Archive for the ‘winter solstice’ Category

Oddments and Evenments   Leave a comment

A 4:34 video of the recent Gulf Coast Gathering by M. Fowler:

C. S Lewis titles a chapter in his book Mere Christianity “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe”, and there are many such clues. Much of spirituality consists in looking and listening long enough to perceive them.

Rather than a set of don’t’s, a livable spirituality consists mostly of do’s, if only because they give us a path of action rather than avoidance. Do try out what you’ve learned, do love other beings, do test your understanding of the universe against the universe itself and see where you can improve what you do, if only for the pure pleasure of the doing. Do watch for patterns and spirals, do celebrate when you can, because much passes by, never to return. Do drink deep, because with or without you, life keeps brewing marvels.

Love and timing: two powerful ways to live which — combined — work even better. Each is a mode of dancing with life, rather than resisting it. Feel the sway of your lover’s back, note the slight change in pressure of your lover’s arms, and be ready to move on into the next steps. Part and return, part and return again. These bodies wear out anyway. Why darken the changes with unneeded stress, violence and worry?

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In a post from late 2014 I invoked Brid and Ogma for a tongue, and over time received a set of them, Hurundib and Fizaad and Hodjag Rospem, among them conlangs for my fiction, as well as impetus for my Facebook group that practices Old English and among other things right now is reading Peter Baker’s Old English translation of Alice in Wonderland/Æðelgyðe Ellendæda on Wundorlande.

Ask, and it shall be given — just usually not in the limited way I’ve set up. Make my parameters too narrow, in fact, and I effectively shut off the very thing I seek. How often that’s happened to me I can’t begin to count, even in retrospect. Sometimes (most of the time?) our prayers need escape clauses. When I learn to give Spirit room to work through its endless forms and wisdom and energy (after all, it permeates all things, not just this middle-aged Druid), it’s amazing what results and can manifest. A home in the country, time to write, healing from cancer. It just took longer, with many more twists and turns to get there, than I’d planned: read that as “expected and thought I’d constrain the energy of the universe to manifest for me”.

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Today, wind and sun and cold — a defiance of anything the calendar has to say. Yet even and especially in the darkest and coldest of times, the promise of solstice: a fire burns at the heart of things.

Hail, then, Eternal Flame! May the awen, the gift of Brighid, the truth that nourishes lives and worlds, burn bright for you all.

winter solstice 17

Winter Solstice fire 2017

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“What needs to be born?”   Leave a comment

I’m borrowing the title for this post, a lovely question, from John Beckett’s recent article here.

As we approach the turn of the year, we have W. B. Yeats’s version, the evocative query ending his poem “The Second Coming“:

… what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

For we give birth to all manner of things, and not always to our benefit. Like the young mage Ged in LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, “who raged at his weakness, for he knew his strength”, we sense an inchoate energy at work in so many things, if we could only align it to our purposes. Or is it time to listen more, and align ourselves with the energies of the intelligent universe all around us, that brings forth beasts and birds as well as humans who ask such questions?

And there’s our challenge: alignment. Complete the circuit. Our youth culture “hooks up” without finding satisfaction or connection. Loneliness, anxiety, depression afflict so many. Pain both physical and psychological drives an opioid crisis. What spiritual prescription can begin to address such heavy concerns?

If we’ve been paying attention, we know that no single solution works for everyone. This holds true in religion and spirituality, too, though plenty of one-true-wayers will beg to differ. So we turn again to do what we can, each in our own way.

As one of the Wise observes,

The ideal that you hope to achieve is always to be ready for an incarnation, whether it is in this world or those planes beyond. But unless an incarnation can be offered its birth through you, though, it is incapable of being brought into the manifestation of life. Therefore, your attitude should be one in which … you alone accept the responsibility of incarnating a new and greater value of yourself.*

Examining what needs to be born is a first step in bringing about a birth. (Following the metaphor further, we can of course rush to conception, and deal with the aftermath later. Some of us at least have learned that doesn’t always end well.)

