Archive for the ‘wood and water’ Category

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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Boku no Shinto: My Shinto, Part 1   2 comments

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

Following the magical principle of polarity to wing myself toward what I really want to write about, in the title for this post I’ve done something quite un-Nihonteki, un-Japanese — un-Shinto, in fact.  Japan’s native spirituality focuses on harmony between human and spiritual realms, a harmony which finds a powerful objective expression in the natural world.  “Seek Spirit?  Look around!”  Yet I used boku, I wrote “I” — as if “I” could possess Shinto, as if it were a thing among other things that a person could own or control or claim.  The i returns to its proper size in balanced relationship.  An outsized I is part of the challenge the West currently faces, as well as each of us individually.  Be yourself, we’re told.  What the hell does that mean, anyway? Still too much.  (Too much is not enough, says the lower-case zen master/fool in my ear.)

Sometimes I just need to back into it, the destination that feels nearby, though I can’t see it.  “Returning is the motion of the Tao” (chapter 40). Because if I try it head-on, all the old defenses go up like a bad reflex. An old i holds on even as a new one moves in.  They spar a little.  But what are wood and water doing while I stare at an i?

treesoncliffsm

“who are you, little i” asks e. e. cummings in a poem of that title, “(five or six years old)/peering from some high/ window; at the gold/of november sunset” — let’s make it May instead: we can, and e. e. won’t mind.  Will cheer us on, I suspect — “(and feeling: that if day/has to become night/this is a beautiful way)”

Participate in our own becoming.  A call, if we choose to hear and heed it.  Make it day when it’s night (for our next trick, do it without using electricity).  Or vice versa, turning off the glare of the spotlight on the self which isn’t the whole story.

After all, “five or six years old” is about right: didn’t that crazy Galilean say we need to become like little children again?  Is that “being yourself”?

Like is important: we can all imagine it, approach it, approximate it.  Journey towards it.  Try out “yes” till it drops the ” ” — that little chicken scratch that distracts us from so much.  Or become the chicken that makes the scratch.  That’s a power we’re granted, too. Shape-shift at will and need.  One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother.  Thanks, Mom.  Can faking it make it real?  Well, the pressure’s off if all I need to do is fake it.

(e. e., you saw it, said it elsewhere:  “i thank You God for most this amazing/day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees/and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything/which is natural which is infinite which is yes”).  And if “You God” doesn’t work for you, insert your own addressee of choice.

Need a spell to make it happen?  “Power of choice I grant thee, I grant thee, I grant thee.” O.K., proceed.

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Entrance, Tsubaki Grand Shrine, Washington state

Site stats show that my previous posts on Shinto are among the most popular here at A Druid Way.  The reason for that can’t be too far to find.  We crave like a food-hunger a spiritual reality that does not depend on belief (or at least not on belief alone), but is present to us whenever we’re present to it — and even when we’re not.  We may hunger for a Way or Ways, just like we yearn for dark chocolate or hot sauce or beef or fresh limes in guacamole (insert your favorite food hunger here), a harmony that we can begin to fall back into at any moment, wherever we are, just by shifting our attention, and restore a sense of balance and integrity. And not just a sense of them, but its reality — a poise for living that shows in our words and deeds.  We’ve all known this harmony, witnessed it in others, however briefly, which is why we can feel so disheartened when we lack it, when we’ve lost it, fallen out of it.  We know it’s possible because it’s there, in living memory, however far we stand from it right now, in this grubby, muddy present moment.

We’ve even got a Shinto shrine in the U.S., the Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Washington State, if we need the reminder.  Which is what a shrine, among other things, persistently tries to be.  It’s here, all around us, what we seek.  And a few among us imported Shinto as a recognition of that consciousness, as a support for us when we lose our way.  From it we can jump-start our own (there’s a possessive pronoun again) American Shinto, if we desire it, if we give it space to manifest.  The kami know and dwell in America, too.

