Archive for the ‘wyrd’ Category

Winning the Dream   Leave a comment

[Updated 8:46 am EST 12 Dec 2019]

I’ve found there’s so often a link between “finding something to write about” and paying attention to whatever might be my spiritual “work of the day”. Start with one, and the other follows you like a stray, till you take it home and make it a member of your household.

These things circle back on themselves, or more accurately — like so much else — they spiral. They’re not exactly the same each time they reappear, because we’re not the same.  No point in a lesson about something I’ve mastered, when there’s so much else a dream could tackle. (Yes, I’m a big believer that our dreams are intelligent and insightful, in spite of our best efforts to ignore them — maybe because we try to ignore them.)

I had a recurring dream throughout my 20s of being back in high school. This kind of thing — a dream-revisiting of a supposedly finished part of our lives — isn’t uncommon. (The worlds interweave much more than we often understand.) Even in the dreams, I often felt blocked, frustrated, sometimes knowing I’d already graduated, but was back because of unfinished business. Sometimes I recognized other people in the dreams, sometimes not.

I kept asking for clarity and resolution, and eventually I did “go back to high school”: I taught in one for a decade and a half. The dreams stopped shortly before the job offer came through: I finally graduated in one dream, years older than my dream classmates. Even in the dream I felt a vast sense of relief.

I’ve come to see that the past wasn’t the only thing I had to deal with. The dreams were offering preparation for the future, too. But it took re-reading of my dream journals from that period to make these connections, the shifting patterns of dozens of high school dreams, to understand part at least of what was happening.

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The title of this post, “Winning the Dream”, is partly to point out (to myself, as much as anybody) how badly “winning” fits either our dreaming or waking selves. We dream the same way we live, not to beat off all competitors (though up to a point anyone can pursue this interesting but ultimately exhausting set of life choices), but because we’re here, and this is what we do. To live, to dream, with the awen thrumming in your blood is an amazing, daunting, humbling, unmissable thing.

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Sometimes, the best transition is no transition at all. One minute you’re asleep, the next you’re awake. My dream, and my life, both leave it to me to figure out.

I suspect — one of my favorite words (rather than “believe”) — that awen is the link here — awen and genius. To work with these two (the same thing?) is to be what the Welsh call an awenydd (ah-WEHN-eeth) — one in touch with spirit: “Spirit energy in flow is the essence of life”, as Emma Restall Orr puts it in Living Druidry (Piatkus Books, 2004).

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Genius. Funny word, much changed from its early sense compared to how we commonly use it these days.

Here’s a sample of the older usage, from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is walking home in the evening shortly before Christmas:

The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who knew its every stone, was fain to grope with his hands. The fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold.

In such older usage we hear something of the Latin origin of the word — genius as “spirit”, as in genius loci, or “spirit of place”. Places, families, individuals each had their associated genius or spirit. (Nowadays we might be more likely to say “atmosphere”, or “vibe”.) From there the meaning of genius grew to include a person connected to an especially impressive spirit — one way others could explain a person of exceptional talents, gifts, virtuosity, or unusual ability. Genius came to mean “great talent”: She’s a genius in the lab. And now it’s also an adjective, common in memes and advertising: Try this genius solution to all your storage challenges!

But if you and I and everybody else enjoys an associated genius, we might be wise to check in first with the genius each of us has, rather than chasing after ones that aren’t native to us. (In fact, as I look at my life, I could well characterize most of its events as a study in either chasing non-native genius, or checking in with native genius.)

Different traditions give the genius a frequently confusing range of names — guardian angels, daemons, jinn, and so on. Some of the more polarized traditions may label the spirits of other traditions as unequivocably evil, though they often viewed their own entities as a much more mixed bag. Acceptable former gods become saints, and vice-versa, while others get tarred with the label devils. (A god or goddess survives if they can ride such changes over centuries and millennia, and work creatively with openings when they arrive.)

