Archive for the ‘ancestors’ Tag

Trigger Blessings   Leave a comment

What? Well, we’ve heard a great deal, at least in the U.S., about trigger warnings — flags to alert you to media content that might possibly cause you distress.

(These days I find myself asking what doesn’t cause distress to somebody, somewhere.)

So why not look for trigger blessings instead?

You know — signs, clues, hints, flags that something out there (or in here) might possibly bring you joy, strength, inspiration, the will to carry on.

Do such things even exist?

They do. And often we mediate them to each other. Hello. I am your trigger blessing for today. Grandchild singing tunelessly, pet warm in your lap, neighbor waving on the way to work, kind stranger who lets you into line — many of our blessings come through persons. And we can be a blessing to others.

Not a bad goal, and prayer, for one day a week, to start: let me be a blessing to others. Then, having asked, watching for the moments I can make it happen.

Not for my sake (though serving brings its own rewards) but because it’s so clear others very much need blessing. Just as much, it turns out, as I do.

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Since working with the Enchantments of Brighid, you could say I haven’t had anything remarkable to show for it. Led a workshop discussion on Past Lives, Dreams and Soul Travel. Caught a miserable sinus infection, along with my wife, after a weekend trip to celebrate her dad’s 85th birthday. (The old guy’s in better shape, in some ways, than I am.) Had a few dreams I’ll get to in a moment. Enjoyed the growing light that February brings to the northeast U.S., whatever the weather. Felt a stirring of creativity easily attributable to chance, or cycles of change. Nothing especially unusual here. Move along.

Except …

Enchantment often works best under cover. No one’s contacted Industrial Light and Magic, or WETA, or the local CGI crew, to mock up a trailer for the work of Brighid. The goddess, or our own life patterns if you prefer, can pull it off without the splashy special effects.

Though they’re present, if I look behind the glamours and bad mojo of our deeds, our headlines and our endlessly squawking media to all the other things, better ones, that are happening all the time.

My wife and I are making plans for a family and friends gathering to celebrate our 30th anniversary. An online Old English group I founded just held its first Skype meeting to practice the language, with 8 of us chatting awkwardly, with a good deal of laughter, for 40 minutes. Ideas are percolating, following on the Druid-and-Christian themes I’ve explored here in numerous posts, for a session at the 2nd Mid-Atlantic Gathering this coming May — a breakout discussion group I suggested will talk about the many intersections of the Druid and Christian experience.

Our finances, always interesting, continue to be interesting, but just in new ways. It turns out we won’t starve after all. (Or if we do, I’ll document it here.)

And the dreams …

In the first, from 31 January, I face Thecu, many-armed and -faced, pointing toward the east and to either the 4th or 3rd of her 9 runes of storm. Near her, a patch of intense darkness. My spiritual Guide and Teacher from my other path appears, says it’s always a choice: leave it alone or walk through. Bless the darkness — no reason to fear it. New fears, old fears: the old are a marker; the new, often, no more than distractions, unless I let them teach me something.

The second, from 4 February: I am warning others of an approaching tornado, but no one can hear me.

In the third, which my dream journal records for 9 February, I’m with a group of students from my former boarding school, though in the way of dreams I don’t recognize anyone. We’re talking about diversity, when one student shouts “Be careful!” Then I’m flying over trees, leading with my left toe. I arrive at an abandoned house somehow connected with my parents. I shout, “You never shared your pain with me!” and wake, at ease, reflective.

While going through old documents and photographs, I come on an image of my dad’s grandfather Albert whom I’ve never seen before, age and sepia blending, formal pose and 114 years all combining to distance him and bring him near. Yes, Ancestors, I’m still here, still listening.

Albert Hird

Turns out more than enough is happening to keep any respectable Druid very well occupied.

Trigger blessings to you all.

