Archive for the ‘truth against the world’ Category

Truth, Sturdy Tree   Leave a comment

In English (and other Germanic languages) there’s a cluster of words related etymologically in “deep time” and beginning with tr-: true, troth, trust, tree. The meanings they convey branch outward — the metaphor is no accident — in other European languages, with similar connected meanings. In some Indo-European languages it’s specifically the oak that’s the quintessential tree, its hard wood most reliably “true”, able to hold its shape, resist warp and rot, or honor the gods like the oaks at the Greek oracle at Dodona, sacred to Zeus. Druids aspire to be “people of the trees”.

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It’s no surprise then that speakers of these languages tend to think of truth in similar terms. Languages offer such networks of related meanings, idioms and imagery that shape and direct our thoughts and our cultures in both subtle and pervasive ways. The resource of words, like any resource, can be spent well or ill. We can draw on it to nourish and enrich human lives, or abuse it to twist, enervate, and destroy. We are, as older culture put it, only as good as our word.

In the archaic “troth, betroth, plight one’s troth”, we encounter truth in another sense, as a promise, something time will help fulfill, yes, but primarily a human action dependent on fidelity and effort. To betroth is to promise “by one’s truth“. Here, truth doesn’t just happen. It’s an outcome of a commitment. We enact truth. We say of something that it “holds true” — it meets the tests of time and other forces colliding with it. If this intrigues you, start a list of other expressions like it, and work with it in meditation.

So we have two related senses of truth: a quality often inherent in experience, and a human way of perceiving, choosing and acting. But in both cases, when something is true, it exhibits a quality similar to a good carpenter’s labor — the pieces fit, align, work together harmoniously, possessing strength and beauty and utility. Hence our sense of truth as something that is often beautiful as well. English idiom also gives us the lovely image of things that “ring true”. Truth, then, also “sounds right”. While a true thing may not exhibit all these qualities every time, it frequently does in surprising ways.

So I offer this as another subject for meditation: in how many ways does a truth appeal to the senses and offer its qualities through numerous images and metaphors in making itself  accessible to human consciousness?

I’m always looking for techniques, for strategies and methods. My pragmatic streak longs for good ways to do things. (That’s not to say my lazy and selfish streaks don’t play their parts all too well. What’s new there? We all deal with limits worth exploring and working with creatively.)

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These two related senses of truth offer what I’m looking for in the form of three challenge-questions I can ask: (1) Does my experience of a person, thing, idea or course of action offer these qualities of harmony, fit, rightness, alignment? (2) If I enact a commitment in my own life based on these qualities as indications of its truth, do I achieve results with similar qualities? (3) Does a possibly true thing “hold true”? That is, do its qualities persist over time?

Apply these observations at will to your own choices, commitments, beliefs and the actions of others. Do they hold true for you?

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Images: Wisdom Tree; Tree World.

 

Above and Below   Leave a comment

Solwom wesutai syet. [sohl-wohm weh-soo-tie syeht] May it be for the good of all.

What we choose to attend to, and how we choose to attend to it, are two sovereign powers that Spirit has gifted to human beings. These two gifts can often seem small or unimportant, especially in the face of difficulty or suffering or injustice, but from them comes all that is great within us. They are the wellsprings of all that we ultimately achieve here and in the other worlds. They are gifts of love and freedom no one can take away from us. We can only relinquish them out of fear. When we build on them and as much as possible make them the foundation of our lives, we are already speaking our own truths against the world.

There will always be challenges and disturbances to test and try us. Finding that still point within is a great help. Any practice that guides us there and strengthens us in the sanctuary of our own spirits is a treasure to cherish.

The land is also always speaking and teaching. The image below is of our pond, yesterday afternoon, a moment of the above-and-below nature of all things. Sometimes the image is clouded and we may miss the reflection. But the original remains. Thus do we, along with all creatures and beings, bring forth what is within us. May it be our best, a sacred choice, a sacred way of walking the path of life.

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Just as the Celtic peoples inspired much revival and contemporary Druidry, native practices of other lands we dwell in can be a source of inspiration and an example of living with an open heart. Solwom wesutai syet, the Indo-Europeans said. May it be for the good of all.

From a Dine (Navajo) prayer-song I heard and learned over thirty years ago, which I use as a healing and peace meditation, aloud or silently:

In beauty I walk.
in beauty before me I walk.
In beauty behind me I walk.
In beauty all around me I walk.
In beauty within me I walk.
It is finished in beauty. (3 more times)

And here is another short Dine song for meditation.

