Archive for the ‘awen’ Tag

Creativity’s Messy–2: Druid & Christian   Leave a comment

No surprise (though I’m often slow on the uptake), after the period of inner work I detailed in the recent “Listening to Inwardness” series, that creativity should be the theme of these posts. The awen, like water, seems to follow the paths of least resistance in our lives, so for me it manifests in language creation, and in returns to themes I’ve looked at already but need to spiral with. And in physical reminders, too, as this body ages, to exercise, to eat healthy, to stretch, to listen.

And that means a challenge I’m noting for myself, even as I record it here for you: creativity left unmanifest, ignored for too long, can out itself through my weaknesses, too, amplifying them, doing a full-on “mercury retrograde” to my daily life on the spot, when a hundred little things that might go wrong will absolutely find a way to do so, if they can. If that divine energy that is creative always has got nowhere else to go, I’ll have a right royal row with my wife, stub my toe on the woodstove base, get splinters in my palm while chopping wood, break a clean plate while emptying the dishrack — all in the same morning. Like electricity, creativity will ground itself along the most direct path to earth.

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Another instance of the messiness of creativity rests in our spiritual encounters and how we respond to their challenges and opportunities — to those places and moments where something rattles our cages, and with any grace induces us to sort out what’s habit and inertia and no longer helpful to our lives, and what remains valid on a new round of the spiral of our journey. Person, place or thing, it doesn’t matter: each asks us to bring the fire in us to bear on problem solving, on spiritual creativity at work in daily life — in a word, at finding joy. But ignore the lesson-opportunity-blessing, and just as with the smaller moments, so the bigger ones, as R. J. Stewart observes:

It may seem to be hardship imposed from without, almost at random, but magical tradition suggests that it flows from our own deepest levels of energy, which, denied valid expression by the locks upon our consciousness, find an outlet through exterior cause and effect (Stewart, Living Magical Arts, pg. 20-21)

Creativity is one of the most enjoyable ways to “unlock” that I’ve experienced. But it’s almost guaranteed to be messy!

I’ve posted elsewhere on this blog my own attempts to plumb some of the numinous encounters and intersections of Druidry and Christianity, a deep and rich vein to explore, as writers and teachers like John Philip Newell have done in several books.

Here’s Newell in his 2012 book A New Harmony* on the “sound of the beginning” — a pretty close description for the awen, at least as some Druids experience it:

New science speaks of being able to detect the sound of the beginning in the universe. It vibrates within the matter of everything that has being. New science is echoing the ancient wisdom of spiritual insight. In the twelfth century Hildegard of Bingen taught that the sound of God resonates ‘in every creature’. It is ‘the holy sound’, she says, ‘which echoes through the whole creation.’ If we are to listen for the One from whom we have come, it is not away from creation that we are to turn our ears, it is not away from the true depths of our being that we are to listen. It is rather to the very heart of all life that we are to turn our inner attention. For then we will hear that the deepest sound within us is the deepest sound within one another and within everything that has being. We will hear that the true harmony of our being belongs to the universe and that the true harmony of the universe belongs to us. … Everything arises from that sacred sound.

So far, so Druid. But in the same book, Newell then turns toward issues that often receive less insightful treatment in too much of Druidry. Spend time in Druid communities and you encounter firsthand what they struggle with, too: addiction, abuse, imbalance, illness, spiritual immaturity and blindness, ignorance, superstition, fear, anger. In other words, with the human weaknesses that beset every other human community.

Newell observes:

Knowing and naming brokenness is essential in the journey towards wholeness. We will not be well by denying the wrongs that we carry within us as nations and religions and communities. Nor will we be well by downplaying them or projecting them onto others. The path to wholeness will take us not around such awareness but through it, confronting the depths of our brokenness before being able to move forward towards healing. As Hildegard of Bingen says, we need two wings with which to fly. One is the ‘knowledge of good’ and the other is the ‘knowledge of evil’. If we lack one or the other we will be like an eagle with only one wing. We will fall to the ground instead of rising to the heights of unitary vision. We will live in half-consciousness instead of whole-consciousness.

Both Druidry and Christianity still tend to be “one-winged”, and in opposite ways. (That’s partly why each could learn much from the other.) To grossly over-generalize, Druids celebrate the good, and glory in images of that old Garden and those ancient Trees, while underplaying the human evils that beset Druids and their communities as much as anyone, and forestall them from entering more fully. Christians may understand and even fixate more on the evils, and have much indeed to say about sin, but underplay and even distrust the gifts and capacities, lessons and potentials of a world that can catalyze the spiritual growth and maturity they often refuse.

