Archive for the ‘Alban Arthan’ Tag

Prelude to Nine Days of Solstice

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As I did during the Samhain season this year, I’m planning a solstice series to honour Nine Days of Winter Solstice, starting tomorrow, Sunday 13 December, and continuing through the Solstice on the 21st. Because writing is one of my principal spiritual tools, it helps me deepen my awareness and gratitude for the gifts that are given to us each day, in the midst of all the tumult and discord we see around us on this planet. Without those gifts, our experience would be far more grim and difficult.

ice on our evergreens

Is there an “official” Nine Days of Solstice? No and yes. You can always find people asking questions like that. Sometimes it’s newcomers, wanting to “get it right” which is an impulse we can celebrate. But nobody needs permission for such things. Who would give it? The Ancient and Noble College of Druids? That’s fun to imagine — maybe a plot detail for a fantasy novel. How about a national government? Not for decades, if ever. And what would “official” mean? Wider recognition? Signs and decorations in public buildings? TV specials? News anchors on cable wishing each other “Happy Solstice”? Human interest stories about how others celebrate the Nine Days? Official lighting of candles or torches at public venues on each each of the Nine Days?

Yes, there could be pleasant acknowledgements of the season, ways to introduce children and young people and the Druid-adjacent and Druid-curious to its rhythms and dynamics. But the end-of-year holiday season is already crowded enough with numerous cultural events and celebrations. Many Druids already acknowledge and celebrate one or more other traditions. I find that acknowledging the days around a seasonal festival can provide useful private space for reflection and re-dedication. If the Nine Days of Solstice became a “thing” — if others celebrated it, too — that’s fine. But the initial impulse for me comes as an inner signal to pay attention.

Which, as someone said in an online forum recently, is 3/4 of Druidry.

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December Pentad


238 abandoned drafts, 727 posts / screenshot 9 December 2020

In many ways the posts here at A Druid Way comprise a spiritual memoir. They’re not really a “how-to” for Druidry, though I do post suggestions from time to time, if the nudge comes through persistently enough that something in my experience may hold value for others. (On the other hand, you should see my backlog of about 200+ rough drafts of posts that will never see publication.) But I don’t usually write a “How to Read the Ogham” or “Becoming a Priest of Lugh” or “Three Land-spirits You Can Work With” kind of post. Others do that more competently.

Instead, by digging into my own experiences for the energies and portals, avenues and worlds they open into, I hope to document one small part of the wild landscape we can walk as Druids. “Small” isn’t false modesty but simply spiritual fact, given the vastness of our inner worlds. I also try to ask hard questions, because to me they’re some of the most useful things for where I am now. Don’t worry — Druidry is tough enough. It can take it. And so can we. I know my practice, my amazement and my gratitude have all deepened as a consequence.


I take for a valuable triad the “Three Questions to Ask of a Deed”: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Rather than telling me what to do, this Triad turns me inward, prompting me to act with greater awareness of the spiritual identity of a person, of a situation. Often others can only see the action itself, not what led up to the moment of it, or what follows. Often I can say “yes” to two out of three points of the Triad, but that third Question will stop me in a most helpful way. And more than 33% of the time, it’s the Question of Kindness. The harsh letter of complaint to our used-car dealer I want to write, after over $3700 in repairs two months after we bought it, or the snarky comment to a stranger I just don’t need to make, especially over-caffeinated as I was — if a Triad can re-direct my energies to better purposes, it’s proven itself. All emotions are what they are — flows of energy. What I do with them, though — that’s my laboratory, my workshop, my opportunity, my spiritual arena. Molotov cocktail or spiritual illumination?


A private lane in southern Vermont/Tuesday, 8 Dec 2020.

