Archive for the ‘Arthurian tarot’ Tag

Walking the Major Arcana, Part 6   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

I love these next three arcana — so over-the-top! People write and talk about fearing the appearance of the Tower, or the Devil, in a spread or reading. The Star not so much, though we still invest so much emotion in all three images. I ask myself: need I fear reality? What would that even mean?

The DEVIL

15-DevilDevil’s Tower, Devil’s Hole, Devil’s Triangle, the New Jersey Devils hockey team, Devil’s Food Cake (to be distinguished from Angel Food Cake), Devil’s Advocate, even DEVILS, the Deep Extragalactic VIsible Legacy Survey. Anyone looking for mixed messages? Should we even bother to try to untangle this complex of images and associations? We just keep piling more on more.

Untangle? Absolutely! Or not so much untangle as explore.

For me, one powerful key to the Devil is his connection with the Magician, a harmonic or further spiral, 17 (7×2) removed. The hand positions of the Devil mirror the Magician’s, the right in particular matching the Hebrew letter for sh, Jewish El Shaddai Almighty God, that resembles a “W” (= Hebrew letter shin ש), the handsign that accompanies the priestly blessing, made famous in an entirely different context by Leonard Nimoy as Spock in Star Trek, as a sign for “V” for his planet Vulcan.

live_long_and_prosperThe Devil is the Magician is Us. It’s an image of the power humans have at their disposal, bend it as we will — and do. We can live long and prosper, or pervert the same power. As we all have, and no doubt will continue to do, on our long spiral journey.

Courtesy of a Judeo-Christian cultural surround and philosophical filter, citizens of European-based cultures may think of “evil” either as something non-existent (if God is “dead”, then so must the Devil be), or as a force from outside a normal, ordinary, essentially good universe. Time spent in the natural world can disabuse us of either notion: there are simply energy flows, some constructive, others contrary, and human choices often do much to amplify both kinds. (No surprise, I take it personally when I suffer, and I agitate for relief from my own particular suffering.) But both forces remain roughly balanced on the physical plane — hence a return to equilibrium in the flow of Tao that is one principal focus of Taoist practice.

We still tend to give “good” too little credit and “evil” too much, but that’s perhaps a further legacy of Puritanism and of dualistic thinking. Such over-simplification haunts American politics all too deeply, as intelligent foreign observers have long noted: Thus, on the American Left, we just don’t call it “evil” any more, but attach some other and often political label to it, as if it can be legislated away with the “right” people in office, if we can only vote out the backward, benighted, ignorant, toxic, patriarchal, gun-and-Jesus-loving, gay-bashing, hypocritical Deplorables that hold back all that is Good and True, and Progress will finally become the eternal norm. On the American Right, evil is alive and well, and successfully marketed in flavors both religious and secular, along with generous doses of paranoia, and typically describes things that snowflake Liberals, America-hating socialists, Pagan Greens, atheists, man-hating feminists, hidden-agenda homosexuals and baby-killing Darwinian believers support and advocate.

Both sides dearly love to loathe their Other. Do we all project much?!

The Christian sense that this is a “fallen” world in need of redemption compares to a Druidic sense that working with natural systems themselves can teach us how to sidestep a great deal of unnecessary grief in the first place, and wise observation and study can ease much of the unavoidable remnant that comes from living in a world subject to physical laws, time, change, aging, illness, death and rebirth. After all, it’s not humans alone, but animals, trees, mountains, our planet and the cosmos itself wear down and are renewed. “Everything She touches changes,” goes one Goddess-chant.

In the Arthurian deck, the card numbered 15 is the Green Knight. Aptly named, he is the force, as Dylan Thomas names it (links to whole poem),

that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.

And “answers” or elaborations to this come oftenest — you guessed it — from other bards:

To live at all is miracle enough.
The doom of nations is another thing.
Here in my hammering blood-pulse is my proof.

Let every painter paint and poet sing
And all the sons of music ply their trade;
Machines are weaker than a beetle’s wing.

Swung out of sunlight into cosmic shade,
Come what come may the imagination’s heart
Is constellation high and can’t be weighed.

Nor greed nor fear can tear our faith apart
When every heart-beat hammers out the proof
That life itself is miracle enough.

The Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton observed “Nothing has ever been said about God that hasn’t already been said better by the wind in the pine trees”. This is a “gospel in 20 words” that Druids and Christians could share.

“A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed — ​what gospel is that?” — St. Oscar Romero. How do we reconcile this healthy sense of activism with Druidry’s deep love and desire for peace? Are they actually opposed, or do they — can they — spring from the same source?

“Speaking truth to power” has never been more necessary — it’s the Magician’s power, in hands we always need to question and challenge.

Matthews’ notes in the Hallowquest handbook accompanying one edition of the deck that the Green Knight “represents the challenger whom all seekers meet on their quest. He answers questions and gives advice, but he also sets riddles and puzzles. Those who think that they know everything he leads astray and torments. His greatest desire is to be bested by a worthy opponent” (pg. 52).

The TOWER

16-TowerTowers everywhere: in the Christian West, from Babel onward. And before that, too: ziggurats and pyramids and the earliest “towers” of all — mountains. Connections with Mary Magdalene, “Mary of the Tower(s)”. For the U.S., the association with the destruction of the Twin Towers of Sept. 11, 2001. We say “Never Forget” about too many things, as though holding on to painful memory is sufficient tribute, a kind of vicarious participation. It isn’t enough, if I’m to continue the journey the Fool — I — started.

