Archive for the ‘Arthurian mythos’ Tag

Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail   Leave a comment

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

Knight, Gareth. The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend. Aquarian Press/Thorsons, 1983. [More recent reprints available from other publishers.]

I’m reading Knight’s book as I draft a workshop proposal for the 2019 Mid-Atlantic Gathering. In spite of my tendency to discount such coincidences, I’ve found scant evidence for them. More often than chance could ever explain, two events will turn out to be not just linked in some way, but in a way I can learn from and grow by. And if you conclude I simply haven’t dug below my claims of coincidence into the sheer pervasiveness of chance that underlies it and rules the universe, I’d chuckle at the depth of your superstitious belief in chance, and continue learning from coincidence, a much richer journey altogether. Events talk to each other, and I want in on the conversation.

Maybe you can explain it by my suspicion of the universe, one of my admitted biases. I find this an odd but useful approach. It sounds like I’m a skeptic, still a popular stance in a world that nevertheless keeps on not conforming to our desires, whims and wishes, in spite of things like the Law of Attraction (which tends to operate inwardly, I’ve found, not in the world of physical form). I apparently get to keep a doubting and superior viewpoint, which is what so many unexamined beliefs afford — protection for the ego. But deep down, a part of me knows there’s almost always much more going on than meets my ill-trained eye. My ego’s been pummeled often enough along the way to discovery that I take yet another instance of it as a good sign I’m getting warm. This universe, it turns out, has a will of its own.

I say “ill-trained”: raised in some of the materialist and psychically-polluted environments that pass for much of what is called Western civilization*, it’s little wonder I don’t see things for what they are. It took me the longest time to determine that most of the illusion is in me, not in things. We’ve been trained away from much of the truth of things. Like death and rebirth, polarity, spirit guides and companions, energy centers in the earth, the power of ritual, the centrality of the imagination in our emotional and physical health, the daily magic we all practice, the value of a spiritual discipline, the power of mass belief for good and ill. Basically everything you can find in that section of many bookstores, however obscured by bad writing and incomplete knowledge. And much more importantly, it’s our vast human heritage, the largely unwritten world of experience our ancestors keep whispering we really need to pay attention to, in our DNA, our dreams, our daily lives.

Veteran comedian Steve Martin used to mock human pretension and idiocy in his 70’s routines with references to things like “how I turned a million in real estate into twenty-five dollars in cash” or “how to make money off the mentally ill”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the problem of mental illness was less acute then or at least less visible, though its roots lengthened daily underground. Of course, large numbers of writers still practice this lucrative trade, on both sides of the bookstore aisles, and on the workshop circuit, stumping for stop-gap measures to make the status quo more quo. We thought the karmic consequences of Western civilization’s less happy choices would all appear on the physical plane, which is where, after all, we’d apparently set them in motion. But we didn’t expect the damage to ourselves to take form before the physical-world effects fully caught up with us. Or as the Wise say, all the planes of existence are connected. We couldn’t despoil a physical world without having already despoiled our own inner worlds.

grailachemyWhat does the foregoing rant have to do with Arthur, or a secret tradition? Knight gets right to it on his first page. He explains “the hold that the legends of Arthur and his Knights exercises on the imagination … they enshrine a secret Mystery tradition … which was also the guiding force behind the old stone circles and trackways of Western Europe”.

Or as Mara Freeman puts it in the first line of her book, “The Holy Grail won’t go away” (Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition. Rochester VT: Destiny Books, 2014).

Thank the gods for that.

As the French knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail tells Arthur, who has just pompously invited his master to join his Quest for the Holy Grail (and you can hear the capital letters in his voice), “He’s already got one” (around the 1:10 mark).

If I come at the Grail with a team of knights, appropriately theatrical music suitable to my nobility accompanying me on my way, and mounted like Arthur, I too may be met with the taunting the French knight offers Arthur and his companions. Grails are, paradoxically, a dime a dozen. One on every street corner. In every castle.

Nonplussed, Arthur asks diffidently, “Can we come up and have a look?”