1–What can we help be born in our homes and yards? I’ll start here with Earth. This time of year is perfect for dreaming with garden catalogs. What else? Is there a spot of backyard I can allow to grow wild, or at least wilder? The front lawn may feel more public, or be subject to various town or highway ordinances. But especially if you have even a couple acres like I do, consider whether a spot of wild is both “creature-kinder” and asks less mowing and upkeep. Brush from winter windfall can get it started.  Erecting even a few birdhouses for the more shy species that favor cover can also help. We’re still shaping what we’ve received from the previous owner of our land. I’m less green-thumbed than many, but even a thoughtful neglect to mow absolutely everywhere can encourage many species. We have a working truce with our feisty moles, renewed each year with a ritual and a few conversations, to keep them from our garden areas.

Is the way open for berry bushes, which birds may have obligingly already started for you? Along fence lines and beneath their favorite perching and nesting shrubs and trees, birds drop seeds that will grow in a few seasons to a source of blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, and more. Staring at snowdrifts can serve up good practice for imagining spring and planting and new green.

2–What can be born in my spending habits? I’ve come to appreciate small changes, because they’re easiest to stick with. There’s more virtue and occasion to feed the ego (and thereby nurture a positive practice) if I follow through for a year, rather than think big but end up doing nothing. Combine errands and car trips? Recycle used oil, parts, tires, cardboard, glass? Many communities are moving toward better custodianship of resources, and starting to offer better options. Inherit a shed filled with rusting things, and badly-labelled containers of possibly petroleum substances? Any clean-up is “more than before”. Shop used when possible. The northeast U.S. reads a lot through the winter months, and well-patronized library book sales often have surprisingly current titles. With many large libraries so short-sightedly downsizing their collections, you can sometimes enjoy remarkable finds.

3–What can be born in my practice? By this I mean spiritual practice. Whatever yours is, feed it. Make it easier for you to do it, whatever form that may take. If you haven’t taken up a practice, the new year is a good time to try one out, if not today. Again, make it easy on yourself. Huge numbers of possibilities: five minutes for sacred reading (and you decide what’s sacred to you), stretching, breathing exercises, clearing a chest of drawers or closet or room, an artistic practice, listening to music, yoga, meditation, home renovation, volunteering, helping a neighbor, shoveling a driveway, driving someone to an appointment. Writing actual letters. Listening. Singing or playing an instrument. Cooking. Tending a household shrine. Photography. Weaving.

Whatever it is, I succeed most when I begin with such a small period of time I can’t NOT begin. As a writer, I practiced with 10 words a day during my busiest times. (Too small not to succeed! Easy to make up for the next day, with 20, if I “forgot” the previous day.)

4–What can be born in other quarters of my life? I’m often not a very social person. (My default mode is reading or writing, rather than hanging out and talking.) This blog is part of what I do to connect beyond my own immediate circle. I’m also not a major volunteer, either, but rather than guilt myself up about it, I choose options where volunteering at all will encourage me to do it again. A monthly open discussion series at a local library starting in January is one of my current outlets. Supporting my wife, who’s the current wage-earner in the family, is another. Laundry, dishes, fire (our heat source), snow removal from driveway and solar panels, and I’m serving, acting outside myself, encouraging flow.

5–And I make and find rituals for what needs to be born, to help keep the doorways open. What needs to be born?, I ask, and light a candle, gazing at its yellow flicker. What needs to be born in me?, I ask, and spend time writing in my journal the response that comes. What needs to be born that’s already taking shape, that I can help with? What’s about to be born, that I can work with, and foster, and celebrate? What’s born among friends, when we gather in two days on the 17th in their backyard, to light a fire, and talk and snack and sit on lawn chairs in the snow, feet toward December flames?

Asking the question as I go, keeping the fire of my attention burning, helps the new thing be born.