Like the frequent occurrence of Mercury in Retrograde, once you start paying attention, sometimes we just seem to be traveling through continuous “tower time”. Maybe it’s a good practice to uncouple from the Tower. Stop climbing it, sighting it in our viewfinders, walk away for a time.

But then, too, falling from a height is an old primate dream. How many of us have experienced falling dreams, or a sense of vertigo shortly before falling asleep, a sensation strong enough to startle us awake again?

Let ourselves fall, and what do we discover? All the way down, and our perspective might change.

We might see in the Tower a challenge to the ego, to the self we manufacture as an interface between ourselves and experience. In many ways the self is the Tower. Edgar Allen Poe in “The City in the Sea” writes “from a proud tower in the town/Death looks gigantically down”. (For further information, consult your amygdala [link 1link 2 | link 3].)

Is there much more to say about the Tower? Of course!

The STAR

17-StarHow many of us long for, or follow, a guiding star? Do we star in the drama of our own lives? Lucky star, rising star, star-crossed, shoot/aim for the stars — we know no lack of idioms. Has life starred certain experiences, talents, people, memories, etc. for our life-long obsession or dedication? A dis-aster is an ill-starred event. How much of our experience of imagination, emotion, vision and dream involves our starry or astral bodies?

As with the previous two arcana, this arcanum resonates in so many ways. Meditation on each of the arcana returns deepening insight, and the Star is no exception.

For Christians, associations with the Star of Bethlehem and the lore of the Magi reverberate strongly, while Revelation 12 depicts “a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars”.

Tolkien plays on this ancient cultural resonance in The Lord of the Rings with Gandalf’s recitation of a piece of lore linking Numenor with Minas Tirith in Gondor:

Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three,
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
And one white tree. (The Two Towers, Bk. 3/chapt. 11; “The Palantir”).

Again we see in the Card a nude figure with limbs — conscious links or connections — in more than one element. The eight eight-pointed stars connect with the seven heavens of Medieval lore, with the eighth, the region of fixed stars, above them. As a doubling of the elemental four, the Star is a higher octave of activity. Seven cards from the Hermit, it links to the cultivation of solitude and (spiritual) perception.

You might assume that reaching such an exalted state is the end of the journey. After all, Dante ends each of his three Books of the Divine Comedy — a book abounding in numerical and astrological symbolism — with reference to the stars. And the 33rd and final canto of Paradiso, the last of the three, closes like this:

ma già volgeva il mio disio e ’l velle
sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,
l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

but already my desire and will were moved,
like a wheel which equally/smoothly is moved/turned
(by) the love that moves the sun and the other stars.

But four more arcana remain for us to consider.

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IMAGE: live long and prosper;

Walking the Major Arcana, Part 5   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

I’m dancing with Tarot in this series, not aspiring to any profound system of interpretation, but skating with images across a frozen pond, juggling globes of fire, listening for the music the stars make overhead.

In this, as so often on this blog, I’m listening to bards here, rather than scholars. Recall Billy Collins’ wise “Introduction to Poetry” If you don’t know it, or haven’t read it recently, take a moment right now. Try it out, as I do frequently, as an antidote to too much right-brain-ness.

The HANGED MAN

12-Hanged-ManSo what does the Hanged Man, card 12 of the Major Arcana, represent? Odin? Jesus? Both? Neither?

This kind of question, one that assumes that if you can ask it, there’s a reasonable, logical, unambiguous answer to it, reflects a confusion of planes, categories, realities, etc., that we all fall into from time to time.

“But what does it mean?” looks like an innocent query, even though it’s often anything but. Yet we keep on asking, tossing the grenade, just like we keep on believing (for a short time, anyway) anyone with enough authority to state categorically, emphatically, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt, once-and-for-all-time, that X “means” Y. (If X “really” meant Y, they’d be the same thing, and we wouldn’t be asking the question. Or we could simply all become goddess-devotees, knowing that “one thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother”, and that certain questions just have to be un-asked, if we’re to get any sleep at all.)

Something’s going on with this hanging dude, or dudette. He or she has a “fire in the head”, and looks at surprising ease all inverted there, suspended on a tau-cross, like some gnostic St. Peter, who asked to be crucified upside-down, so as not to aspire to equal honor with his Master. (Invert that sh*t, says the imp in me.)

Then, too, we have the figure 4 the legs make, about which much ink has been spilled. (Run with half a dozen interpretations as long as they last, and report back to your cerebellum at the conclusion.)

Certainly I’m a hanged one, as are you — we all are, at least at times. In Matthews’ Arthurian deck, the card is the Wounded King, the ruler of a wasteland in need of healing and restoration.

W. B. Yeats of Golden Dawn fame knew this — the Tarot features largely in the Golden Dawn ritual and symbolism — and Yeats gave himself the magical name Daemon est Deus Inversus, abbreviated DEDI (which not too incidentally is Latin for “I gave”). Demon is God upside-down. Or vice versa. For more than you want to know about the name and its significance, here’s just one of the links Google will offer you, should you opt to enter the phrase (and you should, as a form of spiritual roulette) in that innocent-seeming search box:

Iamblichus’s doctrine that the immortal soul becomes mortal is puzzling for Platonic scholars. According to Iamblichus, the embodied soul not only becomes mortal; as human, it also becomes “alienated” (allotriōthen) from divinity. Iamblichus maintains that the alienation and mortality of the soul are effected by daemons that channel the soul’s universal and immortal identity into a singular and mortal self. Yet, while daemons alienate the soul from divinity they also outline the path to recover it. Iamblichus maintains that daemons unfold the will of the Demiurge into material manifestation and thus reveal its divine signatures (sunthēmata) in nature. According to Iamblichus’s theurgical itinerary, the human soul—materialized, alienated, and mortal—must learn to embrace its alienated and mortal condition as a form of demiurgic activity. By ritually entering this demiurgy the soul transforms its alienation and mortality into theurgy. The embodied soul becomes an icon of divinity.