There’s intermittent talk among Druids about signs and omens. “What do they mean? How can I tell?” I’ve noticed that the more compassionate and wiser listeners among us try to answer with some version of the following:

All things have multiple meanings. Some of them are part of consensus reality, and some are private and personal. We live in many worlds, and some of them are symbolic. If you had a bad or good experience with dogs, then a dog in a dream, or a vision, or on a solitary walk will mean something different for you than for the next person. Keeping a record of encounters, of signs and omens, can often help with understanding them, because patterns may emerge. Sometimes you will know. And sometimes you’ll need to be patient until you can see a pattern emerge.

In my more manic moments I test these responses with a potentially silly question to help me unpack them: “What does my wife mean, if I meet her unexpectedly when I’m out in our backyard?” The oddness of such a question helps reveal some of my attitudes about signs and omens. Does she “mean” anything? Yes and no. She’s a person like I am, and like the birds and trees and all the other beings in this cosmos that I may encounter. She has her own path, and while we’ve agreed out of love and shared interests and common goals to walk some of the same paths together, what she means to me isn’t all or even part of what “she means”. Or to put it another way, who she is is greater than “what she means”. Her existence can’t be contained in the definition of another person, even one who loves her, but by her going about her life, by the living of it.


While signs and omens may exist partly or even wholly in our own subjective universes, I find that much (most? all?) of the physical world reflects the inner worlds. “As above, so below” is more than just a nice theory. (Sometimes you get the sense that the gods “really mean it” this time.)

Instructions for rituals or magic often include directions to “visualize”. For many that can be a challenge, so it’s helpful to have a physical map of an inner reality, something to get into your mind’s eye.

Part of the 3-mile walk we try to take a few times a week takes us past a neighbor’s maples, and the sugaring gear remains in place for the next season. Here then are the energy lines running from tree to tree, as they do between so many beings — in living color.


From time to time Druidry (like Paganism generally) faces a critique, less common than it used to be, that it “has no ethics or moral principles”. Or if it does, they’re hedonistic and selfish. Fortunately, here we can heap some blame on old uncle Al, Aleister Crowley, with his widely bandied-about “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”, as if the sum total of all non-Christian thought amounted to a Nike commercial and “Just do it”.

That Crowley was talking about living from one’s True Will gets lost in all the noise, just like “You must be born again” too often gets turned into little more than emotional experience at a revival. That Crowley and Jesus might even be talking about something similarly transformative — that the spiritual terrain they both point to might be worth exploring so we begin to know it in person “with signs following” — such a thought might well rank up there on many people’s Top Ten Blasphemies list.

Apropos of this, you may have seen the recent ad(vert) for a video game featuring a pic of a CGI busty red-headed wench and the leering tagline “You’re allowed to do anything you want in this game!” As one commentator responded:

“Really, interactive porn grifter? I’m allowed to do ANYTHING I want in this game? Can I travel the world? Can I achieve self-actualization? Or do you assume that my imagination only extends as far as touching a cartoon boob? Because I’ll do that too, but there’s a lot of other shit I want!”

Rather than assuming all our wants and desires can be conveniently divided into pure and impure, or some other light/dark, good/bad dichotomy, why not employ the energy behind these surface manifestations to see what they look like in the other worlds? Sometimes the outer form of “what I want” overlays a very different contour on the inner map of who and what we are, and how far we extend into realms we didn’t know we walked in.

Or to frame it differently, what would my life look like if I operated under the postulate sometimes attributed to Chaos Magic — “Nothing is true and everything is permitted” — and which originates in the novel Alamut by Vladimir Bartol, also an inspiration for the book/film/game Assassin’s Creed? That theme and precept can fuel any number of thoughtful plunges into one’s assumptions and world-view.

And a Bonus SIX

Here we are, a little less than two weeks out from Yule / Solstice / Alban Arthan — that interval I keep noticing shimmers in my awareness whenever one of the “Great Eight” seasonal festivals approaches. Each of them has a pooling of forces and dynamics that calls to anyone who’s worked with that cycle of holy days — calls in varied ways. Is there an Inner Solstice taking place at or around the same time? A very good question for meditation. Would I like to join the inner celebration? Yes! Would you like to join me?