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Storm and Story   Leave a comment

In a fit of New Year’s house-cleaning, I spent part of yesterday going through photos and papers my mother left to me. She passed sixteen years ago, but only now am I finally getting around to culling photo albums and memorabilia. Unlabeled pictures of ancestors I don’t recognize I’m discarding. (The clearest of them I’ll scan and post to ancestry.com — someone may perceive a link to their own story.) Together the images I’m discarding will make for a personal springtime ritual of memory, which feels now like it should be annual: to the unknown ancestors.

Ann Hall

a known ancestor — my great-great-grandmother Ann

Among my mother’s effects was a sealed envelope, with a notation in fading Victorian script: “Worth County Eagle of Feb. 10, 1881”. Worth County is rural northern Iowa, where my mother was born and grew up.

The paper is just one quarter its usual size, and the Feb. 10th issue opens with an apology, explaining that the recent three-day blizzard has delayed their paper shipment, and so the present issue is small, a single sheet, folded in half to make four pages.

The railroads are all blockaded. Possibly the BCR & N [railroad] may get trains to Albert Lea [nearby in Minnesota] by Saturday night, if they have no bad luck. The Minneapolis & St. Louis [line] is in very bad shape. Six engines are dead at Hartland and the road is full of snow. They cannot clear the road this week.

But the most poignant column of the issue, appearing on the third page, is more personal:

Last Friday afternoon, Joe Fleming, of Kensett, came to Northwood, on horseback, for a coffin, for the only child of Chas. Christenson. It was late on his arrival, and he did not think it expedient to venture out again, so near dark, and remained over night. Our readers all know what a day Saturday was, and it was unsafe for one to be out on the road, so Joe waited until Sunday morning. By then it was impossible for him to get his horse out of the barn, on account of the deep snow. But he made up his mind that the trip must be made, and so had the coffin fastened securely to his back and started on foot, during that severe snow storm. He arrived at home safely.

What we do simply to survive is worthy of story. Let’s not diminish the lives we lead today. One-hundred thirty-seven years ago a child died, a human grief, and that death sparked the human determination that became this particular story. What is remembered lives. But we chose what we remember. Storms occasion such stories, markers of our lives. Everyone has one or more to tell.

May you be warm and safe and cherish your stories, however hard-won. By living them you’ve earned them. Such memories number among things that need to be born.

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Becoming an Ancestor   1 comment

From the OBOD “Inspiration for Life” for 26 October: “Our greatest responsibility is to become good ancestors” — Jonas Salk (1914-1995). Search for information on Salk and you’ll find, beyond his discovery of the life-saving polio vaccine, that the original quotation has  “be” for “become,” but “become” fits. It gives us room to grow into the role.

Growth? I don’t know about you, but most days I need all the help I can get. We can be as literal as you like. My father had a mild case of polio in the 1930s when he was a young man, and it stunted the growth of his legs. He would have been as tall as I am at 6’2″. When we sat, we were the same height, but standing, he was six inches shorter than me. He made up for reduced stature by work and persistence (if you’re uncharitable you might have called it cussed stubbornness). Sometimes we can feel like we’re cast against type in our own lives. What now?

If I approach the day, the season, this life, as roles, I can often feel my way into possibility. We’ve all slipped in backstage. From there we tried out for this role — like almost all the others we’re offered — just by being born. Set aside for a moment the question of whether any of us asked to be here.  If we do indeed get recycled from one part of this universe into another, perhaps our own ancestors called us, and our parents made bodies for us and brought us back to the longest-running show of them all. Have kids, and we’re doing the same for them. No kids this time around? You won’t escape that easy.

Live in this world more than a handful of years and you’ll meet others you instantly warm up or cool off to. Mere chance? Unlikely. Instead, one big noisy, contentious family reunion. You never liked Great-Uncle Louis, only now (s)he’s your one-year old niece Lucy who just spit up on your new silk shirt.

Or that annoying nephew Luke who always manages to bring back your car with a few more dings and scratches whenever he borrows it. You’d say no but you still owe his mother a few grand from that tight period some years back.

After all, karma’s one of the most efficient ways of polishing rough edges. Get back what you give out. Until you decide to play it differently. A different take. An original interpretation. A dramatic break-through. A sensitive and well-rounded performance that elicits sympathy for a potentially unlovable character.