Why are both Jesus and Satan called the “morning star” in the Bible, and both referred to as serpents? For we have Jesus making the arresting observation: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Here’s one of our challenges, then, to run through a series of metaphors: to lift up the serpent, to raise the kundalini, to recover the divine in our deeds, thoughts and words, to become, in Iamblichus’s words, an icon of divinity. Or you can scratch any interpretative itch with an Orthodox reading, or canonical understanding, and miss a good 9/10 of what it might possibly say to you.

All this, for a person in red tights, hanging upside down …

Take the card into contemplation. Hang for a while, and see what you learn. Far better, as I keep saying, what you discover on your own, than what you merely read here, words from another. Pointers, merely; fingers toward the Equinox moon. Transform, transform …

What needs inversion in my life? How are my values or outlook upside down? What can I see differently from a radically different stance? Will I let myself relax into such a changed awareness, or immediately “set myself to rights”? If I were Odin or Jesus, would I “do things differently”? If so, how?

DEATH

13-DeathLike the Tower, Death and a few other cards manage to freak out a substantial number of people who work with the Tarot in its many guises.

“Death on a pale horse” comes riding straight outta scripture. (You can choose whether the background sun is rising or setting.) Figure out the banner Old Bony is carrying, and you might be on your way to insight. Death meditations are useful; there’s clear indication that at least some bardic initiations included them, and death-and-rebirth rituals help re-establish a healthier perspective than the ever-popular “life at all costs” obsession current in much of the West. Death, in spite of much bad advertising and spiritual teaching to the contrary, is not an “enemy” but a gateway, an arm of the spiral, a servant of life.

How apt that Death should have the number 13. (“Four” does similar duty in Japan and China, with the word for four a homonym for “death” or “death” [shi in Japanese, si in Mandarin Chinese]. Some Asian hotels go so far as to renumber their floors, avoiding the 4th altogether, just as we get all superstitious and tingly on Friday the 13th. “Friday the 4th” just doesn’t have the same feel at all.)

If you can put yourself into the landscape and know yourself as the Hanged Man, do the same with Death. And since there are other figures on the card, try out being the church official, pope or bishop, in front of Death’s horse.

In the Matthews’ Arthurian deck, this card is the Washer at the Ford, a harmonic of the Morrighan, the Goddess, the Dark Initiator.

What horse am I riding right now? What lies dead all around me? What am I killing by my insistence on my current identity? What needs to die in my life, so other things can be born?

TEMPERANCE

14-Temperance“… in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness”, says Hamlet. The figure suggests elemental transformation. In the whirlwind of passion, can I also find smoothness, equilibrium, balance?

Two-thirds of the way through the journey, the Fool has learned something about moderation — not narrowly “abstinence from alcohol” (unless that’s the form your particular practice of moderation needs to take), but something much more valuable. The angelic figure bears the elemental symbol of fire on its breast, and pours liquid from chalice to chalice, while standing with one foot on earth and one in water: all four elements present and working.

A curious and provocative insight from R. J. Stewart’s The Well of Light:

Do not forget, ever, that you are already Elementals. There is not one, but several of them, most likely a large complex number, within yourself. Our bodies are made of Water, Earth, Fire, and Air.

Our consciousness and energies are Elemental; that is, the philosophical or metaphysical concept of the Four Elements as relative states of motion and energy, but not limited to the modern idea of elements as defined in chemistry and physics. So, to find Elementals, we need look no further than our own bodies and moods. And, I propose, we should pay much more attention to the way our bodies and emotions interact with places and with weather changes.

And a prayer or visualization Stewart uses in many of his books, that I find helpful:

In the name of the Star Father, The Earth Mother, The True Taker, The Great Giver, One Being of Light.

How have I transformed — in spite of myself? What needs tempering in my life? What elemental presences can I honor and bring forward as keys to directions my life might beneficially take? What is this Equinox saying to my earth, my air, my fire and my water?

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 4   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

If the holy terrain between Druid and Christian calls to you, better your way than one belonging to another person that doesn’t fit you where you walk on your particular arm of the Spiral Journey. A week’s worth of your own meditations surpasses anything I can write here. These themes are suggestions, prompts, points of departure. They’re mine, and they may not be yours. Their use is as sparks, kindling, tinder, fuel, provocation. Your particular path may grow out of resistance or contradiction. Thus are (spiritual) muscles strengthened.

If you’ve (mostly) survived your adolescence, held down a job, learned to deal with roommates, siblings, coworkers, parents, teachers, traffic cops, jerks, (holy) Fools, the DMV, followed a dream, fell in love, lost a bet, failed at something, succeeded at something else, and arrived here, it’s pretty likely you’ve accumulated enough insight to learn something useful when looking at cards intended to evoke insight from your experiences! We can also never fully know how our words on such subjects may be exactly what another needs to hear.

The HERMIT

09-HermitHermits abound in world-wide lore and legend, running the gamut from hell-bound to holy. Depending on your temperament and the rebuffs that life generously doles out to all of us, you may find in the Hermit a kindred spirit, someone who chooses, as the French have it, reculer pour mieux sauter: “to draw back in order to make a better leap” back into the fray. Or eremitic withdrawal may become the theme for a lifetime, or a whole series of them. Plenty of secular examples come to mind as well, especially if you’re rich enough to build a life from your eccentricities, like billionaire Howard Hughes.