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Part of this particular creativity lies in the practice of listening across traditions. John Beckett writes in a recent blogpost apropos of traditions, DNA, supposed bloodlines, and their dubious guidance for “choosing your religion”:

We dream of finding a heritage that’s mine, that provides connection and meaning.

Too many of us, though, fail to understand that mine means “where I belong” and not “what belongs to me.”

Rather than looking for roots in DNA, put down roots with the land where you are: observe it, touch it, eat it. Honor the spirits and other persons who share it with you.

Or to paraphrase a certain Galilean: Why do you seek the living among the dead?

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Awen a ganaf — o dwfyn ys dygaf, says Taliesin, in his poem Angar Kyfandawt. “(It’s) the awen that I sing — (it’s) from the deep that I bring it”. (Or in my flowering Celtic ritual language, Bod an awen a canu mi, o’n duven a tenna mi.) But the bard continues (rendering by K. Hughes, From the Cauldron Born):

It’s a river that flows; I know its might,
I know how it ebbs, and I know how it flows,
I know when it overflows, I know when it shrinks …

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*Newell, John Philip. A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul. Jossey-Bass, 2012. Republished as A New Ancient Harmony: A Celtic Vision for the Journey Into Wholeness. Material Media, 2019.

Listening to Inwardness–2   Leave a comment

[Part One | Part TwoPart Three | Part Four]

The high and honorable ideal of spiritual work that I’d declared in the previous post began yesterday with a day of moving. (In hindsight, how appropriate! What needs to move in our consciousness, to free up space and energy for change? Things ask me that question, but unless I’m paying attention, I may not bother to make any answer. An opportunity missed. And it was one I’d asked for, by the act of making spiritual commitment.)

Moving — no, not a whole house. My wife and I rented a U-haul truck to salvage five used metal filing cabinets for the non-profit historical society she works for. We drove “across the water” of the Connecticut River to pick up a rental truck in New Hampshire, located the engineering firm that was moving to new digs, had finished digitizing its files, and no longer needed the cabinets, shifted them from the third floor of their offices in downtown Concord, NH, into a narrow elevator, loaded them into the rental truck, drove them the 100 miles to Vermont through November rain and sleet, and without the help of two obliging young engineers and their moving dolly, slid and rocked and manhandled them into the historical society’s storage barn (only certain reinforced areas of the old floor are strong enough to bear any weight), dropped off the rental truck at the nearest depot 25 miles away, and finally returned home.

I mention these details not because they’re “special” but because they’re quite evidently not. You’ve all done similar things — one day or most days busy with “mundane” details, challenges, inconveniences, delays, grappling with the physics of objects and the temperaments of people, as if the spiritual and the this-world were different things, rather than one large thing with many faces. We always tend to separate the two, thinking they operate under different rules, rather than in a harmonic of the same rules, and in the process we miss the very thing we’re looking for.

What was I looking for? I awoke this morning in a foul mood, amplified by sore muscles courtesy of the previous day’s move, and lay in bed watching every objection to happiness parade across my consciousness. Well, this oughta be fun, I snarled to myself. Time for some house-cleaning, by which I meant a serious attitude adjustment. My consciousness is my home, after all. I need not abdicate it to things I neither want or need.

I’d photographed the two images below yesterday afternoon, shortly after getting home from the move, and they seem to characterize where I was, where I still am, as I begin a period of “spiritual” work. There’s only one work, says my inner Druid Council. How can I bring more light and joy into the sphere where I’m working? Otherwise, what’s the point?

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November twilight — between the worlds?

But if I’m looking to generate spiritual “lift”, the same way a plane taxis down a runway until it can take off, I need to allow for both time and energy inputs. Try to stay “up” all the time, and I’ll run out of fuel. The old biplanes of a century ago could glide to a landing with engines off. Modern jets typically have a “critical engine” — as in “if no engine, then not enough speed to stay aloft”. As in … crash. In addition to generating lift, I want to glide, not crash. I may not “get there” as fast, but I won’t shatter, either.

Every moment opens up a pathway between the worlds, but some are simply more visible than others, easier to navigate. Twilight , with clouds scudding across the sky in the rising wind, is one of those moments. The Dark Half of the Year sounds properly dramatic — and it is. But it can also mislead me, if I’m not heedful. The Dark Half still holds out a great deal of light, just as the Light Half still includes darkness. The proportions have shifted, that’s all. Are shifting still. Something to keep me on my toes, alert to possibility.