Of course, no single source of healing will meet our need, given that we’re such a various and noisy and difficult tribe. (Or as the French knight replies to Arthur’s request for a look, “Of course not! You are English types”.) From so many paths and tracks, we converge at this present moment, and do what we will. And learn from that.

Knight outlines what he calls the Lesser Mysteries of Arthur, Merlin and Guinevere: lessons and practices for the individual, for the group, and for polarity working with both individual and group as part of spiritual service. But, you might say — and Knight does — that this is the introductory material. The Greater Mysteries concern the Grail, the old Celtic Cauldron of Regeneration we meet with in myth and legend.

My intermittent dissatisfaction with OBOD ritual and practice, as I’ve shared here, has slowly led me to developing my own practices connected with the Grail, in an idiosyncratic form and tailored to my quirky nature. It’s hardly a system**. Spend too much time systematizing anything, I keep re-learning, and too often it dies in your hands. (Knight notes (pg. 175) provocatively that “archetypes, like individuals, are capable of redemption”.) I’d rather practice what seems to work.

Pieces of it that may be of use to others I’ll try to share in the next series of posts.

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*Every civilization offers much to admire, and ours is no exception. The best music and art the West has produced rival the best of other civilizations. Coming to terms with the corresponding limits and faults of a civilization is part of the work of its maturation. No civilization lasts forever. This simple fact still seems to shock many, who apparently believe the West, or at least the United States, is somehow exempt. But if anyone doesn’t also glimpse the weaknesses of the West by now, that person simply hasn’t been paying attention. It’s doubtful, in fact, that such a one has even been conscious for the last 75 years. As with preceding civilizations, we will corporately (if not individually) deny our problems until they overtake us and execute harsh justice on its false suppositions and its deeds, and on those inheriting both their benefits and drawbacks. Which is all of us.

Arthurian legend as Knight examines it addresses such cultural and civilizational collapse as one means of renewal and rebirth.

Social justice warriors: we appreciate at least the relatively sane among you for sounding the alarm and putting a few of your fingers in the dike, but karmic payback on a scale you can’t achieve is already starting to take shape.

**Those seeking a system may find Freeman’s book and its associated practices and workings help answer that search.

3: Druid & Christian — Samhuinn & Sovereignty   Leave a comment

[Part 1|2|3|4|5]

In a 2013 post I wrote that when I remember the ancestors,

I make my very own Samhain-on-the-spot, the veil between the worlds thins, and I converse with the dead, with the Otherworld, with the generations stored in my DNA and blood and bone.  Perhaps you could call it racism in the best sense of the word — a celebration of all who have gone before me and who, by living, have delivered me to this moment of my own life, as I write these words.  It doesn’t last, but it also endures forever.

Samhuinn is remembering and honoring connection. One reason it looms so large in Pagan practice is simply that the essence of ritual is connection, and successful ritual means good relationships. On social media like Facebook, we think that we decide if we’re “in a relationship” or not. Westerners in particular like to imagine we’re free, among many other things free to choose. But many of our relationships that matter most aren’t matters of choice. Our existence itself, as a part of this universe of beings, is the first and greatest example. So the biggest “relationship” question often isn’t whether but how: how will I maintain good relationships — with myself, with other beings, with the planet?

In language many Pagans would find congenial, Catholic priest and eco-theologian Thomas Berry writes* (in The Great Work):

…we will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things came into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.

“Religious naturalist” Loyal Rue makes an immense and related claim,** deserving (as I try to approach such things) neither acceptance or rejection at first, but simple meditation and reflection:

The most profound insight in the history of humankind is that we should seek to live in accord with reality. Indeed, living in harmony with reality may be accepted as a formal definition of wisdom. If we live at odds with reality (foolishly), we will be doomed, but if we live in proper relationship with reality (wisely), we shall be saved. Humans everywhere, and at all times, have had at least a tacit understanding of this fundamental principle.