What roles will I play in this ancestor ritual that is my life? Can I live large enough that I qualify as a “good ancestor”? Do my choices make the future lighter, wiser, more loving? (The signs tell me I’ll get to find out in person. Back in a century or three to check in and live my own consequence.)

Some days I get a foretaste. I wake, sliding slowly out of bed feeling I’m already halfway to ancestor status. You know, when your body’s now the best barometer for tomorrow morning’s weather. Low pressure and my lower back aches. Rain coming and my shoulder throbs. At such times it’s slender consolation that half a millennium hence my thighbone may decorate some family altar, or that my brother’s great-great-great-times-10 granddaughters will drink toasts from my lovingly preserved skull.

No, Salk probably meant something more. While not all of us will fall fighting to defend our land for our descendants, in every age too many of us do.

But just as many of our battles are inward, and many outwardly calm or seemingly easy faces conceal, it may be, most grievous private wars. It’s fitting, then — humbling, sobering and just — that we may well return to see what becomes of our own deeds.

For me there’s no better perspective. I find myself asked to forgive less than glorious forebears. “Judge not, lest you be judged” can cut painfully close. Knowing my own struggles and weaknesses, I’ll toast them with a generous measure of compassion — not because they may “deserve” it, but because they need it, and so do I — even as I honor the great among them, this weekend on Samhain.

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“Imagine if you can’t remember”   3 comments

says Canadian poet Charlotte Hussey.

Now this proves very useful advice, I’ve found. All the materialist skepticism to the contrary, imagination springs from an inward compost and leaf-mold, yes, and also a vital, creative capacity we all possess as our human birthright. Even those of us who’ve tried to cast it away, if only because to nourish dream and hope can hurt much more than indulgence in flat despair. That means almost all of us. Maybe our singers and poets and wild-eyed prophets number among those who simply can’t forget any longer.*

And some of the Wise will tell you that imagination is the astral sight: we see by other means than merely light rays reaching the retina and dashing up neurons to the brain. Light everywhere has its place, but physical light does not account for those familiar or haunting landscapes we’ve never visited, companionable (or challenging) beings we have never met, and so on. Or indeed, landscapes and beings we have met before. Just not here.

charlottehusseyjpgAnd Hussey’s Ecobardic Manifesto asserts, among its other points, both the return of and our singular need for “the prophetic vocation to look into the inner truth of things and speak, on behalf of the community, what need[s] to be spoken.”

But do we even want to hear “what needs to be spoken”? And if we opt to listen, how do we distinguish this needful message in the midst of the clamor and noise of all the other increasingly hysterical voices around us?

Small steps. I keep returning to this most helpful strategy. Our own practice of silence is a beginning (and advanced) step that helps with discernment of an inner truth we each know for ourselves, if we listen. If we can’t discern it, we can imagine it. Finding a still point beyond the mind chatter. Walk along a quiet sidewalk with trees, find a park, a quiet corner of your apartment or condo or neighborhood. Stillness as practice.

Focus or mantra or prayer. For Christians, scripture like “Be still and know that I am God” makes a powerful start. Pagans have an equivalent range of seed-verses and prayer-songs.

Sometimes the name of deity, or a suitable word like awen or om or amen.

Song or chant in a language you don’t know, to take you out of your talking head (and anybody else’s, too).

Symbol or mandala or image, for those who prefer the non-verbal. Cross, triskele, star, Platonic form, face of a beloved.

Counting your breaths.

Worship kinetically: pick up colorful leaves, play in the mud, lie on your back and watch the clouds. The skills we practiced effortlessly as children have not abandoned us, though we may have “put away childish things” as we raced off to concern ourselves with “matters of importance” and the wide word of adult stress and doubt and angst.

Substances used reverently, like various smudges and smoking herbs, fermented drinks, and so on, have featured in worship and ritual and self-care for millennia.

