem from the energies loosed in adolescence, which most of us deal with to varying degrees of success as we mature.  The Victorian magician, poet, mountaineer, addict and occultist Aleister Crowley engaged in similar practices, perhaps surviving them better in the short run, and gaining more from them, while still suffering from partly self-cultivated imbalances and excesses along his chosen path.  Many Westerners crave intensity — we struggle with a deep desire to feel powerfully, and sometimes, to feel anything at all — and the broken lives that result from our excesses, binges, addictions and self-destructive choices testify painfully and graphically to that desire, and to a yawning lack in our cultures that cannot answer or satisfy it.  Hence our compulsion to seek such nourishment elsewhere, in productive and unproductive ways.

Rimbaud’s last line quoted above — “the poet is the thief of fire” — also echoes adolescent rebellion, defiance and fascination with one’s own seemingly Promethean forces and capacities that can make teenagers so self-involved and oblivious of others.  The thrill-seeking, the experimentation, the moodiness all mirror tremendous inner changes as the foundations for adult life are laid.  To plumb our inner darkness — we can see it exteriorized in film after film of violence, sex, death and the depths of traumatic emotion — is to encounter the threshold of the unconscious, the lower astral plane, the scraps and debris left over from that initial self-making that we mistake for all of what we “really” are, when it is simply a part, but not the whole.  Why let any one thing define us?  Yes, a certain wisdom can indeed issue from intense and “heavy” experience.  But — and again, how many of us can speak from experience! — it is not conducive to enduring happiness or balance or a capacity to grow and experience as much as possible.  We cannot kick out the walls of our world and then expect any sort of roof to remain preternaturally suspended over our heads (unless we’ve put in the time to build it).  Better to walk out the door and at least for a time to wander in the woods, with just sky above us.

Silence in some cases can of course be destructive.  After every gun-related “incident” in the U.S., the shooter is subjected to endless scrutiny for “signs” of imbalance, paranoia, anomie, psychopathic tendencies, and so on.  Our cultural sense of disconnect repeatedly festers and spawns terrible destruction and suffering.  Or as novelist E. M Forster says in Howard’s End:

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
And human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
Only connect…

In every culture individuals arise who both confront its darkness and lose their way, as well as see a way through.

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The magical journal is a priceless aid in the work of transformation.  Think of it as an alter ego, a second self or at least a second memory.  Occultist Paul Foster Case illustrates its value in the following passage***.  He speaks about learning the significance of the first ten numbers, 0 – 9, but his words apply much more widely:

I have been instructed by a teacher who could not speak my language, wholly by means of numeral and pictorial symbols.  In a few hours I received enough material from that man to last me for years.  Indeed, I don’t suppose I shall ever exhaust the significance of what I learnt from him in a few summer afternoons.  Thus, were there no other reasons, the fact that number symbols are so useful a time-saving device should recommend them to you in this busy age.  When you have fixed the fundamental ideas in memory, you will soon learn that none are arbitrary.  Then you will begin to see the connection between these ideas …

Get a notebook.  Divide it into ten sections.  Head the first page of each section with one of the ten numeral signs.  Then copy the attributions … into your book.  This is important.  To copy anything is to make it more surely yours than if you merely read it.  The act of copying increases the number of remembered sensations connected with that particular item of knowledge … Once you begin the notebook, you will be surprised at the amount of material that will begin to flow in your direction.  It will seem that a mysterious power has begun to send you information about numbers from all sorts of sources.  You will also discover that as soon as you provide a means for recording them, many ideas about numbers which you will recognize as coming from a higher, yet interior, source will enter your field of consciousness.  After a year, the notebook will be an index of your progress … and by that time you will have learned to regard it as one of the most useful works of reference in your library.

As with so many pairs of opposites, balancing silence with its useful counterpart of keeping a written record will reward the effort made.  Duality is an energetic system that can work like a spiritual generator.

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The first post in this series looks at kinds of knowledge.  The second shows how wanting to know leads to discoveries about our real selves.  The third looks at daring and how it is a kind of freedom.  The fourth focuses on the importance and potency of imagination.

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Images: butterfly;

*Beat and Pagan poet Lew Welch: “Theology,” 1969.

The True Rebel never advertises it,
He prefers his joy to Missionary Work.

Church is Bureaucracy,
no more interesting than any Post Office.

Religion is Revelation:
all the Wonder of all the Planets striking
all your Only Mind

Guard the Mysteries!
Constantly reveal Them!

**Arthur Rimbaud, Collected Poems.  (trans. Oliver Bernard). Penguin Classics, 1986, pp. 6-12.

***Paul Foster Case, Occult Fundamentals and Spiritual Unfoldment, Vol. 1: Early Writings. Fraternity of the Hidden Light, 2008.  p. 72.

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