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Perilous Seats and Baiting the Truth   6 comments

mach-chairThe Welsh proverb A gwir yn erbyn a byd — “the truth against the world” — hasn’t lost any of its force. It still offers a challenge, read one way; and a simple statement about the nature of things, read another. Or maybe they’re the same thing.

The words appear on a chair in the Welsh parliament house in Machynlleth. The chair itself is fairly recent, the words traceable at least to Iolo Morganwg and the first Gorsedd of the Bards in the 1790s.

This relatively modern chair may serve us as an apt stand-in for the Siege Perilous, the “Perilous Seat” of Arthurian lore. In the old story as Malory retells it in his Morte D’Arthur,” He shall be born that shall sit there in that siege perilous, and he shall win the Sangreal.” Looking beyond pronoun gender, if you have no truth in you that you will maintain in spite of the world’s ways, don’t even think about sitting there. Better than the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, the Chair puts you where you deserve, weeding out the unworthy with death.

What truth, you ask? In each moment I can assert the possibility of spiritual integrity in each person I meet, while striving to manifest it first in myself.

I can’t wait for the other guy. “You first”? If we all do that, who will ever grow? We see around us the eyes of the spiritually dead. (Some days we join them.) The sad conclusions they’ve come to, in the face of suffering and setbacks, have no life in them. They’ve bowed out and accepted a living death. They (we) are the wounded kings and queens of our present-day Wasteland.

iolo-reliefIn times like this, spiritual integrity can mean living with intention, living counter to the prevailing mood of pessimism and despair. But more importantly, counter to living without any intention at all. You know, the home-from-work, plop down in front of the TV or computer and insta-drug.  Waiting to be entertained (is that so bad?), to be led, to be fed, to be used for another’s purposes because we have none of our own. Well, maybe it is so bad.

So I nip in, trailing some accidental courage, and I lay bait for truth, only half-conscious of what I’m doing. Some days that’s the only way I end up getting any. “Gonna get some” has prodigiously awful overtones these days, but I’ll apply it to truth instead. And having baited the truth, maybe even bravely, for a moment or two, my boldness gives out and I turn tail, racing back to my hole and waiting for events. For a change. For something to happen. Almost (I whisper it) anything but this.

And there’s the actual peril for most us, if we brush against our own version of the Siege Perilous. We already all know it firsthand, and Churchill put it into words: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” Even Perilous Seats turn out to disappoint. Nothing happens. Except …

OBOD Druid rituals include in their opening the words “Let us begin by giving peace to the quarters, for without peace can no work be.”

Well, that decides it, then. No work can be, I mutter to myself. We’ve witnessed the efforts towards peace and justice, how each must be founded on the other. Hard work.

The Welsh ritual asks “A oes heddwch?” Is there peace?

The ritual answer is yes. Ritual can after all prefigure reality, open a door to its happening. It IS reality, on another plane, one we may wish to echo and emulate here. Or is peace a possession solely of some Otherworld, never to make its way here? Always a grail that’s over there, not here? “Grail on a shelf.” Good luck with that, shouts a chorus of wannabe truth-speakers.

The Galilean Master said to his devotees, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” Following the example of the Wise of many lands, we too can learn to give, and not as the world gives, but as our inner truth leads us.

Can there be peace if we each insist on our own truths against the world — against each other’s? Isn’t that in fact the origin of so many conflicts? Especially in America, with everyone shouting “It’s my right!” and no one saying “It’s my responsibility.”

Peace within us doesn’t preclude needful action. It does lay the ground for clarity and compassion out of which all true transformation grows.

And for me that’s a foundational truth I’ve had to learn the hard way. Many others would like to change me to fit their views of the world. The harder and more worthwhile challenge is to change myself to fit my view of the world. If I can’t manage to do that, why expect anyone else to? Or turning it outward, ask me to change in your way only when you can show me you’ve changed. Otherwise, I have my own changes to work on. That cuts down mightily on truths in conflict. And it keeps us all busy failing our way to success, says my inner cynic.

The Welsh ritual:

Y gwir yn erbyn y byd, a oes heddwch? The truth against the world, is there peace?
Calon wrth galon, a oes heddwch? Heart to heart, is there peace?
Gwaedd uwch adwaedd, a oes heddwch? Shout above responding shout, is there peace?