Though it’s not a perfect instrument, a song, a painting, a poem can remind us, point us in directions that can restore and heal. “The Spirit,” says Mary Oliver in her simply-titled “Poem,”

                        likes to dress up like this:
                          ten fingers,
                            ten toes,

                      shoulders, and all the rest
                        at night
                          in the black branches,
                            in the morning

                      in the blue branches
                        of the world.
                          It could float, of course,
                            but would rather

                      plumb rough matter.
                        Airy and shapeless thing,
                          it needs
                            the metaphor of the body,

                      lime and appetite,
                        the oceanic fluids;
                          it needs the body's world,
                            instinct

                      and imagination
                        and the dark hug of time,
                          sweetness
                            and tangibility,

                      to be understood,
                        to be more than pure light
                          that burns
                            where no one is--

                      so it enters us--
                        in the morning
                          shines from brute comfort
                            like a stitch of lightning;

                      and at night
                        lights up the deep and wondrous
                          drownings of the body
                            like a star.

(And so I ask myself, what isn’t Spirit?!  Is that being yourself?)

Tsubaki Grand Shrine -- harmony

Tsubaki Grand Shrine — harmony

“The Japanese,” says a BBC Religions page,

see shrines as both restful places filled with a sense of the sacred, and as the source of their spiritual vitality – they regard them as their spiritual home, and often attend the same shrine regularly throughout their lives. Shrines need not be buildings – rocks, trees, and mountains can all act as shrines, if they are special to kami.

Physical world as spiritual home: what a change that would make in us if we carried that knowing with us all day long.

A large shrine can contain several smaller sub-shrines. Shinto shrines can cover several thousand acres, or a few square feet. They are often located in the landscape in such a way as to emphasise their connection to the natural world, and can include sacred groves of trees, and streams.

How many of us find the kami in a garden, a window pot we lovingly water, a bird feeder stocked through winter, or whatever season in your area that otherwise challenges the small feathered lives around us?

Tsubaki Grand Shrine ritual

Tsubaki Grand Shrine ritual

Various symbolic structures, such as torii gates and shimenawa ropes, are used to separate the shrine from the rest of the world.

Separation as a reminder — not that one exists like some line in the sand, but one we need, in order to notice what’s right in front of our noses.

And so I remember to bow at the willow at the bottom of the hill where our house sits.  I talk to the crocuses.  Sometimes I forget.  Then I remember again.  Muslim mystics chant the dhikr, literally the “Remembrance” of that one Name ringing just behind our day-to-day awareness.  Or many names, each waiting to be cherished, each a kami, each a potential doorway to what we seek.  In a world of seven billion persons, a grand synthesis, a God for everyone, may not be feasible at this point in our consciousness.  But we can reverence that lopsided pine down at the corner, honor the robins and starlings on our lawn, respect our own bodies on this earth, and begin, again, to find our ways.  Isn’t that much of the promise of spring (and of so many of our human stories) — starting over?  The growing shout of green, the rising sap, birdsong and peepers calling into the night, what we call spring fever in our veins and nerves and sinews, obeying an old law we’ve almost forgotten.

In answer to a query about the viability of some form of American Shinto, about “What is Shinto to the West,” a Westerner observes,

Well, Shinto in the West is automatically different from Shinto in Japan. For some reason, Japanese immigrants and their descendents don’t seem to keep practicing Shinto very much, perhaps because of the difficulty in practicing a shrine-centered, community-oriented faith in a place with nearly no shrines (I can count the ones I know of on one hand!) and a very small and scattered community.

So, most of the North American practitioners I know of are of European ancestry, trying to practice Shinto alone and without shrines, and learning what they know from books. Many have some sort of cultural connection to Japan – either they’ve studied it academically like you, or else they have married a Japanese person, or they lived part of their life there, or have learned a bit about Japanese spirituality through the martial arts community. We have to adapt the religion to our new environment, e.g. finding replacements for unavailable supplies, translating prayers from Old Japanese into English, and trying to answer hard questions like, should we honour the spirits of Japan or try to identify the spirits of our own environment?

Druids have built their own shrines, and begun to listen to the spirits here on the North American continent, which differ from European or Asian ones.  Just the act of listening opens many doors.  What we often lack is the support of a community in our practice.  Many have the strength of self-discipline to sustain a solitary practice, but others need the interaction, inspiration and community spirit that can help through the arid periods where nothing seems to be happening and we’re stopped dead in the water.

