Archive for the ‘wisdom’ Category

The Feasts of Lugh   Leave a comment

Our Vermont seed group, the Well of Segais, met for Lunasa yesterday at Mt. Ascutney State Park. And Down Under, it’s Imbolc, the feast of Brighid — a parallel deserving meditation on its linkages and subtle connections.

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Ascutney summit parking lot — looking south

The haze of August already lies on our hills. Here’s a shot from the car as I drove north along Rt. 91 toward the park. In a state of so many hills and higher peaks, Ascutney doesn’t immediately claim particular status. (At 3130 feet/954 meters, it’s the second-highest peak in our county.) But begin the ascent to the summit, and if the pitch of the climb doesn’t clue you in, you pass into cooler air about halfway up — a most welcome change in the heat of the last several weeks.

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We held a quiet, meditative ritual in what has become our favorite location, in a grove next to a pavilion overlooking a valley to the north. A couple arrived midway through our ritual, and settled into the pavilion to talk quietly, just as we were saying “each person here is a blessing”.

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Lugh swims into my awareness this time of year, around his harvest festival — I honor him as I would a majestic tree. “Believe” in Lugh? Standing under the branches of a tree, belief in that tree is a strange thing to concern oneself with. Instead, I prefer to inhale the scents of the grove around me, noting the evergreen cones on the ground, feeling the shade against the summer sun, hearing the birds in the branches.

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A sometimes-frantic concern with what one believes, or should believe, belongs to other paths — it needn’t trouble Druids, unless they find value in it. There is much more to explore that meets us halfway, rather than folding our thought into shapes that may or may not have any connection to what is already all around us, shapes prescribed by those who came before us, because they arose from their lives, experiences which need to be tested, along with other such legacies, for their applicability to us today.

The “apparent world fades”, whispers the ritual. “With the blessings of earth, sea and sky”,  we “cast aside all disturbing thoughts” and attend more carefully and lovingly to what is going on all around us. (Billboards proclaim, “God is still speaking”. Druids strive to keep listening.)

Belief can be a useful tool, and indeed it does shape our experiences, along with much else. But it is so often subject to change, to distortion, and to incomplete knowledge — as exhibit A, witness the political landscapes these days in so many nations. Wisdom, though harder to gain, has proven more trustworthy as an aid to living my life. (Discerning the difference between them, and living from it — ah, there’s a journey worth anyone’s dedication. Let’s meet there!)

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What Lugh has to say to me, or I to him, may manifest in ritual, or before, or afterward, in my interactions with those I celebrate with, meet at the park entrance, on the road, at the gas station on the way home. Meanwhile, festival communion is our ritual, a priming for honing the attention, for honoring the day and its gifts and our lives.

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Steps on .7 mile/1100 meter footpath to the Ascutney summit

In Vermont, Mt. Ascutney seems a fitting place to honor Lugh and his festival, a place of heights and vistas, a place of green quiet and perspectives, in keeping with his attributes as a storm god and warrior, with links to Mercury and Apollo.

Lugh “has several magical possessions,” notes the Wikipedia entry. “He wields an unstoppable fiery spear, a sling stone, and a hound named Failinis. He is said to have invented fidchell (a Gaelic equivalent of chess), ball games, and horse racing”. His Welsh counterpart is Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the “fair-haired one with the skillful hand”. In Welsh tradition, from his mother Arianrhod he receives a tynged, the Welsh equivalent of a geis, an obligation or prohibition, a taboo linked to one’s destiny. His story, along with Blodeuwedd, comprises the second and third branches of the Mabinogi.

All these details suggest directions for possible Lunasa rituals and activities.

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I arrived early before our ritual gathering, partly to check on locations and partly to re-visit the “sleeping dragon” stone along the footpath to the summit.

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True, without that near-horizontal gouge suggesting a closed eye, the stone might not evoke the name I give it. But as far as I can tell, the gouge is natural, a result of the stones tumbling about each other that make up the summit and its paths.

Below is the “slab” indicated by the sign above — the camera foreshortens the dimensions of the sheet of broken stone that extends over 100 feet/30 meters up the mountain.

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Sometimes a place with dimensions of its own, not immediately convenient for humans, is a helpful reminder and subject of meditation. The slab, like the slot, requires effort to navigate successfully.