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*Paul Twitchell. The Key to Secret Worlds, pg. 7.

Winter Quests, Visions, Pilgrimages   2 comments

winter solstice 17

winter solstice, 2016

One of the great discoveries we keep (re)making is that in and around doing the work and not doing the work, this winter season is crammed full of vision and dream and inward turns. Any physical slump we may feel often comes courtesy of ancient programming to conserve energy, store fat, distill insights and experiences, lick our wounds and wait for the Light to strengthen again. The cold doesn’t help either, though it’s a marvelous tonic once we slough off the inertia and bundle up and head out to breathe air sharper than our athames and paring knives.

I write from my time and place, New England in winter. Translate to your own environment. You know it, are learning it with each day, ground under your feet, shapes of trees or endless grasses, desert or horizon or mountains in the distance, ocean blue-gray-green and immense beyond your sight.

Samhain may mark with a ritual day a time when the veil thins, but for me the whole season is paper-thin, a Japanese shoji screen between me and Otherworld, a spidersweb thickness away, the same soft, uncanny brush against the cheek of everything that “daylight brain” pushes away. But night brain rejoices, says yes! says come! says I know you! and speaks in exclamation points and question marks and all the punctuation you rarely see in our scientific waking life of categories and forms and lists and schedules and business hours.

I slip into daydream over breakfast, at work, while driving. Night threatens to take over. We turn to (more) caffeine, chocolate, anything to prop awake the animal self that seeks to settle into that intermittent twilight drowse. The season has already lifted the cover and left the door ajar. The challenge isn’t to do either of these things — they’ve already been done for us, courtesy of biology and the annual ritual of sun and planets and time — but to stay out of the rabbit hole, avoid the Cave, do the daylight things we’re called to do and not slide off into othering. Because night brain sends us thoughts and feelings unbidden, and it can be a rich time to set down in paint or on paper or in fiber or other craft something of the energies at work in this dark half of the year.

One way to see it and work with it: the mulch and compost and ferment already begun in us mean that the ancestors are putting forth their voices and desires. As their descendants, we carry on some of the work of their blood and sinew. At the same time, being wholly ourselves and not our ancestors, changes seethe and bubble upward from within, brew of the Cauldron. We quit a job, or a relationship, or others do these things for and with and against us out of their own ferment. We cast about for “what next?” and any answers may come not in daylight terms, necessarily, but in hunches and doubts and the same turns that dogs and chickens make before they lie down to rest and nest. Only we do this inwardly. Turn, turn, walk down the new-old bed we’ve made to lie in. And we try it on and test it for fit. Or walk away.

Often we expect any vision to come clear, to walk before our inner sight like TV characters do, crisp in their makeup and perfect hair and wardrobe, when often what comes is all shadowy and indistinct as faces around a ritual circle by firelight. A half-turn or blink and then it’s a single face we see in profile, up close. But what we think is I need to breathe or I gotta make a change. But we don’t or can’t talk easily about such things with anyone else, because it’s hard to explain the link between what vision gives us and what we feel. Just like in a dream, the inner journey brings me to a field of sunflowers and suddenly I know I have to change my life. The dream logic between the two is undeniable, even if it bypasses daytime reasoning. It’s not cause and effect, or before and after. No, it’s all one thing. And we seem to know it all at once, too. (But talking about it requires us to examine it piecemeal, like trying to push a whale through a sieve. It just doesn’t work. So we fall back on trying to explain that, too, and soon we’re twice removed from the original experience.)

So we make our pilgrimages through winter, pondering the pieces of dark world wisdom that arrive like that touch of coolness when we wake and find we’ve kicked off a blanket. Or in the dark, up to get a drink in the night, we step on a marble or raisin or kernel of popcorn and the surprise feels all out of proportion to the actual size of the thing that we set a tender foot on. Old photo or yearbook or holiday letter from the past, object unearthed when we were looking for something else. We sit with it and an hour passes in reverie. We chew and digest our lives and come to perceive something of their value and nourishment in such moments, unplanned, perpendicular to schedules and calendars.