Twilight — an invitation to dream, to watch clouds, to wait as the day fades, as the first deer venture onto the meadow across the road, as the silhouettes of birds wing across a deepening sky, as the first stars peer out from between the clouds.

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stone with lichens

From the kitchen window this stone with its lichen cloak looks yellow now, in November, though up close it’s more subtle, a paling green. A complete Martian landscape, in my own back yard. Lichen is one of the oldest of living things, a partnership of fungi and bacteria, a whole neighborhood. Some six percent of the earth’s surface is covered with lichen, announces the Wikipedia entry . Varieties abound — some 20,000 species. (If the Druid “mentor of the day” takes electronic form, then Wikipedia, today you are my go-to guru. Start where you are, whispers Inwardness. Yes, I hear voices: don’t you?! What matters is which ones we listen to, right?)

In the previous post, I asked, “If I make and mark a dedicated passage of days to mirror and invite a specific passage of influence from one plane to another, what will happen?”

Here then are a few of the happenings. A clearing of the way, a deepening, a coming face-to-face with things as they are, not as I want them to be. Images of where I am and what I’ve asked for. But passages opening, too, because nothing “stays the same”. We each stand with a foot in many worlds. (OK, says the imp in me. If that’s true, then how many feet do I have?!) Passage happens all the time.

Some of the purposes of a period of dedication: to pay attention, to notice the passage, to recall its textures and sounds and colors, and perceive the wisdom it carries with it, to notice as it carries me, too, to someplace new, how that feels, what it offers. To transform.

I keep on arriving, immigrant to shores both familiar and strange. I step out of the boat, half aware of the waves slapping the gunwales, often less than half aware of the pilot, the oars, the sail, the mast. Now onto the beach, up from the shore, on the edges of new country.

Vista, possibility. New vantage points. Welcome, and challenge. Respite, refuge, home — adventure, too — when I’m ready.

Between one moment and the next, eternity happening constantly. Once again, the awen-self a little more awake, and busy with shaping what comes, the partnership of all our days.

On to the next day of listening, of wakefulness.

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Grail 5: Some Assembly Required   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”]

ONE

To recap: I rely on sacred sound, on awen, as my first and go-to practice. (Let’s call it East for now, since I need air to sing it.) Without the daily retuning it affords me, I find “all bets are off”. It clears the way, keeps me facing my own best interest more of the time, inspires me, keeps the creative stream flowing, helps me with compassion for others going their ways. In short, I like myself better when a sacred melody is my heartsong. Life flows more smoothly.

Some personal assembly is required for the “spiritual components” I’ve mentioned in this series. I can’t force a flower to open. What I do needs to flow from me gratefully, gracefully, as if I let myself out of a cage I didn’t know barred me from wider, richer experience. I may stand at the door a little dazed at first, but then the world outside the bars invites me. Spirituality offers a series of recipes. I don’t need to make and live on bread alone, or just green curries, but practice means I’ll improve on what I’ve started already. For what it’s worth, consider: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one thing well”. (When you fully understand that, you can explain it to me!)

Or to paraphrase what I remind myself: The awen is already flowing in your life. Find out where!

If you want a poem version of the reminder, try Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”. Yup, awen coming thru: “your imagination calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting, over and over announcing your place in the family of things”.

TWO

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Elaine of Corbenic*, King Pelles’ daughter, bearing the Sancgraal/Frederick Sandys, 1861

The Elements, part of my “family of things”. Water, and West. Grail — Cauldron — Feminine Principle — Goddess — Virgin Mary — Yang and Yin together again. Octave, door, spiral key. Working with the Grail bears similarities to a form, like a kata in martial arts. Alone, it may not seem like much. As part of a path, a spiritual choreography, it opens out into unexpected country.

How I assemble, and what parts I choose, that becomes my practice.

I have a lovely blue-green vase given to me by a former student. It sits on a shelf, and needs dusting from time to time, especially after the winter season with ash from the woodstove. I also eat from a commonplace bowl that’s gotten chipped from wear, and lives part of its life submerged in soapy water along with all the other dishes I’m washing. Both are forms of the Grail. One sees daily use. The other looks pretty. Sometimes I feel a Grail in my heart, a divine space of possibility. The Grail is my heart, is everybody’s heart — our hearts together form the Grail.

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Another image of Elaine, by Arthur Rackham, 1917.