And we see a movement among some Christians towards a center that Druids and other Pagans also strive towards. Michael Dowd, former fundamentalist and author of Thank God for Evolution!, writes:

I am an unabashed evidential mystic—a sacred realist, a Christian naturalist. Reality is my God and evidence is my scripture. Big History is my creation story and ecology is my theology. Integrity is my salvation and doing whatever I can to foster a just and healthy future for the full community of life is my mission.

In Arthurian tradition, the Lady of the Lake gives Arthur his sword, affirming his right to kingship, and she receives it back again when, mortally injured after the battle of Camlann, he is borne away to Avalon to be healed.

We can see the Lady as a exemplar of Sovereignty, right relationship to the cosmos. As a representative of the inward reality that lies behind our outward world, she initiates and instructs the king — metaphorically, the archetypal “royal line” in all of us. Demonstrating again and again through her actions that leader and land are one, she shows that psychic wholeness and healing can never be isolated or merely individual. We are communal beings. Hermits and recluses often report dreams filled with people, a compensation for their outward communal “drought”. The famous Grail question points to this same reality: “Who(m) does the Grail serve?” Not just the one who finds it or achieves it! The cheap and shallow English labels “winner” and “loser” simply do not apply.

If we connect with our ancestors in the largest sense of the word, with our physical forebears and also with anyone who has helped us to reach who we presently are and may become, we may begin to see that even in spite of what may be our best efforts to live only for ourselves, we still end up contributing to the entire cosmos. Whether that contribution makes us worthy ancestors to those who will come after us is another matter, and our individual and communal charge.

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Interlude — a different preview of Edinburgh’s annual and marvelous Beltane Fire Society Samhuinn celebration. Samhuinn can provide us with a mirror to see ourselves as ancestors (don’t we all “see through a glass darkly”?).

Here’s the link to the Beltane Fire Society’s Samhuinn 2017.

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Right relationship — the first ritual goal I will strive to keep in mind as I finish drafting my personal Samhain rite.

This evening my wife and I will gather with another couple a few miles away.  We’ve shared several of the “Great Eight” festivals before, sometimes with a formal ritual, at others with that most ancient ritual of all, friendship, food and fire. One partner of the couple often faces a difficult time at Samhain, due to her psychic awareness and to past bad experiences with the day. So for us sometimes the kindest ritual is not to celebrate Samhuinn in any formal sense at all, but simply to be present and grounded ourselves, and to help be grounding for her.

A fire can help burn away negative energy, and making a practice of imaginally gathering and tossing into the fire any negative energy, to be consumed and returned to its elements for the cosmos to rebuild into healthy and balanced forms, is appropriate work. Doing it physically and unobtrusively can also be part of maintaining the fire.

A blessed Samhuinn to you all.

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*Berry, Thomas. “The Wild and the Sacred,” in The Great Work. New York: Harmony/Bell Tower, 1999, pg. 49.

**Rue, Loyal. Religion Is Not About God. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005, pg. 135.

Sovereignty and Time   Leave a comment

sovereigntySovereignty, Lady of an inner realm which flows ceaselessly into this one, you birth, nourish and sustain us. May my deeds serve not my own will alone, but your larger shaping for the good of all. In my words here, in my deeds, thoughts, feelings and dreams, let that light and song and fire illumine where it can, whom it may.

If conditions here no longer allow for the manifold inner purposes and directions to manifest outwardly, physical life may well withdraw from one world, moving to another. Yet in spite of the uncertainty and dark despair that may arise in our hearts from time to time, this lovely, difficult, damaged world is far from exhausting its spiritual purposes.

As a sacred laboratory for experiences for many beings, and for spirit to inhabit all lives, possibilities and forms to know itself again, the world unfolds still, rich with potential. Both established forms yet with us and new ones coming into being offer choice, beauty, misery, destruction and growth. From the small to the great, from the inner to the outer, from seed and leaf to flower and fruit, through decay and transformation and renewal, it has ever been so.

True it is, that all realms touch, intermingle and answer each other. Events here send their ripples and taproots elsewhere for good and bad, and a shift there brings about a corresponding change here. The walls of the world echo. The great wonder is not that we have no influence on life, but that our influence often exceeds our knowledge. Day to day is not always the place to look for vision, though what we see elsewhere in vision and dream returns us here to labor anew.

