Love in 5 Movements

Some two years ago I commented: “… a devotional practice undertaken with love over time generates a momentum no finite thing can contain”. More than ever I’ve found that’s true, in ways easy and hard.

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a play of shadow and light

But what if you’re not devotionally minded? What does that even mean, anyway? Beyond humans and pets, who is there to be devoted to? (Some politicians and holy folks keep shedding our trust like snakes wriggling out of old dead skin.) Or if not an incarnate being, how can you be devoted to something (or someone) invisible? Gods may just not do it for you. And as for “momentum”: momentum toward what? I hear you, questioner. I hear you.

“You keep using these words,” goes the oft-quoted meme from The Princess Bride, “but I do not think they mean what you think they mean”. So do they mean anything?

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This morning my wife and I received word that a beloved friend just passed away yesterday in his wife’s arms. He was in his mid-60s, and his death wasn’t from the virus. So “plugged in” he was, to the cosmos, to the pulse-beat of things, to the endless possibilities of his life as a lacrosse coach, high school teacher, father, husband, and spiritual mentor to many, that it’s impossible to feel sad for him. But we sure feel sad for us, for his wife and son and many friends, for the prospect of no longer being able to hug him, talk with him, listen to his stories and his corny humor, his remarkable spiritual journeys and example, and the impact of his deep humility and love on everyone he met. He remarked in passing some months ago that he knew where he was going in “the next step along the journey”, and I’m convinced he did, that his words applied to his passing as much as to anything else. More to the point, we can know, too, if it’s something we want and need and choose to know. Where am I going, after all? Where are we all? No reason to make an idol out of him, something he would have detested. Every reason to make the most of the inspiration he provided.

As Ursula LeGuin writes in A Wizard of Earthsea, “Ged stood still a while, like one who has received great news, and must enlarge his spirit to receive it”.

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Grief is an energy flow, like so much else. So is love. Of course that’s not all they are, but I’ve found it’s often helpful to understand them in that way, to see how I can begin to provide a clear channel for their flow, rather than block or wallow or some other reaction. As with grief and love, provide a channel for inspiration, too. Learn how not to fear them, hoard or repulse them, how to see them as part of life, how each of us handles them somewhat differently, how to honor and respect them. Pit or portal? says a Native American elder. What will we make of such experiences? Part of their power is that in the end no one can rush them. They take their own time.

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the first of three loads for next winter

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“When I am among the trees”, writes Mary Oliver in a poem by that title,

especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often …

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So I walk, and bow as I go.

“The Truth *Against* the World”?

Tuesday morning as my wife and I were returning with the rare indulgence of take-out breakfast from a local cafe we love, we saw a morning walker on the back roads wearing a fluorescent yellow vest with the black lettering “I own safety“. All I could think was, Wow! Really? Could I please borrow some from time to time?

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Steve writes in a couple of recent comments:

… set(s) the truth right side up again …

I have long thought one of the primary functions of the modern druid should be to keep truth on a firm foundation, both for oneself and one’s “tribe”. Truly a worthy task in a time when truth has often been a subjective commodity, sold to the highest bidder.

A worthy task indeed. Far too many people in this era seem confused about truth, even about whether it’s possible. I keep attempting to present on this blog an experimental knowledge anyone can test and duplicate for themselves, as one reliable way of getting to truth. That’s why I keep writing about practice, practice, practice in as many ways as I can. Practice helps keep me honest, and also gives me plenty of material.

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Words about truth can resemble what remains after a fire.

The Roman poet and satirist Horace (Horatius) is my bard today. Si quid novisti rectius istis, candidus imperti; si nil, his utere mecum. “If you can better these principles, tell me”, goes one translation. “If not, join me in following them” — Horace, Epistles, Bk 1, 6, 67-68. But that tame version takes the snarky edge off Horace: “If you have come to know any precept more correct than these, share it with me, brilliant one; if not, use these with me”. Or as we might say, “OK, genius, you got a better idea? No? Then let’s try this one”. (I let people like Horace be snarky for me, so I can pretend to claim higher ground.)

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Y gwir yn erbyn y byd, goes the Welsh tag: “The truth against the world”. This British blog attributes the words to Iolo Morganwg. Some claim them for much more ancient Druids, some for King Arthur, and some for Boudicca (Wikipedia | History.com), queen of the Celtic Iceni, who died in the year 61 fighting the Romans. (If the words do originate with her, they’d have first appeared in a much earlier form of Brythonic than the modern Welsh quoted above.) Amazon, no surprise, sells a black t-shirt emblazoned with them, accompanied by the awen /|\ symbol. (The Amazon page for the shirt airily notes, “Show your support for culture, history, tradition and peace”. Oh, where’s Horace when you need him?!)

The Gorsedd of the Bards has adopted the words as their motto, and there’s a bardic chair with them carved into its back for winners of the Welsh National Eisteddfod. (The words appear on the larger chair to the right, just below the /|\. The glare of the camera flash obscures part of the line.)

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creative commons/Wicipedia (Welsh Wikipedia)

Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely considering we’re human, we want our truth boxed and bubble-wrapped and tamely waiting for when we deign to grant it our attention. We want to own it, defend it, and — gods help us — buy and sell it, like anything else. Fortunately, truth isn’t like “anything else”. I know it in its purest form when I serve it rather than try to possess it. And maybe it’s not a moving target: I am.

Christian, Pagan, humanist, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and so on — if you pray, meditate, study, struggle, do ritual, and pay attention, you too know these things from experience.

Rather than a list of principles straight from the mouth of deity, or set of ultimate equations about reality scrounged up in a Silicon Valley lab, truth seems to be a function, which Google obligingly tells me is “an activity or purpose natural to or intended for a person or thing”. We can live from it, in other words. We can express it through our lives and actions to a greater or lesser degree, but we’ll always find it hard to put into “words now and forever”. Words don’t do that kind of thing well at all*, and neither, the accumulating evidence of human history shows, should we.

So I can sing and dance the truth better than I can profess it from the soapbox of this little blog in the early decades of the 21st century. (You need to know I sing and dance quite badly.) And if it’s true that a person can experience deep realization gazing into the heart of a flower, as I noted in the previous post, any “truth” in that moment isn’t coming through words. It’s a function of the prepared individual and the flower and the moment of attention. It’s “an activity or purpose natural to or intended for a person or thing”. And so to the degree that I stray or get distracted from “the activity or purpose natural to or intended for me”, I lose the ability to serve truth.

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The “truth against the world” often means conflict and struggle. The “world” in this case seems to signify a human form of inertia and resistance to time’s change. The desire to box and bag the perfection of a moment effectively kills it, leaving me with a dead thing, a mental photograph that doesn’t show the living being that’s its original. The “world” doesn‘t seem to mean the tree outside my office window, the woodchuck nibbling the tender clover in the back yard, the sunlight blessedly falling all around, the “Time of New Talk”, as Rudyard Kipling called the springtime returning to India in The Jungle Book.

So if I want to serve truth, to practice “an activity or purpose natural to or intended for me”, I find I’m working with a kind of electrical circuit, with resistances and poles and a definite direction of flow. The more I struggle to own truth, to box it and lord it over others as if I finally “have” it, the more I forfeit the “spark” of my electricity — the metaphor’s a useful one — the very thing that keeps me alive and vital and rooted in what is “natural to or intended for” me.

The word “world” has a whole set of specifically Christian associations I’d like to glance at here. Be of good cheer, says Jesus at one point in the Gospels. I have overcome the world. To me one big takeaway of that is a priceless unspoken corollary. I have overcome the world, and so can you. The Galilean says to me, I have overcome the resistance in myself to serving truth, rather than owning it. Do that, and you too will be able to say of your holy experience “I’m the way, the truth and the life. Nobody gets to the Source, or stays centered in it, except like that”.

And I hold this out not as an “opinion”, or worse as some kind of dogma, Druidic or otherwise, but as a potential truth to try out, to test, to practice till I know it from my own experience and can live it more fully. Or prove it inaccurate, say so, and look elsewhere. And maybe you will, too. You can be my Horace: “if you can better these principles, tell me”. Because as one current meme suggests, I can hold all kinds of opinions without evidence. But as soon as I present them as “truth” to others, untested in my own experience, I’m guilty of lying and fraud.

To repeat Greer’s words from the previous post, “at the human level, the individual Awen for the first time may become an object of conscious awareness. Achieving this awareness, and living in accord with it, is according to these Druid teachings the great challenge of human existence”. The world (not the world that the truth is “against”) seems to manifest this out of the same awen, but without human conscious awareness. It’s what we’ve labeled instinct, though that doesn’t account very well for plant energies that manifest leaves and branches and fruit and roots. That’s one reason why we find the natural world a restorative presence when we walk in it, savor it, apprentice ourselves to it. Notice that you don’t have to believe nature is restorative. You know this from your experience in it, and any belief — more accurately, trust — comes after.

And so I return to words that are “holy” to me, because I keep discovering ways they prove worth my ongoing time and exploration. They’re also holy because the principle behind them can be rediscovered by anyone who does what they describe:

Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth …  It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit. (Greer, John Michael.  Druidry — A Green Way of Wisdom, qtd. in Carr-Gomm, Philip. What Do Druids Believe? London:  Granta Books, 2006, p. 34.)

May your practice and path bring you into contact with what is deepest and most worthwhile within you.

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*Ursula LeGuin says it well: a writer attempts to “say in words what cannot be said in words”, as she puts it. And so a writer resorts to story, getting at the “truth” through imagination.

