Archive for the ‘triad’ Category

August Moon, and Serving   3 comments

In New England the Sturgeon Moon, as some Native Americans call it,  arrives this coming Sunday, the 26th of August, but early enough in the morning that many will observe it the previous evening.

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Rowan in the front yard, its berries ripening

OBOD Druids are encouraged to do monthly Peace Meditations on the full moon. I never have, which is odd, considering how largely the moon figured in my teens and twenties. For years I observed its phases and influence, absorbed what I could find about its significance in diverse cultures, wrote poems and songs to it, connected to Goddess through it. But a peace meditation?

You could say I absorbed the wrong things from Christianity: “Think not that I am come to bring peace on earth: I came not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34). This has proved one of the most accurate of Christian prophecies. Though it’s not so much a prophecy as a statement that this is a world of the flow of many energies. By its very nature, changes keep coming, and the shifts and rebalances can’t all be smooth, given the pockets and reservoirs of other energies that may resist or simply move on a different time-scale and energy flow.

Druids are called to be peacemakers, and the popular Peace Prayer stands ready as a worthwhile practice, daily for some. Here’s one version of the words:

The Peace Prayer

Deep within the still centre of my being
May I find peace.
Silently within the quiet of the Grove
May I share peace.
Gently (or powerfully) within the greater circle of humankind
May I radiate peace.

Find, share, radiate: all are valid practices I see as part of my own practice. Spiderwebs and hurricanes co-exist in this world. Both will manifest long after I’m gone and forgotten, but I can choose how I will align myself each day. I prefer, actually, to focus on love, which can exist even in tumult and turbulence, when peace has long fled. A home with children and pets and one or more working adults may not know much peace, but it can still overflow with love. A damaged landscape after the rebalancing that storms bring needs love more than peace.

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OBOD ritual proclaims, “Let us begin by giving peace to the quarters, for without peace can no work be”. I don’t know what kind of work you do, but if I required peace before I  started, I’d get nothing done. Don’t get me wrong: I value OBOD ritual, much of the language engages me, helping in the work of magic, but there I must turn aside and let the moment flow past. So I give love to the quarters instead, something they seem to use more readily.

A fragment of a prayer that has stayed with me — maybe someone can identify its source — I encountered decades ago, though I’ve never been able to track it to its lair. But I’ve remembered it fairly accurately, and I’ve recited it often: “I drink at your well. I honor your gods. I bring an undefended heart to our meeting-place”. This triad of actions faces outward in a way I know I can practice myself. For me it establishes a distinct vibration I value.

It also points toward a way I can hear and answer the call to serve.

“Serving is different from helping”, writes Rachel Naomi Remen. I cite her words in full below, because the following text has become so important to me, as a meditation seed and guide and source of wisdom.

In recent years the question how can I help? has become meaningful to many people. But perhaps there is a deeper question we might consider. Perhaps the real question is not how can I help? but how can I serve?

Serving is different from helping. Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals. When you help you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength. If I’m attentive to what’s going on inside of me when I’m helping, I find that I’m always helping someone who’s not as strong as I am, who is needier than I am. People feel this inequality. When we help we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity and wholeness. When I help I am very aware of my own strength. But we don’t serve with our strength, we serve with ourselves. We draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve, our wounds serve, even our darkness can serve. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals.

Helping incurs debt. When you help someone they owe you one. But serving, like healing, is mutual. There is no debt. I am as served as the person I am serving. When I help I have a feeling of satisfaction. When I serve I have a feeling of gratitude. These are very different things.

Serving is also different from fixing. When I fix a person I perceive them as broken, and their brokenness requires me to act. When I fix I do not see the wholeness in the other person or trust the integrity of the life in them. When I serve I see and trust that wholeness. It is what I am responding to and collaborating with.

There is distance between ourselves and whatever or whomever we are fixing. Fixing is a form of judgment. All judgment creates distance, a disconnection, an experience of difference. In fixing there is an inequality of expertise that can easily become a moral distance. We cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch … We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy.