Modern examples include Thomas Merton, whose hermit tendencies can be summed up in the name of the monastic order he eventually joined: OCSO, the Order of Cistercians of Strict Observance, or Trappists. Not content with the already spartan nature of the Order, Merton withdrew further to a hermitage on the grounds of the monastery. His books and poems and increasing fame were one vital source of balance shaping his character into the wise monk, priest and author he slowly became.

J M Greer illustrates a Druid-focused model for practice just as potentially rigorous, especially for the solitary: the Gnostic Celtic Church. Greer highlights some of its distinctive features:

… the GCC does not train people for the standard American Protestant model of the clergy—a model that assigns to clergy the functions of providing weekly services to a congregation, “marrying and burying,” offering amateur counseling to parishioners, and pursuing political and social causes of one kind or another, and defines training for the ministry in terms of the same style of university education used by most other service professions.

This model evolved out of the distinctive social and theological requirements of American Protestant Christianity and has little relevance to other faiths, especially those that do not have the financial resources to support full-time ministers.  It has nonetheless been adopted uncritically by a great many alternative religious traditions here in America. It was in response to the very poor fit between that model and the needs of a contemporary alternative religious movement that AODA [Ancient Order of Druids in America] chose to pursue an older model better suited to its own tradition and needs.

Instead of growing from a single and largely American Protestant model, the GCC focuses on what it calls the Rule of Awen, because

there is certainly a need for men and women who are willing to embrace a new monasticism centered on a personal rule:  one in which the core principle of aligning the whole life with the spiritual dimensions of reality can express itself in forms relevant to the individual practitioner and the present age, in which a rich spiritual life supported by meaningful ceremonial and personal practice can readily coexist with whatever form of outward life is necessary or appropriate to each priest or priestess, and in which the practice of sacramental spirituality can be pursued apart from the various pathologies of political religion.

Greer always packs a lot in his sometimes academic prose: following Christ’s admonition, this means in short to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. We say we want freedom, but how many of us trust our own inner guidance sufficiently to discern what is “necessary or appropriate”, and avoid the “pathologies of political religion”?

As always, the simplest and purest way contains with it the hard-earned wisdom of lifetimes. Greer lays out the central challenge we all face:

… find and follow your own Awen. Taken as seriously as it should be — for there is no greater challenge for any human being than that of seeking his or her purpose of existence, and then placing the fulfillment of that purpose above other concerns as a guide to action and life — this is as demanding a rule as the strictest of traditional monastic vows. Following it requires attention to the highest and deepest dimensions of the inner life, and a willingness to ignore all the pressures of the ego and the world when those come into conflict, as they will, with the ripening personal knowledge of the path that Awen reveals.

How many of us have even begun to recognize and creatively respond to all the myriad “pressures of the ego and the world”? (After all, this is much of what I’ve long been practicing in my own way, as recorded in this blog, and you have ample evidence here of the challenges one person has faced.)

The Matthews’ Arthurian deck depicts the Grail Hermit: “Neither Druid nor priest, as hermit he mediates the functions of both”.

Where is the “third element” in each of my life experiences? As neither pole of a binary, how does it serve both and thereby a greater whole?

The WHEEL of FORTUNE

10-Wheel-of-FortuneThe Wheel or Spiral, the lungo drom or long road of yearning of the Romani, the Wheel of Becoming in Hinduism, “what goes around comes around” of folk wisdom, all point to the circular nature of life and the resonances that our actions establish.

Or as the Lakota holy man Black Elk puts it,

Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were.

The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.

Worldwide, this circle or wheel is also quartered, divided into four fields or domains or regions. Yes, it’s impossible to square the circle , and the link will lead you into exquisite mathematical detail why this is so — but using this holy glyph or mandala as a teaching and learning device, as a tool in ritual, is another order of response to such an intersection of worlds. What is materially impossible is — often — spiritually essential. Or to put it another way, walking a spiritual path means squaring the circle every single day. (Or if you seek a spiritual practice based in mathematics, check out this origami link.)

For more insights that can lead to a unique personal practice with sacred geometry, and not incidentally provide further rich linkages between their profound influence in both Druidry and Christianity, check out Michael Schneider’s A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science.

JUSTICE

11-JusticeIn Matthews’ deck, the corresponding figure is Sovereignty: “our true self and the land are one”. The justice of this inner truth emerges in the great rebalancing that earth is currently experiencing, as the consequences of our past actions come home to us, and we begin to accept responsibility for them and to work off their effects. But we need not merely suffer them passively; we can work with them creatively for the purposes of transformation, which is what cause and effect are placed to afford to all who seek.

In the traditional deck, the figure is garbed and presented so that gender is not immediately clear. Latin justitia is a feminine noun, yet the figure of Justice as we have it here has a seated, balanced, imperial quality of the previous male figures in positions of traditional masculine power and authority.

As a further harmonic development of the Magician, Justice is a balanced expression of power: the upward right hand holds a sword, while the left grips a balance. The two pillars of manifestation again frame the seated figure, and a curtain conceals the region behind it.

What has been lost on the way to Justice? How is its expression still incomplete, indicating the need for further growth and unfoldment? What does rebalancing and attainment of a new equilibrium conceal or distract me from? What further currents of change and transformation remain that ask for my attention, and allow me to anticipate future expressions of Justice, of balance and recalibration and harmonizing?