Off into the Deep End Again

In what follows, among other things I’m setting out elements from my own peculiar spiritual journey. So if what I write irritates or angers you, that’s probably a good signal to stop reading and go do (or eat) something else. When it’s not to your taste, any more than a mayonnaise and peanut butter sandwich, there’s no need to take a second bite. Or even a first one!

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A recent comment on an old post asking “What’s the spiritual meaning of X?” is what launched this post. In some ways, the question asks, “What’s appropriate action in this moment?” Or maybe, “How might I respond to this appeal to my attention?” or “Should I even bother to pay attention?” (Maybe we should start with “What’s the physical meaning of X?”)

The X in the question above isn’t the main point (Yeah it is! shouts the seeker in me), for though it’s what snags my attention and draws a lion’s share of the drama, the meat of the question is about meaning, about how and where my attention is focused, and about what if anything happens as a result of that focus.

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One of the discoveries we can slowly make in worlds of time and space is that few things have a single meaning, spiritual or otherwise. At the most literal level, a good dictionary will list several meanings for almost every word. Even deceptively “little” words (“Those? They’re the absolute worst!”) like English a, an, the have numerous meanings, as learners of English discover to their dismay, and writers have attempted to catalog. (Alan Brender’s Three Little Words: A, An, The lists 52 meanings and uses for ’em — one for every week of the year.) What to do with a universe so perverse? says the rationalist in my spleen. Hey, you rhymed! says the bard at my elbow.

Meanings are almost always plural. OK, but does that in turn mean that it’s just “Pick a card, any card”? Well, it’s true that some days, or some whole lifetimes, can feel that way.

Usually if I’m noticing something, it’s communicating to me, and further, I usually already have a hunch or suspicion of some possible meaning(s) of that communication. These two go together, usually so intertwined I can’t separate them. We’re trained to sift and sort all the input from our senses and select only what we need to notice. If something’s already risen to my conscious awareness, the “meaning filter” has let it through. The “Ten Thousand Things” can fade into background. The particular thing or event or person now stands center stage.

My right shoulder and forearm have been bothering me on and off for over a month. Exercise helps some, but I’m still fine-tuning which exercises. As we age, the cartilage in the shoulder and spine, the facet joints, start to deteriorate, says my wife, with her physical therapy training. In fact, the shoulder is often the first to go.

And I can leave it at that. But I can also choose to listen how my experience opens up insight, including insight about the experiences of others.

If something’s already communicating to me, how can I respond?

Meaning-bearer, I greet you. Thank you for arriving in my world with your messages. As they unfold with my intention, may I honor and fulfill them with my life.

“Wait just a minute”, says another of the selves I wear. I can hear the outrage grow in his voice. “Do you mean I should be grateful for shoulder pain?!”

That’s not what I’m saying. Pain sucks. But like the X of the opening question, pain isn’t the final point. “If the world were only pain and logic”, says Mary Oliver in her poem “Singapore”, “who would want it?”

One of our great skills as humans is to bring the hidden into manifestation and to clothe the non-physical with form and shape. We do it throughout our lives, constantly. No surprise, we’re pretty good at it. (Wedding planners, investment bankers, gardeners, contractors, parents, janitors, children, athletes, generals, lovers, daydreamers, cooks, doodlers, singers … OK, you get the idea.) We bring into existence something that wasn’t there before. It’s also how we fall in love.

That spark of attention that events kindle in us also ignites our attempts to put them into words. For this reason many cultures consider speech a holy thing — words as spiritual objects are not to be lightly disrespected or misused. The Queen of Faerie tells Thomas the Rhymer to hold to silence in her realm, “so that his speech might store up power” for his return. In many cultures, songs and stories tell how speech is a divine gift, how creation happens through words, and knowing the right word, the true name for a thing, is a key that opens many doors.

Insofar as I think with words, then, I can hallow thinking through conscious intention. My attention and my intention, my noticing and the shaping of my consciousness in return, can be choices. (They’re also a deal of work, as anybody knows who’s tried.) They can be gifts to myself and to others around me, because they change me. Such holy things are never in vain. Even this much, just the attempt, although the fullness of meanings may not yet have come clear to me, takes me into sacred territory. With the sacred in my heart, I start to become a holy meaning maker with the materials of my attention and intention. These are among my return gifts to the sacred within and around me.

Stranger on earth, thy home is Otherworld. Pilgrim, thou are the guest of gods.

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The Céile Dé, Celtic Christian heirs to older teachings I mentioned in a previous post, offer on their website this article “Advice at the Threshold“, including the questions below, as a gauge to some of the challenges of conscious awareness of the awen:

In the course of what would be a typical week, would you say that you are very likely to experience one or more of the following?

+ hurt feelings
+ feel offended or insulted
+ lose your temper
+ act or react on impulse and regret it soon afterwards
+ complain about your lot
+ blame others for your inward state

If you want a clear account of my recent emotional geography, look no further than the list! (That unfriendly planetary virus that’s currently making the rounds doesn’t help.) But if I move beyond that threshold into realms of awen, I’m no longer a passive recipient of someone or something else’s meaning, floundering and struggling to figure out “what it all means”.

Oh, she meant well, we sometimes say. Or he didn’t mean it, we remark. But we usually offer these as excuses, rather than opportunities. J. M. Greer, citing the Barddas, that 19th century compilation of Druid Revival teachings, notes:

… a unique Awen is said to be present in each soul from the moment it comes into being, and guides it on its long journey up through the Circle of Abred — the realm of incarnate life in all its myriad forms — to the human level of existence. It is at the human level that the individual Awen for the first time may become an object of conscious awareness (Greer, The Gnostic Celtic Church, pg. 12)

As above, so below: we share in our humanity as individuals precisely because awen is present within each of us, but in each of us it’s a unique awen. To be a person is to be “awenized”, but also to be an awenizer. The Welsh call this awenydd, one filled with awen, a poet or bard.

Wait, you say. I’m not a poet or a bard.

Greer continues:

… the individual Awen for the first time may become an object of conscious awareness. Achieving this awareness, and living in accord with it, is according to these Druid teachings the great challenge of human existence.

Another way to approach it: You might say “awen isn’t just for poets anymore”.

When something comes into my awareness, catching my attention and seeming to signify s o m e t h i n g, “does it mean it”? One way to answer: Only if I respond and make meaning along with it.

Things “mean”, and “have meaning” for us, because in some way they are pointing us toward greater awareness of our awen, prodding us to become more conscious of it. Human existence provides a spiritual opportunity to make our awen a mode of consciousness — our prime mode of consciousness.

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If I and my life could mean anything right now, in addition to whatever they already mean, what do I want that to be?

One way to grapple with this enormous question is to reply with a question: How and where — because I can’t know it unless I’m already in touch with it — is my awen already emerging and appearing?

For me, oddly enough,  resistance is a key component. (Like so many people with mixed motives, I’m often working against my own destiny — a brutally efficient way to discover what it is when it smacks me in the face.)

“What are you rebelling against?” asks a character in The Wild One.

And Marlon Brando’s character Johnny Strabler replies, “What have you got?”

Johnny’s point underscores how rebellion or resistance is reactive — it takes a mechanical response to meaning-making, rather than a creative one. That is, the event, circumstance, or other person is still in control of what I do.

But once I get even some glimmers of my own awen, I start to know what’s right for me. Of course we can still confuse “what’s right for me” with ego, impulse, reactiveness and so on, but it’s a big step. Yes, I can cherry-pick meanings from the events in my life and miss larger beneficial meanings — we witness each other doing this all the time, while remaining half-blind when we do it ourselves.

But I sometimes think our resistance helps us from capsizing our lives with too much change all at once. The sailor’s strategy in heavy weather of deploying a sea anchor can stabilize a boat, keeping it pointed in the desired direction even as it slows forward movement. A little resistance can be a good thing, a way to try out the meanings I’m making, giving them a test drive.

“Find and follow your own awen” eventually becomes the foundation of each of our individual ways of life. That’s what gives them their integrity, power and beauty. And in the words of that wonderfully ambiguous expression current when I was in secondary school and still heard occasionally today, “It takes one to know one”.

Sometimes it takes one very far indeed.

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Can anyone identify either of the flowers above? The first is from a tree in our front yard that eventually produces a firm reddish-brown berry about the size and shape of a small olive. They remain on the boughs through the winter. Cedar waxwings come through in February and devour them all, usually in a single day.

The second, I’ve been told, is some kind of hyacinth, but I haven’t yet found a variety that matches. (Same color alone isn’t enough for identification!) Any ideas?

Liminal Spaces and Paths

[Updated 18:31 EST 11 May 2020]

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a threshold has a psychic texture

Does anyone here have experience with liminal spaces? someone asked recently on one of the online Druid forums I frequent.

Potentially, we all do: at dawn and twilight — during ritual — waking and falling asleep — walking on a foggy or snowy day alone — in meditation, prayer, etc. And sometimes during illness, or extreme exhaustion, as well. Liminal, threshold — neither word particularly common, though our experience of them is. (We hear about the sub-liminal more than the liminal.) Cultures vary in how they help or discourage us from seeking and navigating liminal spaces. Or even talking about them.

One of the purposes of ritual is to help us enter them and begin to explore their potentials.

In many older cultures at least some kinds of limen or threshold are places to watch and to guard: you may hang a charm at the doorway to your home or work. Your culture helps establish who is or isn’t allowed to touch your skin — the threshold of your body — and when. Shrines and temples have liminal areas in the form of sacred precincts, which you try to avoid profaning — literally, standing near the fane or holy place at the wrong time, or in the wrong state, unprepared. And if you think you have no fanes in your life to profane, think again — we all run into restricted or no-access areas — playing fields, stages, “authorized personnel only” zones, member-only forums and groups, relationships that allow you to say and do things with, to and for each other that no one else can.