More important than what I do is doing it often enough that it becomes for me a spiritual practice.

dweI cannot remember the paternal grandfather I was named for: he died 14 years before I was born. All I have of him are three yellowing photos and a handful of stories. But I imagine him when I honor my ancestors of blood and spirit, and he’s more alive to me as a result. A link, however tenuous, that I (and he, from his side) can strengthen at will.

One of the OBOD Bardic practices is the inner sacred grove. So what kind of place will I make as a spiritual sanctuary for myself and any inner guide whose counsel I seek? I resort to this place to leave a symbol, a dream recalled I want to ponder, or to begin a poem, resolve a problem, express my gratitude, build an altar, light an inner flame, begin and end a ritual, recall during moments of challenge and joy. What I imagine can become as real as anything I build with lumber and mortar, nails and plaster and insulation. (And the grass there doesn’t need weekly mowing. Though the trees, oak and birch, rowan and ash among them, are growing well.)

Imagine, and I remember.

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IMAGES: Charlotte Hussey; D W Easton, circa 1925, on his mail route in Niagara Falls, NY.

*”I think we’re living in a culture that’s so demanding: You never feel like you’re good enough. It wears people down. People are exhausted at the end of the day. They go home and have a drink as a way to cope with all of this—a lot of people have to self-medicate because it would be hard for them to look in the mirror otherwise. The whole concept of being conscious—that’s hard work. A lot of people just don’t want to sign up for it.” “Alcohol as an Escape from Perfection.” Atlantic, 10/13, accessed 10/4/16.

“Drinking with the Ancestors”   4 comments

firegod

photo courtesy Hex Nottingham

Here’s the poem* I read by the fire** at Saturday night’s eisteddfod at ECG ’16. I’m also submitting it to Touchstone so you may run across it there if it’s accepted.

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Drinking with the Ancestors

This poem ain’t no teetotal ritual:
let’s raise each cup, now, individual,
every mug and glass fill up now
and start drinking with the Ancestors.

Chat ‘em up — don’t merely greet ‘em;
the Dead are chummy when you meet ’em.
This good liquor in your tummy
gets you thinking: toast the Ancestors!

By and with the spirits near us —
“Don’t invoke us if you fear us” —
good advice, if we lose focus,
glasses clinking with the Ancestors.

A few more rounds, more pints and glasses,
may find us falling on our asses.
We strive to heed old voices calling
though we’re blinking at the Ancestors.

Yes, when morning comes, perhaps uncertain
if we dreamed or drew some curtain
on a world where it truly seemed
that we were linking with our Ancestors,

good liquor works its own true magic,
so never blame it – downright tragic,
if “hung over” is what we name it:
feel like sinking toward the Ancestors?

They come in all shapes, and in all sizes:
some are heroes, some no prizes
(they’re like us in all our guises)
familiar patterns – star or rose
tattoos we’re inking for the Ancestors.

Listen: they are singing, they are cussing,
they can advise us if we’re sussing
out the paths our lives might take
or leave shivers in their wake
that have us shrinking from our Ancestors.

Before a soul decides to curse them,
mutter charms that will disperse them
foil their harms and then reverse them,
all these stinking, damned Ancestors!

(Ah, do please remember)

we’re their consequence, not moot –
we got their genetic seed and root,
and we’re the payoff, crown and fruit,
we’re their future, built to suit,
so cheers to drinking with our Ancestors!

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*I’d drafted the piece at ECG ’12, with the title/last line echoing in my head all weekend, then revised it a few days before this year’s Gathering.

**Hex remarked when he posted the image, “You have the complete attention of a long horned fyre god here, and it is blessing you with its aura.”

Crossing on a Word   Leave a comment

Perform a Rite of Chocolate: only you and your Guides know how much is too much. (If you need an actual god of chocolate, the Mayan deity Ek Chuah, “Black Star,” patron of merchants and cacao, may serve your purposes; this site includes an image and some ritual details to build on.)