Let me honor the dark, I whisper to myself.

Let me draw darkness around me like a blanket, feeling its folds.
Let me say its names as they come to me, strange sounds, rumbles and squawks in the throat, thing animals say to each other and us.

Let me caress the soft animal of my life.

Let me linger in the dark and its warm silences, welcome its cold shivers.
Let me weep when tears are tribute, salt and water to bless and purify.

Let me hold myself like a child in the womb,
rocking under the heart’s own rhythm, fetal and new.
Let me wake to darkness as to light,
and feel at home and welcome.

Let me honor the dark.

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Not Doing the Work   Leave a comment

Because sometimes, especially this time of year as we approach the Solstice, an animal lethargy creeps in and “what matters most” means eating and sleeping. You should be hibernating, whispers Oldest Brain. And I long to listen.

Not doing the work is familiar by now. And all around us flash examples too numerous to count. Headlines and posts and memes and Facebook feeds, what’s trending, and even our friends may not offer what we need. Or indeed be working actively against it. Peep at a partner and they’re no help either, most likely because they’re in the thick of their own version. Or will be soon enough. (Sometimes it’s the height of respect simply not to dump my load onto my wife’s.) To lift a few lines from Rilke for my purposes,

Often a star was waiting for you to notice it.
A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past,

or as you walked under an open window, a violin yielded itself to your hearing.
All this was mission. But could you accomplish it?

Look, if we want an easy Bard, then we need to tune to another channel. Rilke isn’t it.

Sometimes it’s not even clear what he’s naming for himself, for us by proxy, though we may feel it in our marrow. Possibility slips by and sleep calls, that easy drowse-and-wait. Sometimes, true enough, sleep is good strategy. Only you and you and I and she and he and they can tell, each by ourselves, if such a strategy fits right now, peering between a dream and a nightmare and the choices seen and unseen that keep tickling our skin and our blood.

For it seems that everything hides us.
Look: trees do exist; the houses that we live in still stand.
We alone fly past all things, as fugitive as the wind.
And all things conspire to keep silent about us, half out of shame perhaps, half as unutterable hope.

If we’re hidden, what luck finding anything else, or anything else finding us?! Especially what we feel we need most — that’s the most fugitive thing of the whole lot. I’m standing here looking and listening for a sign, but it turns out I’m it, tagged by the universe, which runs away — it wants to play — while I’ve got all this serious sh*t to deal with! If there’s a conspiracy, it’s a cosmic one, with shame and hope for fuel, a secret formula we’ve paradoxically always known.

So we take December mindsets like these with us as we go, turning them over to see where the light leaked out of what looked so very promising last week, or a month or year or decade ago.

Have I named it yet, this mood? Pause a moment and toss your own contribution onto the heap. Plenty of room.

Food-scraps-compost-640x360

There’s nothing wrong with composting these things, though we can often feel ashamed of all the brown leaves and earthy smells. It’s the right season for it. Rot and spoilage and scraps, odds and ends of the year all go in, and earth begins its long work over again, and transmutes it. Serious sh*t and funny stuff, dead skin and ideas, fingernails and ashes and brown lettuce leaves and apple-cores and the last squash that never grew once the days turned cold. That deformed pumpkin from the front steps, mummified relic of Halloween, and the remarkable sludge from the back of the vegetable drawer in the fridge. Fling in those irritations and annoyances and petty snarks. Spites and attitudes all go in, rattling as they hit the sides and bounce around against the Cave of Souls and disappear deeper down its gullet. We see that yawning mouth of darkness that terrifies us, even if only a little or for an instant, then realize we were just standing too close to the mirror and caught a glimpse of ourselves up close. So we do the work anyway, just as it does us without our permission. Because to be alive at all, we’re in it.