What about seeking out and crossing into a liminal space consciously?

In many traditions, fasting from sex, or certain foods, or all food and drink for a designated period, are all time-honored ways to prepare to cross a threshold. Almost anything that shifts our habits — our “everyday-ness” — and that we can pursue with single-mindedness, can serve as a means of preparation, because the single-mindedness is the larger goal. Focus helps manifest the liminal.

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Wikipedia calls the liminal the “boundary of perception”

Medieval knights-to-be kept nightlong vigil with their weapons in preparation for receiving knighthood. Holy days, as thresholds of sacred time, often acquire their own rites of preparation. Even in supposedly “secular” settings, we have ritualized requirements for behavior, dress, speech, etc., that accompany threshold events, especially changes of status. The job interview, wedding, graduation, birthday or retirement party, all signal the crossing of a threshold, each with its appropriate ritual accompaniment.

You can imagine a t-shirt with the words “Tame the Liminal!” except of course that’s the one thing we never do. The liminal says “possibility!” The liminal sweeps us to the brink of change. The poet Rilke gives us the experience of falling into the liminal “merely” by studying a famous statue in his poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo”, a figure that is missing its head:

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Rilke struggles in similes with how to express this consciousness: “eyes like ripening fruit … torso with brilliance like a lamp … skin like a wild beast’s fur … stone’s borders bursting like a star”. In other and theistic traditions, it’s said you can experience God-realization by looking into the heart of a flower. The point is the same. Or in fact the point is often different for each of us. What does remain the same is preparation. (The Hopi call one of their ritual tools natwanpi — “instrument of preparation”.) Take that step with intention, and anything can draw us into such awareness.

And so “our mission, should we choose to accept it”, is to interrogate the borders, our own most of all, to investigate just where our cultures draw their lines, and what lies across them. Not to rebel against those lines mindlessly, but to understand any limen is there for a purpose, and to determine how far that purpose applies to us — and when it might stop applying. So if I quote that famous Socratic proverb, “The unexamined life is not worth living”, I also need to cite the corollary of script-writer and brilliant teacher Robert McKee, “The unlived life is not worth examining”. Ouch!

Lighting the woodstove this morning after the past nights’ cold moved through New England (8″ of snow in northern Vermont!), I encounter the liminal in a way everyone can experience. A fire, a candle, brings us into contact with that most liminal of physical things. But any of the four elements can: a waterfall or lake or stream; clouds or the sound of wind in the trees. Earth, too — a mountain or valley or meadow, or an unusual large stone, a piece of quartz or shale held in the hand.

And I also jump-start my awen from Bards, as frequent readers here know well. Here’s my man Thoreau, who closes Walden with a series of four potent and linked meditations that can serve as Druidic natwanpi, as preparation for the liminal:

The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.

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Review of J. M. Greer’s The Mysteries of Merlin

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image: Amazon.com. Fair use.

Greer, John Michael. The Mysteries of Merlin: Ceremonial Magic for the Druid Path. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2020.

Let me be clear up front that I’m reviewing this book as an interested reader, obviously not as someone who’s tried out over time the specific rituals Greer presents and can speak from that perspective. After all, the book just appeared in print this month. If you’ve already worked with the materials in his Celtic Golden Dawn, you’re well on your way to intuiting and valuing what he is doing here.

That means I’m reading and responding as sensitively as I can out of my own experiences with comparable ritual and magical practices. The best “review” of such a book, of course, is applying the rituals and techniques in the manner Greer recommends, over time, and only then assessing the results for oneself.

A mystery, as I need to remind myself as much as anybody, is something that simultaneously deepens and opens with steady practice. It emphatically does not mean something that remains obscure or inaccessible despite our best efforts. The Mysteries of Merlin as Greer presents them here are a comprehensive and cohesive set of rituals and techniques that point us toward discovery. Mysteries in the older sense of the word, as Greer points out, are “the traditional name for rituals of initiation linked to seasonal cycles and based on the mythic narratives of Pagan gods and goddesses” (pg. 2). Greer’s Mysteries of Merlin are founded on a variety of sources that he names and discusses. Chief among these are Medieval authors like the 12th-century Geoffrey of Monmouth, author of the The History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Brittaniae) and of the stranger Life of Merlin (Vita Merlini).

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15th-century illustration for an edition of Geoffrey’s History. King Vortigern and the dragons. Lambeth Palace Library MS 6. Wikipedia public domain image.

The book, as Greer sets out in the very first sentence, presents what may seem an unusual marriage of practices: “a system of self-initiation that is based on ancient Celtic Pagan spirituality but uses the tools of modern ceremonial magic. That combination, though it has roots going back many centuries, may startle readers familiar with the attitudes of today’s Pagan and occult communities” (pg. 1) about magic. And Druidry, more than most revivals, has aroused suspicion in some quarters for its “awkward” (Greer’s word) position that straddles both worlds, incorporating elements from a variety of sources, magical and Pagan both. Furthermore, self-initiation, which has come under attack as a modern invention and a contradiction in terms, is something Greer reminds us was a valid and established ancient practice as well.

The proof, as always, lies in practice: quite simply, does it work? This is an experimental question, not one which armchair debate can answer. Work through the three grades of material, for Ovate, Bard and Druid (Greer prefers this older sequence) over the course of three years of seasonal practice with the “Great Eight” holy days of the Pagan year, and anyone can answer that question for themselves.

A book like this also necessarily relies on intelligent and wise reconstruction and improvisation. And that leads me to one of the things I’ve come to appreciate about Greer’s writing: how he contextualizes what he writes, while suggesting directions for further study and exploration. Rather than merely springing a new magical system on readers as if full-grown from the brow of Zeus, he clearly acknowledges its origins, and notes where he has “back-engineered” aspects of his material from documents or from intelligent surmise. This is an honesty rare in many modern books on magic. One of the advantages of working with the Merlin material is that interest in Arthur and the Matter of Britain has led to good translations of many original Medieval sources. Greer directs interested readers in many cases toward specific editions of these, as a way to deepen the engagement with and the effects of the rituals he has provided, as well as to build on them.

In this book, more than his earlier ones, Greer also suggests promising avenues of exploration for ways other sets of rituals could be developed. Much of this perspective arises from his earlier work in The Celtic Golden Dawn, which meshes very well with this one. Greer plainly reminds readers about what they are practicing, and in the process answers the criticisms by some Reconstructionists of Revival Druidry:

It’s probably necessary to state in so many words that the rituals, meditations and other practices that will be presented in the chapters that follow are not the same as the ones that were practiced on Bryn Myrddin in the waning years of Roman Britain. The mysteries of that time are lost forever. Even if somehow it became possible to recover the words and ritual actions that once made up the mysteries of the god Moridunos [explained earlier], for that matter, their meanings have passed beyond recovery. Like all meanings, spiritual and otherwise, they unfold from a context in which language, culture, and history all take part. No one alive today can possibly experience the world in the same way as a Roman Briton of the fifth century CE, and for exactly the same reason — even if the ancient mysteries of Moridunos were available in their original form — no one alive today could possibly experience those mysteries in the same way that a Roman Briton would have done in the fifth century CE.

Times change, and so do the mysteries. The Eleusinian mysteries themselves underwent countless changes, major and minor, over the period of more than a thousand years that they were celebrated. The transformations that apparently turned the mysteries of Merlin Caledonius into the Master Mason degree of modern Freemasonry are, as we’ve seen, far from unusual in the history of initiatory rites. What’s more, just as there were many different mysteries in ancient Greece that centered on the myth of Demeter and Persephone, using different rituals to do so, the mysteries of Merlin set out in this book are only one of many possibilities. In the work of initiation, there is no such thing as “only one right way” (pgs. 45-46).

Some specific details of Greer’s book that deserve brief mention:

+ complete rituals for each of the eight yearly holy days, for each of the grades of Ovate, Bard and Druid — pages 103-175.

+ the suggestion that Christian mysteries could be developed along similar lines (and that such a start has indeed already begun, citing John Plummer’s The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement).

+ the development of “The Rite of the Rays”, an awen mini-ritual, using the shape of the three-rayed awen /|\ for gesture and affirmation as part of the larger ritual for each holy day. On a personal note, this informs and confirms work I’ve been doing with the awen and its symbolism, as participants at Gulf Coast Gathering 2017 and MAGUS 2019 will discern.

+ Arthurian-themed visualizations and readings for inclusion in each of the seasonal rituals and for meditation and path-working. These seem to pair up well, I suggest, with Celtic and Arthurian tarot decks.

+ the use of a symbolic octagram throughout the eight seasonal rituals, and at the Druid level, an entire Octagram Ritual, with a detailed correspondence to a Celtic-themed and -named version of the universal Tree of Life.

+ the recognition that different levels of devotion and commitment to engagement and practice will naturally exist among practitioners, that this is a good and normal phenomenon, and that provision and recommendations for each level can help practitioners find what works best for them.

+ the flexibility of the ritual format provided here for both solitary and group practice. The focus is on solitary practice, but the rituals lend themselves to adaptation for group work if desired.

+ the value of continued working after having passed through all three grades. Practitioners can

decide whether to go on to become one of the epoptai, the initiates who continue to participate in the ceremonies after their initiation and gain the deeper dimensions of initiation that come with that experience. If you do, you will find — as the epoptai of the Eleusinian mysteries found in ancient times, and as members of other initiatory orders have found over and over again since that time — that repeated participation in a set of initiatory rites opens up portal after portal. Still, you and you alone can decide whether this choice is right for you (pg. 151).