The triple crown of Justice can be seen to reflect the magical current inherent in groups of three, and in the physical universe. The card commentary for this card in Matthews’ Arthurian deck includes this observation: “…the Goddess of Sovereignty gives three drinks from her cup, purveying the white milk of fostering, the red drink of lordship and the dark drink of forgetfulness. These she offers successively in her aspects as Foster-Mother, Consort and Renewer”.

“Mother, foster me to your service. Consort, empower us both through our union. Renewer, ease me as I strive to fulfill my vows to you”.

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 3   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

winter sun

One of the vital perspectives that much modern Druidry can offer to Christian practice is an experimental approach. Rather than depending so heavily on creeds and affirmations of faith, we can approach statements in Christian and Jewish scripture as pointers toward practice, as statements of spiritual reality and awareness if certain prerequisites of practice, wisdom and experience are met, statements clothed in symbolism and perspectives than can sometimes translate to other terms and forms without diminution.

Here’s one such example: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Ps. 118:26). Whether as a statement of faith or a lyric in a praise-song, it often elicits a comforting familiarity. But why not take it for a spin? Because it offers at least three points for exploration, contemplation and practice, we could treat it as a Druid-Christian triad, and contemplation seed:

What does “blessed” mean?
What does it mean to “come in someone’s name”?
And what is the “name of the Lord”?

Coupled with this last question is a verse often directed at non-Christians, and prominent in mission-oriented publications and preaching: “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow” (Phil. 2:10). As a form of submission to a specific deity, a Christian islam, its initial meaning seems quite clear. All will acknowledge this particular form of deity, the Christian Son of God, in a future realization of his divine sovereignty. It’s a state yet to be fulfilled. Islam as an Arabic word for Muslims also conveys a sense of free will — it’s a voluntary submission. Of course, this is one form of understanding, and it need not be the only or even the most potent in effecting spiritual change.

Put these formulations in Druid terms and you might have recognition that the natural order has a discernible flow, a direction, an energy that humans resist and abuse only at an accumulating cost to themselves and to every other being around them. (Some have called this Lady Sovereignty.  It’s possible also to see in this a version the Shekhinah, the presence of God.) Blessedness in these terms is fruitfulness, harmony, awareness, creativity — all arising from recognition of and concord with the underlying flow inherent in nature, and an ability to navigate life changes successfully. If we come in the name of spirit, or bring with us and our decisions and actions such blessedness or harmonious accord with the flow of nature, it’s often quite apparent to others. A yogi may do this while performing the Salutation to the Sun. Or the Druid sitting under a tree to rest against its trunk and watch the sunrise, may acknowledge the presence of something far greater than the human self in these things. A human on a “path with heart” already carries an awareness of spiritual presence of which he or she is an integral part of the whole.

It’s then that we recognize, at least in our better moments, the authority of those who act from love and wisdom, not from selfishness or shortsighted opportunism. And the sages among us, whether Druid or Christian, both or neither, may not always be those publishing the books and presenting at major Gatherings or Conferences. It may be the white-haired gardener praying in the neighboring pew, face aglow with reverence for the goddess in Mary, or Mary in the goddess, fingernails still darkened with the good earth under them. It may be the quiet young Christian woman calling the quarters at the next Equinox ritual, honoring the four archangels, or the four gospel evangelists, or the four creatures of Celtic or some other tradition, welcoming the presence of spirit in so many varied guises and forms permeating every quarter of the compass.

In the experience of spiritual abundance and presence, then, Christian and Druid may find another meeting-place.

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The LOVERS

06-LoversThe next Tarot image in our series is the Lovers. (The Matthews’ Arthurian image is of the White Hart, with the lovers Enid and Geraint in the foreground.) So much history and cultural change and commentary surrounds the myth or wisdom story of Adam and Eve that “It is difficult/to get the news from poems/”, as William Carlos Williams says in “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”, “yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there”. The story may simply not “work” for many of us as it once did.

We can read the card in one way as depicting the non-physical spiritual force that expresses itself in female and male, in all living things, both green and fruiting, and flaming with energy, as in the fiery-leaved tree behind the male figure. To get caught by stereotypical associations, or to balk at “masculine” or “feminine” attributes, is to miss the polarities inherent in the natural world that allow for manifestation — multiple polarities we all carry within each of us. In one sense, then, nature has always been “gender-fluid”: we know of species that can change genders at need, or at different points in their life cycle.

What do I really love? Does that love build or tear down my life? How does love help me manifest? What polarities work through me with particular force or energy? What ones might I beneficially welcome and work with in my life? Where else can I love?

The CHARIOT

07-ChariotThe Chariot in the traditional deck (or Prydwen, Arthur’s ship of journeying in the Arthurian deck) closes out the first of the three rows of the Major Arcana (if we lay out the cards in 3 rows of 7, with the Fool or Seeker as the one who moves through each on the Journey). And again, in one traditional interpretation, this first row has to do with the maturing self, the personal, the exploration and development of capacities and potencies of the individual.

The notes for Prydwen from the Arthurian deck: “the Otherworldly journey which is undertaken by all seekers, so that the inner life becomes the basis for a sound outer life” (pg. 36).

One applicable Biblical verse here comes from Luke 6:45: “Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their hearts, and evil people brings evil things out of the evil stored up in their hearts. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of”. I don’t know about you, but this is a useful barometer for where my attention is. And with luck, you have a friend or partner who calls you on your crap. “What did you just say?!” That’s when I learn, if I don’t already know, that I’m (once again) out of balance and have some work to do.