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13 Things that Make a Druid   5 comments

“What makes a Druid a Druid?”, asked a recent post to a Druid Facebook group I follow. The question, and the responses that followed, are both wonderfully instructive. I’ve distilled a large number of comments into thirteen ways of addressing the question. Below are the condensed originals, along with my indented comments.

1) A sickle, a white robe and a beard. What else?

This is one popular image, which we can trace to the Roman historian Pliny (link to short excerpt from his Natural History). Though it ignores the reality of female Druids in both the past and present, it does show that rather than a set of beliefs, Druidry suggests a set of tools that one uses in roles that Druids fulfill. In this case, harvesting the sacred mistletoe from the oak.

Ellen Evert Hopman likes to point out that white is really impractical — it shows dirt. Some of the oldest surviving Irish Druid materials talk about certain colours and patterns of cloth set aside for Druids — but not white. Wearing white stems partly from the influence of Pliny and partly from practices of the Druid Revival of the 1700s and onward.

2) A desire to seek knowledge regardless of belief or faith, a desire to keep that knowledge safe and a desire to share that knowledge with those able to understand it.

A good first draft of a Triad: “Three desires of the Druid: to seek knowledge, to preserve it, and to share it with others”. But many of us linger in desire without ever bringing it into manifestation. Desire alone won’t make a Druid.

3) Knowing when to put the kettle on.

Though it’s another piece of humour, timing of course matters deeply, and the “trick” of “catching the moment” reveals a great deal. Alertness to the hints the world is constantly giving us can guide our days. Likewise, obliviousness to such nudges and intuitions simply means our lives will be that much harder and less joyful. Nature so often is our first teacher.

The 21st century and most of its challenges reflect how often we’ve missed catching the moment and willfully ignored the many hints coming our way. Now we’re simply going to learn the hard way for the next few centuries. Neither Apocalypse nor Singularity, damnation or salvation: but a good deal more schooling in what we didn’t bother to learn the first few times round.

4) Initiation.

As a one-word answer, “initiation” points us in an important direction. But what we think it is, where and how we seek it, and what we do with it once we “have” it — those are places we can trip up.

As one commenter noted, “a Druid isn’t a ‘what’ – it’s not a thing to be initiated into. A Druid is what you are – you can be initiated into Druidry, but that doesn’t make you a Druid”.

Though, as another commenter observes, “self-initiation is a thing”, we are never alone: spirit, spirits, the ancestors, animal presences all participate in both “self” and group initiations.

In a larger sense, too, “initiation” happens to everyone. Life itself initiates us, through love, suffering, birth, death, the seasons. In that sense, we’re all “Druids in training”. Some opt to work with such energies more consciously and deliberately.

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

5) Membership in an Order.

For many — and it can be a valuable step — what “makes a Druid” is membership in an Order. The path of the Solitary means doing preliminary training on one’s own, and the requisite patience and listening and discipline of the Solitary aren’t for everyone as a starting point. Solitary work can feel trackless at times — how do I know where to focus? How do I assess my efforts? An Order can lay out for us its set of answers to such questions. However, to do more than merely “belong” or “be a member” — to grow into Druidry — still requires that same patience and listening and discipline which the Solitary practices.

6) Doing the necessary work.

As a commenter says, “Whether as a solitary or as a member of an order, WORK is required. Otherwise, to call oneself a Druid is meaningless”.

7) Study, reverence, work in nature, and commitment.

For most Druids I know, one or more of these may flag at times. It’s unavoidable. Jobs, relationships, changing health and life circumstances all demand much of us. Returning again and again to pick up the work is what “makes a Druid”.

“Persistence …” says one of the Wise. “Is not this our greatest practice?”

8) Alternative answer: you have to be able to summon a unicorn or a dragon. You can also grow a tree that grows/attracts its own dryad.

Again, though a bit of humour, these answers point to Druidry as something people do rather than something they merely believe.

9) Living in honourable relationship with nature, the Gods and the tribe. (And the evidence that we’re doing this?) The ability to model and teach all of that.