+ the Appendix — “Other Mysteries, Other Gods”, which though clocking in at just seven pages, deserves careful meditation. Here again are humility and natural authority combined — something I savor! Greer observes,

The same process of revival and reworking I have applied to the legends of Merlin can, in fact, be applied to any suitable body of myth or legend to create a system of seasonal mysteries suited to regular performance by individuals or groups. Whatever deities or sacred figures you revere, whatever tradition of spirituality and magic you happen to practice, you can craft a set of mystery rituals suited to your own needs. If you’re prepared to put in the necessary work, the following steps will bring you to that goal (pg. 189).

+ the closing two sentences, which appear at the end of the Appendix just mentioned. Though Greer obviously completed the book before the virus launched on its current trajectory, the encouragement and value of his words in bolstering our spiritual effort is all the keener for its applicability in a time of choice, despair, distraction and spiritual need:

As you celebrate the mysteries, whether you choose the mysteries of Merlin set out in this book or a set of ceremonies you create yourself, you are participating in one of the great spiritual transformations of history: the rebirth of Pagan spirituality after more than sixteen centuries of violent suppression and persecution. The hard work and flexibility needed to make the mysteries you celebrate as rich and rewarding as they can be is a fitting contribution to that project (pg. 196).

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Romuva Update

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Jonas Trinkunas, modern founder/reviver of Romuva

I’ve written before about Romuva, the native Pagan faith of Lithuania and the Baltic region [see here]. While there’s not a lot of information available in English, there’s some, and it’s worth looking at for several reasons. I’ve included two images from that previous post because they speak to the spirit.

First, Lithuania was Pagan until the late 1300s, far longer than other European nations. Many old songs remain, and a few sacred spots survived, notably the paleo-astronomical observatory with reconstructed wooden pillars at the Sanctuary of Žemaičių Alkas in the resort town of Šventoji. The names of many Romuvan gods have also survived: Perkūnas, Aušrinė, Žemyna, Austėja, Ondenis, Patrimpas, Patulas, Velnias, Leda, Saulė and Mėnulis.

Second, in spite of obstacles like the refusal of the Lithuanian parliament to recognize the faith, Romuva persists. Anyone interested in North American Romuva can find English translations of a few articles by Trinkunas and contact info here [alert — the Tripod site brings annoying pop-up ads unless you have an ad blocker].

Third, with the help of supporters with means, the related Latvian faith of Dievturība (“people who live in harmony with Diev”, the Baltic supreme deity) has made substantial gains, establishing a beautiful island sanctuary, the Lokstene Shrine of Dievturi, pictured below.

ルアクステネ神社(Lokstenes svētnīca).jpg

Lokstene Shrine/Wikipedia image

Here’s a video in Latvian with some stunning pictures of the interior and exterior of the Lokstene shrine during a holiday celebration, with the Latvian caption Priecīgus svētkus! “Happy Holidays!” After some commentary by one of the Dievturi elders (also worth watching for the sound of the language and the images interspersed throughout), around the 1:30 mark the celebration begins. You begin to get a marvelous sense of what such revivals can mean.

 

Finally, like many revivalist faiths and practices, Dievturi also has hidden resources in its people. Here’s an April 2020 video of Dievturi practitioners singing a short (40-sec) chant of strength.

 

A somewhat awkward Google translation of the Latvian lyrics:

All roads are full of fire
All roads are locked
We’ll pass right through them all
With a little help from a friend
We’ll pass through the fire
We’ll break the locks in half.

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Blessed Beltane!

redmaple

red maple coming into leaf

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Welcome, Fires of Beltane!

Posted 1 May 2020 by adruidway in Beltane, Druidry

Tagged with ,

A Beltane Solo Rite

[Updated 19:55 EST 30 April 2020]
calendulaThe following is meant merely as a ritual template. With practice, we naturally reshape what we do. There’s no particular advantage to holding on to a tradition, or to any ritual expressions of it, that don’t nourish and sustain us. If the language feels too formal in places, or just isn’t you, change it to fit. Like a new pair of jeans or shoes, you’ll work them in.

[For a contrasting Beltane rite, see John Beckett’s 2015 blogpost.]

Read through your rite aloud at least once. You can begin to approximate the sound and flow of the ritual in this way, visualizing, as you read, the space where you will perform it, the objects and actions you choose to include, any ritual gestures, and the central part, where your intentions, prayers, songs, etc. will come from your circumstances and choices and intention. If you have one or two other people joining you, experiment with ways of dividing up the lines among you. Rehearse that ritual!

Time spent in meditation, or in the space where you’ll hold the rite, as well as time gathering the materials you will need, are all part of the larger ritual we perform. In some senses, ritual is simply an intermittent and concentrated reminder of the greater temple of sacred time and space we inhabit all our days.

Ritual Preparations: bathe beforehand. Alternatively, if you have a ritual fire space, use the ash to mark yourself before your ritual. A particular piece of jewelry, a sash or headband, a musical accompaniment like a bell, chime, drum or rattle, can help make your rite more vivid. Perhaps you have a special incense, or herbal tincture to use.

Materials: flat space, table or rock for altar; container of earth, sand or a pinch of salt for North; a container of water for West, a feather, fan or incense for East; a torch, candle or lamp for South; any gifts, offerings, objects for blessing, poems, songs, etc.; matches or lighter; ritual objects to decorate the space; ritual jewelry or clothing; musical instruments or playback devices.

The Rite

[Choose where you will stand to begin. Many ancient rites position the celebrant in the West, facing East. Your location may suggest other possibilities.]

Earth below me and in my bones,
Sky above me and in my breath,
Seas around me and in my blood,
by the Power of these holy Three,
I proclaim this to be sacred time and space.
[Strike a bell, gong, or drum
or make some other ritual gesture to mark this moment.]

Here the deep dark of Annwn* [AHN-noon],
here the shining of Gwynvid [GWIN-veed],
Here also Abred [AH-bred], middle realm, and mortal —
I stand in all three worlds.

I welcome all of good will,
bird and bug, beast and bough,
friends, teachers, ancestors of blood and spirit,
Guardians of this Land.

[With forefinger and middle finger extended outward
as the wand we always carry, walk (or turn) clockwise and imagine,
or feel, a shining circle appear as you turn, saying these words]
For the good of all beings, I call on your aid
as I cast the Circle of this rite.

[Turning clockwise to face the North]
With this earth [or salt] I bless and hallow this circle.
Be welcome, power of the North.
[Pause and inwardly welcome the North.]

[Turning clockwise to face the South]
With this fire, I bless and hallow this circle.
Be welcome, power of the South.
[Pause and inwardly welcome the South.]

[Turning clockwise to face the East]
With this feather/fan/incense, I bless and hallow this circle.
Be welcome, power of the East.
[Pause and inwardly welcome the East.]

[Turning clockwise to face the West]
With this water I bless and hallow this circle.
Be welcome, power of the West.
[Pause and inwardly welcome the West.]

[Depending on the time of day, turn East (early), South middle part of day), or West (afternoon/evening). Slowly open your arms as you say the words]
With the blessings of all, I open the Beltane Gates of Fire!

[Here belongs the heart of your rite, and so it is fitting to speak and act from the heart: any prayers, offerings, remembrances, songs, poems. You may wish to dedicate yourself, announce an intention, bless an object, burn a symbol of something that no longer sustains you in your life, and so forth. Perhaps it is now that you light your Beltane fire. You may wish to thank ancestors, teachers, mentors. You may want to make offerings in gratitude, to share in good things you have received. You can include the Druids’ Prayer, the Peace Prayer, the Druid Vow**, or some other formal recitation, as it feels right to do.]

[The close of the rite reverses the opening.]
Now is the time of return. [Pause.]

[Turn West.]
Power of the West, I thank you for your presence and blessings.

[Turn East.]
Power of the East, I thank you for your presence and blessings.

[Turn South.]
Power of the South, I thank you for your presence and blessings.

[Turn North.]
Power of the North, I thank you for your presence and blessings.

[With forefinger and middle finger extended outward, walk (or turn) counter-clockwise and imagine, or feel, the shining circle disappear as you turn.]
As I uncast the Circle, let goodwill go forth and outward to all beings.

May there be blessings and balance in all three realms, Annwn [AHN-noon], Gwynvid [GWIN-veed], and Abred [AH-bred].

By the Power of these holy Three,
Seas around me and in my blood,
Sky above me and in my breath,
Earth below me and in my bones [stomp once],
It is complete and whole!

/|\ /|\ /|\

*For an interesting take on these realms of existence, see this link: Annwn, Gwynvid, Abred.

**The Druid Vow

We swear by peace and love to stand,
Heart to heart and hand in hand.
Mark, O Spirit, and hear us now,
Confirming this, our sacred vow.

 

As Above, So Below: Really?!

[Edited/updated 2 May 2020]

Ye Gods, what does that say about the Above right now?!

aasb4-20

backyard pond, Monday afternoon

The direction of flow, as I’m still learning, is pretty much from Above to Below. What we experience here is a mix of what we’ve been working on for a while and what’s shaping to come through now. We’re quarantined in our physical bodies in RSM — the Realm of Slow Manifestation — even as we sense realms of faster manifestation — RFMs.