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northalafields

A 21st century mound — Northala Fields, London

Robert Frost makes do for my divination today — words from his too-famous “The Road Not Taken” bumping into each other in my head this morning after a walk: “I saved it for another day, but knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”

The Spiral we all walk leads me away and away, until I forget I ever meant to come back at all. Then when I do, I run smack into what I’d “saved for another day.” Now the day’s here. Nothing lost. That inexplicable half-recognition at the arrival of things that we can’t possibly know, that kiss of the strange-familiar we all face once in a while — or many times — washes over me, gift of the Spiral. But oh how the hide-and-seek of it all can last lifetimes. What else did I save long ago “for another day”? No way to know, till it happens again.

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The last few days I’ve been awkwardly mindless.  Today, a little more joyously mindless. Oh, I still think, or maybe more accurately, what passes for thought comes flitting by and makes do, till my brain finds its way home again.

Fortunately this masquerade of consciousness seems to convince everybody else around me right now. I got through a short-term job interview yesterday that seemed to go well enough, I balanced my checkbook, I wrote a note to an old friend.

“Your brain could fit in the navel of a gnat and still rattle around like a BB in a corn-flakes box.” The old high-school insult, embroidered and endlessly recycled, just about sums me up right now. Except it’s insult no longer, just blunt fact.

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Men an Tol

Without warning I feel the power gather on the other side of the Gate. (What Gate? How should I know? But there’s a Gate right now, and power on the other side of it. Ya gotta roll with these things, I tell myself. Mindlessness helps.) A sound, a word, it’s the name of an ancestor who wants to reach me, whose wisdom I need right now, name which is also a pass-key to a world opening like an eye onto a twilight landscape.

I know this word, I say it to open wider, but it’s nothing I can write down, nothing to save for another visit, nothing with a human shape, though I keep saying it. But even as I think this, the inner reassurance comes that when I need to visit again, I’ll be able to. Then the whole thing is gone as quickly as it came. I stand on an endless beach, watching the tide go out all at once. At least that’s how it feels.

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Images: Northala Fields, London; Men an Tol, Cornwall — from a wonderful site of Moon Gates.

Our Honored Dead   Leave a comment

[I’m teaching in a 5-week boarding school summer program this June-July for American (academic enrichment) and international (English as a second language) middle and high school students. The intensity of the pace accounts for the dearth of recent posts here.]

entrance

Egyptian entrance gate, Grove Street Cemetery

 

Tomorrow we have a day off from classes for a visit to the Yale University campus. For the older students, we’ll also make a side tour of Grove Street Cemetery, listed as a National Historic Landmark for its historical interest (its first burial occurred in 1797 after a Yellow Fever epidemic), the names of its famous dead, and its enduring ties to Yale.

In the past year my wife and I’ve discovered our ancestors lived in the same small town (in a different state, near the Canadian border) around the same decade that Grove Street was established, and mostly likely they knew each other. And as we’ve been telling the students this summer, a well-landscaped cemetery can be a peaceful and unique experience, because it can enlarge our sympathies and imaginations beyond the immediate concerns of own lives.

Live long enough, I’m finding, and your sympathies may enlarge so that any dead become part of your honored dead. We share DNA from around the planet (one of my cousins had his DNA tested and found Greek and Central African markers in it), we all face the same challenges of dying and living, and if the dead have any honor in my memory, it’s because I give it to them.

JunglebookCover

cover of the first edition (1894) of The Jungle Book

 

In Kipling’s Jungle Book, the human boy Mowgli says more than once to his animal companions, “We be of one blood, thou and I.” Such simple acknowledgements may at times matter more than many prayers and offerings, if they open our hearts to gratitude and the wisdom we inherit in our bones and our mortal dreams.

So tomorrow in my own way I’ll commemorate the “Grove Streeters” by reading and repeating their names, pouring libations of water (nothing stronger — I’m with adolescents, after all) in their honor, and acknowledging their part in shaping the world as we have it today. And always, I am confident, there will be others who will follow us and do the same, touched through their own sufferings and joys by a similarly enlarged sense of kinship.

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Images: Egyptian entrance gate, Grove Street Cemetery; Jungle Book cover

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