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Yesterday morning the hospice client I work with (scroll down to section 4 at the link, if you’re interested) was talking again about labyrinths as spiritual tools, and remarked, “You can only access the wisdom of place if you know the place you’re in”. Everything we experience is real, you might say, putting it another way. We just need to determine which world it’s real in. It doesn’t fit here? Change the this-here to other-here and it just might snap into place, complete the puzzle, fill in the mozaic, carry the melody to its close.

Know the place, know the person, and you know a great deal about the genius, or governing spirit.

In many ways, then, “winning the dream” means know the genius of whatever you’re doing, where you’re at, what you’re into.

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Five questions for sussing out genius:

1) What spirit is driving it? Is it something familiar, something I’ve worked with before? Or something new? A song came through last fall, and I don’t do songs. But maybe that’s the point: it’s time to start singing. A new way spirit is striving to get through, to express what it is, what I am. Or I’m thrown in with people I normally wouldn’t talk with, because we don’t seem to have anything in common. Well, you’re both breathing, right? You share 95% of what’s happened ever since you both started with that in-breath, out-breath thing you’re both doing. The rest, as they say, is mere details.

I stopped off this last Monday for a one-time hospice volunteer respite-visit for the family of a neighborhood 92-year old. They had medical appointments themselves, and volunteers give them precious time away, knowing someone is staying with the family member.

His hearing is still pretty good, though his eyesight means he himself can’t read any more. But nine decades means you’ve seen a good deal. I read a little to him, and we talked. What you “read” at 92 is different than at 20 — but no less valid. As the body wears down, you’re already prepping for the transition, the next rung of the spiral. You can see it in his eyes, sharp and bright as any bird’s. He’s still taking it all in, alert to the surprise of the ordinary, as much as anything else: the taste of his lunch, the warmth of the nearby woodstove (they set his bed just a few feet away), the fall of clumps of snow melting from the roof as the temperature climbed well above freezing — to be here at all, to wear this body, even with its aches and pains, defeats and deficits. Sitting and talking with him, it feels like he’s mastered the skill of being present.

2. What apparent opposites are in play? Spirit so often manifests this way. Polarities set the stage, define the players of the game, map out a particular curve on the spiral, mediate energies at work in the situation. Identify with one or the other, and I may lose sight of the overall dynamic, where it’s actually going, and define myself solely by opposition or resistance. Which may well be the point, or it may completely miss it, depending … But do I know? Have I seen what’s in play, at play, what the drama is today?

3. What’s the flow? Polarities may set the charge moving, but it’s our presence that mediates spirit, that determines what flows toward and away from us. Taoism is a wise study of this particular aspect of being alive, and has much to teach about riding the currents, sailing where we need to go, surfing the waves of the cosmos as they manifest in the weather, the Others in our lives, the kiss of a dog’s nose, the aroma of cooking, the punch of cold air when I open the door to December.

4. What’s the form? The flow arrives into forms and beings, walls and doorways, shaped by awen and wyrd and choice and momentum. Form is a becoming, rather than anything like an endpoint. In worlds of time and space, form is “re-forming” constantly, whether on a slow scale of millennia, like a mountain, or much more rapidly, as in the stages of the life of a mayfly. Do I recognize the forms with and around me, and what energies are arriving through them? Have I included myself as one of those forms? (Exempt myself and I miss a good half of whatever’s going on, what it’s saying to me.)

5. What’s the alignment? What things are being adjusted, modified, “edited”, re-formed, and then opened up again to Spirit? (The cycle begins again, the spiral reforms on a different harmonic.) Where and how — and when? — can I join in, do my part, make a play, run with it?

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“Initiates of Darkness”   Leave a comment

The page is never blank, though it looks that way each time I click “new post”. Always the track of beast flares across the path, the flight or song of bird ignites the sky. All beings burn with life. Any blankness I may encounter is specific terrain I’ve chosen somewhere, sometime. Now to learn just where I took that quirk in the path. I tremble as I ask, I’ve sown it, so let me own it.

If “I have it in me so much nearer home/To scare myself with my own desert places” as Frost says in “Desert Spaces”, I also carry within me other worlds upon worlds, mirroring all the ones around me. I stand at a mid-point, and so much flows through me, through us all. Do I even notice? (Do I want to?)