Seen from one side (the Grail has no sides), I’m on a Grail Quest. Seen from the other side, the Grail is the first thing I started out with, or that started out with me, as I tagged along childlike. It gave me away to the world (a way to all the worlds), knowing I’d always come back.

[*Elaine of Corbenic, the Grail Maiden of Arthurian legend, is the mother of Galahad with Lancelot.]

THREE

Earth, north. I sit gingerly at the keyboard, easing my back where I pulled a muscle yesterday on our icy driveway, carrying in an armful of firewood and nearly falling, catching myself with a wrench. Boar snorts at my shoulder, saying you know what to do. I reach to touch his bristles, reminding myself to relax, to shift, rock, ease the muscles from sitting too long in one posture. I stand up to look out the window at blue twilight on the snow, and stretch.

Grounding what I experience is key to bringing its use fully into my worlds. I practice this, writing, embodying shapes I’ve seen in vision, drawing (badly) the sword from yesterday. Though sword is east, it’s also undeniably a physical object — north, steel, mined from earth. Holding it, even in imagination, I ground the experience further. Holding a piece of metal or wood in my hand as a ritual equivalent, feeling its solidity and inertia, I ground further. Grail-in-all-things, goddess-in-all-things.

FOUR

Fire, south. Sun each day, moon each month, two great spirals for practice, a daily sun salutation, surya namaskar. A monthly moon meditation. Knight connects a version of this rhythm to polarity working with the Grail, too. Two ritual-contemplation questions arising in meditation today: “What is the sun of the moon? What is the moon of the sun?” I don’t need to understand everything before it becomes part of me. In fact, with much that I value deeply, like my wife, my marriage, understanding happens only after it has become part of me, and I of it, not before.

FIVE

First star tonight in the eastern sky tonight, Grail-star. Quintessence. Yes, earth my body, water my blood, air my breath, fire my spirit — so the old Pagan song instructs me. But spirit-greater-than-fire is here — spirit the essence of all four, and more, pouring inexhaustibly from the Grail across the cosmos.

With my forefinger I trace a pentagram in the twilight sky in the Seven Directions, another form I use: four quarters, zenith above, nadir below and center.

For the good of all beings, for the good of the whole, for the good of each one, may it be so.

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IMAGES: Elaine by Sandys; Elaine by Rackham.

Grail 2: A Path, By Walking It   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”]

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Christianized image of the Grail — Quimper Cathedral, Brittany

A path toward the Grail — whatever form your Grail happens to assume — may not look much like anybody else’s. It may not even look like a path at all. You call it your life. (As Druid Kris Hughes likes to say, “What other people think of us is none of our business”.)

We talk so freely in terms of a path, or a journey, that often we forget it’s a metaphor and take it as simple fact. Seven hundred years ago, Dante began his great poem the Divine Comedy “in the middle of the journey of our life”, suggesting that there’s just the one journey we all take. (He turns personal immediately after that, when he exclaims that he “came back to himself in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost” — where he had lost it. “The only way out is through”, says Robert Frost. “You got to get in to get out”, sing Genesis.)

Following on the metaphor, I try to “get somewhere” over time, teachers and parents urge me “make my own way”, it’s important to “look back” from time to time, to see “how far we’ve come”, to take stock “along the way”, to wonder “where we’re going”, “how long the journey will be”, and “when we’ll arrive”. We follow a yellow brick road to some Oz or other, or climb a Led Zeppelinesque stairway to heaven, or party along an AC/DC highway to hell, we look for guides and signposts, we’re told there’s no map, or just one, or millions. (If such pervasive metaphors interest you, check out George Lakoff’s Metaphors We Live By.)

The great Spanish poet Antonio Machado exclaims “we make the road by walking”* in Campos de Castilla (and in other collections).

Druid-like, I trust bards over bureaucrats, because objectively they listen to wider possibilities of awen.

The one essential is our participation in the cauldron sound, as I attempted to describe in the previous post, Grail 1. We all do this already, of course, by being born, blood thrumming with our heartbeats, attuning to the musics of our cultures, the sounds of our languages, the ceaseless waves of the sea. Birth grants us a “minimum daily requirement” of the all-pervading sound. But a quality journey asks for more, for some effort on our part. We can, of course, choose to tread water through our lives — one option, to be sure, and one that can appeal if life seems too hard otherwise.

The cauldron sound accompanies us as we set out, and with our conscious attention and participation, grows loud enough to help us find a path, guide us to walk it as only we can, and help us know when we’re done that the joys were worth all the pains.

Or as Carlos Castaneda’s teacher Don Juan Matus puts it, with the calm authority of one who has found out for himself:

Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. — The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.