Because that’s what makes a uni-verse, a one-turning. We are part of the work and movement of a marvelous many-faceted whole. It’s a measure of our priorities and the fading of the ancient heritage we have received and often abandoned in our pursuit of other things that many of us no longer know this in our bones, that we have to re-learn it through often bitter experience before we can begin again to make use of it to shape something better. But our cells know better, and our dis-ease may yet call us back to here and now, our suffering may still wake us to rebellion and questioning and discovery, our losses may perhaps stir us to compassion rather than endless lament and blame and surrender.

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The seed of ritual, planted. The promise of spring, uttered. The shaping of hands to make each thing happen, foretold and prefigured at the birth of each woman and man into this world, from the great family ranged behind and all around us, that family of blood and friendship and teaching in the other worlds. Ancestors, hear us.

Slowly we apprehend what is essential and what is not, the long journey fashioned and felt and followed as we abide in multitudes of forms.

For us, the essential thing is that there is everywhere a conception of the end and the beginning of a temporal period, based on the observation of biocosmic rhythms and forming part of a larger system — the system of periodic purifications (cf. purges, fasting, confession of sins, etc.) and of periodic regeneration of life. This need for a periodic regeneration seems to us of considerable significance in itself. Yet the examples that we shall presently adduce will show us something even more important, namely, that a periodic regeneration of time presupposes, in more or less explicit form — and especially in the historical civilizations — a new Creation, that is, a repetition of the cosmogonic act. And this conception of a periodic creation, i.e., of the cyclical regeneration of time, poses the problem of the abolition of “history,” the problem which is our prime concern in this essay. — Mircea Eliade, Cosmos and History.

Lady, we gather in your grove, where your blessing yields all seasons at once. You abolish time in each moment, directing us forward and back, to ends and beginning, seed and leaf and fruit and fallow time. You regenerate us constantly, your dark and bright moons, this daily sun, stars overhead — who cannot see it?

Often, we cannot. Teach us again, three by three by three.

“The Goddess of Sovereignty gives three drinks from her cup, purveying the white milk of fostering, the red milk of lordship and the dark drink of forgetfulness. These she offers successively in her aspects as Foster-Mother, Consort and Renewer” — Caitlin and John Matthews, The Arthurian Tarot, pg. 43.

Clothed in rags, we walk the streets of the cities and wastelands, forests and plains and mountains of Time.

Although now long estranged,
Man is not lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned … — J. R. R. Tolkien, “Mythopoeia”.

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“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride,”
(some wishes are horses – watch out where they stride!)
but my words are wingéd – they fly to your side
to wish you a happy New Year ’17.
It’s not for myself that I say it – I mean
may you flourish and grow, whatever the weather:
as long as we’re in this, we’re in it together.

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Image: Sovereignty.

Perilous Seats and Baiting the Truth   6 comments

mach-chairThe Welsh proverb A gwir yn erbyn a byd — “the truth against the world” — hasn’t lost any of its force. It still offers a challenge, read one way; and a simple statement about the nature of things, read another. Or maybe they’re the same thing.

The words appear on a chair in the Welsh parliament house in Machynlleth. The chair itself is fairly recent, the words traceable at least to Iolo Morganwg and the first Gorsedd of the Bards in the 1790s.

This relatively modern chair may serve us as an apt stand-in for the Siege Perilous, the “Perilous Seat” of Arthurian lore. In the old story as Malory retells it in his Morte D’Arthur,” He shall be born that shall sit there in that siege perilous, and he shall win the Sangreal.” Looking beyond pronoun gender, if you have no truth in you that you will maintain in spite of the world’s ways, don’t even think about sitting there. Better than the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, the Chair puts you where you deserve, weeding out the unworthy with death.

What truth, you ask? In each moment I can assert the possibility of spiritual integrity in each person I meet, while striving to manifest it first in myself.