It’s good to take these things out and air them, get them the turning and churning and the even exposure they need, basting them in earth, so they transmute all the more readily. Everyone’s got them. Think of them as the scraps at the end of the craft session, husks and shells and scurf and skin, bone and gristle dropped into the sink after the holiday dinner’s done and guests gone, before the grand cleanup begins. Shards left over after creation’s finished. What gets swept up from the garage and basement floor. What the kids tracked in from outdoors, the carcass the dog dragged around the yard and left near the mailbox, the small furred or feathered corpse that the cat so thoughtfully dropped on the doormat. We’re always putting a foot in it.

So we squawk and shrink and blanch at these things, disowning them if we could, turning away, dismayed the universe sends such awkwardness our way. Among difficult gifts, the mind of winter ranks pretty high, because it’s pretty (not pretty at all) rank. Overripe, expired, corrupt, foul, putrid, excremental, cadaverous in its open decay.

“This too is mission”. And I can achieve it. I grasp the shame by its least offensive corner,  or shove my arm in up to the elbow and shuffle it along, helping it slither and slide into its next moment. And I might catch the eye of someone else doing the same. We nod stiffly at each other, almost imperceptibly. Earth blesses it, blesses us, accepting nothing short of all.

And I sigh and begin again, making room for that second part, unutterable hope. Which, as all Bards do, I keep trying to put into words.

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Image: Compost.

 

Fools in the Dark   Leave a comment

fool_uniThe Tarot Fool — a fitting symbol as we pick our way slowly from this time of greatest dark right after the Solstice and into the slowly growing light. Blessed fools, all of us, lost and stumbling where angels often fear to tread (is that because, unlike us, they can actually see where they’re going?!). A time for gestation, if we can grab a few moments in the modern restless energy to fill every moment of this season, a time that, if we listen, calls us inward, to introspection and nurturing, to brooding on the new life in us that seeks birth and is always possible. So we run away instead with busy-ness. Almost successful in drowning out the possibility of transformation. Almost. How valuable our failure is to us becomes clear only later.

It’s still dark, though by minutes each day the time of light grows longer. But if the skies are cloudy, you may take a lot of convincing. Looks just like yesterday to me.

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“The card,” writes A. E. Waite, “which bears no number passes through all the numbered cards and is changed in each.”*

A little shiver at that. Like it or not, if we’re alive we’re changing. Un-numbered and free at the outset, I soon enough get counted, numbered, labelled, weighed, boxed and mailed to an unknown address. I get unboxed by others, or I unbox myself. I keep arriving, but never quite get there. But then that means the situations themselves are static, and the trajectories we follow are shaped by the initial energies we manifested when we set out. We are what we started out as, and we build as we go from there. Action, reaction. Source of traction to be able to walk at all.

The Fool isn’t looking at the drop right in front of him.  White dog at his heels (I say “he” and “him” because I’m personalizing things here — the fool quite rightly looks androgenous in many decks — it’s the Every Person card. Rewrite any pronouns to fit — it’s your story here), the Fool is intent on the journey, that first inhale, the animal spirits of hound and flower and golden sun urging him forward.

Of course, the path’s still unclear, the picture has a frame, we haven’t seen what’s up next. The Fool hasn’t even set out yet, or — inevitably — fallen, or opened up that pack on a stick that holds food, a map, a key to a lock it doesn’t fit, a phone number, a debit card with an initial balance. A roll of the dice. A lotto number. With clothes still clean, no grime from the trail, or wrinkles on the complexion, the Fool is unscarred, untried, fearless. Zen calls it Beginner’s Mind. Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”** Yup, know that, been there. Weak and not even recognizing it. No grace to be seen — because it’s dark, because grace manifests not as a separate thing in this case, not as something I can see or sense, but as the nature of the Fool itself.