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I’ll close with this meditation, plain water after the potent mead of ritual. VT poet Charles Butterfield writes in his poem “Matins” of the natural world:

it is enough to know
here is something
that does not require
your presence
but of which nevertheless
your presence is a part.

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Thirty Days of Druidry 9: The Worship of Trees   2 comments

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“Lately I have succumbed to an old atavistic urge: the worship of trees.”

So goes the opening line to the Telling the Bees’ marvelous song “The Worship of Trees.” On the particular Youtube version below, these words come just a little after the 1-minute mark. Druids are named for their association with trees, and I can think of no better way to communicate a Druidic response to the previous post, where in one section I talked about salvation as just one religious and spiritual alternative in spiritual practice. Druidry doesn’t seek salvation so much as wisdom and connection. If this is atavism, let’s make the most of it!

“Something deep inside of me yearns to be free.” This freedom is not merely a negative “freedom-from,” but a positive “freedom-for.” What do we long to do, what would we do, if we could? Unlike in “spiritual pollution” religions, in Druidry sin doesn’t eternally hold us back (though poor choices can for a time). The blessings of the natural world can heal more than we imagine. Especially when we see how large the borders of the “natural” reach, and how we and our bodies and our sciences and arts and spiritualities, our planet and solar system and galaxy, fit cozily in one small cosmic cubby.

“Lately I have touched the sublime, out of sight out of mind: the worship of trees.” It’s dangerous to state absolutes about something as fluid as Paganism or Druidry specifically, but I will nonetheless: most Druids accept the existence in some form of more than one plane of existence. Note I don’t say “believe “– it’s not a creed to recite each full moon, but an experiential awareness that the cosmos vibrates up and down a very wide range, and our human experience is only part of the bandwidth. Ecstatic experience can for a time open us to other portions of the band, and broaden our sense of its range and of what’s humanly possible too.

“Lately I have been flung into rustication: the worship of trees.” Part of the Druid experience — again, here I can generalize — is a sense of being part of something much larger than human only, something that sweeps us up in its flow and carries us with it along with everything else, in a direction that isn’t different from where we’re going anyway. It’s a harmonic of existence, and so it’s not something to fear or resist, but to study and harmonize with in our own ways, as each species does. Note that the existence of so many distinct species shows the flow needn’t extinguish individuality — it can also manifest through it. What is it in the flow that calls us with such a strong imperative? Only as humans can we deny or ignore the summons, though ultimately we’re borne along willy-nilly anyway.

“I’m too far in …”: some practices and ways of being in the world aren’t wholly “safe.” They may change you, change the environment, and have unforeseen (though not unforeseeable) consequences. John Beckett talks of “a certain forest god” he serves, Cernunnos, whose worship isn’t always comfortable or easy.

And to take things one more step, to the madness which exists in so many shapes we might say we’re all mad to a degree. We have our fixations, obsessions, relentless habits and cherished opinions. Some days it doesn’t take much to shove us a little further in one direction or another that may well land us outside what’s socially acceptable. The gods may be fine with our eccentricity. It’s other humans who get left shaking their heads — or burning down our houses and chasing us out of town. But in that madness, an ecstasy may empower you to open doors no one else can open, and you fulfill a great purpose that answers that “yearning to be free deep inside” which not just you but many feel. And like the leaves a tree drops each autumn, madness is one way to receive and transmute energy.

After all, I ask myself, would I really value a religion or spirituality that doesn’t include an edge?!

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IMAGES: trees with aerial roots.

A Triad on the Mighty Ones   2 comments

triskele“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.

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Like many I revere Brigid. This time of year it’s easy in our house — the fire in our woodstove reminds me of one of her domains, and the lovely orange and blue flames of well-seasoned wood could wake any heart to poetry. I honor her in thought whenever I recall her, I honor her in action by lighting the fire, a daily practice this time of year. To see the wood take flame, to feel the house temperature begin to rise each morning once a good burn gets going and I can close the flue — how could these not be a pleasure, a cause for celebration?

the_godsI love that none of the usual default reasons that our monotheistic culture provides for supplication or prayer come up in this Triad: to save your soul, or to avoid hell, or to please a god or God, or to make up for some human weakness. No, the reasons here are splendidly other, and the first — the first! — is pleasure. Ask yourself, “Do I actually like the company of the Divine? If not, why spend time pretending I do? But if I do … ‘Can I have some more, please?'”