Which is why this realm can be so amazingly frustrating, difficult, resistant at times. It’s sluggish, a world of inertia and equilibrium. It takes at least some effort to manifest (though we’ve all had those glorious moments where spirit dances through us and we’re not a separate thing from what’s taking on form). If you’ve ever edited a Wiki article, we’re in the Sandbox. It’s rough draft, workshop, not-yet-beta-version. It’s penciled in, a sketch. We tap into RFM in imagination, dream, vision, hunch, ritual, prayer, inspiration — then run straight back into the denser world of RSM when we work on bringing the vision into form, in a world of time and space. Creativity, like any ritual, asks me to ground and center.

squash

old newspaper makes great ready-to-plant seed starters

The natural world generously sweeps me up into the possibilities of manifestation. The marvel is that it does this every year, in every season, regardless of whether I’m paying attention.

In the Northern hemisphere, spring’s taking center stage now. Trees put out new leaves, seed becomes sprout — the squash seedlings I started a few weeks ago from some hoarded three-year-old seed are rising to greet the light. Sometimes you can almost hear the nature spirits hovering over each green thing whispering Grow, grow.

Like you, I come back each morning into this world of manifestation, and depending on how the previous day went, what foods I took into my body, what thoughts I cherished, what memories glowed, what emotions I encouraged to spark through me, I may or may not look much more than a day older.

selfportHere I am late last night, a bit zombified and stretched after a long day and too much coffee. We wake up each morning to resume this project of physical existence, so immersed in it that we forget nearly everything else that’s going on.

But even the surprise of coming back every day diminishes and leaves us after a while. (You can still see something of that astonishment in the faces of babies and young children.)

By our early teens, most of us take such arrivals for granted, a foundation we presume and build on, forgetting how astonishing it is that each new day things are pretty much as we left them. We’re only surprised when they aren’t, not when they are.

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dleaves

old year — maple leaves and pine needles

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dandelions in spite of night-time frosts

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lichens on pine stump

Moving my altar stone, even after asking the rock if wanted to move, is a matter of thirty minutes’ labor, counting breaks.

altarstone

stages of manifestation 1 — the rock was too heavy to skid on a sheet of metal roofing

rock2-4-20

stages of manifestation 2

rock3-4-20

stages of manifestation 3

One advantage of this physical realm of weight, inertia, gravity, resistance, and so on is that things (mostly) stay put. I won’t have to re-imagine and re-visualize the rock in place tomorrow. In all likelihood, it will still be where I lugged it. (A magical postulate: car keys and cell phones are apparently exempt from this cosmic law.)

A disadvantage of this physical realm: because of that same weight, inertia, gravity and resistance, I may rush to conclude that things have to stay as they are, that they can only be as they currently manifest. That’s one reason I’m here (I don’t know about you): I’m still learning all the pieces of the art of manifestation, how to do it with grace and love and passion.

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Aladdin — Parts 2 and 3

[Part 1 | Parts 2 and 3]

This post really combines two sections, Parts 2 and 3 of a series, so it’s longer than usual. But I wrote them as a single document, so for now they’re staying together, because they feel closely linked.

Depending on your interest, you might want to focus on one section and skim the other. The first looks at a specific mini Aladdin-ritual I’ve been exploring, as I draft larger rituals. The second examines the remarkable wider cultural context and background of Aladdin.

ONE

https://i0.wp.com/www.robertphoenix.com/content/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/alchemicalmoon.jpgAll magic is polarity magic, intone some Mages who should know better. On the evidence of her novels The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic, Dion Fortune could easily rank among that magical fraternity. (Popularizations of the idea include Berg and Harris’s 2003 Polarity Magic: The Secret History of Western Religion.) It is true that much magic can manifest through working with polarities of many kinds — it resembles electricity in this regard.

The idea of mystical marriage, of two balancing figures, is an ancient and pervasive one. Christians speak of Christ as groom and the Church as bride. Alchemy is replete with images of kings and queens, marriages and dissolutions symbolizing alchemical and spiritual transformations.

Red King and White Queen: the Rosarium PhilosophorumThe 1550 Rosarium Philosophorum “Rosary of the Philosophers” includes images like the one to the right of the Red King and the White Queen, often used to represent sulfur and mercury, energizing and potential forces or modes. But polarities alone can settle into an equilibrium, or stasis. (We experience this in ourselves;  though expressing both forces at least in potential, we may fear or favor one or the other. In some sense, then, we often short-circuit ourselves on our way to manifestation.) The needed third principle, here represented by the dove of Spirit, energizes the alchemical pair. For this reason among others, Druidry develops the principle of the Triad, sometimes represented in ritual as earth, sea and sky, as a reminder that Three are needed for manifestation. (Polarity, by itself, isn’t enough.)

jasminewj

One pole of a polarity learning to trust the other.

We can see in Aladdin a marriage of such magical currents. The Princess and Aladdin both catalyze each other. Aladdin’s “chance” meeting with Jasmine in the Agrabah market inspires him to pursue the connection they both experienced there. And Jasmine is able to demonstrate full Sultana authority through her association with this other “diamond in the rough” — she activates his potential, helping him become Prince Ali. As some critics have noted, in many ways the story of Aladdin, especially in the 2019 version, has become Princess Jasmine’s story. For she is the real center and heroine of the drama — a further manifestation and unfolding of the archetype.

Each character mirrors for the other the opportunity to transform and manifest who they already are. Aladdin would never have agreed to seek out the lamp for Jafar had the motivation to impress Jasmine not prodded him to act. And Jasmine would never have claimed her rightful identity without the unmasking of Jafar which Aladdin helps her achieve. Aladdin the skillful liar and “street rat” might never be able to tell the real story of himself without Jasmine. And Jasmine might remain “speechless”, without an equal and partner to help her be heard, to speak with the innate authority and force she already possesses.

57

The Princess summoning both the movie character and also her Inner Hakim

Check out the double and related meanings of the Arabic word/name hakim: “physician, wise man”; “ruler”. Jasmine summons these forces after the song “Speechless” which confirms she will be heard.

I’ve been exploring a simple mini-ritual that appears to catalyze this on a subtle level. It involves the hands, those magical implements ready to distribute energy, which feature in all manner of social interactions, theater, and human technology, as well as magic. Think of all the idioms in every human language that involve the hands …

Simply put, using the magical understanding of physical polarity in the human body, I can work with the currents of energy that flow through the hands. The right hand is typically charged opposite to the left, so that a circuit of force exists when we take the hands of a person standing opposite us, my right in the other’s left, my left in the other’s right. We can align this way because we mirror each other, irrespective of biological gender.

The mini-ritual I’m practicing involves that link-up with archetypes from the Aladdin story: manifest a connection with those energies through visualization of such a polarity connection. (Versions of this ritual involving another person assuming the identity of another character archetype from the Aladdin story are something I’m still developing.)

I sit, breathing to center and ground myself. Welcoming the particular figure I wish to work with, I hold out my right hand palm downward, imagining the Other’s left hand in mine, palm up. Likewise, I hold out my left hand palm upward, imagining the Other’s right hand in mine, palm down. Together we form a magical circuit, into which I place my intention, spending equal parts of the ritual listening and visualizing. At the close, I offer the “praying hands” gesture of palm to palm as a salute and closing of the ritual. A further visualization and ritual detail: here I join my polarities into a single gesture, acknowledging how I’ve added to my capacity, however subtly, for manifesting the spiritual wholeness that is my true identity.

This mini-ritual has already proven useful in manifesting changes in behavior I have been seeking, including a break with an old habit that no longer serves me as I age. Having “initialized” the gesture as a magical one with a specific intent, I can now make the gesture whenever I find old thought-forms in my awareness, and tap into the magical transformation associated with the gesture to break down the habits of thought and emotion that accompanied the behavior.

TWO

Even as the magical potential of the Aladdin story took hold of my interest and imagination, some obvious questions came with it. Why look outside the Celtic/Northern European world for magical imagery and practices, when that world is so rich and still not fully explored?

Several reasons. First, the Aladdin story is very widely known in the West — its imagery and symbolism are readily available. Beneath the Eastern setting, the story is one already familiar in the West, because it reflects universal elements found worldwide: the Poor Boy Who Makes Good, rising to the level of his inner qualities, the Quest, the Ruler Constrained by Tradition, the Animal Helpers, the Prince-and-Princess love story, the Evil Sorcerer, the Spirit Guide or Teacher, the Magical Object.

In other words, we’re dealing with archetypes.

Second, one of the strengths of Druidry is how we can adapt it to the land where we’re living. Or more accurately, how the Land teaches us to adapt, if we’re listening. This is one of the signal characteristics of Earth Spirituality. British Druidry isn’t the same as American Druidry, which isn’t identical with Australian or New Zealand practice. Names and places change. The seasons often don’t match up from region to region, the land itself has a different history, with different memories, presences, energies, patterns. No reason to keep a practice that doesn’t fit. Good reasons to adapt practices that do.

Building on the previous point, because Aladdin has Middle Eastern and Asian origins, aren’t these posts also instances of cultural appropriation?

In a 2018 Vox.com interview with Susan Scafidi,  who authored Who Owns Culture?, Scafidi notes “there’s a spectrum of cultural appropriation, from harmful misappropriation to creative and often collaborative inspiration”. The interview offers several excellent examples and links, including controversies surrounding pop stars like Beyonce, Madonna and Bruno Mars that, not surprisingly, were sometimes misinterpreted, misreported, sensationalized and politicized.

Scafidi continues: “Source communities themselves are the best arbiters of what is or is not misappropriation … We would never [be able to] taste others’ traditional dishes, buy unfamiliar ingredients, or create fusion cuisines without this kind of permissive exchange”.

And that brings us to a most curious feature of the Aladdin story: the original 1001 Nights didn’t include the most famous stories associated with it — Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sinbad — until the first translation into a European language in 1704 by Frenchman Antoine Galland. Did Galland invent his own stories to add to the collection? Were his claims to hearing additional stories like Aladdin from the Maronite Christian Hanna Diyab truthful?