One good example outweighs a lot of words. (Some questions need to be asked, some answers given, three times so we can hear them.) But once we have the example, then the words draw energy from it, and carry some of that truth that runs “against the world” and toward spiritual integrity and harmony.  Words are empty only when hearts are. Full heart, full words.

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Image: chair; Iolo plaque.

Thirty Days of Druidry 21: Beltane 2016   Leave a comment

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[Here are some previous posts on Beltane: a 4-part series, Touching the Sacred; and the Fires of May.]

Once again we’re about a week out from the holiday, close enough it tugs pleasantly at awareness. Here in Vermont, in the northeast U.S. where I live, the last few days in the 70s F/20s C confirm that winter’s gone, though nights below freezing are still a possibility. I remind myself from now till June that it snowed on my May birthday the year I was born. Weather, life: stick around long enough and you find anything’s possible.

beltaneOutward from the merely personal to a group I practiced with the longest: students at the boarding school where I worked for 16 years. Our last and best effort was a truly elaborate Beltane. We devoted a lot of time to preparation, reserved a spot on the school’s Great Lawn (associated with the annual graduation picnic for the whole school community and parents), put up attractive color posters (see the image to the right), and even inspired our student president to spring for the cost of a whole roast pig.

Beyond our small group of eight, just three other people came.

We’d even begun forming a magic study group, devising our own sigil with input from each member, and generally carrying on in magically appropriate ways: sharing and describing our imaginative/astral visions until they took on a life of their own, balancing our elemental energies, ascertaining each member’s strengths and limits for later ritual work, and so on. To those who exclaim “What?! Are you insane?! Working magic with adolescents?! Nutter! Whackjob! Fool!” I reply only that we had multiple safeguards in place.

momTo the left is one version of our sigil, drawn with magic marker on a student’s sketchpad, which I share here — “Guard the Mysteries! Constantly reveal them!” — for the benefit of those curious about the lineage and origins of such things.

Some readers may cluck their tongues knowingly and go on to detect “influences.” To which I say only: That’s fine. But these kids didn’t “know” anything about the Golden Dawn or Euro-alchemy or similar things. Spend time in ritual and you too will find that valid images continually reconstitute themselves in the imagination. If I had the sketches each of them made to include here, the connections pointed to a shared experience out of which they crafted the sigil. The Cross, the Cup, the infinity symbol, an upsilon, the axial symmetry — as far as we were concerned, we were onto an experience and a realm worth exploring. Our truth against the world’s.

As for the sparse attendance at Beltane: each group forms around and operates on its own harmonic. We ate well, sent leftovers home with everyone, and chalked up our rather large budget shortfall to the frequent mismatch between inner and outer worlds. Our next fundraiser only just recouped the outlay; balance restored.

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Beltane, like the other “Great Eight” festivals* of contemporary Druidry and Paganism generally, draws on a swirl of energies as democratic and mongrel and vital as you could wish for. Find a circle to celebrate with, or if you prefer or are gifted with solitary practice, get outdoors, invite the season, contemplate on images and energies alive and at work in your awareness. Bring them into some physical form to ground and manifest them in your world. We all need reminders to help us through those “difficult” days with humor and grace and even, spirits friendly and stars favorable, with gratitude. What better than something that’s come into your world through you?

 

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*The “Great Eight” festivals of the Wheel of the Year

October 31 – November 2: Hallowe’en, Samhain/Samhuinn, All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Todos Santos, Day of the Dead, Dia de Muertos.

December 20-22: Yule, Winter Solstice, Alban Arthan.

February 1-2: Imbolc, Oimelc, St. Brigid’s Day, Groundhog Day, Candlemas.

March 20-22: Spring Equinox, Ostara, Alban Eilir.

May 1: May Day, Beltane, Bealtainne, Walpurgis Night.

June 20-22: Summer Solstice, Midsummer, St. John’s Day, Litha, Alban Hefin.

August 1: Lughnasad/Lunasa, Lammas(tide).

September 20-22: Autumn Equinox, Alban Elfed, Mabon.

 

Thirty Days of Druidry 4: Truths and a Truth   Leave a comment

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wolfsubmitI take as my divination today an odd dream early this morning: I’m a member of a wolf pack, and my fellows have drawn me aside, possibly to be disciplined, after I am tested for truth-telling. The issue at stake, apart from truth, I don’t know. (There isn’t one?) But I feel the just authority and deserved power of my pack leader, I readily make my submission, lying flat on the ground, waiting patiently as I can, licking my chops, panting a little. At length I’m freed, though I lose the final threads of the dream and the actual issue in contention as I wake.