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R Tagore

To say it another way, I strive “to be the cause in my own life”, not “the effect of other people’s emotions, viewpoints, and efforts to control us”.** The cauldron sound, “the one companion of my life”, as Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore sings, assists me in listening to my own song amidst the clamor of the “apparent world”, as OBOD ritual terms it. Some hear it as a subtle nudge, an intuition. Others hear it in the words of friends, a chance conversation with a stranger, a song lyric, a dream, a brightness in something read, or overheard at the grocery store. Awen will get through.

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*“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again. Wanderer, there is no road — Only wakes upon the sea” — A Machado.

**Klemp, Harold. ECK Wisdom on Spiritual Freedom. 2018.

Images: Quimper Cathedral Grail WindowTagore;

Grail 1: Exploring the “Cauldron Sound” of Awen   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”]

Image result for awenWant a good overview of the awen in the life of another Druid? Don’t just take my word for it. Read Druid-in-two-traditions Dana Driscoll’s account here. [I’ve written about it, among other times, here and here.]

Looking for the lost melody of your life? For that sense of spiritual freedom you may have touched as a child? For the heart-song that so often eludes us in the busy-ness of 21st century living?

If there’s such a thing as a “container” for the awen, beyond the bodies of all things, it’s the Celtic Cauldron, proto-grail, womb, goddess symbol, under- and other-world vessel, humming on the edges of our awareness. To participate in its sound is to begin to manifest some of its properties. Put myself in sympathetic vibration with it, and I discover its powers of transformation. It accomplishes change through vibration — no surprise, when we know that every atom of the cosmos vibrates at its own particular frequency. That’s also part of why every major spiritual tradition on the planet includes chant, song, mantra, spoken prayer. The whole thing sings. When the bard Taliesin exclaims in one of his poems, “The awen I sing, from the deep I bring it”, he points us toward the pervasiveness of awen, its habitation in the heart of things, its flow through us, both lesser and greater, as we sing, and bring.

Dana observes, “One of the most simple things to do is to invoke Awen regularly as part of your practice.”

A tangent. An article from a few days ago somewhat ruefully acknowledges that there’s actually a specific day — January 17 — when Americans see many of their New Year’s resolutions fail. (Your own culture, if you’re not a Yank, may exhibit lesser or greater persistence.) Since we seem to addicted to bad news these days, feel free to indulge here in some delicious negative thinking, if you wish. But then read closer: “Contrary to widespread public opinion, a considerable proportion of New Year resolutions do succeed,” notes a psychology professor in the article. Even at the 6-month point, according to studies, some 40% of resolutions — and their “resolvers” — stick with it. While the data pool may well need refining, still, that’s an astonishing figure. Better than the best baseball average. While “two outta three ain’t bad”, as the Meatloaf song tells us, even “one outta three” is pretty damn good, in so many human endeavors. And if you’ve read this blog for a while, you know my strategy for success with resolutions. Start so small that it’s next to impossible not to begin. “Oh, anyone can find 30 seconds a day”.

And this holds true with so many practices, spiritual or otherwise. A habit is simply an expression of equilibrium. The resistance to change is the resistance of all set-points and stasis and inertial systems — their first “response”, if we think of them for a moment as conscious beings, is to absorb the new thing rather than change on account of it. It’s a survival mechanism, after all, evolved over eons, to prevent dangerous over-reactions and hyper-compensations to what are often only temporary blips in the environment. We can’t afford to be thrown off by “every little thing”.

Why would this apply to something like the awen, a pervading cosmic sound and vibration? It’s already flowing through us, at a sustaining level, keeping us alive, the heart beating, the electrical system of the body sparking along. But upset that equilibrium unwittingly, kick the carefully calibrated network of bodily systems, and you risk the same thing rash occultists and yogis do when they raise the kundalini unprepared, force their way onto the astral plane too abruptly, shift the body’s and psyche’s equilibria by force of will, and then face all the unexpected consequences — illness, accident, poor judgment, disharmony — all the attendant symptoms of dis-ease, of a complex equilibrium under abrupt, too-rapid or even violent change.

So I begin small, and gradual, and see how it goes, if it’s worthwhile, if it adds to and builds on my life — as I already live it. This latter point is keenly important, I find. And I encourage you to try the awen, or — if you’re drawn elsewhere — its kin in other traditions. (Maybe one living near you: Om, Hu [link to an mp3 sound file], etc.) Give it a year of serious practice, and I will personally guarantee positive change, or your karma back. Other practices have their established value, but sacred sound is special.