What is happening in my inner worlds? What is my foundation? Where can I continue to work to shore up that foundation for both my inner and outer lives? What cycle has ended so that I can finally see and account for its shape and influence, and now return to polish what was rough-hewn? How is my storehouse? What am I harvesting from the old cycle as I begin a new one?

STRENGTH

08-Strength“The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19). Or to be gender-fluid about it: “I honor Lady Sovereignty who strengthens me here on this Land where the deer runs, showing me how to walk the heights with sure feet”.

On this new octave, the second row of 7, Strength shares the infinity symbol with the Magician. You could say she is the Magician — renewed, re-imagined.

Is this coercion or forcing of our elemental and instinctual selves by our “higher” selves? Is it conscious awareness of the vitality of both, thereby making it our own more fully and completely — a union, where formerly there were two? The Lady here has greens and flowers for a belt — she is not separate from nature. Is she shaping and directing that animal strength?

Perhaps we can see one theme run from the prophet’s words that open this section to Whitman’s words in “The Beasts” in his Song of Myself:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid
and self-contain’d.
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of
owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands
of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in
their possession.

In some ways Whitman describes Paradise, a recognition of inner sovereignty that needs no one kneeling to another. The “self” that contains the beasts is the sovereignty of the Land, the Whole that cradles each individual in its arms, if we opt for the language of personification. Here it is animals leading the way in showing tokens of this “self”, already in their “possession”.

Is this what the Strength figure is trying to discover, or does achieve? Does Strength learn that strength unaided is insufficient — a realization that is the beginning of wisdom? It is our inner strength that issues forth in animals, too — our shared link, not one to dominate the other.

So I can do no better than end this post with words from U. K. LeGuin’s great Earthsea trilogy. Her magician or mage Ged learns from his own experience with beasts:

… in that wisdom Ged saw something akin to his own power, something that went as deep as wizardry. From that time forth he believed that the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things, whether they have speech or not, and in later years he strove long to learn what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees.

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IMAGES: Pexels.com — winter pictures.

Grail 4: Elements, Tools, Guides   Leave a comment

[Updated 27 Jan 2019]

[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”]

bors-sees-child-galBors has given me a sword. I see and feel it pass from his hands to mine. Now among my tasks: how to determine its nature — how and when do I make use of it — and what are appropriate thanks and service for this gift?

To what degree does this brief inner experience, which I recorded this morning in my journal, arise not from holy sources, but from my personal Grail practice and from such reading as the following, from Knight’s The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend?

Galahad, Percivale and Bors accompany the Holy Grail back to Sarras, from whence it came. The maimed king is healed, and the three knights are borne away in the ship with the silver altar  above which hovers the glory of the Holy Grail … [I]n due time, Galahad’s wish is granted, and he leaves this life and ascends … Percivale remains in Sarras, and only Bors … returns to tell the tale. In this sense Bors is in the line of succession of great revelatory mystics and prophets, and the keepers and sustainers of the inner mystery traditions (Knight, pgs. 270-271).

If I want to track the experience to its birth, the answer to an either-or question of origins probably matters. But if I want to learn what it can teach me, that question matters much less. (I can explore it at my leisure later, when I’m not storming a castle, or de-rusting my chainmail.)

Mara Freeman asserts in her book Grail Alchemy: “the legends of the Holy Grail open up paths to the spiritual dimensions like no body of lore has done before or since”. I take this as a deeply experiential challenge, not one to be answered by mere intellectual debate, but by results. Once I’ve made a serious sustained effort, I’ll know whether or not these legends — and my practice — open up paths to spiritual dimensions — for me.

(Any desire I have for my way to work for anybody else may be simple generosity, but such an innocent motive can all too quickly sidle up to my insisting it’s the only way — and that should instantly set off all our crap detectors. I keep reciting Postman’s corollary like the holy mantra it is: the main source of bullshit I face is myself. Exhibit A — Bors gives me a sword: an experience to assess and explore for what it can offer. Well and good. But I’m hot stuff because of that experience: deep piles of fresh, steaming bullshit.)

The same holds true with animal guides. (As a wise Druid asked at last fall’s East Coast Gathering, “Why is it everyone’s animal guide is Wolf or Raven or Bear? What about tomato cutworm?”)

I’ve written elsewhere of my experiences with wild boar. Again, the test of any guide, tool or experience is (or can be) utterly practical. As the Galilean master asks, Does it bear “good fruit”? That’s how to “know” in powerful and grounded ways.

Sometimes I can’t quite reach the inward space I need to inhabit for healing. But I can reach for my inner guide, through long familiarity, and touch the bristly fur on his back. Touch was one of my first experiences of my guide — totally unremarkable to me, when I was looking for something more dramatic — and less “mundane”, less physical. For whatever reason, I can readily feel his fur, his pleasure at our connection. Only later, as I note in the post linked in the previous paragraph, did I read in the Druid Animal Oracle the entry for Torc, the Boar: “… he is a representative of the Goddess — his skin can heal you” (Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm, The Druid Animal Oracle, Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1994, p. 39). And I began to appreciate this “earthed” mode of access for what it was, a priceless gift. Once again — you’d think I’d know this by now as one of my ongoing biases — I overlooked the obvious, minimized a non-flashy spiritual connection.

Freeman continues with wise admonitions about “how to tell if you have made it all up or you are being deluded”. After all, you may be wondering where my precious and much-vaunted crap detector is in all of this. Freeman says,

… the imagination is the language of the soul. It is the equivalent of our most important sensory organ — sight — only turned inward rather than outward. Every non-physical thing that exists expresses itself as energy, or Force.  The imagination is a creative mechanism that enables us to give Form to Forces of the non-physical planes. (Introduction, Kindle location 349).