10) There is a special badge you get that says “I’m a Druid” on it …

Ask a silly question …

If you’ve been at some Druid or Pagan events, you may on occasion have wondered whether it’s the bling that makes the Druid. Fortunately, no.

Theme for meditation: what says “I’m a Druid” to the non-human world around us?

11) Practice, experience, and listening.

Another good Triad to take into meditation. Each of the three informs and feeds the other two. What am I listening to? Is it nourishing the deepest part of me? If not … What have I learned from experience? How can that shape my practice? Does either practice or experience show me new things to listen for? What is teaching and guiding me today, right now? What is my next step?

12) 19 years of study … at least for the ancient Druids.

As others have pointed out, the dozen or more years of modern education most of us undertake account for a chunk of those 19 years, but by no means fulfill or equal all of them. A Druid who persists on the path finds in the end that those symbolic 19 years cover just the “introductory material” anyway …

13) You are a Druid when your community says you are — fulfilling the role.

This presents a paradox of sorts. It means I practice and work on fulfilling the role, though recognition may or may not come right away — or ever. But that’s not why I’m practicing. I’m not a Druid until I possess that inherent authority of experience that others recognize, yet I won’t possess that authority or experience unless I practice despite all lack of recognition. My indifference to such recognition as I practice is often a more sure way than any other to attain it.

One advantage of membership in an Order is that the community of members will come to recognize this authority. People will begin to turn to a wise and compassionate Bard, even though others who’ve completed the “higher” grades may also be present.

Another commenter reflects: “Because being a Druid is defined by function, it’s not something you can be in isolation. You can train as a teacher, and maybe even qualify. You can call yourself a teacher. But you are not in reality a teacher until you have taught someone, just as you are only a healer if you have healed someone. You are only a Druid if you carry out the role of a Druid”.

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Colouring Outside the Lines   Leave a comment

“But what can we do?” people often ask. Whatever the need, the question is a perennially valid one. What action is best for me to pursue, yes. But also, what can I do before I act, before the main event, so to speak, so that I can choose more wisely how to act on that larger scale? The Hopi of the American Southwest use a ceremonial pipe they call natwanpi — literally, “instrument of preparation”. What can I do to make of my actions a natwanpi in my own life as often as possible? How can I act now to prepare for the next action needed? How can my deeds begin to form a shining set of links, not merely a random assemblage?

Philip Carr-Gomm writes,

Try opening to Awen not when it’s easy, but when it’s difficult: not when you can be still and nothing is disturbing you, but when there’s chaos around you, and life is far from easy. See if you can find Awen in those moments. It’s harder, much harder, but when you do, it’s like walking through a doorway in a grimy city street to discover a secret garden that has always been there – quiet and tranquil, an oasis of calm and beauty. One way to do this, is just to tell yourself gently “Stop!” Life can be so demanding, so entrancing, that it carries us away, and we get pulled off-centre. If we tell ourselves to stop for a moment, this gives us the opportunity to stop identifying with the drama around us, and to come back to a sense of ourselves, of the innate stillness within our being.

Of course, one key is to practice the Awen when it IS easy, so that it becomes a skill and a habit to draw on when “life is far from easy”. Right now I take this advice, pause from writing this, and chant three awens quietly.

After all, what good is any spiritual practice if it doesn’t help when I need it most? I find this holds true especially with beliefs, which is why so many contemporary people have abandoned religious belief, and thereby think they’ve also “abandoned religion”. All they’ve done, often, is abandon one set of perhaps semi-examined beliefs for another set they may not have examined at all. “Carried away, pulled off-centre” — we’ve all been there. But each moment, in the wry paradox of being human, is also calling us home, “back to a sense of ourselves”.

A few weeks ago I had cataract surgery on my right eye. I was surprised how the looming procedure, with its success rate of above 95%, kicked up old fears in me from the major cancer surgery I’d experienced a decade ago. Coupled with that was a series of dreams I’d had a few years ago about going blind. Altogether not an enjoyable mindset to approach a delicate procedure on the eyes.

But instead of the victim version of the question “Why is this happening to me?” I can choose to ask the curious version of the same question. Insofar as anything in my life responds to events and causes I have set in motion, it’s a most legitimate question.