You can read historian Arafat Razzaque’s 2017 “Who Wrote Aladdin?”, one study of this fascinating history, here. And more generally, the stories that were mostly gathered into The Arabian Nights, or One Thousand and One Nights, have origins, antecedents and versions in Arabic, Chinese, Pali, Sanskrit, Farsi, etc., as well as a history dotted with forgeries, back-translations, reinterpretations, cultural exchanges between Europe and the Mediterranean, and all manner of intrigue, mysterious informants, lost and recovered manuscripts, and so forth.

Razzaque observes:

It is a shameful legacy of authorship that Galland never once bothered to name Hanna Diyab in his publications. In our haste to dismiss Aladdin as an Orientalist construct, we risk further perpetuating this erasure of someone who has been described as “probably the greatest modern storyteller known by name” (Marzolph 2012).

No doubt, it is important to see “the Arabian Nights as an Orientalist text,” as in Rana Kabbani’s classic critique, and to interrogate the ways in which the 1001 Nights has long been used to uphold absurd stereotypes, not least by Disney. Likewise, as even its Arabic printing history suggests, we must remember how the text’s modern production was often tied up in the power dynamics of European colonialism.

But these necessary critiques should not be at the cost of negating the agency and creative imagination of “Orientals” themselves.

For a racier take, here’s Ha-Aretz‘s click-baity titled but still worthwhile “1001 Lies: Everything You Know About Aladdin Is Wrong“.

If you’re interested in still more, consider the soon-to-be-published book cited at the end of this post. (Its price as listed is well beyond my means, but it should be available through interlibrary loans.)

Akel, Ibrahim, and William Grannara. The Thousand and One Nights: Sources and Transformations in Literature, Art, and Science (Studies on Performing Arts & Literature of the Islamicate World). Brill, 2020.

Publisher’s note: “The Thousand and One Nights does not fall into a scholarly canon or into the category of popular literature. It takes its place within a middle literature that circulated widely in medieval times. The Nights gradually entered world literature through the great novels of the day and through music, cinema and other art forms. Material inspired by the Nights has continued to emerge from many different countries, periods, disciplines and languages, and the scope of the Nights has continued to widen, making the collection a universal work from every point of view. The essays in this volume scrutinize the expanse of sources for this monumental work of Arabic literature and follow the trajectory of the Nights’ texts, the creative, scholarly commentaries, artistic encounters and relations to science. Contributors: Ibrahim Akel, Rasoul Aliakbari, Daniel Behar, Aboubakr Chraèibi, Anne E. Duggan, William Granara, Rafika Hammoudi, Dominique Jullien, Abdelfattah Kilito, Magdalena Kubarek, Michael James Lundell, Ulrich Marzolph, Adam Mestyan, Eyup Ozveren, Marina Paino, Daniela Potenza, Arafat Abdur Razzaque, Ahmed Saidy, Johannes Thomann and Ilaria Vitali”.

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Images: Princess Jasmine from Aladdin; fair use for commentary/derived work; copyright Walt Disney Corporation, 2019.

Aladdin as a Source of Magical Practice — Part 1

[Updated 27 April 2020]
[Part 1 | Parts 2 and 3]

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Princess Jasmine as archetype and spiritual guide

In this post, I’ll be looking at the 2019 version of Aladdin as a source for magical images and practices. [WARNING: Spoilers abound!] On the surface, that may seem a strange and doubtful choice as a source for any kind of magical practice. You may well be asking the same question Jasmine asks in the screen capture above, just a few minutes into the film: Where are we, exactly?

After all, both the 1992 cartoon and the 2019 live-action remake issue from what Wikipedia calls an “American diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate headquartered at the Walt Disney Studios complex in Burbank, California”. On the face of it, you can’t get much less Druidic. Trees, introspection, fire circles and reverence for the Land would all seem to fall away before such a commercial and capitalist onslaught.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you start to discover remarkable things.

A–First Level: Questions and contemplation seeds from the script.

Even if you can’t bring yourself to consider a cartoon and then its subsequent commercial remake (what cynics term one instance in a series of blatant cash-grabs as Disney mines its old hits for reboots) as a source of powerful images and prompts for spiritual practice, it still contains some remarkable lines that deserve repeated attention. Here’s an obvious sampling, making up a symbolic initial set of Nine:

1. How do you find (and polish) – a “diamond in the rough”? (The Cave of Wonders during the opening, and later, and also Jafar’s obsession. Of course, he never applies it to himself. Can I?)
2. Where am I, exactly? (Princess Jasmine, on the walk to Aladdin’s ruined tower after they meet in the Market. How would I answer?)
3. Can you be bought? (Aladdin/Prince Ali’s fumbling suggestion in the Palace scene that he can buy the Princess — or her affection — with the gifts the Genie provides.)
4. Have you lost your country? (Jasmine’s provocative challenge to Aladdin/Prince Ali when Ababwa doesn’t show up on her maps. What is my “native land”? Where am I most “at home”?)
5. Are you who you say you are? (Jafar and Aladdin trade versions of this. Is Aladdin’s attempt to be Prince Ali a deception or an inspired piece of self-invention?)
6. Who/what is worthy of your admiration and sacrifice? (From Jasmine’s speech to Jafar and the assembled Court, and her challenge to Hakim.)
7. Where does your loyalty lie? (Jasmine’s direct challenge to Hakim, as Jafar seizes power. A revealing question!)
8. When did you last let your heart decide? (Aladdin’s famous question to Jasmine in the song “A Whole New World”. Can I answer this?)
9. How could I not recognize you? (Jasmine’s vulnerable — and valuable! — question to Aladdin near the end of their carpet ride, when he convinces her he is indeed “Prince Ali”. Is he? A question also to ask of our experiences: do we recognize them for what they actually are? How can we begin to do so? Being able to ask such questions is in itself a wonderful sign of readiness to grow.)

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Princess Jasmine as a figure of transformation

If I take any one of these for a spin, applying it to myself, I have material for rich reflection and insight. These questions can also form hinge-points in a magical rite, offering ritual challenges for participants, opportunities for ritual responses and actions, and thus cues for writing and shaping ritual that leads outward from where I am right now.

B–Second Level: Companions and Doubles

Each of the three principal human characters has an animal familiar — Jasmine and Rajah, Aladdin and Abu, Jafar and Iago. Jasmine and Aladdin each have a further human counterpart or double: Dalia and the Genie, respectively. Their companions, human and animal, mirror their natures. Rajah channels Jasmine’s regal nature, her unexpected capacity for affection (Rajah stalks Aladdin, but then unexpectedly licks his face), and her fierceness. Abu reflects Aladdin’s own capacity for agility, thievery, initiative and improvisation. And Iago is cynical and sneering, as well as clever and observant. As a creature of Air, he goes up against the Carpet, Aladdin’s magical implement granting him the freedom and mobility of Air. The Carpet is torn, then repaired; Jafar-as-Genie sweeps Iago into confinement in his lamp.

Dalia is a servant to the Princess; Jasmine herself is a servant or captive to inflexible tradition, but also aspires to serve her kingdom as its compassionate leader. The Genie expresses (among many other things) the magical nature of imagination, the power of desire, the importance of openness to wonder and the imagination, and the magical riches available when we begin to explore our own diamond-in-the-roughness. He too is a servant, and like Dalia, in the end he is released from servitude — and made human in the bargain.

C–Third Level: Ritual Assumption, Interaction, Pathworking

(For an “auditory overview” of Pathworking, in case you’re not familiar with it, check out Damh the Bard’s current Druidcast episode 157, and the first interview with Peter Jennings.)

With some time spent in contemplation, divination, imaginative practice and experimentation, it’s possible to derive multiple rituals we can name for the principal characters: Agrabah itself, Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie, Jafar and Sultan. What follows are condensed notes on each one of these.

For elemental balance within rituals, Agrabah as a port city representing and invoking Water (or Earth and Water), the stage and setting for a spiritual drama of transformation; the Genie/Jinni as a spirit of Fire; the Carpet as a vehicle and implement of Air; the Cave of Wonders, the markets, and the desert surrounding Agrabah as Earth.

Aladdin: Invoking the element of Air for inspiration, clarity, lightness and improvisation, I work with seeing these things as external to myself, and needing vehicles like lamp, carpet and Genie to manifest what I lack. Then a ritual transition and manifestation, where I can begin to express these things as aspects of myself, no longer props outside me that I need to acquire.

Jasmine: Invoking any one of the elements — perhaps in a series of Jasmine rites — for the stability of Earth against forces that would minimize, discount and dispossess her; Air for the inspiration and imagination to lead, and the vision that leadership asks; Fire for passion and will — things she reveals most powerfully in the staging of the new song written specifically for the 2019 film, “Speechless” (link to official video featuring Naomi Scott), that has earned over 170 million views since its release less than a year ago. (Still think Aladdin is nothing more than a commercial grab? What need does the song respond to?); Water for the port city and country, and for emotional balance and intuition in handling the new power and love that are coming into her life.

Genie: in early versions of the Aladdin story, there is no limit imposed on the number of wishes the Genie grants: own the lamp and the Genie’s magic is yours for the duration. Likewise, in earlier versions the Genie has no desire to escape limits on his existence and action — he doesn’t yearn to no longer be a Genie, or to become human, or to earn his freedom. He simply does what he is. How can I transform my assumptions and expectations and self-imposed limits on my magical nature? What is my Genie ritual? What would my three wishes be? (Or nine, or some other number?)