I’d generalize Freeman’s words slightly here: Every thing that exists expresses itself. How else do we know it except through its expressions? If I arbitrarily rule out any non-physical expression from my interest or attention — and here we can include emotion, hunch, imagination, intuition, gut feeling, creative impulse, dream, memory, love — I merely impoverish myself. Why on the deep earth or in the starry heavens would I want to do that?!

Several versions of the following story exist:

Once not so long ago there was a great drought in a province of China. The situation grew increasingly dire. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants offered prayers, and the Chinese burned joss-sticks and lit firecrackers to frighten off the drought-demons; but no sign of rain or wisp of cloud appeared in the empty sky. Finally the people said: “We will fetch a rain-maker”. And from another province a dried-up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself in for three days. On the fourth day clouds gathered and there was a great storm at a time of year when little rain was expected, and the town was filled with rumours about the wonderful rain-maker. Asked what he had been doing during the three days that had caused the rain to fall on the fourth, the old man said: “I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order; they are not as they should be by the ordinance of Heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in Tao, and I also am not in the natural order of things, because I am now here in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao, and then, naturally, the rains came”.

This wisdom story is easily reworded to speak in Druid terms. Like most good stories, it leaps cultures without significant diminution.

Another instance: many years ago I bought a used copy of Caitlin and John Matthews’ The Arthurian Tarot. I spent several days familiarizing myself with the images, and skimming the accompanying text (The Hallowquest Handbook, subsequently enlarged) which, beyond the usual short descriptions of each card, details a number of pathworkings and other exercises for the Grail seeker. One of the cards that particularly drew me again and again was the Sword Maiden. Here is the Matthews’ description:

Under a tree sits the Sword Maiden embroidering a scabbard … Dindrane, Perceval’s sister, is part of the Grail quest. She cuts off her hair in order to weave a belt for the sword which Galahad shall carry. She grasps ideas and materializes them; perceptive and discerning, she is vigilant in the cause of truth and justice; she cuts through difficulties by taking the way of self-sacrifice.

sword maidenWhen years later I read that Knight calls Dindrane “the perfect female initiate” (The Secret Tradition, pg. 270) and wrote of Bors that “he represents the initiate … rooted in the world” I realized that I had the makings of a personal practice of polarity working for a Grail quest. Rather than typifying or idealizing any stereotypically gendered element of expression, I see them as energies, inner and outer, available to the Grail seeker in mythic and archetypal forms.

Postman notes in the article I cited in the previous post:

So you see, when it comes right down to it, crap-detection is something one does when he starts to become a certain type of person. Sensitivity to the phony uses of language requires, to some extent, knowledge of how to ask questions, how to validate answers, and certainly, how to assess meanings … What crap-detecting mostly consists of is a set of attitudes toward the function of human communication: which is to say, the function of human relationships.

You might without too much distortion call crap-detection a kind of secular Grail Quest. Or the inverse: the Grail Quest is a holy version of crap detecting — in following it, I’m looking for and working toward a full(er) and healthier relationship with the cosmos and the beings in it, expressed in language and ritual as far as they can take me: naming things as lovingly and accurately as possible, knowing them by their expressions, and also pointing and following beyond words into being (t)here.

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IMAGES: Bors; Sword Maiden.

Lunasa, Saturday 5 August ’17   Leave a comment

One of the great pleasures of the “Great Eight” seasonal festivals on the Wheel of the Year, if you have a group to celebrate with, is the unique combination of private and community rites that can mark each season. They can merge and nourish and colour each other in subtle and provocative ways.

I’ve written here about my own recent private rite consecrating a new fire circle. Earlier today I hosted a small group rite of Lunasa.

grail-hermitCard drawn before the rite from the Arthurian Tarot: the Grail Hermit. Caitlin and John Matthews’ deck provides rich material for meditation. A partial interpretation: while group ritual is important, personal communion with the Source and its many guises is crucial to balance. I don’t need to “go anywhere” to find the Grail or the inner hermitage, but I do need to make an effort to allow them to manifest in the busy-ness of my life. I note too that some things can only be discovered and mastered alone. A group can become a distraction if its main contribution is more busy-ness and not useful centering and grounding in practice. That’s a message that’s still deeply applicable to me and my practice.

The hanging over the door of the Hermit’s hut is purple, with a golden image of the Grail on it. The royal road of true spirituality calls us to claim our spiritual identity as heirs to an inner kingdom. As with all above-below and within-without paradoxes, the apparent poverty, obscurity and simplicity of the Hermit contrast and foreshadow the spiritual wealth within. One clue: the fire burning in the clearing.

For the group rite we made space in our weaving room with looms and fibers for backdrops. Appropriate for the Weaver at the Loom, Shaper of All!

Here on the altar the firsfruits: blueberries, candles, a sheaf of grasses, corn meal and ritual objects sheltered from the weekend of rain.

IMG_1754

Halfway through the rite, the thunder receded, the rain stopped and the sun emerged.

Hail Lugh, hail Earth Mother. In the words of the ritual — her words — “I will nurture you … I will comfort you … I will bless you through all the days of your lives”.

Thanks to BW for composing and leading our ritual, and to those who celebrated with us.

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Matthews, John and Caitlin. Illustrated by Miranda Grey. The Arthurian Tarot. Aquarian Press, 1991; 25th anniversary edition, Connections 2015.