For that reason alone many Americans stick with Christianity or Judaism, because it offers that support, even if they also seek out other founts of spiritual nourishment in places their Abrahamic fellow-religionists might balk at.  It’s the reason behind “spiritual but not religious,” which ultimately is often hard to pull off in practical terms, because spirit seeks a form, a practice, if only to come true to us, to enter our physical lives in manifest ways, as Oliver’s poem above reminds us. We do this and not that because it works.  Any claims about earlier or better or more spiritual or, Goddess help us all, divinely inspired and uniquely true forever and always, come along after.

Part 2 here.

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Mary Oliver. Dream Work, Atlantic Monthly Press (Boston, MA), 1986.

Images: trees on cliff; Tsubaki Grand Shrine images (homepage auto-sequence), accessed 9 May 2014.

Spring Equinox on Monadnock   Leave a comment

Almost a month ago now I got the nudge to visit the major peaks in the area — Monadnock (NH), Hogback and Ascutney (VT) — starting on Alban Eilir, the spring equinox.  Energy-lines and Native American paths have been in my thoughts since the new year, and yesterday I climbed through snow and ice to within bowshot of Monadnock’s stony peak at 3165 feet.  The mountain is a New Hampshire state park, and lies a short distance north of the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border, southeast of Keene and west of Jaffrey, NH.

Monadnock, or Grand Monadnock, to distinguish it from other lesser monadnocks in the region, has the reputation for being one of the most-climbed peaks in the world.  Thogh my wife and I have lived off and on in the area since 1991, I’d never visited.  From what I saw yesterday, a summer climb would still be strenuous, but I’m glad that with the ice and cold, I had the mountain nearly all to myself.  Or, more accurately, the mountain had me.  All wild places have a presence, and the berg-geist or “mountain spirit” of Monadnock made itself known most of all in a listening silence.  I met just six other people, and all in the first half hour of my climb. All were descending.  After that, no one but the mountain and me.

The first leg of the southeast ascent rises gradually, just enough to get you conscious of your breathing.  The temp at this point was in the low 40s — it just looks colder in these shots.

M1-foot

The new season really is here, though a 4″ fall of heavy wet snow two days ago seemed to give the lie to that. When I left the ranger station at the foot, the sun shone through scattered clouds.  Ice doesn’t rule everything any more. A small spring had broken free of ice and ran across the trail.

M3-spring

The climb begins in earnest once the trail splits into White Cross and White Dot.  The trail map showed similar elevations and roughly equal distances, so I opted for White Cross.

M2-signs

Besides, to paraphrase Frost, “it was snowy and waited there.”  As the map warned, “trails are not necessarily marked for winter use.” Painted arrows and keys on the rocks often lay below the snowline.  Markers on a few exposed boulders showed  and the prints of those ahead of me provided enough guidance.  But I was mindful of the sky — a quick change could easily leave me lost in fog or snow showers, as the map also warned.  It was easier, not just prudent, to pay attention, because I was alone.

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Many states in the U.S. still retain versions of Native American place-names.  Vermont and New Hampshire bristle with them: Bomoseen, Skatutakee, Memphremagog, Ascutney, Monadnock.  The Wikipedia entry obliges with the following information about the mountain’s name:

… “monadnock” is an Abenaki-derived word used to describe a mountain. Loosely translated it means “mountain that stands alone,” although the exact meaning of the word (what kind of mountain) is uncertain. The term was adopted by early settlers of southern New Hampshire and later by American geologists as an alternative term for an inselberg or isolated mountain.

As I climbed, the temperature dropped at least 15 degrees. No birds here, unlike at the foot where a few sang tentatively overhead. The higher elevation showed visibly in pines coated with ice.

M7trees

I didn’t wear crampons or any special footwear beyond a pair of good winter boots.  Only in a few places was ice a problem.  The snowfall of the day before was a gift — it coated the ice of thaws and freezes beneath it, and made for easier going.  The ascent continued to sharpen, and I remembered bones and muscles I’d forgotten about since late fall.

Vistas offered compensation.  Here’s the view to the west and south, during a particularly clear interval.