The “rewards” of such a practice are not always easy to “calculate”. (Revealing that we even use such language). But practice, as you’ll discover, opens many doors we didn’t even know were there. As OBOD Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm notes,

Try opening to Awen not when it’s easy, but when it’s difficult: not when you can be still and nothing is disturbing you, but when there’s chaos around you, and life is far from easy. See if you can find Awen in those moments. It’s harder, much harder, but when you do, it’s like walking through a doorway in a grimy city street to discover a secret garden that has always been there – quiet and tranquil, an oasis of calm and beauty. One way to do this, is just to tell yourself gently “Stop!” Life can be so demanding, so entrancing, that it carries us away, and we get pulled off-centre. If we tell ourselves to stop for a moment, this gives us the opportunity to stop identifying with the drama around us, and to come back to a sense of ourselves, of the innate stillness within our being. And then, sometimes, we are rewarded with Awen at precisely this moment.

“The Holy Grail won’t go away” — and for very good reasons.

Next post: A Path, By Walking It.

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Four Holds on Joy   Leave a comment

Loosening Holds

For me, four of the prime holds to loosen are don’t, can’t, shouldn’t and won’t. Each pretends to wisdom, when in fact it’s almost always mere legalism. And if it isn’t (a fifth hold?), a practice I try out will almost always begin to reveal it for what it is.

Let’s look at each hold in turn. Don’t presupposes tendency or present fact. “People don’t do X or Y”. Peer pressure being what it is, “majority rule” often enough shunts people away from even trying something different. Don’t try out Nanowrimo, the new job, the blind date, the salsa, the nudge to take a different route home.

Don’t as command can also, perversely, provoke instinctive rebellion, so that some people will do something simply because someone in authority forbids it — not from careful reflection, but reactively. This opens up a second meaning of don’t: pure prohibition. And our first encounter with this form as children has a sometimes dubious accompanying parental justification: “because I said so”. We can take at least one step forward and say what it is we actually do, rather than defining ourselves or anyone else by exclusion.

How to simplify a lifetime of teaching, if your nickname has become “The One Who Teaches”? Choose again, counsels the female messiah Aenea in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos.

Can’t opens up a whole set of assumptions that have been successfully challenged over time. Some have to do with the capacities of a subset of humanity, whether we select on the basis of gender or ethnicity or social class or some other criteria. Further, there are two kinds of can’t: permission of another person and our own personal abilities. We hear “You can’t do that!” often enough that we may carry its echo within us to the grave. “What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?” asks Thoreau of such times. Often that inner echo is enough to stop us from ever testing the second kind of can’t: are we in fact actually able to do it? Do we possess the will, grace, skill, energy and courage? The Nike campaign of “Just Do It” may not be the best single counsel, but taken with other helpings of wisdom at the meal of decision-time, it’s a plucky guide.

Shouldn’t may arise from the prudent counsel of another, but as a percentage of shouldn’ts that most of us hear, it rates pretty low. Much more common are the shouldn’t of fear, of concern for appearances (what will the neighbors/family/friends/coworkers think?), or of the speaker’s own incapacity, not mine. What does my dog think, when I run it by her? How about the friendly oak in the back yard, or the rowan guardian out front, that I’ve consulted in the past?

Won’t is a limit all its own. “It won’t work. You won’t succeed. Thing won’t turn out as you expect. You won’t like it once you get it”. Again, many of these are envy or fear of another’s success, or the habitual naysayer’s discouragement. A few won’ts may rise from loving concern, a desire to protect us, but they’re almost always better phrased as positives. “How about X? Have you thought about Y? Maybe Z would also work”.

Like other valid spiritual practices, Druid teachings generally offer positives in place of such holds on action, freedom, discovery and expression. Here are a Druidy set of seven I go to:

1) Ask for guidance. It can come in many forms: our animal neighbors, dreams, chance conversations in the checkout line, pets, flyers on a bulletin board, children, lines from books, a phrase on the evening news, and so on. Unless it’s a split-second decision, a choice usually benefits from at least a day’s reflection. Assemble your Wise Ones, consult them, and proceed from there.

2) Practice a form of divination to uncover factors you may not perceive are at work. A “divinatory attitude” increases options, and need never rule out my common sense. Tarot, impulse, hint, chance, ogham, runes, bibliomancy (opening a book of wisdom at random and focusing on what appears there) — there are many forms to try of openness to the cosmos.