The answers, I find, can be surprising.

I feared loss of spiritual vision, because I was drifting away from the other spiritual path I practice. This is clearly a cause I’ve launched. I didn’t approach the surgery as some kind of superstitious opportunity for the universe to “pay me back” for spiritual neglect, as if the cosmos operates like a sinister debt collection agency. But if I approach my whole life as an instance of an intelligent universe constantly communicating with me, my fears have a cause, and an effect, and my experiences will mirror all that I am and bring to each moment. Not out of some sort of spiteful cosmic vindictiveness, but because all things, it seems, prod us along the next arm of the spiral. We’re all part of the Web. The same force, I believe, that pushes up the first flowers in spring, in spite of the lingering danger of frosts, the force that urges birds to nest and hatch a fleet of fledglings, even though a percentage will die before reaching adulthood, is the same force alive in me and in my life and the lives of every other being on this planet. Even our seemingly static mountains weather slowly in wind and rain, frost and sun.

Christians focus closely about “being in right relationship” with God. Druids and other practitioners of earth-spirituality are likewise seeking harmonious relations with the world around us. Though a god or gods may not have exclusive claims on me, still, if one makes herself know to me, it’s not a bad idea to pay attention. Same with anything else that knocks for my attention — and deserves it. Day-to-day practice of an earth path like Druidry is an ongoing opportunity to seek out new kinds of harmony as well keep to ones I’ve tried and tested, an opportunity to balance claims of allegiance and attention and energy, to make good choices, and to stand by them as much as I can. (Of course I’ll mess up from time to time. Part of the fun is seeing if I can mess up in a new way this time, to keep myself entertained, if nothing else. Why hoe a row I’ve already weeded, unless it really needs tilling again?!)

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With Lunasa in the northern hemisphere comes Imbolc in the southern one. The ley lines linking the earth festivals around the world deserve my attention, I find, as much as the lines of connection between hills and wells, trees and stones on my continent.

So it is that Brighid of many skills, healing and poetry and smithcraft among them, pairs well with Lugh Samildanach, Lugh “equally gifted” in all the arts and crafts. Both at Imbolc with the kindling of a new cycle of birth and growth, and at Lunasa as first of the harvest festivals, we’re reminded of origins of the crafts of civilization. With human and divine inspiration and gifts supporting our lives, we draw our existence today. I eat because my ancestors tilled the earth and lived to birth and teach the next generation. I wear this body because spirit clothed itself in this form among all the other forms it takes. I peer out at the world and at all the other forms who are likewise looking at and listening to the ongoing waves of existence. From this perspective, how can I not celebrate in simple amazement?!

We’ve all felt those moments when life seems paradoxically dreamlike and marvelously real. Robert Frost, bard of New England and a Wise One I keep turning to for counsel, says,

Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes.
Is the deed ever truly done.
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Where love and need are one: how often do I separate them? Do I respect my need enough to love it, or truly need what it is I think I love? Can I align these two and make them one? Mortal stakes: is what I spend the greatest energy on actually contributing to life, my own life among others? After all, Druidry urges me to consider that each life is worthy and valuable, mine no more but also no less than others.

A Frostian triad emerges: There are three things fitting for the aspirant to wisdom — a seeking after unity of love and need, a work which is play for mortal stakes, and deeds done for heaven and the future.

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After the builders finished the weaving studio addition (visible on the left), they seeded the lawn with clover, and now we have a lovely nitrogen-fixing, weed-inhibiting perennial I refuse to mow. The bees have been loud and happy, cheering at my choice, and the crop will also hold down the still-loose soil against runoff, and help it firm up.

You can see, too, in the foreground the edge of the recent delivery of firewood I need to go stack.

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Fried Tomatoes and You   Leave a comment

“There are different ways to fry tomatoes”, begins one utterly inane piece of spam I opened this morning. But it’s true.

Whatever my tomato is — God, sex, politics — one or more of that original neon trifecta, or something else altogether, different ways abound. More than just two roads diverge in the yellow wood of any moment, Robert. (If I’m gonna argue, let me argue with the best.) Continuing the challenge from the previous post, what limiting duality is my task to work on for today?