Or perhaps I don’t know either way. So why not find out? One reason to revere and honor and supplicate — lovely old word! — the Mighty Ones is find out what happens if I do.

immortals-the-godsAnd to be a friend of the Wise? For me that means I value wisdom, value those who aspire to it, and aspire to it myself. It’s a measure of our times that wisdom isn’t a word we hear very much. Maybe because it’s fallen out of favor. Maybe because many have abandoned it for cheaper thrills online and off. The company and friendship of the Wise! This, too, is a pleasure I hope you’ve had.

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s-la-lost-horYesterday out of a mix of nostalgia and procrastination at improving my Nanowrimo word-count, I was skimming through James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, which gave us the fabulous Shangri-La. (I first read the novel in high school, at the insistence of an English teacher who also pulled us through Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. You can practically determine my age to within a few years just by those details, if you happen to follow — or yourself suffered through — trends in U.S. secondary education. You can find Hilton’s work online at Project Gutenberg Australia here.)

Hilton gives us the following wonderful exchange between Roberta Brinklow, a British missionary, one of a number of Westerners stranded in the Himalayas at the monastery of Shangri-La, and the English-speaking Chinese monk Chang, who is the principal go-between for the little band of Brits and the Tibetan natives.

“What do the lamas do?” she continued.

“They devote themselves, madam, to contemplation and to the pursuit of wisdom.”

“But that isn’t DOING anything.”

“Then, madam, they do nothing.”

“I thought as much.” She found occasion to sum up. “Well, Mr. Chang, it’s a pleasure being shown all these things, I’m sure, but you won’t convince me that a place like this does any real good. I prefer something more practical.”

“Perhaps you would like to take tea?”

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy stories that deal with the meeting of cultures and the delightful misunderstandings that inevitably result. Of course, my sympathies in this instance lie where Hilton’s also appear to — with the long-suffering Chang.

What good does wisdom do?! Oh darlin’, if you have to ask …

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And the best reason of all which the Triad gives us (if like us the Celts saved the best for last)? Because we recognize the gods are our kin — because what is immortal in us answers the call of what is immortal in them.

I don’t need to have any belief about this either way (“More slackness!” as Hilton’s Miss Brinklow might have said).  I can experiment instead. Am I immortal? Let’s see if I can actually get some inkling either way. Do the gods have something worth my learning, something that may touch on just this issue? Why not supplicate them and find out for myself? Could there be a connection between an experience of the divine and a greater understanding of what it is to be human?

Wherever did we begin to imagine that such questions ought to be matters of belief rather than personal experience?! As if we were asked about the taste of fresh berries and cream on the basis of our knowledge of somebody else’s report, rather than the bowl of them sitting right in front of us! Here’s a spoon. Dig in …

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IMAGES: triskelegods of war — Deviant Art; immortals — the gods; Shangri-La.

Answers and Tools   Leave a comment

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Our lean-to, with wood drying for next winter, ’16-’17.

After a long absence, Wadin Tohangu stopped by again to talk. The old Druid grinned broadly at my surprise in seeing him.  Though I shouldn’t have been so surprised, I know. Usually, if I’ve been thinking about him, he appears sooner or later.

The unseasonably warm November weather in the 70s over the last few days made it a perfect time to be outdoors. I was carrying log lengths of willow to our woodpile after some trimming and pruning work by a tree service company we’d hired a few weeks ago.  Willow is a soft wood and isn’t all that suitable for burning. It doesn’t provide much heat, but it can be useful to work with for other purposes. Some of it might form the edging for a new compost pile, and rot back into the earth itself.

Without any preamble, Wadin got to the point. “You’ve been doing some firming up of your understanding. I can see changes in you.”

“That’s … interesting,” I said, letting an armful of logs fall to stack later. “I feel less certain about a lot of things I thought I knew. Like what love is, and what my purpose or focus should be, for instance. You’re sure you’re not seeing doubt and uncertainty instead?”

He chuckled, and pushed a log into a firmer position between two others. “Part of deepening understanding can mean you rely less on ready verbal formulas and definitions, and in their place you turn more to any wisdom you’ve earned. It may feel less certain, because you can’t summon it in quite such a convenient mental form, or immediately rattle it off if someone asks. Do you do any cooking?”