M6hills

White Cross and White Dot rejoin about half a mile below the peak.  I was tired by now, though I chuckled at the mixed message of this sign:

M8sign2

It was soon time to descend.  The rock of the final 500 feet was too slick, the weather worsened by the minute, and leaving now would bring me to the foot again before twilight.  Here is the peak over the treetops.

M9peakview

I’m including this final image, though it’s blurred, because this is the highest I climbed, and it captures the berg-geist in winter:  I have been here a long time, and I am still here.  You are flesh — I am stone.

M10Little ceremony — that wasn’t my intent when I climbed.  A few words and gestures to the trees, the sky, the rocks, the snow and brisk fresh air. The mountain, always answering, said nothing.

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Goddess at The Turn of the Year   3 comments

rgingrasfire[The following rite is freely adapted from Ceisiwr Serith‘s Deep Ancestors.*  In particular, the Proto-Indo-European (in bold) differs in conception from Serith’s reconstructions.  Serith knows both his PIE and his ritual; the changes here match my esthetics and inner sensibility, which I trust — for me.  Your mileage may differ.  I repeat the words I speak to close my own rites: Solwom wesutai syet!  [sohl-WOHM WEH-soo-tie syeht] May it be for the good of all!]

Gumete, gumete, gumete!
[GOO-meh-teh, GOO-meh-teh, GOO-meh-teh] 
Oh come, come, come!

Gumete gurtibos solwom deiwom.
[GOO-meh-teh goor-TEE-bohs sohl-WOHM day-WOHM]
Come to praise all the gods.

Usme keidont — klute tos.
[OOS-meh KAY-dohnt — KLOO-teh tohs]
They are calling you — hear them.

Gumete ognim,
[GOO-meh-teh OHG-neem]
Come to the fire,

gumete spondetekwe!
[GOO-meh-teh spohn-deh-TEH-kweh]
come and worship!

Tusyomes, tusyomes, tusyomes!
[toos-YOH-mehs, toos-YOH-mehs, toos-YOH-mehs!]
[Let us hush, hush, hush!]
May we all maintain a holy silence.

May we be pure
that we might cross through the sacred.
May we cross through the sacred
that we might attain the holy.
May we attain the holy
that we might be blessed in all things.

Goddess who burns on the hearth, in our homes,
we call you to join us here
bringing our prayers to the gods
forming the means by which we sacrifice.
May the holy arise in our midst, the pure and the blessing.

Shining Lady, unite us all,
for by worshiping at a common hearth
we are made one family, one people.
Asapotya**, Lady of the Hearth, your household is here.

stove12-13

Our soapstone stove, alight with Brigid’s blessing.

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A blessed solstice to all!

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*Serith, Ceisiwr.  Deep Ancestors.  Tucson, AZ: ADF Publishing, 2007.  Pp. 122-124.  Serith is a long-time and respected member of ADF who maintains the Nemos Ognios grove north of Boston.

**A possible reconstructed name of my own devising. The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word *asa becomes (among other words) Latin ara “altar.”

The * indicates that the word is reconstructed — we have no written record of it — from actual words in one or more of the descendant or “daughter” languages. In general, the more extant “descendant” words deriving from a PIE “ancestor” word, the better the evidence for that particular PIE ancestor. Historical linguists have worked on PIE for over 200 years: we have a few thousand “restored” words that most agree on.  One advantage Indo-Europeanists have in making such reconstructions is the large number of documents in older  forms of languages like Greek, Sanskrit, Latin, Gothic, Avestan and Old Church Slavonic.

Image: fire on shore.  Be sure to visit Richard Gingras’ fabulous images of fires at the URL indicated for the image.

Of Orders and Freedoms, Part 2   Leave a comment

[Part 1]

newgrangespiralIn the Celtic worldview (and also for anyone in the Northern Hemisphere it’s abundantly clear), we’ve entered the “dark” half of the year.  “Dark” drags in its wake many associations, many millennia old in primate consciousness, of fear, death, danger — all things we instinctively flee, unless we pause to examine cultural conditioning to see why this should be so.  If you’re still moved to flee after such a pause, at least you’ll be running with eyes open.  Watch out for the lemmings up ahead.