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The “solar question” for the day in Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional reads: “Are you misusing responsibility or power?” Is there a missing third, or fourth, etc., or in fact are those always the sole two options to choose from? “Cash or credit”? Or coffee, tea, milk, juice, water, nothing, etc.?

(Incidentally, I prefer guilt to blame, because at least guilt makes me less of a victim. “Which one have I misused this time?!” Because if I messed up before, I can do it differently. But if it’s somebody else’s fault — the blame game — the job’s a lot harder. I have to get them to accept responsibility or exercise their power. Guilt, often, is for the lazy — my kind of people. “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep” said some wise person. So I’m running with the scissors of responsibility, power, guilt and art. What could possibly go wrong?!)

I haul out my table of correspondences and assign each one — responsibility, power, guilt and art — to one of the four directions. Guilt feels earthy, heavy, rooting us in place, rubbing our noses in thing and fact. North it is. Power we’ll place in the south, all fiery and energetic, especially while the Solstice still pulses so brightly. Responsibility I’ll set in the East, that dawning of awareness of cause and effect, that light on our lives that helps us see a path. Art, then, is West, pooling in the emotions and intuition where it’s always ready to leap forth, salmon-like, into beauty and unlooked-for surprise. (Adjust these to taste.)

Or fashion out of the quartet a Triad, chucking guilt and finding a balance of power, responsibility and creativity manifesting in the art of a life lived richly, felt deeply.

So which am I misusing right now? Responsibility or power? The power to act, to fire up my responsibility so that I’m not the unwitting effect of others’ causes, but in fact I claim my human birthright, I originate from my own self a course of action right for me? Or the responsibility to use my power, not to fear it and tuck it away, because it might hurt me or someone else?

In the West, still, women are often shamed for using their power, and men for not using theirs. So we gender power in an attempt to contain it, ending up not with an honest recognition of its many different expressions, but with bitches and bros, power and responsibility both misused in these two common but by no means only possible ways.

There are different ways to fry tomatoes. We tend to think of a perspective, a culture or civilization — if it’s ours — as the best or in fact the only way to fry tomatoes. Given 7+ billion of us humans, not to mention all our other companion species, it’s faintly possible that’s less than likely.

hanged-man

The Hanged Man of the Tarot has been recently in my awareness a lot. I’ve been fascinated how his legs describe a 4 — an image I take to mean the four elements, directions, etc. in balance or harmony. The elemental forces are written in and on all our bodies, but we don’t always live from this powerful awareness, and our resulting imbalances afflict us in a multitude of ways, individually and civilizationally.

If the Hanged Man represents, among other things, self-sacrifice, it’s a sacrifice of limitation — but one which can only happen when I’ve recovered a balance or recognition of the energies at work and available to me. Smaller and greater moments of casting off limitation, of sacrifice of a limited sense of self occur throughout our lives. But it’s vanishingly rare that I can effect self-sacrifice in another person. For that reason alone I find it’s easier (my favorite theme of laziness again  — or, if you prefer, greatest return on investment of time and energy) to work on myself rather than on the culture. Let change flow from my changed consciousness — indeed, that’s how most changes flow anyway, from what I’ve seen. Enough small changes occur, a critical mass builds, and what appeared insoluble, impossible, even unthinkable, tips an energetic balance in mass consciousness, and becomes commonplace. (A handful of us stand up as heroes and heroines, shove publicly to make it all happen sooner, and as often as not are assassinated for our efforts. “A heroic destiny for you is on sale now!”)

This particular version of the Hanged Man expresses such themes well, to my thinking. He’s hanged, but he holds the power and the responsibility. And what lies just beneath him? A pool of water, of the unconscious, perhaps, but also of intuition, of discovery, of autumn, of fullness of awareness, of completion, of harvest. He is just able to touch it. As an image for the coming seasons of the year, the Hanged Man is a worthy guide. We sacrifice most authentically, powerfully, responsibly and artfully when it is ourselves.