Seamus Heaney observes of these lines that

… whatever risk they run of making the speaker seem to congratulate himself too easily as an initiate of darkness, superior to the deluded common crowd … they still succeed convincingly … [an] undeniable emotional occurrence which the whole poem represents.

I call it an emotional occurrence, yet it is preeminently a rhythmic one, an animation via the ear of the whole nervous apparatus …

If I’m looking for awen, for spiritual energy and music and delight, for movement into the wider self that includes but never stops with the apparent world, then rhythm and melody will take me there — the drums of Beltane beating on my inner ear, the hum and whisper of birdsong and newly-minted leaves. (Doubt just becomes boring, no use.) Once out of my head and into such prayer and listening, the recovery of life-giving vision can proceed. Lock myself into my own concerns, though, and that’s where I’ll remain. Meanwhile the cosmos keeps saying enlarge, enlarge — “an animation via the ear of the whole nervous apparatus”. Let me sync with what’s playing all around me. Ah, there it is again, that Song in all things.

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Bagby at play.  Photo courtesy NY Classical Review.

Follow me, friend, as I take this tangent: tonight I’m leading the second of two local discussions of Beowulf, Tolkien, and Benjamin Bagby, who performs the first third of the Old English poem in the original language, accompanying himself on a reproduction harp. Bagby’s coming to perform in Vermont next month — the surface occasion for tonight’s discussion.

We’ll talk, among other things, about wyrd, that old word that still half-lives in modern English weird, lives more fully in the Weird Sisters of Macbeth, and most fully in its original sense of the pattern of things which is both destiny or fate, and also the stage for meaningful human choice and action. Beowulf falls to wyrd, but also survives because of it.

Anglo-Saxonist author Stephen Pollington puts it this way:

The analogy of a spider web is usefully employed in considering wyrd. Each section of the web is a discreet part of the whole, yet the tiniest ensnared insect will set the entire web vibrating. Whether the spider wins her dinner depends on how skillfully she has woven her web, how quickly she reacts, and the chances of the captured insect to struggle free. The web is wyrd, but what the actors do upon it will decide the outcome.

Wyrd, says the poem, oft nereð unfægne man þonne his ellen deah. Taking Pollington’s analogy to heart, I render this as “The Pattern often saves an undoomed man when his courage holds” (Beowulf line 572). And I repeat to myself the charm: What the actors do upon the Web will decide the outcome.

We’re all “initiates of darkness”, of fates and destinies set in motion and still unfolding, yes — but that doesn’t define us. It just leavens the crusty bread that we are. Without a taste of that Old Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, what after all could we manage to accomplish? The first breath of any opposition would blow us away like dandelion fluff, like breadcrumbs. (No inner resources, I can hear my grandmother sniff.) We didn’t start the fire, sings Billy Joel. It was always burning/Since the world’s been turning.

Part of the journey beyond Druidry 101, as on any path worthy of the name, is the discovery of the usefulness of opposition. In careful measure (wyrd measures out some, yes, but so do I, each day), it gives us something to push against, a resistance, like weights in the gym, the settings on the stairclimber, the hills that are part of my dog-walk. I find out where I am, in the face of it — it’s potent in dispelling my illusions. It’s part of our training for what a world of polarities means. Armed and tested with this hard-won wisdom, we’re ready for realms of light. A Druid can aspire to live, serve and create anywhere. (And until that day of fuller mastery, there’s today with its choices and challenges. The poor, says the Galilean master, you will always have with you. What is my poverty?)

Some days, of course, I long for a cosmos that’s easy, or even just easy-er. But, I notice, after some time there, I’m restless again, eager to jump back into the fray and play of a more demanding laboratory world, where just about everything is subject to change and experimentation. So what happens if I take this tangent?

wantastiquet trail

Mount Wantastiquet trail.

Meanwhile, I pray with the Leaf-Lords and Ladies around me:

Oak, shade my path. I welcome your wisdom.
Birch, green my way. I call on your courage.
Hemlock, heal my heart. I fast under your foliage.
Pine of all lands, I gather your gifts.
Tree companions all, I seek the shelter of your boughs.

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Images: Bagby.

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