And here is another lesson about Orders and freedoms.  The planet we live on follows its own rhythms, regardless of our druthers, and as natives here, willy-nilly we move with the earth under our feet.  Earthquake, hurricane, flood, volcano; spring, summer, fall, winter.  We’re tenants, not landlords. As much as we try to banish winter cold and darkness, they abide just inches beyond our noses as we peer out our triple-glazed windows.  And that’s fitting, of course.  Among all its other wonders, the planet grew this wonderful fore-brain of ours that makes childbearing a challenge when it’s time to pass a large skull through a small birth canal, but that same large brain helps us live in temperate and even arctic climates, as well as virtually everywhere else there’s legroom.  A balance between order and freedom, limit and innovation, change and stasis.  We’re a part and apart, at the same time, courtesy of a species the planet’s still experimenting with, and probably always will be, till we die out or evolve, some of our descendants, into something else.

OK, you say.  Got it.  Had it before I came here.  Heard the lecture, took the tour.  Tell me something I don’t know.  And these are precisely the challenges to throw at all our ways of thinking, not just the privileged few that happen to irritate us because the horrid Others say them.  First assignment, due on your next day of reckoning, at your local time, or whenever is most inconvenient.  All our assumptions need a stir on the compost heap.  Political affiliations, marriages, jobs, habits, hobbies, what’s vulgar or profane (Miley Cyrus?  Death camps?  CEO incomes?  Ignorance?  Missed chances to use petroleum to prepare for a world without it?  Endless lolcats?  Taupe and mauve and puce?).  The once-over should include everything — especially whatever’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of your left hemisphere.  What don’t we know?  Got a hunch about that.  Isn’t our ignorance one more miserable discomfort, to join the ignoble quartet above — death, dark, fear, danger?  We don’t look because it’s hard.  It asks us to start over.  Not to reinvent ourselves, but to return to what we threw away because it seemed old, to pick it up, and see it again for the first time as utterly, endlessly new.  One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother.  Look it up, or consult the nearest young thing growing.  The Goddess makes all things new.

No Order can “teach” us such “wild wisdom.”  All it can do is point the way back to our bones, blood and sinew that always held it, gift that doesn’t turn away from us merely because we turned from it.  Change, cycle, spiral.  We see it celebrated, repeated (doing what it’s being) in Celtic art.  We can feel it in the flow of Tai Chi, the circular movements of dance and swimming, the serve and volley and return of tennis, sex, night and day, birth and death.  What goes around comes around.  What you do comes back to you.  Is this not a great gift, that we see the results of our actions?  Nothing is lost, and all is stored like seed in the earth, and returned at the next springing forth.  Only a short-sighted people would fear the fallow time, forgetting the blossom time after.  Only blind people would act as if this is all there is.  “This” by definition is never all there is.  Reconnecting with the natural world “lengthens” the sight.  Vistas re-established.  Perspectives re-balanced. Cure at hand for too much left hemisphere, too little humility.  When was the last time we praised a world leader for that trait?  And why is that?  OK, call me Groucho.

At the recent East Coast Gathering, Damh the Bard told a version of the fine story of the Hare and the Moon.  The Moon had a choice piece of wisdom to impart to the people of earth, and asked the Hare to carry the message.  “Tell them this:  you are all going to die,” said the Moon, and like a shot the Hare was off, bearing the Moon’s message to the people of earth in great leaps and bounds.  Of course, Moon had been showing the lesson each month, passing through darkness to fullness, waning and waxing, shrinking and growing, endlessly, patiently teaching.  But the people had forgotten, and when they received Hare’s partial message, they wailed bitterly at their wretched fate.  “We’re all going to die!” But the Hare, impetuous fellow that he was, had not stayed to hear the second half of the message, which was delayed in reaching the Earth:  “… and you all will be reborn.”  For Hare’s over-haste and obliviousness, when he returned, the Moon split his lip, and to this day the harelip is a reminder to hold in the heart the whole message, to find wholeness in the many pairings that a true cycle treats as “One Thing, moving” — a Uni-verse.

winterbrookSo what are Druids to do who feel Orders may not be for them, or at least not right now?  The whole world beckons.  If, as Robert Frost says in “Carpe Diem,” which must by all signs be the true religion of America*, “The present / Is too much for the senses, / Too crowding, too confusing— / Too present to imagine,” a few years later, his splendid poem “Directive” urges:  “Drink.”  This too can be religion, can be spirituality, can be a saving and healing practice that does not split the two, if you will have it: “Drink, and be whole again beyond confusion.”