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Images: Hanged Man image on DeviantArt.

“The Provocations of Now”   2 comments

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

fire circle -- crystal collins

MAGUS ’18 fire circle. Photo courtesy Crystal Collins.

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

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

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

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

OK, you’ve been warned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triad for Rekindling Sacred Fire   Leave a comment

NOTE

A version of this post appeared on pg. 32 of the summer/fall 2017 issue (large PDF) of Druid Magazine. I’m grateful to the editors, and to their liberal policies that actually recognize the ownership of authors!

In the Southern Hemisphere, Beltane has recently passed, and we can, if we choose, draw on the “opposite” energies here in the North in November, in a six-month harmonic with the South. (Isn’t it always Opposite Day anyway?) It’s Spring in Autumn, Christmas in July, your six-month birthday.

Because when don’t we need sacred fire?

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1–Finding Fire

Every Druid tradition I know of honors fire in some way. “It is the hour of recall”, go the closing lines of OBOD ritual. “As the fire dies down, let it be relit in our hearts”.

Here is the promise of elemental fire, never quenched, always ready to rekindle. But so often I find myself dry, cool, grounded, earthed—all excellent things after ritual, ideal for smooth re-entry into our lives, but hard to live from when we crave and need the flame again.

I’ve detected more than a fair portion of Earth in my makeup: a little reserved, suspicious of quick flares, with a tendency to solidity, inertia even. Does a spark still smolder in the heart of a person like that, waiting to be relit? Can I coax it to flame again? I hold the answers like twin children, one in each arm: of course, and not today. As I write this, I look out the window at fog and wet pavement. Where do I look for flame? In moments like these, it seems a more than reasonable question.

Yes, in the electrified West, we turn a key to start the car, we flip any number of switches all day along, expecting and usually seeing instantaneous lights, readouts, computers booting, phone screens lighting, and hums and rumbles of devices jumping into action. If, like me, you happen to heat with wood, you lay paper and kindling, strike a match, and flame obliges. Praise be to Brighid!

But for all that, I keep reminding myself, we do not command fire. In her The Way of Four Spellbook, Deborah Lipp notes:

Fire has always been set apart from the other elements, because Fire alone has no natural home on the earth; Air has the sky, Water the sea, and Earth the land, but only Fire stands apart from geography. In nature, Fire is the outsider; it is out of control, and it conforms to no known rules (pg. 10).

This is lovely and poetic, evocative and wise, and, as a friend remarked when I quoted it to him, it’s also bullshit. The only place fire happens is geography, just like with every other element. Heart, fire pit, computer screen, creativity—we light and relight them constantly. It’s our extensive craft with the fire principle that’s made much of civilization possible. But mastery in the end means service, and our wizardry rings hollow whenever we forget this.

2–Serving Fire

“I am a servant of the Secret Fire,” declares Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien, 2004, p. 330). Not a bad magical declaration. So I turn to the Indo-European past and summon reconstructed ancient words* to say something like it: *Ambikwolos esmi yagnos ogneyes [Ahm-BEE-kwoh-lohs EHS-mee YAHG-nohs OHG-neh-yes], which roughly translates to “I am a servant of the sacred fire.”

So I ask how I already serve fire, because contrary to an adolescent tendency in us to see our lives as all-or-nothing, we have a starting place within us for anything that can manifest—or so some Wise Ones have told me. How else can we recognize a lack or hole or void except by feeling the outline of what’s missing, of what’s supposed to be there?

Now, when I need to reignite the fire of the sacred, and that includes writing about it, my daily practice, my own “hour of recall”, hopefully guides me to embers that still throw off heat. (If it doesn’t, I know I need to fine-tune what I do each day.) I keep re-learning that we never really extinguish sacred fire. We merely smoor it—that lovely old Scottish word—not “smother” or “suffocate” as some dictionary entries render it, but bank it, setting it to smolder till morning, when it can be breathed and fed to flame again. Peat excels at smoldering, but so do woods like hickory, and so do our human spirits.