“Um, yes,” I said, still surprised sometimes by Wadin’s quick shifts as he developed a point. “Mostly baking, actually.” I turned to walk back to the pile of fresh-cut willow lengths. The wheelbarrow I’d normally use to make quicker work of this had a flat tire. But I didn’t mind. The weather was just too splendid to miss.

“Well,” said Wadin, keeping pace beside me, “if you bake bread, for instance, you know at several points that familiarity with the process lets you make decisions about timing that you learn best by practice, not by rule.”

“True,” I said, grabbing an armful of logs. Wadin did the same. “Bread dough that’s going to rise well has a certain feel to it. And up to a point, there are tricks and back-ups you can do with a batch that’s not turning out so well.”

“But,” he said, shifting the logs into a more comfortable position, “that feeling and those tricks aren’t easy to put directly into words, even though you know them well.”

“True,” I said.

“People often treat understanding the same way. They may say, ‘I want answers,’ but they could find that a tool might be more useful to them in the end than any answer.” He dropped the logs and brushed his hands.

“Would you explain that a little more?” I asked him.

“Answers tend to have a compact form,” he replied. “Someone else has done at least part of the thinking, so when we ask a question, the answer arrives with a definite shape and size, and maybe even drags with it some definitions, or some do’s or don’t’s attached to it. It may not fit our needs and awareness. It can be like a key in a lock. Sometimes the key just doesn’t fit. Nothing turns. Even though that key may open plenty of other useful doors, it doesn’t open this one.”

“I guess I understand what you mean. So what about tools?” I picked up three more smaller logs. Wadin grabbed the last couple of strays.

“A tool isn’t meant to provide a final conclusion,” he said. “It simply helps with a particular step, or with a set of steps. It’s part of an open-ended process. A screwdriver applies force, or rather torque, in a way that the human hand unaided cannot. It doesn’t do this by itself — a human hand must wield it. But a screwdriver allows us to open or close things with screws, or do some light prying of covers, perhaps. The screwdriver goes back in its slot (at least in a neat work-area) until you need it again.”

“O.K.” I said, thinking.

“An answer, though, often implies a close, an ending.” He dropped his armful on the pile. “A tool keeps things moving. One helpful strategy is to practice seeing all your answers as tools. There’s nothing final about them, and neither is there anything wrong with that. They’re exactly what they’re supposed to be. They just help move you to the next step you need to take. Put them away when they don’t achieve that, keep them all in good condition, and find another tool that will do what you need at that moment.”

“So you’re talking about a kind of flexibility.” I leaned against a woodshed post.

hammer“Yes,” he said. “The same tools are generally available to everybody, but in the hands of a master craftsman, the right tool saves time, accomplishes the task smoothly, and contributes to the flow of work. The master doesn’t curse his tools, or despair when the tool he insists on using doesn’t do what he wants it to. He knows what each tool can do, just as he knows how each tool feels when he uses it. Part of his mastery is knowing from the feel of the tool in his hand whether it can accomplish what he intends.”

“And part of the joy of mastery is knowing there’s always more to learn. What would it mean, after all, if there was nothing more to aspire to? If you truly knew it all, you’d get bored. What’s the point? The beauty of mastery is its delight in always learning something new, not being discouraged by it, but inspired instead by endless possibility. Sharing what you have learned, communicating that delight simply by doing, and marveling how each person develops an individual style. All right. That’s enough for today.” He smiled and turned toward the afternoon sunlight. I blinked, and he was gone.

If I asked “Is he real?” or “Was he really here?” any answer I received probably wouldn’t be as useful as what I learned. His gift wasn’t some kind of proof that he “existed,” but simply a few more tools he left for me to work with. Answer, tool. A useful distinction. I sent out gratitude, confident it would reach its destination.

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Images: hammer; saw.

Initiation: To Serve in Order to Know (2) — What About Power?   Leave a comment

woe-leg[Part One]

[For a previous series on this topic, go here.]

What I want to talk about here, others say well and beautifully, so this post will invoke quotation for these two potent magics. And in anticipation of what’s to come, if you haven’t given yourself the wise pleasure of reading Ursula LeGuin’s fantasy A Wizard of Earthsea, promise yourself you will soon — your library may well have its own copy or can get you one through interlibrary loan — a “magical familiar” as powerful as any in the pages of medieval grimoires.