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Yule Moon and Solstice

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

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

Why? Do the seasonal festivals really matter?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solstice 2014

Anciently, Ireland was known as Inis Fail, the Isle of the Lia Fail, the Stone of Fal from the magical city of Falias and the Goddess Danu, one of the Four Hallows of Ireland, also called the Stone of Destiny, which roared when a true king sat or stood upon it. The Isle of Britain was called Clas Myrddin, Merlin’s Enclosure, and continuing the island theme, its holy and magical city Glastonbury was Ynys Witrin, the Isle of Glass. Such lore can indeed take you some way along a path, the names themselves an invocation as magical as any.

Merrivale Stone Rows, Devon

Merrivale Stone Rows, Devon

Outside of Britain we may well long for our own mythological names, gestures of respect and power toward the spirits of the land, honoring them with noble names, and opening doorways.  Yes, by borrowing for an interval a tongue from across the Water and bowing to our ancestors of spirit from there, we could do worse than call North America by one of its native names, Turtle Island, rendering it in Welsh: Ynys Crwban. Old tongue, New World. But the spirits here aren’t Welsh, and they’re wilder, and steeped in their own ways and works.

Still, Earth and Stone are North, and Winter, and Night. I sit and calm myself, finding the Pole Star in inner sight. The sky’s too cloudy for it outwardly, with a light snow falling most of the day and into the evening. I do a private ritual, and then in vision I’m drawn toward a stone circle. But instead of the broad windswept Salisbury Plain, and the great Henge there that all know, I’m given to see a different circle. Here the stones set their feet deeper, cradled in earth. The place feels both older and more intimate. The lintels stand just chest-high, low enough I can see over their tops and into the circle, which is some twenty feet across.

Vision wavers for a moment. Briefly I’m back and conscious of the room. Yes, I sit here in Vermont, just feet from snowdrifts outside the window, but in vision rough gray stones rise from a green cloak of moss that more than half-covers them. I’m there again. To enter the circle I have to go down on all fours and crawl through the space between two uprights and a heavy lintel. My palms and legs rub against the cool dampness. The rich chocolate scent of earth fills my nose — leaf-rot, moss, lichen, chlorophyll — the planet’s kitchen working, working endlessly. Each pace forward and I move over lives too small to see unaided. But they’re still here. Then I’m inside. I begin to sense an invisible dome overhead, a kind of presence shaping the space. The stones hum just below hearing, holy engines, the sound stillness makes, not empty at all.

Suddenly needing their strength I rise to my knees and hug an upright stone, its cool solidity reassuring against my arms and cheek and chest. With that, the welcome surges through me. You’re here, you’re here, we say to each other. In that instant I don’t worry who or what I’m talking to, only that we’re glad to be together — together again. This is not the first time for any of us. I spin in a half-dance, half-frenzy, soon enough falling dizzily to the ground. Wetness on my face — rain, tears, I’m not sure which. Both. I am earthed, spent, embraced, recharged, home.

A log shifts in the stove in the next room and brings me back. Now is the hour of recall, goes the line from OBOD ritual. The Circle in the vision is real enough it’s got me wondering if it exists on this plane.  The thought comes Build it so it does. I sit with that impression a while longer, trying to absorb the implications for this vision and others.  Build it so it exists on this plane.

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The Piccolo San Bernardo Circle in Val d’Aosta, Italy, straddles the French-Italian border in a mountain pass at about 2000 meters. The circle appears for only a few weeks each year, when the snows recede enough to reveal the stones.  The ancient Roman satirist Petronius appears to refer to it and remarks, “Winter covers it with a persistent snow and it raises its white head to the stars.” This seemed a fitting image to close with for the solstice in the North. What will manifest in our circles, when the circles themselves lie half-hidden to our sight?


Piccolo San Bernardo, Val d’Aosta, Italy

Images: Stone Pages — Merrivale Stone Row; Stone Pages Piccolo San Bernardo. The Stone Pages site is well worth visiting and dreaming with.

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