While preparing a fire workshop for MAGUS Beltane, out of ruminations like these, I made a list of questions I found I kept asking myself, so I shared them with attendees. Here are seven from that list you might use in your journal, or for a series of meditations. And if one or two of them call you away from reading this, go with them for a while along your own green and shining path. Your responses are more valuable, after all, than “finishing the article”.

1) What does it take—literally and intentionally—in order to kindle you, and in order for you to kindle other things in your life?

2) What offering, if any, do you make to help you kindle? What else could you bring into your practice? What could you discard?

3) What is sacred to you? How do you find, invite, welcome, increase the sacred? What sacred ways are a part of your life right now that can help you kindle?

4) What ways, if any, do you tend to discount, push away, ignore, or feel “aren’t my way of connecting with the sacred”? What can you learn from your attitude towards them?

5) Where are you already kindled? What is burning, warm, or fiery in your life right now?

6) Where do you desire kindling? (Where do you need to bank a fire and cool off?!) Or to put it another way, what needs to catch fire in your life?

7) How has sacred fire already honored your practice and flames inwardly for you?

3–Building a Ritual Fire

In reconstructed Indo-European, one of the words for “altar” is *asa. If you want to expand your ritual declarations and charm-making, you can say *asam kwero [AH-sahm KWEH-roh] “I build an altar”. And if you’re consecrating a talisman or another person, you might add *Yagnobi ognibi tum wikyo! [YAHG-noh-bee OHG-nee-bee toom wee-KYOH!] “I hallow you with sacred fire!”

What to burn on that altar? Here your judgment, tempered and instructed by divination, practice, dream, and study, matters more than anything I might suggest. But if you’re seeking such a suggestion, here is one. Druid and Pagan traditions speak of Nine Sacred Trees suitable for kindling sacred fires (Steward of the Woods, 2015).

What about an altar? You may well have one already, whether backyard fire pit or space cleared on a bookshelf for images, a piece of quartz found on a walk, Tarot card for the day, incense of the season, and so on.

Evidence from several different traditions tells us that squares of sod or turf were a common form that a ritual altar could take. The Aeneid (Mandelbaum, 1961, p. 117) mentions a sod altar. Records from the Scots in the 1700s (Frazer, 1929) talk of building May Day fires on an altar of sod. And the Æcerbōt, the Anglo-Saxon “Land Remedy Spell”, amounts to a ritual for creating sacred space and restoring the land’s fertility (Jolly, 1996). To do so, it instructs the ritual performer to take one sod from each of the four directions of the land to build the ritual altar. Ceisiwr Serith (2015), an experienced ADF ritualist, author, and Indo-Europeanist, gives more supporting info in an article on his excellent website, “Proto-Indo-European Religion”.

In closing, I turn for words to the Rig-Veda 1.26.8: “For when the gods have a good fire, they bring us what we wish for. Let us pray with a good fire” (Three Cranes Grove, 2007; To Pray with a Good Fire).

Note on reconstructed Proto-Indo-European:

The * asterisk is a conventional notation for indicating a reconstructed form. You can never know enough about linguistic prehistory to do more than mangle reconstructed languages. Even graduate study like mine in historical linguistics inoculates precisely nobody from error. (Though a professional career demands pursuing the unattainable.) So in releasing perfectionist worries over Indo-European reconstructions and pronunciations, I cherish the advice of the great medievalist scholar, teacher, and author John Gardner. In advising readers when trying to speak Middle English aloud, he remarks,

“Read aloud or recite with authority, exactly as when speaking Hungarian – if you know no Hungarian – you speak with conviction and easy familiarity. (This, I’m told by Hungarians, is what Hungarians themselves do.) This easy authority, however fake, gets the tone of the language …” (1978, p. 315).

Tone, we might say, covers a multitude of sins.

If you’d like to learn more, two readable, popular, and authoritative books are by West and Mallory, included in the bibliography. Work through them and you won’t need me or anyone else. You’ll be writing your own reconstructed Indo-European phrases and rituals with “conviction and easy authority”.

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Gardner, John. (1978). The Life and Times of Chaucer. New York: Vintage Books.