A “young adult” fantasy, Wizard has as much to say about magical power as any book I know. If you haven’t read it, I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, and I feel I succeeded. And if you know of a book that teaches more than Wizard about these things, please send me the title!

Here’s more from J H Brennan as he continues to recount his first steps in magical training:

What actually attracted me to magic was not service but power. Nothing grandiose, of course. I had no burning ambition to rule the world or enslave hordes of beautiful women. (Well, maybe just one or two beautiful women…) But I was undoubtedly a prey to a disease which is becoming even more prevalent with the increasing complexity of modern society: a feeling of helplessness.

There are many reactions to such a feeling. Some people embrace political credos. Others get religion. A few (usually male) take to beating their spouses. I turned to magic, which seemed to me to be the ultimate antidote: for what is magic if not a secret system which promises control of damn near everything?

You will be desolate to learn it did not work. Although I spent some nine years in daily Qabalistic training and learned a great deal in the process, I remained Clark Kent: no amount of magical leaps into ritual phone boxes could turn me into Superman.

(J. H. Brennan, Foreword, The Ritual Magic Workbook, p. 4.)

If you’re honest, your first reaction to Brennan’s admission may well be, “Then why bother with magic?!”

In fact it’s a deeply legitimate response, tangled with helplessness. In so many peoples’ lives today — I’m thinking only of our own time — so much anger, pain, suffering, despair, all because we sense a deep truth about ourselves, but one that the world does much to discount, deny and distract us from: our spiritual selves are strong. LeGuin captures this wisdom at the outset, in the first chapter of A Wizard of Earthsea. Her mage hero Ged is still young, but even untrained, in a moment of crisis he draws on a profound truth about himself: “He … raged at his weakness, for he knew his strength” (A Wizard of Earthsea, Bantam Edition, 1975, p. 8).

Our detestable weakness never quite overwhelms that inner knowing, though we may well go under without a lifeline, without support, without confirmation, without some practice that sustains us, whether it has the label “spirituality” or not. Despair at not being able to get at our strength has destroyed many lives. It’s cruel, that despair. In our search for a door to the power in us that we dimly recognize, but which seems to elude us day after wretched day, we may clutch at a cause, as Brennan notes — politics, or religion, or magic — or, if we’re half-under already, at abusive behaviors that may not target others in our lives, but ourselves, though all abuse brings “collateral damage.” Which is double-talk for karma.

The appeal, the draw of power, is clear.

Ged’s teacher, a wizard named Ogion, tries to show Ged the realities he faces in a world where power can be used well or badly. After Ged encounters one who uses her power in a questionable way, and has had his own terrifying encounter with a dark spirit just before this conversation, Ogion admonishes him:

The powers she serves are not the powers I serve. I do not know her will, but I know she does not will me well. Ged, listen to me now. Have you never thought how danger must surround power as shadow does light? This sorcery is not a game we play for pleasure or for praise.  Think of this: that every word, every act of our Art is said and is done either for good, or for evil. Before you speak or do, you must know the price that is to pay!

When we hear this, it’s too much.  More evasion, more powerlessness! We’ve apprenticed ourselves to those who claim to know, and instead of — at last! — affording us even a little taste of power, they scold us for not knowing anything, and set us instead to memorizing, or visualizing, or some other repetitive task that smacks of elementary school drills. (For of course that’s where we are — in school, at a beginner’s level. Again. How long this time?!)

Predictably, Ged rebels. Note what motivates his response:

Driven by his shame, Ged cried, “How am I to know these things when you teach me nothing? Since I have lived with you I have done nothing, seen nothing–”

“Now you have seen something,” said the mage. “By the door, in the darkness, when I came in.”

We seek power, yet once we commit to a magical or spiritual path, often the first thing we meet is darkness. In ourselves. Distinctly not fun.

Ged was silent.

Ogion knelt down and built the fire on the hearth and lit it, for the house was cold.

There it is in plain words — Ogion demonstrates literally the “Path of the Hearth Fire” that is one of the magical and occult paths we can take.  And he does it not in words but in actions LeGuin describes — the daily tasks of an “ordinary life” that can be done with magical awareness of their place and purpose, a responsibility that we can serve while we learn — a way that actually leads to our ideal “inner Hogwarts” without fleeing from the obligations of our “mundane” world which have far more to teach us than we know.