3) Pray. Who and what you pray to and for, and how, and when, are up to you. Many resources exist to help open up this universal and age-old practice. If you’ve tried prayer, and had no success, maybe your target audience needs a switch. Ancestor, deity, ideal, energy — we open up when we pray. Turn the switch, open the valve, unlock the door, crank the window, twist off the lid. Breathe. Give thanks for a pulse.

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Pythagoras the rooster — what is he saying? Photo courtesy Dana Driscoll.

4) Consult tradition. While each of us breaks new ground by simply existing in ways and places and spaces no one else has, we also share immense common ground with others. The insights of the best of them have been preserved for our benefit, and it’s pure foolishness for me to overlook what they may have to say to me. They’re called classics for a reason. Pick your oracle. I light incense, a candle, toss a coin in a fountain, leave a larger tip in a restaurant, offer a piece of quartz to a favorite tree. Offerings, especially spontaneous ones, help open me up to listen, before and after. For me it’s part of cultivating an intention.

5) Follow intuition and guidance. When I write down my dreams and images and words from contemplations, even if I don’t always catch what’s coming through at the time, they prove their value as guides over time when I read them a day or week, month or year later.

6) Listen for creative nudges and work-arounds. We may admit later to factors in action that we turned away from at the time. Keep options in play. Everything in my heart and out my window has something to say, and that’s just one small corner of what’s available to me. I choose the red leaves on the blueberry bushes out the window as I write this, which remind me to bring in the garden hose before the next frost tonight.

7) Watch for signs. One good reason you and I exist — we’re individual responses to factors at play right now. We can hear and see things no one might notice or know of. Mentioning them from time to time to a trusted friend or partner is a useful reminder. They might have missed them. I have something to contribute to the conversation the world is always having with anybody listening.

“The awen I sing — from the deep I bring it” — Taliesin.

In Welsh, Yr Awen a Ganaf, Or Dwfn y Dygaf. Badly, uhr AH-wehn ah GAH-nahv, ohr DOO-vn uh DUH-gahv.

Chanting this quietly to myself — a practice all its own.

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East Coast Gathering 2018   Leave a comment

[Posts on previous Gatherings: ECG ’12 ][ ’13 ][ ’14 ][ ’15 ][ ’16 ][ ’17 ][ MAGUS ’17 ][ MAGUS ’18 ]

How to convey the distinctive experience of a Gathering? Perhaps you come for a group initiation, having already performed the solo rite.

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initiates and officiators, after the Bardic initiations

ECG initiated 10 Bards, 4 Ovates, and 1 Druid in three rituals over the four-day weekend.

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Nearly-full moon on the night of Ovate initiations — photo courtesy Gabby Roberts

Or maybe the title of a particular workshop or the reputation of a presenter draws you. Though registration records for ECG show that each year about 40% of the attendees are first-timers, guest speakers and musicians play a role in swelling the numbers of multi-year attendees.

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Kris Hughes

Returning special guest Kristoffer Hughes gave two transformative talks: “Taw, Annwfn and the Hidden Heart of Awen”, and “Tarot Masterclass”.

The first talk effectively conveyed how awen is much more than we typically conceive it. As the “Heart-song of the World”, it pervades existence, from Annwfn, often translated as the Celtic “Otherworld” but more accurately rendered the “Deep World” (which the Welsh word literally means), through Abred — this world we live in and conventionally treat as reality, and which Annwfn underpins, all the way through Gwynfyth and Ceugant. As for “the hidden magic that swims within the currents of Awen”, excerpted from the description of the talk on the ECG website, awen is available to us and links us to other beings resting and moving in the Song. And “one practice that can open these connections is to sing to things. Sometimes trees talk, and sometimes they listen. Especially when we sing to them. And we may find they sing back”, Kris remarked.

With his characteristic wit and insight, Kris illustrated parallels between the secular Welsh eisteddfod bardic competitions and the work and practice of Druidry. We want to practice ways to increase the flow of awen, whether we’re poets in a competition or living our everyday lives. “You’re Druids. You’re busy. You’ve got sh*t to do and trees to talk to”.

At the height of the bardic competition, if no poems that year meet the eisteddfod standard, the eisteddfod assembly hears the terrible cry of the Archdruid — “There is no awen here. Shame!” But in most years, when a winner does succeed and is crowned, the Archdruid “whispers a secret into the Bard’s ear, changing him or her forever. Learn what that secret is”. The “appeal of the secret” flourishes long after childhood; Kris remarked that the secret is a three-vowel chant a-i-o, one form of the “sound of the awen”, without consonants, which cut off the flow of sound. So we practiced vowels, with Kris remarking that even the word awen itself, minus the final -n, can serve very well as one form of the chant.