Jolly, K. L. (1996). Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Lipp, D. (2006). The Way of Four Spellbook. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.

Mallory, J. P. & Adams, D. Q. (2006). The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Steward of the Woods. (2015). “Nine Sacred Woods: A Druid Walk in the Park”.

Ovid. (1929). Fasti (J. G. Frazer , Ed. and trans.). London: MacMillan and Co. (Original work published in 8 AD).

Serith, C. (2015). Proto-Indo-European Religion.

Three Cranes Grove. (2007). To Pray with a Good Fire.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (1987). The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Vergil. (1961). The Aeneid ( A. Mandelbaum, Trans.). New York: Bantam Books.

West, M. L. (2007). Indo-European Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Living a Triad   Leave a comment

Here’s a triad I initially wrote about almost two years ago:

“Three reasons for supplicating the Mighty Ones: because it is a pleasure to you, because you wish to be a friend of the Wise, because your soul is immortal” — traditional.

Lovely reasons, all of them. Long-time readers of this blog know I like to take out truths and proverbs and see how they fit my experience. Not to either “prove” or “disprove” them, but to try them on for size, share something of the results, and possibly add to my spiritual toolkit.

Supplication as a source of pleasure: does this apply to my interactions with Thecu Stormbringer? [blogpost links 12, 3]

My first response is “up to a point”. When my fear of change kicks in, it’s less pleasurable to learn more. But what have I learned?

clouds

When I last wrote, I’d received nine runes of change. But instead of trying them out, I stashed them in an envelope, because I was living them. That was manifesting as a move to an out-of-state teaching job that included housing. And then a return move back home within the month, when the job proved a “poor fit” — an often wry educationese euphemism that, in the words of Shakespeare’s Juliet, meant the whole scenario turned out to be “too rash, too unadvised, too sudden”.

And Thecu alerted me well in advance of the whole thing.

We often think — or I do, anyway — that if we could only know the future, we’d be armed against it, as if change were the enemy.

But to choose just one element of the whole experience that I’m writing to my Ovate tutor about, it was in the month before my wife and I made the change and packed up for a year out of state that I’d finally found a solid link to the land here in southern Vermont.

So leaving it hurt. And returning felt like a reprieve, or a fresh start. At the heart of it lay the increasingly clear perception that where we live has at last become our spiritual home.

More change coming. That’s this morning’s word to me from the goddess. To anyone alive today, change shouldn’t come as a surprise, though of course it still does.

I draw one rune from the envelope, even as I make a new place on my shelf-altar for Thecu.

(Surprised I hadn’t already? That’s the human inertia we all work with, which helps ballast us against small daily changes that shouldn’t upset us, and yet paradoxically weakens us when the big changes come along, because we’ve resisted incremental adjustments that would have made the transition much smoother.)

American children in schools across the nation “pledge allegiance to the flag” — an inanimate representation of the U.S. Is it so strange to extend reverence for an energy or consciousness reaching out to alert me of change and storms to come?

The rune I draw is the sixth of nine, last of the second set of three. For storms, angular energy, and wind sheer. For changes, side factors that contribute significantly, but which I overlook. For responses and initiatives, avoid a frontal resistance, and seek out angles and directions that can use the momentum and energy of change to shift to a better state and condition. Scuttle sideways, crab-like. Crab totem coming …

“When in doubt, divine”, says a journal entry from just about a year ago. A fragment, a contemplation seed, a gift, waiting for me to accept and receive it.

As I note at the end of a previous post about Thecu and change:

We can of course take an a-gnostic approach to all of the above as well: I sense changes coming (no surprise at all, given the state of the world!) and my imagination/subconscious is throwing up images, ideas, tools, hints to help me deal with them. Useful, wholly apart from the nature of their origin, because they’re intended to be empirical: their value lies in what they can do, what I can do with them. Who says the imagination or subconscious has no practical value? In some ways, that’s the ONLY thing it has.

And likewise, a reasonable response to a gift is gratitude for what’s been given.

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Image: stormcloud — Pixabay “free for commercial use — no attribution required”.

 

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