Then still kneeling [Ogion] said in his quiet voice, “Ged, my young falcon, you are not bound to me or to my service. You did not come to me but I to you. You are very young to make this choice, but I cannot make it for you. If you wish, I will send you to Roke Island, where all high arts are taught. Any craft you undertake to learn you will learn, for your power is great. Greater even than your pride, I hope. I would keep you here with me, for what I have is what you lack, but I will not keep you against your will. Now choose …”

(A Wizard of Earthsea, Bantam Edition 1975, pgs. 23-24.)

Power greater than pride: Ogion nails the issue. As J. H. Brennan notes, implicating many of us:

The problem with arrogance is that it is a quality for which I have a sneaking admiration. Consequently it plays a greater part in my character than it really should.

(J. H. Brennan, Foreword, The Ritual Magic Workbook, p. 4.)

There’s a whole book of wisdom to be unpacked from Ogion’s words, which deserve extended meditation. I’ll zero in on the last two: “Now choose.” How can we choose before we understand the consequences of choice? As Tolkien says (in talking about translation*), “We constantly need to know more than we do.”

Choice? That’s another post …

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Images: A Wizard of Earthsea — cover.

*translating Beowulf. In J R R Tolkien (ed. Christopher Tolkien). Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, pg. 191.  For much more on this that you probably could EVER want to know, come to the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, MI this May 2015, where I and many others will be delivering papers on Tolkien’s translation — and in my case, on his peculiar theories of “correct style” and how this intersects with his whole legendarium and the power of imagination.

“Here, everything has a container”   Leave a comment

artofdreamsemBack from a seminar this weekend on the art of spiritual dreaming, with a series of quirky, honest, challenging speakers and panelists.  “Intimate” was a word I heard more than once to “describe the vibe”: the distance between speaker and audience collapsed in a remarkable way, so that we were all participants. Or as one speaker remarked, talking about his experience with dreaming and comedy and comedic training with the improv group Upright Citizens Brigade, “you show up, listen and tell the truth.” If the truth isn’t yet funny-sad at the same time, you keep showing up, listening, and telling and digging. You bring it with everything you are. ‘Cause otherwise, what’s the point? Except maybe chocolate.

But the statement I heard during the seminar that has stuck with me is the line that provided the title for this post: “Here, in these worlds of duality, everything has a container.” Or to put it another way, “soup needs a pot.” My wife and I riffed on this on the drive home. Relationships, stress,  jobs, life: we’re just having “container issues.” The center around which the storms rage witnesses it all. Uncontained, it doesn’t get slimed or cracked, burnt or broken, stolen, ripped off, bungled, overpaid or underappreciated. Container issues, these. How to shift attention off the containers, even for a moment, is a source of great freedom and possibility. Don’t, say some. Can’t, say others. Shouldn’t, say still others. We listen, and we don’t, can’t — until we discover a “why not?” lying at the bottom of the bag, like a stale fortune cookie, or a light-switch felt for, in a strange house or hotel room, in the dark. And we do.  And so it begins.

Hence the “art” part in the “Art of Spiritual Dreaming.” As an art, it needs practice. Really improves with trying out and adapting and personalizing, missing and picking up and proceeding in fits and starts, in the best human tradition.

The first stages of practice can be squeaky, atonal cries, like the noises from that violin you or your nine-year-old has just picked up and attempted to drag a bow across. Or grunts and groans, as when you move into that yoga posture, and you suddenly can count every damn one of the 206 bones, plus assorted tendons and ligaments, in the human body. Your body, thank you very much. Sometimes the art consists in not crying. Or doing so, with all the tears and sobs the situation calls for. If you’re a puddle, you’re sometimes half-way to “soup without the pot.” Then you climb back in. Repotted.

Your art may be different. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” said a certain wise teacher not so many millennia ago. How your art comes to you is your life, what you’re doing today and tomorrow. And after that, maybe.  But when this art we’re all practicing becomes dogma, the artist — who’s the point of it, after all — gets lost in the bans, inquisitions, burnings, purges, pogroms, reformations, downsizings and re-organizations. (Looked at one way, it’s all church/work.) Let me out, says the Artist. I need to breathe. And when we confuse cop-out with drop-out, we’ve confused what Tolkien called the “the flight of the deserter” with “escape of the prisoner.” One is weakness, though sometimes we need to acknowledge weakness, too, just like with crying.  (Show up and tell the truth.) The other, the escape, is a necessity. The bush may survive in the prison yard, but it blossoms in open air. You and I dream every night (proven, documented, everyone single one of us, every night — remembering is just another art to practice) to escape the container into more open air.