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*Carpe Diem:  (Latin) literally, “seize the day”; Nike’s Just Do It; YOLO — you only live once; “in heaven there is no beer; that’s why we drink it here.”

Images: spiral at Newgrange, Ireland; winter brook.

Updated 6 Nov. 2013

Facing a Critique   2 comments

capitalism_logo“Druidry is a middle-class phenomenon.  What with your workshops, books, weekends and camps, and especially the pricey study materials for groups like OBOD, who else but somebody middle-class could afford it?  It’s like so much of the New Age:  take away the cash cow that supplies the milk and it’ll collapse.  Your ‘nature spirituality’ or ‘green religion’ is just middle-class consumption of good marketing.  It’s not the real thing.  Where’s the outreach to all levels of society?”

capitalism-300x199OK, let’s listen to this mostly economic critique.  On the face of it, it may seem pretty damning.  If Druidry is simple good marketing and money-driven, it’s like so many other trends and fashions:  it depends on a manufactured need, or at least a market-boosted one.  Take away the marketing and it fades away.

Outdoors the October sky is gray.  I gaze out the window, sending a brief acknowledgement to the directions, thanking Spirit for the gift of this life, breathing and being aware of my breath, centering my attention before proceeding with this blog post.

If we look at ancient Druidry, through the filter of its classical recorders who did not always have its best interests at heart, it appears to be a distinct caste.  Druids had status and power, and were definitely not the mass of society.   They were an elite, with all the pluses and minuses that go with it.  There was little we would call “middle-class” about Celtic society.  Slaves, warriors, traders, farmers, craftspeople … but no one with that strange combination of material luxury, education, and political clout that looks remotely like what we mean by “middle class” today or for the last 100 years.  By our standards or even by Medieval ones when something like a middle class began to emerge, most ancient Celts were wretchedly poor.

As for the over-marketing of the New Age and spirituality and all our current hopes and dreams and fears, that’s one of the creeping plagues of capitalism.  If it can be packaged to make money, someone will package it.  The retreats and workshops and therapists and healers and “sacred” this and “spiritual” that fill a need, or they wouldn’t exist.  But they don’t touch the heart of knowing yourself for part of the world, feeling your body and the earth and trees, birds and insects and fish and animals, sun and clouds and stars all as kindred.  The awen that is always streaming out of silence and calling us to sing back does not go away when the money stops clinking and whispering at the cash register.  It only becomes more profound.  There we can find the heart of Druidry.

Let’s look at the cost of study materials like those of OBOD right up front.  If you decide to enroll in the Bardic course, you receive monthly course mailings, access to a tutor, online forums, a subscription to the OBOD magazine Touchstone, and supplemental materials throughout the year.  Many people take more than a year — sometimes several years — to complete the work of the grade, but there’s no additional cost.  The text-based Bardic study materials cost £215 — at the current exchange rate, that works out to $344 — a little less than a dollar a day.  Many people spend more on cigarettes and alcohol.  That’s the cost of joining one specific teaching and initiatic order.  Printing and mailing cost money.  But it is admittedly beyond the reach of many on tight budgets.

autumn imageOf course, you can be a Druid for free, starting at this moment.  You live on this earth, and you can follow your intuition and common sense and spiritual need and shape your own way throughout your own life, paying no one for any teaching, and bowing to no one and nothing except those you feel deserve it.  Yes, the support and encouragement of what others have discovered and thought and written is invaluable along the way.  Many valuable books and other materials are free online, or available at libraries.  But if you want to receive and study OBOD’s Druid teachings, they cost money to reproduce and ship.  If you want to study with ADF, or AODA, or the British Druid Order, there are fees because there are administrative costs and physical materials you receive.  If you think Druidry is the next big way to make money, form your own order, market your One Genuine Real Live Druidry, and have at it.