 

 

A Winter Passage   Leave a comment

art-tarOne of the meditations for this time of year between Yule and Imbolc that I’ve set for myself deploys Caitlin Matthews’ Arthurian Tarot, a tool I’ve mentioned before on this blog. You can find a chart of the dates and cards my meditation associates with them at the end of this post.

[As promised in the post before last, I’m also reporting with this post on how well my outer and inner worlds match up with the possibility of regenerating ancient tradition.]

Working through the Major Arcana in sequence from the beginning, and using The World/The Flowering of Logres as a pivot to return to The Fool/The Seeker, the Tarot serves as an energizing and revealing series of meditations for the exact number of days between the Winter Solstice and Imbolc/Brighid’s Day, if I observe it on February 1.

The Arthurian Tarot works well for this purpose, because such use places Arthur/The Emperor on December 25, and in at least some versions of the Arthurian Mythos, Arthur was born on Christmas — he’s the Christmas King.

Thus, The Seeker sets forth on the Solstice, the day of greatest darkness — fitting for the beginning of the Journey, when almost everything seems shrouded, unknown. Though the Seeker stands on a precipice, he is not daunted, whatever the New Year brings — and in Arthur’s Court, it brings Gawain at least a deadly challenge in the form of the Green Knight. In this meditation series with the Arthurian Tarot, the Knight arrives on January 5 — fitting, since it’s the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and the holy feast of Theophany in the Eastern Orthodox calendar, when the divine appears to men.

With these encouraging correspondences emerging as I filled in my calendar, I felt I had sufficient personal justification to continue and to explore what this meditation series might have to offer. If you’ve worked with synchronicity at all, you know how sometimes signs can line up almost too easily. “One thing becomes another” in the realms of the Goddess, and we can lose ourselves in too-easy correspondences and mystic convergences, forgetting our initial purpose as we indulge in excessive woo-woo*. Or at least I can. Take heed, says inner guidance.

sovereigntyContinuing the series, the New Year begins with Sovereignty — a reminder that whatever the situation in the apparent world, we have the gift of being able to gaze into the other world(s) as well, using our divinely-bestowed power of double vision, and see  where true power and authority lie, and acknowledge and revere the one(s) who wield(s) them.

The Wounded King immediately follows, with the Washer at the Ford and the Cauldron coming next — all three most potent symbols and archetypes.

Yesterday was Prydwen, the ship Arthur takes to raid the Otherworld and, in at least some traditions, win the Hallows of Britain, analogous to the Four Hallows of Ireland. As the Chariot, and a card laden with challenges in the past for me, Prydwen’s appearance told me I wasn’t up to tackle either the card or the meditation sequence. Bad food had left me achy in the joints, weak, and — most telling for me of toxins in my system — facing repetitive and panicked dreams and claustrophobia on waking. The Challenger stood armed and working in full force. Worth noting in my record of this day, even if I could not meet the call to close meditation and inner work the card indicated. Bed instead.

But I also know that, as is the way of spirals, I will face it again and again in the future, and my apparent “failure” yesterday is no loss at all. It has given me valuable insight, and helped me refocus energies that have previously been scattered. Now I can identify clearly a weakness that till then I had successfully managed to deny.

Another of the quests associated with Prydwen in the Arthurian deck is Arthur’s pursuit of the giant boar Twrch Trwyth, also associated with the Underworld and the Goddess, possessed of Otherworldly treasures between his ears, and — key to me — a form of my totemic animal, and sign of a way back to the lesson still available to me whenever I am ready to take it and my Boar dances his eagerness to accompany me.

Today, though, it’s Gawain. gawain

In some senses the figure of Arthur’s nephew, the “most courteous knight”, represents for me an unmerited balance, strength and harmony. After all, I did not “pass” yesterday’s challenges of Prydwen and earn these qualities.

But as we all make this journey many times, we catch glimpses of each aspect as we proceed, arming and equipping us for the next spiral along the way. In the timeless realms, “after” can prepare us for “before.” Or to put it another way, success can bleed backward in time, if we are able to accept the gift. A vision of what is to come, of the future, and of what we already are, can sustain us through apparent disaster and despair by manifesting here what already exists on the inner planes.

More to come.

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*woo-woo: again, a technical and precise term of art.

IMAGES: Arthurian TarotGawain.

The Meditation Calendar

Dec 21: Seeker at the Solstice
Dec 22: Merlin
Dec 23: Lady of the Lake
Dec 24: Guinevere
Dec 25: Arthur – the “Christmas King”
Dec 26: Taliesin
Dec 27: The White Hart
Dec 28: Prydwen
Dec 29: Gawain
Dec 30: Grail Hermit
Dec 31: Round Table

Jan 1: Sovereignty
Jan 2: Wounded King
Jan 3: Washer at the Ford
Jan 4: Cauldron
Jan 5: Green Knight
Jan 6: Spiral Tower
Jan 7: Star
Jan 8: Moon
Jan 9: Sun
Jan 10: Sleeping Lord
Jan 11: Flowering of Logres

(Reversal and Return)

Jan 12: Sleeping Lord
Jan 13: Sun
Jan 14: Moon
Jan 15: Star
Jan 16: Tower
Jan 17: Knight
Jan 18: Cauldron
Jan 19: Washer at the Ford
Jan 20: Wounded King
Jan 21: Sovereignty
Jan 22: Round Table
Jan 23: Grail Hermit
Jan 24: Gawain
Jan 25: Prydwen
Jan 26: White Hart
Jan 27: Taliesin
Jan 28: Arthur
Jan 29: Guinevere
Jan 30: Lady of the Lake
Jan 31: Merlin
Feb 1: The Seeker at Imbolc

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