We talked in the seminar about techniques.  They’re not hidden, not anymore. Half a hundred schools and temples and ashrams, synagogues and retreats and workshops teach them, sometimes try to claim them, copyright them even, if they’re reeeeely insecure, or greedy and want your $ or other equivalent metal and paper tokens.

Silence. Chant, kirtan, song. Prayer, mantra, favorite refrigerator-magnet team-building-button go-to verbal icon for centering. Icon, image, idol, focus, mandala. Posture, breathing, zazen, yoga, tai chi, krav maga, judo, karate. Ritual, rite, gesture, mudra. Dream, metaphor, lucidity, shift, imaging, visualization. All of these can rattle the container, making us aware of it if we mistake container for real deal, for the truth of what’s going on right now. Pursued with sufficient discipline and zeal, they begin to open doors. Too many! you may say. I’ve just begun with this one, and you’re dumping a truck-load on me.

All you need is to master just one technique, says the Teacher. Just one, and that will be enough.

Enough for what? Suspicious that someone’s selling you something? For me that enough leads to pure experience. Opinions just not needed till after, if at all. Tolkien describes his sense of new/familiar in one of many instances in The Return of the King, in the chapter “The Houses of Healing”:

… as the sweet influence of the herb stole about the chamber it seemed to those who stood by that a keen wind blew through the window, and it bore no scent, but was an air wholly fresh and clean and young, as if it had not before been breathed by any living thing and came new-made from snowy mountains high beneath a dome of stars or from shores of silver far away washed by seas of foam.

And if this metaphor, which is simply another technique, happens to work for you, you catch another glimpse that can be strengthened by one of the techniques here. Or if you’ve swallowed long years or lives of dogma and you practice denial as one of your (powerful) techniques for self-defense against liars and their lies, or simply if your spiritual taste is nourished by other food, it may not work, and you need to look elsewhere, and maybe else-how. And like so many things that may have started for you way back in high school, “you’ll know it when you find it.”

All of this is simply a larger over-technique. And because it’s shaped in words in this post, it may trip you up as much as help you. So with that caveat I pass it along for what it’s worth. Sometimes even an echo is enough to keep us going down the hall and out the gate and along the next path.

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nanowidge-mon11-17If you’ve been following my nano-progress in the last few posts, you’ll see by the numbers here (showing up and practicing my telling the truth) that I’m lagging in the numbers game. Words, word-count, Nanowrimo, this novel, writing — all containers.  Necessary, but not the final story. I’ve got plenty to write, but it’s coming slower than usual, because it feels good to get it right.

Like the story’s already out there, Emily’s sitting here in the living room, curled up near the fire on a snowy, rainy, yucky Vermont day. She’s cradling a mug of tea in one hand, reading or sketching or listening to music, waiting for the next segment I’m just finishing up, and I’m trying to tell it accurately so she’ll recognize it. Or I’m transcribing from a dream what she told me in detail, in Dirnive, which she granted me a pass to enter last night, and I have to punch “replay” and re-enter that dream to check the experience one more time against what I’ve got so far.

It’s coming through like a dream, not linear — that’s for later, with editing — and with textures and colors and sounds that will loom up suddenly and ask for space and time I hadn’t anticipated. A scene with her parents and brother, casually shopping in an antiques store. A class at St. Swithins that seems to link to Emily’s absence for about two weeks’ earth time, but nearly a year on Dirnive. To conceive and give birth to a child there. Because if she doesn’t, given the difference in time passage between the two worlds, her love will age and die quite literally before she herself is out of her teens. Which makes her parents grandparents — her mother would adore a grandchild, only not so soon — but grandparents of a baby they will never see. Because Emily can come and go between worlds — her worlds — but no one else can. I think. Emily doesn’t want to risk it, yet. She says. See what a novel can do to you?!