I can’t wait for the other guy. “You first”? If we all do that, who will ever grow? We see around us the eyes of the spiritually dead. (Some days we join them.) The sad conclusions they’ve come to, in the face of suffering and setbacks, have no life in them. They’ve bowed out and accepted a living death. They (we) are the wounded kings and queens of our present-day Wasteland.

iolo-reliefIn times like this, spiritual integrity can mean living with intention, living counter to the prevailing mood of pessimism and despair. But more importantly, counter to living without any intention at all. You know, the home-from-work, plop down in front of the TV or computer and insta-drug.  Waiting to be entertained (is that so bad?), to be led, to be fed, to be used for another’s purposes because we have none of our own. Well, maybe it is so bad.

So I nip in, trailing some accidental courage, and I lay bait for truth, only half-conscious of what I’m doing. Some days that’s the only way I end up getting any. “Gonna get some” has prodigiously awful overtones these days, but I’ll apply it to truth instead. And having baited the truth, maybe even bravely, for a moment or two, my boldness gives out and I turn tail, racing back to my hole and waiting for events. For a change. For something to happen. Almost (I whisper it) anything but this.

And there’s the actual peril for most us, if we brush against our own version of the Siege Perilous. We already all know it firsthand, and Churchill put it into words: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” Even Perilous Seats turn out to disappoint. Nothing happens. Except …

OBOD Druid rituals include in their opening the words “Let us begin by giving peace to the quarters, for without peace can no work be.”

Well, that decides it, then. No work can be, I mutter to myself. We’ve witnessed the efforts towards peace and justice, how each must be founded on the other. Hard work.

The Welsh ritual asks “A oes heddwch?” Is there peace?

The ritual answer is yes. Ritual can after all prefigure reality, open a door to its happening. It IS reality, on another plane, one we may wish to echo and emulate here. Or is peace a possession solely of some Otherworld, never to make its way here? Always a grail that’s over there, not here? “Grail on a shelf.” Good luck with that, shouts a chorus of wannabe truth-speakers.

The Galilean Master said to his devotees, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” Following the example of the Wise of many lands, we too can learn to give, and not as the world gives, but as our inner truth leads us.

Can there be peace if we each insist on our own truths against the world — against each other’s? Isn’t that in fact the origin of so many conflicts? Especially in America, with everyone shouting “It’s my right!” and no one saying “It’s my responsibility.”

Peace within us doesn’t preclude needful action. It does lay the ground for clarity and compassion out of which all true transformation grows.

And for me that’s a foundational truth I’ve had to learn the hard way. Many others would like to change me to fit their views of the world. The harder and more worthwhile challenge is to change myself to fit my view of the world. If I can’t manage to do that, why expect anyone else to? Or turning it outward, ask me to change in your way only when you can show me you’ve changed. Otherwise, I have my own changes to work on. That cuts down mightily on truths in conflict. And it keeps us all busy failing our way to success, says my inner cynic.

The Welsh ritual:

Y gwir yn erbyn y byd, a oes heddwch? The truth against the world, is there peace?
Calon wrth galon, a oes heddwch? Heart to heart, is there peace?
Gwaedd uwch adwaedd, a oes heddwch? Shout above responding shout, is there peace?

One good example outweighs a lot of words. (Some questions need to be asked, some answers given, three times so we can hear them.) But once we have the example, then the words draw energy from it, and carry some of that truth that runs “against the world” and toward spiritual integrity and harmony.  Words are empty only when hearts are. Full heart, full words.

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Image: chair; Iolo plaque.

Thirty Days of Druidry 4: Truths and a Truth   Leave a comment

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wolfsubmitI take as my divination today an odd dream early this morning: I’m a member of a wolf pack, and my fellows have drawn me aside, possibly to be disciplined, after I am tested for truth-telling. The issue at stake, apart from truth, I don’t know. (There isn’t one?) But I feel the just authority and deserved power of my pack leader, I readily make my submission, lying flat on the ground, waiting patiently as I can, licking my chops, panting a little. At length I’m freed, though I lose the final threads of the dream and the actual issue in contention as I wake.