Jafar: as another figure representing a stage on the spiritual journey, Jafar is also me. Where can I claim power appropriate to my needs and purposes? Alternatively, Jafar could feature in a “Diamond in the Rough” ritual. How does my animal companion mirror to me what I am doing right now? Where am I imprisoned? What are the lamps that now contain me? What is my Shirabad, the city that made me suffer, and where I long to take my revenge? Is my marriage or linking up with other persons, things or attitudes an opportunity to demonstrate something other than the bonds of love (like Jafar’s almost-marriage to Jasmine would have done)?

Sultan: as a figure of maturity and renunciation, the Sultan is an excellent ritual figure for seeing to the heart, for renouncing power that has passed from me but which I may still be clinging to; for recognizing and honoring the emerging feminine forces in my life; for resistance to manipulation, magical or otherwise.

In the next post in this series, I’ll look at some wider issues that touch on magicking something like Aladdin, including cultural appropriation and Orientalism, casting, character names, and additional pieces of the surprising background of the Aladdin story.

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Images: Princess Jasmine from Aladdin; fair use for commentary/derived work; copyright Walt Disney Corporation, 2019.

The Name’s the Thing — 3

[Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3]

If you think about it, of course, you soon realize that words and names in every day use very often don’t have a single or “true” meaning. In that case, what becomes of the “right” or “true” name of a thing?

Bards reply with at least one answer to that: they show us how the sound of a name is a chief component of its fit or rightness. Almost all of us have had the experience of encountering a name that just doesn’t fit the person or thing it names.

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In that sense, a rose by any other name obviously isn’t a rose — it can’t be — because the sound of the word rose is an essential part of the name of the thing. That’s where the magic comes in. Through the use of word, sound, song and chant, a magical space and state of consciousness transforms our experience of “the everyday”.

Everything She touches changes, sing the Goddess-worshippers. Jesus is Lord, and at his name every knee shall bow, celebrate the Christians. Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō, recite the Shingon Buddhists. Lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh, proclaims the voice of the muezzin. Om mani padme hum, chant the Tibetans. Four score and seven years ago, writes Lincoln, on his way to the Gettsyburg Address. I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way, choruses Lady Gaga, assuring herself and us. We both seek out special language to express what we’re experiencing, and we rely on such heightened language to help us move into states of awareness that match the experiences we seek. (In what ways are these sets of words “the same”? What would — or could — we do with an answer to that question?)

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Though the rose, or more specifically the word/sound that is approximately rosa, roh-sah, is a widely-shared name in many European languages, in part because of its rich cultural associations over hundreds of years in European religion, literature, painting and music, we also have many other names on the planet for the flower, including Chinese méiguī, Turkish gül, Arabic warda, Swahili ilipanda, and many more. Are these still “roses”? Are any of them more “rose-like” than “rose”? And what do any answers to those questions like “yes” or “no” even mean?

You’ll have your own and better answers to that question after you chant warda or ilipanda or gül or méiguī for ten minutes. Does it make sense to ask whether an ilipandais” a warda or a méiguī?

In that case, what happens to a question like “Who am I?”

Especially in the presence of trees, Spirit, whatever god(s) we look to, and our own wonder, this can be a powerful theme for meditation, if held lightly in the attention, and turned like a gem or a flower in the sunlight, or a candle-flame in the dark.

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Animals live in a largely pre-verbal world, and get along quite well without formal language. True, the more intelligent animals can interact with human symbol systems like language, because they have finite sets of symbols themselves, with calls, cries and intentional patterned behaviors. From time to time we read about apes able to manipulate quite complex symbol systems of hundreds of elements. And studies of bird intelligence suggest impressive equivalent capacities among the smartest birds. Perhaps the best current understanding sees animal communication existing along an evolutionary continuum, sharing some but not all of the key features of human language.

With the Druid love of threes, we can ask, if there’s a pre-verbal world and a verbal world, then is there a post-verbal realm? Intelligence, literally the ability to pick out or select (Latin legere) from between (Latin inter) things, to notice and make distinctions, is closely linked to language and awareness. Among other spiritual practices, Zen attempts to point to realms beyond words with its koans like this one: “What’s your original face, the one you had before you were born?” (You might find this insight productive if you attempt to draw, paint, etc., one or more responses to this question. That is, get out of your verbal head-space and try a different mode.)

For we know of other kinds of intelligence besides verbal intelligence, and these point to some of the possibilities of a post-verbal world. If, in some worlds, we don’t have physical bodies subject to time and space and the laws of physics, analogues of human language — and naming — may work quite differently, or not be needed at all.

All of us have had intuitions and hunches enter brain consciousness and only then arrive into some kind of language, even if it’s “I’m not sure, but I have a feeling that …” or “I don’t know why, but …”. In such cases, the non-verbal perception comes first, and only afterwards makes its way into words. Simultaneously such experiences point to the profound value of naming as a way of understanding and clarifying our choices and best directions, but also the impossibility of discussing things we cannot name. (For a related link, see apophatic thought — the idea that some things can only be hinted at in terms of what they are not — in the world’s major spiritual traditions.)

On a related theme, if you haven’t watched brain researcher and neuro-anatomist Jill Bolte Taylor’s marvelous TED talk about her experiences during and after a massive stroke, take a look at My Stroke of Insight. Here’s the 20-minute video:

 

 

Many spiritual practices are intended to open up consciousness to experience some of what Taylor talks about in her video — without the unwanted side-effects!

In the next post, as a way of illustrating some of what I’ve talked about in these posts, I’ll look at deriving magical and spiritual practices from a popular film from last year.

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Image: rose — pexels.com

That Fire Festival

There it is again, the nudge of an approaching Festival. Like the light of a full moon, it engenders a subtle wakefulness. The gods are stirring the embers, raking the coals, adding kindling and blowing across the hearth their living breath. Who wouldn’t spark into flame?

May, Beltane month, reminds us how every time is a liminal time. (Samhain certainly stands equal to the task of reminding us, if instead of Beltane, you’re Down Under.) Liminal, from Latin limen “threshold”. E-liminate something and you take it across a threshold and outdoors, and presumably leave it there. In that sense, Druids are always trying to eliminate themselves, crossing over and coming back, seeking expanse and connection with whatever is without, in the older sense of “outside, not within”. Several churches across Christendom have as part of their names “without the walls” — outside, e-liminated. If you’re outside, you make your own threshold.

Of course, once you’re outside, it’s the Within that may suddenly become attractive again. By a kind of spiritual gravity, what goes out comes back inside, and vice versa. Like a cat or dog that can’t decide which is better, and meows or barks to be let in and out and back in again, we look longingly at wherever we aren’t. Jesus gets it, knowing Self is the Gate: “They shall go in and out and find pasture” — on either side.

The grass is, in fact, always greenest wherever I am right now. “As above, so below; as within, so without”. It just often takes ritual to know it. We say the words, often without hearing ourselves, but do we mean them? Not to say that everything’s the same on both sides of the limen, but that they constantly talk to each other. And the limen is so often more interesting than the sides.

In some sense, festivals and ritual generally are opportunities and attempts to have it both ways. We get to make an inside and an outside wherever we are, out of the Möbius strip of reality, which has only the one side, though consciousness insists on two. And we get to be the boundary, the place of transformation, our native place. Practice it enough, and we get good at it. Become the exchange point, the crossing-over, the hinge. Then when a big event comes along like death or birth, disaster or first love, we don’t get thrown quite as hard. (Or maybe, we get better at throwing ourselves, so the cosmos doesn’t have to.)

By the power of star and stone, says the Herald at the opening of the standard OBOD ritual format. By the power of the land within and without, by all that is fair and free, be welcome! E-liminated at birth from the Land within, I emerge onto the Land without and stay awhile. At death I get re-liminated from the Land without, and turn back within. So it goes, till I can stand at the Hinge and look across births and deaths, springs and autumns, to What’s Really Going On, whatever that turns out to be. I aspire to be a hinge-Druid, bending rather than breaking.

Ritual is hinge-work. You and I write the ritual of our lives.

At Beltane, the hinges heat up in the growing sun. We long to touch, to connect, to be in communion. Virus or no, we still nurse at the breast of the cosmos. “Where the bee sucks, there suck I”, says Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Oh, who wouldn’t?!

Or take the case of Job in the Hebrew Bible. God dresses him down, and challenges him. The old King James/Authorized Version catches the flavor well, for all its increasing linguistic distance from us:

Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?
Canst thou put an hook into his nose? or bore his jaw through with a thorn?
Will he make many supplications unto thee? will he speak soft words unto thee?
Will he make a covenant with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant for ever?
Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?

The ritual answer to these insistent questions is “Yes!” That’s one of the things ritual does: it lets us answer “yes” to a cosmos whose very strangeness and majesty and terror otherwise impel us to answer “no”. Who, me? Of course not! No!

Stand at the hinge, and we come into our own as Children of the Most High. For Christians, Jesus is that Hinge, that Gate. The advantage of Person-as-Hinge isn’t exclusive to any one religion or spiritual practice, of course. Talk to the cosmos and it talks back. Persons everywhere, spirit incarnating, doing its thing. We’ve just fallen out of the habit. Ritual is one way that re-awakens us to possibility. But so many us are un-hinged, lost, disconnected.

throught-he-mother-stone-wendy-rose-scheers

the “Mother Stone”, Four Quarters Sanctuary, Pennsylvania

Through the windows and doorways of ritual, we can see again what we lost sight of.

ancestor altar in circle -- W Flaherty

Four Quarters Sanctuary stone circle and altar

Sometimes the Face that Cosmos wears to reach us is familiar, sometimes not. Sometimes an Ancestor, sometimes an Other. We’re particularly bothered by things that speak to us that don’t have faces. Ritual can give a face to Things without them.