One of the joys of living Druidry is a sense in the West at least that we’re recapturing something lost, something beautiful and profound, but also something utterly vital and practical.  Many tribal peoples have preserved their traditional wisdom for living on earth without destroying it.  Such wisdom is hard won.  Tribes that practiced slash-and-burn agriculture, for instance, often found their land damaged after a few cycles and needed to move.  Poor farming practices meant not just environmental degradation but often starvation and death.

As one flavor of Druidry, OBOD offers itself as “a spiritual way and practice that speaks to three of our greatest yearnings: to be fully creative in our lives, to commune deeply with the world of Nature, and to gain access to a source of profound wisdom.”*  That may on occasion be good marketing, but it’s also uncommonly good sense to live in a way that makes our decades here all they can be, to walk lightly on the earth.

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Images:  enjoy capitalism; capitalism isn’t working; autumn.

*From the OBOD Website page “What is Druidry?

Updated 15 October 2013 22:30

Renewing the Shrine: Part 1   1 comment

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

In a post from a little over a year ago I wrote about Shinto, the “way of the kami” or nature spirits in Japan.   One of the most important national Shinto events takes place throughout 2013 and especially this fall*, the Shikinen Sengu, which is the ritual rebuilding and re-dedication of parts of Ise Jingu, the most significant Shinto shrine in Japan. Shikinen Sengu takes place every twenty years, with 2013 marking the 62nd time the year-long ritual event has occurred.  The ritual cycle originated in approximately 690 CE, more than 1300 years ago.

isetorii“And all this matters why?” you might ask.  Perhaps the most visible reason is the sheer beauty of Shinto.  If as a Westerner you want to encounter a foreign culture on its own terms, one of the vivid and memorable ways is through its physical manifestations in objects, tastes, sounds and smells.  The atmosphere of Shinto is something anyone can begin to appreciate immediately, because Shinto shrines and ceremonies are so public.  And in Shinto we can encounter a distinctive Japanese expression of what I have experienced as the spirit of Druidry, a love and reverence for the natural world, seen through the unique perspectives of an entire culture and nation.  Shinto provides one model for doing earth-based religion on a large scale.  And I hope you’ll see why I think it’s really cool.

naikuIse Jingu (ee-seh jeen-goo), the shrine at Ise in Mie Prefecture on the main island of Japan, covers more than 20 square miles of mostly forested land.  You pass through the torii gate (above image), sign of a Shinto shrine, to enter.  Shinto expresses a sense of the “permanent renewal of nature,” as a Mie tourist guide describes it, and Shikinen Sengu, literally the “Ceremonial Year Shrine Relocation,” renews the shrine quite literally, by rebuilding significant portions on an adjacent location.  Imagine reconstructing your own house every twenty years, on the same lot, planning in advance and spending a year to do the job, with song and ceremony and all your family members visiting at some point during the year, with picnics and celebration and parties and priests to bless the proceedings, and you begin to get an idea on a very small scale of what’s involved.

KazahinomisaiShinto is more practice than belief: what you do matters more than how you understand and talk about it, though of course that’s important too.  Shinto focuses on harmony between people and the natural world.  Get out of whack, and Shinto shows you things to do to resolve imbalances and restore the original state.  Often it’s a case of not taking ourselves so bloody seriously.  If you can’t recall when the last time was that the universe bowed to you, maybe that’s because you can’t remember the last time you bowed to the universe.  And the latter is generally better for you than the former. Even if taking a cold outdoor shower under a stream doesn’t appeal to you, for instance, you still get how it might restore a healthier sense of proportion.  The practice of misogi or purification gets real, especially when you do it in winter, as practitioners do in Japan and in the U.S., like Rev. Koichi Barrish who is priest at the Tsubaki Shrine in Washington State.  Note that I’m not rushing to be first in line for this particular practice.

misogi

I’ll be talking more about these things, and why I’m writing about them, in Part 2.

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*My principal sources for the information in this post, beyond my experience of living in Japan for two years in the early ’90s, are this detailed PDF document about Shikinen Sengu, published by JNTO, the Japan National Tourist Organization, and the website for the Tsubaki Shrine in Granite Falls, Washington.

Images:  Ise torii (gate); Naiku steps; kazahinomisai

updated:  23 Dec. 2013

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