Who determines truth? Is it our pack? Often among social animals it’s indeed the group, for better and worse, like the words of the marriage vow, recognizing a truth about life. For submitting to a consensus is a form of contract. But such a formulation of truth results not just from others’ perceptions — a consensus averages them, bundles them together to even out the extremes, and not only may be no more accurate than my perception or yours, but may well be less.

Mere majority is no guarantor of value. “We all say so,” exclaim the Monkey People in Kipling’s Jungle Book, “and so it must be true.” Democracy, indeed, is the worst form of government — except for all the others. It’s a first approximation to that inner wisdom. Mix in other adulterating motives like the obscuring force of anger, envy, fear and so on, and the spinning moral compass still comes to rest to show that no group deserves more authority than the individual. A group may indeed have usurped such authority, snapped it up if we have ceded it, or claimed it in the absence of the rightful possessor, but that’s a different matter. The point persists behind Iolo Morgannwg’s Welsh aphorism Y gwir yn erbyn y byd — “the truth against the world” — regardless of whether we claim that inner sovereignty as our birthright, or heedlessly opt to forfeit it to whoever is the latest big noise to arrive on the scene.

A part of that sovereignty, true, urges us to seek wise counsel when our own vision falters (as it will from time to time), or does not offer sufficient guidance. But the choice to seek, follow, modify or ignore that counsel remains ours alone. It seems nowadays we’ve only a loose grip at best on the good meaning of discrimination: the ability to make vital distinctions that matter. For the opposite of discrimination is not indiscriminate approval or contempt. Rather it’s an abdication. Someone else, take up my crown and sceptre! It’s too hard! But as we come to know at cost, the only thing more difficult than struggling to uphold our sovereignty is the obscene suffering and atrocious despair we face when we let it slip through our fingers. Holocaust survivor and philosopher Elie Wiesel has said it well (adjust the pronouns to fit): “It is by his freedom that a man knows himself, by his sovereignty over his own life that he measures himself.” Without sovereignty, then, how can we know or measure accurately?

I offer as exhibits 1 and 2 most major headlines today and the lived experience of anyone over 10 years old. Among other wisdom paths, Druidry rightly asserts that it’s our inner sovereignty that comes first. All else follows from the state of our inner kingdom. It’s long work, this upholding of our sovereignty. And if like me you feel the evidence points towards reincarnation, well, we keep coming back till we get it right.Some things we know are true, against whatever the world throws down to snuff it out. Otherwise, what’s the cosmos doing, if not manifesting gloriously, excessively, magnificently, every single possibility along with a consciousness, feathered, finned, furred, to engage it, turn it back onto itself, plumb its depths, endlessly forming and re-forming.

machyn-chairThere’s a wooden chair in the Parliament House in Machynlleth, Wales, that bears those challenging words across the headpiece. For it too is a Siege Perilous, like that “perilous chair” at Arthur’s Round Table, that stands empty awaiting the one who wins through to the Grail, the seat that proves fatal, mortal, to the mortal who sits down unworthy. This life is perilous indeed — mortal — the Ancestors weren’t wrong about that in all their stories. We’re winning through, though by all appearances none of us have quite yet “won.” But we’ve come far enough, through both hardship and joy, to recognize the seat for what it is, to puzzle out the significance of the inscription there, to feel it in our bones. We’ve caught more than one glimpse of Grail in a human face, a landscape, plumbed it in the heart’s cry, caught echoes of the Grail Song, every one of us, against all the odds the world sets for us. We can even imagine sitting down eventually.

I suspect, too, that any endpoint is part of the model and not the reality it attempts to represent. It’s an asymptote, to get mathematical for a moment, if you recall that intriguing figure from school: undrawable, really — endlessly closing in on but never reaching a final point, a terminus, some ultimate destination. It’s the horizon infinitely receding. It’s the Mystery that lies behind and inside everything, the charge that impels all things. Taoists say it’s “like a well: used but never used up. It is like the eternal void: filled with infinite possibilities. It is hidden but always present. I don’t know who gave birth to it. It is older than God” (chapter 4).

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Images: wolveschair in Parliament House, Machynlleth, Wales.

 

 

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