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Image: Art of Spiritual Dreaming — John Pritchard

Shinto and Shrine Druidry 2   1 comment

[Shinto & Shrine Druidry 1 | 2 | 3] [Shinto — Way of the Gods ]
[Renewing the Shrine 1 | 2][My Shinto 1 | 2]

Spider web

The continuing interest among visitors here at A Druid Way in the posts on Shinto says hunger for the Wild, for spiritual connection to wilderness and its rejuvenating spirit, and potentially for Shrine Druidry, remains unabated.  No surprise — in our hunger we’ll turn almost anywhere.  What forms our response to such hunger may take is up to us and our spiritual descendants.  Spirit, the goddesses and gods, the kami, the Collective Unconscious, Those Who Watch, your preferred designation here _____, just might have something to say about it as well.

What we know right now is that we long for spirit, however we forget or deny it, papering it over with things, with addictions and with despair in this time of many large challenges — a hunger more alive and insistent than ever.  And this is a good thing, a vital and necessary one.  In an artificial world that seems increasingly to consist of hyped hollowness, we stalk and thirst for the real, for the healing energies the natural world provides all humans as a birthright, as participants in its “spiritual economy” of birth, growth, death and rebirth.

As physical beings we live in a world where breathing itself can be a spiritual practice, where our heartbeats sound out rhythms we are born into, yet often and strangely have tried to flee.  Even this, my sadness and loss, can be prayer, if I listen and let them reach and teach me, if I walk with them toward something larger, yet native to blood and bone, leaf and seed, sun and moon and stars. Druidry, of course, is simply one way among many to begin.

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If you know Kipling‘s Just So stories, you’re familiar with “The Cat That Walked By Himself.”  The cat in question consistently asserts, “All places are alike to me.”  But for people that’s usually NOT true. Places differ in ease of access, interest, health, natural beauty, atmosphere — or, in convenient shorthand, spirit.  Shrines acknowledge this, even or especially if the shrine is simply a place identified as Place, without any sacred buildings like Shinto has — a place celebrated, honored, visited as a destination of pilgrimage, as a refuge from the profane, as a portal of inspiration.

Here’s a local (to me) example of a place in Vermont I’ll be visiting soon and reporting on, one that sounds like an excellent direction for a Shrine Druidry of the kind people are already starting to imagine and create. It’s called Spirit in Nature, and it’s a multi-faith series of meditation trails with meditation prompts.  Its mission statement gets to the heart of the matter:

Spirit in Nature is a place of interconnecting paths where people of diverse spiritual traditions may walk, worship, meet, meditate, and promote education and action toward better stewardship of this sacred Earth.

Spirit in Nature is a non-profit, 501 (c)3 tax-exempt organization, always seeking new members, local volunteers to build and maintain paths, financial contributions, and interest from groups who would like to start a path center in their own area.

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So much lies within the possible scope of Shrine Druidry it’s hard to know where to start.  Many such sites (and more potential sites) already exist in various forms. Across Europe, and to a lesser degree in North America (public sites, that is: private Native American and Pagan sites exist in surprising numbers), are numerous sacred-historical sites (some of which I’ll examine in a coming post), often focusing around a well, cave, tree, waterfall, stone circle, garden, grove, etc. Already these are places of pilgrimage for many reasons: they serve as the loci of national and cultural heritage and historical research, as commemorative sites, spiritual landmarks, orientations in space and time, as treasures of ethnic identity — the list goes on.  Quite simply, we need such places.

Lower Falls, Letchworth St. Pk, NY. Image by Wikipedia/Suandsoe.

Lower Falls, Letchworth St. Pk, NY. Image by Wikipedia/Suandsoe.

The national park system of the U.S., touted as “America’s Best Idea” (also the title of filmmaker Ken Burns’ series), was established to preserve many such places, though without any explicit markers pointing to spiritual practice.  But then of course we already instinctively go to parks for healing and restoration, only under the guise of “vacations” and “recreation.” And many state parks in the U.S. extend the national park goal of preserving public access to comparatively unspoiled natural refuges. Growing up, I lived a twenty-minute bike ride from Letchworth State Park in western NY: 14,000 acres of forest surrounding deep (in places, over 500 feet) gorges descending to the Genesee River.  Its blessing follows me each time I remember it, or see an image of it, and in attitudes shaped there decades ago now. May we all know green cathedrals.

I’ll talk more about shrines on other scales, small and large, soon, and tackle more directly some of the similarities and differences between Shinto and Druidry.  I’ll also look at some of the roles practitioners of earth-centered spiritualities can — and already do — play in connection to the creation and support of shrines.

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Images: spider web; Lower Falls at Letchworth State Park, New York.

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