What of the taw of the talk title? It’s the Welsh word for silence, or more especially, tranquillity, translatable, Kris writes in a related blogpost, “as a deep inner silence, stillness and peacefulness … not simply the external expression or desire for Hedd (peace) alone, but rather how Hedd transforms the internal constitution of the individual. And to achieve this we utilise Taw“.

I took extensive notes for the Tarot talk, for which Kris relied to some degree on his Celtic Tarot book, but for this talk on awen and taw,  I listened. Kris writes, “Taw is when I sit in the woods, or on the edge of my local beach, with starlight painting dreams in the night sky. Within it I sit in the delicious currents of Awen and allow it to flow through me. What sense I make of that comes later. How can I hope to bring Hedd into the world if I cannot find the Hedd within myself? If I cannot inspire myself, how on earth can I inspire anyone else? I need Taw to cause me to remember who I am and what I am”.

And he closed this talk, saying, “I’ve been Kristoffer Hughes, and you’ve been … the awen”.

Image at Llywellyn Press site for Celtic Tarot:

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I include this because I asked Kris about his experiences with publishers and about where best to order the book (I like to meditate and ask if I need a particular book rather than buying it on the spot.) Kris said, “Through Llywellyn I earn about $1.40 for each book. Through Amazon, because of their deal with Llywellyn, I earn about 12 cents”. So if you’re inclined to purchase this stunning set and learn Kris’s no-nonsense and eminently usable techniques — “you don’t have to be psychic; you need to be able to tell stories, which is something Druids do” — bear those numbers in mind.

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This year for the first time, rather the ECG staff manning the kitchen, the Netimus Camp staff took over meals, freeing up camp volunteers and doing an excellent job of feeding and nourishing us.

Chris Johnstone’s Sound Healing workshop greeted us Thursday, the first day, an excellent antidote to the stresses of travel to reach the camp, and a reminder, always needed, that we never abandon foundational practices of centering and meditation, ritualizing and balance.

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“pasta awen” — Druid humor. Photo courtesy Russell Rench.

Gabby Roberts’ workshop, “Energy work–Grounding, Centering and Releasing”, deepened the reminder, and gifted us each with polished onyxes to take with us. “Awareness and Connection with the Land: A Druidic Perspective”, with Thea Ruoho and Erin Rose Conner, detailed the many unconscious moments we can transform in order to be more conscious and mindful living on the earth. Thea and Erin ended their talk with an invitation for us to recycle, burn in the fire circle, or give back the “sacred crap” we can accumulate, that litters our shelves and altars, but contributes no energy.

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Gathering attendee prepping for Druid Staff workshop

I missed Christian Brunner’s provocatively titled “A Journey to the Very Old Gods” due to an important conversation I needed to continue; the same thing happened a second time with Frank Martinez’s “Connecting with the Plant Community Through a Druid’s Staff”. Thus go the rhythms of a Gathering, which for me, anyway, almost seem to require a rhythm that may take you away from one or two sessions to something or someone else, calling you with imperatives all their own.

Most days of the year, of course, we’re all solitaries, whether we practice alone by choice or necessity, or enjoy the intermittent company of a few others in a local Pagan community, an OBOD Seed Group, or a full Grove. Each day we greet the light and air and season, attend to bird and beast and bee and tree, and our own bodies and lives, and listen for that heartsong. So a Gathering, camp, retreat, etc., is no panacea, but it does give us a chance to reconnect, recharge, recalibrate what we do and where we’re heading. Its ripples persist after the “hour of recall” comes at the close of a Gathering.

On Saturday, the last evening, the ECG organizer announced at dinner that this 9th year of the Gathering has seen the fulfillment of its initial goals and will be the last year. ECG has served newcomers well, linked practitioners over the years, offered a family-friendly space (which not all camps choose to do), helped us forge friendships, seeded new camps and Gatherings — including Gulf Coast Gathering and Mid-Atlantic Gathering U.S. (MAGUS), and provided a supportive venue for group initiations for those wishing that experience.

A Council is already in place to help organize a new event that will launch next year, with new energy, goals, and intentions. As the organizer exclaimed, “Watch for it!”

OBOD standard ritual closes with these words: “As the fire dies down, may it be relit in our hearts. May our memories hold what the eye and ear have gained”.

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Images: Kris Hughes; Llywellyn Press Celtic Tarot.

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