Swept clean, rebooted, upgraded, ready to take the world by storm, found that dot-com, make a million before you’re 30, met your soul-mate, have the 2.2 kids and the photo-shopped life that the Fates and your parents conspired to deprive you of, and so on. Or simply in love with life, not yet hard-boiled and cynical, jaded and sarcastic, still full of yearnings and dreams. Not yet beaten down. Not just with eyes on the horizon, but above it, in the clouds. “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them,” says Thoreau.

nightlyre-foolredwhitedrakeOr the Fool is in fact immensely powerful and full of potential, but wholly blind to it. Dragon energy curls and flames in us. No mystery (all mystery) that one symbol for Britain and for things Celtic is a yin-yang, a Western mandala of two dragons, white and red.

In this card, the awful gulf below means nothing to one with the power of flight — but will I, will you or any of us, realize it in time? Instead I look back, I turn away from the chance to fly, I long for the comfort of the past.

Stephen Batchelor writes in his book Living with the Devil: “Without the devil to obstruct it, one could not create a path. For a path is kept open by overcoming the hindrances that prevent freedom of movement along it.”***

The devil is in the details, and the devil, or the details, are me — I custom-make the circumstances of my life from which I can learn the most. That’s one view. Everything is feedback, and therefore useful. Another view. “I do not believe in God any more than I believe in Hamlet,” says Batchelor elsewhere, “but this does not mean that either God or Hamlet has nothing of value to say.”

Back to square one, that first step, the dawn, the new day, the Fool’s setting forth. It’s summer, it’s winter, it’s summer again. “The wheels on the bus go round and round.” The wheel of the year takes us again and again through the great cycle of death and life and mortal beauty.

“We dance round in a ring and suppose, while the Secret sits in center and knows,” says sly old master Robert Frost.

“Knows what?” asks the Fool, and insists there’s an answer, never mind what anyone says.

“The Fool who persists in his folly will become wise,” says William Blake.

And the Fool, the blessed Fool, takes the next step.

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*Waite, A. E. “The Soul’s Progress.” Manual of Cartomancy. Reprinted as The Complete Manual of Occult Divination, Vol. 1. University Books, 1972.

**2 Corinthians 12:9.

***Batchelor, Stephen. Living with the Devil. New York: Riverhead Books/Penguin, 2004.

IMAGES: Fool from the Rider Waite deck; dragon.

Yule Moon and Solstice   4 comments

Some three weeks away, now, there’s a Full Moon on Christmas Day, at 6:11 am, Eastern Standard Time (U.S.). It will set less than an hour later where I live, so I won’t obsess over exact astronomical details or feel any need to rouse myself on a dark winter morning to witness it, but instead enjoy it the evenings before and after.

The Solstice, however, is different, and merits a different welcome. While I’m not sure I’ll keep the traditional night-long vigil through the longest night to greet the dawn, I will be up late, laying one last charge of wood in the woodstove, and contemplating the coming new year. And the afternoon before and after I’ll take part in a Solstice ritual in two different towns.

Why? Do the seasonal festivals really matter?

woodpile

Yes, this is a pile of sticks and small branches in an old orchard and pasture near where I live. You can see the long shadows of the tree-trunks — it’s late afternoon in November, a week ago. The owner cut a dying tree from the treeline that stands to the left, outside the picture. He’s already chopped, split and picked up the firewood, and gathered the remainder here.

Is it useful? No. It’s just brush. Burn it or dump it in a gully.

Is it useful? Yes. It’s kindling for a whole winter, and twigs for wreathes and crafts.

Is it useful? Who knows? That depends on how someone uses it.

Sometimes I find you have to ask the same question at least three times to get enough answers to work with.

Follow through on each answer and you get a different outcome. Is one of them the “right” answer? Who is asking?

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One of the suggestions for solitary celebration of the Winter Solstice that I’ve adapted and adopted from OBOD is this simple rite:

On the longest night, go through the house and turn off all lights. Spend time feeling and acknowledging the darkness. Then light a single candle, and go from room to room, lighting a candle in each one. Say what feels right for you to say.

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