Who determines truth? Is it our pack? Often among social animals it’s indeed the group, for better and worse, like the words of the marriage vow, recognizing a truth about life. For submitting to a consensus is a form of contract. But such a formulation of truth results not just from others’ perceptions — a consensus averages them, bundles them together to even out the extremes, and not only may be no more accurate than my perception or yours, but may well be less.

Mere majority is no guarantor of value. “We all say so,” exclaim the Monkey People in Kipling’s Jungle Book, “and so it must be true.” Democracy, indeed, is the worst form of government — except for all the others. It’s a first approximation to that inner wisdom. Mix in other adulterating motives like the obscuring force of anger, envy, fear and so on, and the spinning moral compass still comes to rest to show that no group deserves more authority than the individual. A group may indeed have usurped such authority, snapped it up if we have ceded it, or claimed it in the absence of the rightful possessor, but that’s a different matter. The point persists behind Iolo Morgannwg’s Welsh aphorism Y gwir yn erbyn y byd — “the truth against the world” — regardless of whether we claim that inner sovereignty as our birthright, or heedlessly opt to forfeit it to whoever is the latest big noise to arrive on the scene.

A part of that sovereignty, true, urges us to seek wise counsel when our own vision falters (as it will from time to time), or does not offer sufficient guidance. But the choice to seek, follow, modify or ignore that counsel remains ours alone. It seems nowadays we’ve only a loose grip at best on the good meaning of discrimination: the ability to make vital distinctions that matter. For the opposite of discrimination is not indiscriminate approval or contempt. Rather it’s an abdication. Someone else, take up my crown and sceptre! It’s too hard! But as we come to know at cost, the only thing more difficult than struggling to uphold our sovereignty is the obscene suffering and atrocious despair we face when we let it slip through our fingers. Holocaust survivor and philosopher Elie Wiesel has said it well (adjust the pronouns to fit): “It is by his freedom that a man knows himself, by his sovereignty over his own life that he measures himself.” Without sovereignty, then, how can we know or measure accurately?

I offer as exhibits 1 and 2 most major headlines today and the lived experience of anyone over 10 years old. Among other wisdom paths, Druidry rightly asserts that it’s our inner sovereignty that comes first. All else follows from the state of our inner kingdom. It’s long work, this upholding of our sovereignty. And if like me you feel the evidence points towards reincarnation, well, we keep coming back till we get it right.Some things we know are true, against whatever the world throws down to snuff it out. Otherwise, what’s the cosmos doing, if not manifesting gloriously, excessively, magnificently, every single possibility along with a consciousness, feathered, finned, furred, to engage it, turn it back onto itself, plumb its depths, endlessly forming and re-forming.

machyn-chairThere’s a wooden chair in the Parliament House in Machynlleth, Wales, that bears those challenging words across the headpiece. For it too is a Siege Perilous, like that “perilous chair” at Arthur’s Round Table, that stands empty awaiting the one who wins through to the Grail, the seat that proves fatal, mortal, to the mortal who sits down unworthy. This life is perilous indeed — mortal — the Ancestors weren’t wrong about that in all their stories. We’re winning through, though by all appearances none of us have quite yet “won.” But we’ve come far enough, through both hardship and joy, to recognize the seat for what it is, to puzzle out the significance of the inscription there, to feel it in our bones. We’ve caught more than one glimpse of Grail in a human face, a landscape, plumbed it in the heart’s cry, caught echoes of the Grail Song, every one of us, against all the odds the world sets for us. We can even imagine sitting down eventually.

I suspect, too, that any endpoint is part of the model and not the reality it attempts to represent. It’s an asymptote, to get mathematical for a moment, if you recall that intriguing figure from school: undrawable, really — endlessly closing in on but never reaching a final point, a terminus, some ultimate destination. It’s the horizon infinitely receding. It’s the Mystery that lies behind and inside everything, the charge that impels all things. Taoists say it’s “like a well: used but never used up. It is like the eternal void: filled with infinite possibilities. It is hidden but always present. I don’t know who gave birth to it. It is older than God” (chapter 4).

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Images: wolveschair in Parliament House, Machynlleth, Wales.

 

 

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