Ritual also opens an opportunity to organize my altars. Yours may look like this shelf of mine, all hodgepodge. Stones, peach pits, coins, figures, feathers.

shelf

Yes, the Wiccan chant reminds us, One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother. But not every thing, not all at once. Ritual says go with one thing, watch it change, celebrate the transformation. Be the hinge.

So we’ll gather (Zoom-Beltane, May 2 for us here in VT), and say the words: By the Power of Star and Stone …

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The Name’s the Thing — 2

[Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3]

An understanding of the power of naming is ancient and world-wide. During his lifetime, the Chinese sage Confucius was asked what he would do if he were a ruler, and he replied that he would “rectify the names” (Chinese zheng ming). He explained that words need to correspond to reality.

Damage that alignment, destroy the match-up between word and thing, he continued, and social order collapses. Or to jump ahead millennia and borrow from Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy, “enterprises of great pitch and moment,/With this regard their currents turn awry,/And lose the name of action”. In other words, to jump still further ahead in time to almost our century and to the much-quoted words of W. B. Yeats, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …”. Bards get these things, and warn us sometimes centuries in advance of when we’ll need them.

Or to put it in the unpoetic jargon of our times, things suck cuz our names for them are wrong.

It’s not always wholly that simple, but it’s also not so far off.

camellia

“A rose by any other name
Would get the blame
For being what it is–
The colour of a kiss,
The shadow of a flame.
A rose may earn another name,
So call it love;
So call it love I will,
And love is like the sea,
Which changes constantly,
And yet is still
The same” — Tanith Lee
A test for each of us: does this poem clarify, or obscure?

Likewise in ancient Egypt, where knowing the true names of people and things gave you power over them. U. K. LeGuin develops this idea in her Earthsea books. There her characters have “use names”, and hold their true names secret. For mages as persons of power, this practice is even more essential. And aren’t we all “persons of power”, however unclaimed? (Disempowerment is the magic too many wield today, against themselves as much as against anyone else.)

Sparrowhawk, the use-name of the wizard hero of the Earthsea books, goes through a naming ceremony on the cusp of adolescence. The mage Ogion “reached out his hand and clasping the boy’s arm whispered to him his true name: Ged. Thus was he given his name by one very wise in the uses of power” (A Wizard of Earthsea).

Egyptians in the times of the Pharaohs as well as Native Americans and many other peoples took on new names after defining events or achievements. To cite just one example from contemporary culture, Lily Collins’ anorexic character in the 2017 film To the Bone is given a new name by her therapist to help her imagine and discover her identity as someone other than a sick young woman.

Some of us pick up nicknames from others (including ones we may loathe), as well as give them to beings that matter in our lives. Dog and cat owners know this well. We give our loved ones “pet names”. And again, among the Egyptians, if you can name someone or something accurately, write its name on a pottery shard or piece of parchment, and then destroy the object that bears the name, you lessen the power of the person or thing.

A common rationalist view (an egregore at work there, too, one claiming that reason alone is exempt from all bias) calls this the rankest superstition. But insofar as words and names matter — and you need only scan current headlines to see a myriad of examples that names do matter, and deeply — that’s exactly where we’re living, whether we think we participate or not. “Superstition” literally stands (Latin sta-, stit-) over (Latin super) us. Are government stay-at-home orders “safety precautions” or “tyranny”? What we call them matters in concrete, “real-world” ways.

Next door in New Hampshire, protesters against the virus lockdown rally in the state capital. An added poignancy or irony: the NH state motto is “Live free or die”. People are hurting, both from the virus directly, and from restrictions around it. Does the binary of “live free or die” offer a good path forward, or might the Druid practice of transforming a binary into a ternary prove beneficial?

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Breitbart News, 18 April 2020

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In the previous post in this series, I asked these questions:

What is your best name? (Do you have more than one?) How can you invite it into your awareness most beneficially? What reminders of it can you build into your days?

With some time spent in meditation, you can answer the first question for yourself. Make a name-giving ritual that’s meaningful to you — an opportunity to manifest your creativity. Consider both the power of writing down your name, or wearing it, perhaps in a locket or pouch around your neck, and also of keeping it secret, guarding its energy even as you build it, and never committing it to writing.

Maybe you take on a different name for each day of the week. More elaborately, you dedicate yourself to a month of name work. A different name for each day of the month. Watch for names you are taking into your awareness. What names are you giving to things? What names do you have for the events and circumstances and people you encounter during the day, week, or month? What power do you give them (or take from them) as a result of your naming?

If your birthday or another significant day is near, how can you consecrate that day and the names you’ve given it? “Oh, that’s the day that I ___ “. So what difference does that name make in your memory and experience? Try it out, with serious and also silly names.

Sticking with these practices, even if only for an hour at first, and then a whole day — or week — can demonstrate their efficacy and value better than anything I can write here.

What prayers can you create for your (new) name? Does that sound strange at first? Maybe a simple triad: “I shine the power of today’s sunlight on my name. I give the love of my ancestors to my name. I feed my name with the pungency of nutmeg” and so on. Work with this name, and spend time using it in contemplation. “By the power of my name, I ____ ”

May you find names of beauty, wisdom and freedom, and welcome them into your lives.

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Images: Breitbart photo of NH protest;

The Name’s the Thing

Updated 24 April 2020

[Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3]

Novelist M. M. Kaye, who wrote so vividly about Indian life in the days of Her Majesty’s Raj, opens her novel Shadow of the Moon with this exchange about the name of one of her main characters:

Winter! Who ever heard of such a name? It is not a name at all. Do pray be sensible, my dear Marcos. You cannot call the poor mite anything so absurd”.

“She will be christened Winter”.

“Then at least let her have some suitable second name. There are so many pretty and unexceptionable names to choose from”.

“No. Only Winter”.

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Time change, as they used to say with less irony. These days, when we have actors with names like River Phoenix, and singers like Lady Gaga and Madonna and Prince, and thousands of Pagans named Raven, a name like Winter no longer stands out. (Here in southern Vermont lives the writer Crescent Dragonwagon.)

If like me you’ve puzzled at times over other people’s choices for religious or magical or craft or “inward-facing” names, we need look no further for diverse examples than the venerable tradition in many of the major religions for often unusual religious names. From Catholicism alone we get less-than-common saints’ names like Adjutor, Drogo and Lidwina. Buddhists also have cultural names to choose from, with Tibetan Chogden and Lobsang, and on to possibly multiple dharma names, if they practice in the Mahayana tradition.

Give yourself an unusual name and it sticks out, making you stick out, at least a little more. Not letting yourself be just a number, not permitting yourself to disappear into the background. You live with a chosen name differently than with one someone else gave you. More so when other people also know it and use it. More so when it bears rich associations, or ideals you now accept as goals to live up to. (For some useful insight, try chanting your own name for ten minutes. No one else needs to hear you. What do you discover?)

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Camellia, April 2019, Charleston, NC. Flower names are popular for obvious reasons!

If like me and other Druids you look to the languages of your tradition for inspiration and examples, you happen on names like Welsh Twrch for the wild boar, one of the animals I work with. And since most people don’t know Welsh spelling conventions, they end up reading it something like twertch — decidedly not “the magical name I was looking for”. Yes, Twrch (with -ch as in Bach, something like toorkh) remains a name I might use in ritual, but not otherwise. The spiritual realm, I’ve discovered, can track me down well enough whatever my name is.

If we want to see the inverse of this, we need look no further than some people’s obsession over the pronouns others use for them. “My pronouns” only extend as far as other people’s willingness to indulge me. How far do I expect that to reach? Will my government legalize my choice of identity and pronouns? Perhaps. But why would I want to put one more piece of my freedom and identity into others’ hands? As head of the Anglesey Druid order Kris Hughes likes to say, “What other people think of you is none of your business”. You’ve got far better, more worthwhile and fun-ner things to do than beat your head against centuries of arbitrary linguistic habit.

Yes, of course oppression can often be encoded in language, but many languages that lack gender distinctions in their pronouns belong to cultures far more repressive than those in the West, where we may indulge superficial linguistic variations in the name of political correctness and identity politics. To offer just one example, Chinese has the invariant syllable ta* meaning either “he” or “she”: anyone who seriously imagines their identity will be respected and accommodated better in the People’s Republic of China is welcome to go live there and find out how far a unitary pronoun changes things on the ground.

(*As Bogatyr points out in his comment, the written language does distinguish between the characters 他 “he” and 她 “she” — both pronounced the same, but visually distinct.)

It is for these reasons that some people create an entire magical language to encode the meanings they desire, rather than merely accept those they inherit. For one (in)famous example of this, see the Enochian language and alphabet. Better still is an understanding of egregores and the work necessary to avoid their undue influence — see the previous post.

If in language we encode energies of oppression, can we also encode energies of liberation?

Among other ways, we do this with mantra, with holy words and names. Instead of troubling yourself that you “don’t or can’t believe” in a particular deity, try chanting that deity’s name one thousand times. (A rosary of some kind helps with the count.) After the fifteen or so minutes that this practice asks (depending on the name or word, and your rhythm), if you attempt it with even a moderate intention for true discovery, you will very likely come into a different understanding of “belief”, one more rooted in experience and less in mental formulation. Mantric power affects us in much the same way as music. We take the vibration into our atoms, and probably echo with it for some time after finishing the chant. Those of you with clairvoyant and clairaudient abilities may be in a position to confirm this.

What is your best name? (Do you have more than one?) How can you invite it into your awareness most beneficially? What reminders of it can you build into your days? The next post will take up these and similar topics.

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