Archive for the ‘awen’ Tag

“The Truth *Against* the World”?

Tuesday morning as my wife and I were returning with the rare indulgence of take-out breakfast from a local cafe we love, we saw a morning walker on the back roads wearing a fluorescent yellow vest with the black lettering “I own safety“. All I could think was, Wow! Really? Could I please borrow some from time to time?

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Steve writes in a couple of recent comments:

… set(s) the truth right side up again …

I have long thought one of the primary functions of the modern druid should be to keep truth on a firm foundation, both for oneself and one’s “tribe”. Truly a worthy task in a time when truth has often been a subjective commodity, sold to the highest bidder.

A worthy task indeed. Far too many people in this era seem confused about truth, even about whether it’s possible. I keep attempting to present on this blog an experimental knowledge anyone can test and duplicate for themselves, as one reliable way of getting to truth. That’s why I keep writing about practice, practice, practice in as many ways as I can. Practice helps keep me honest, and also gives me plenty of material.

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Words about truth can resemble what remains after a fire.

The Roman poet and satirist Horace (Horatius) is my bard today. Si quid novisti rectius istis, candidus imperti; si nil, his utere mecum. “If you can better these principles, tell me”, goes one translation. “If not, join me in following them” — Horace, Epistles, Bk 1, 6, 67-68. But that tame version takes the snarky edge off Horace: “If you have come to know any precept more correct than these, share it with me, brilliant one; if not, use these with me”. Or as we might say, “OK, genius, you got a better idea? No? Then let’s try this one”. (I let people like Horace be snarky for me, so I can pretend to claim higher ground.)

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Y gwir yn erbyn y byd, goes the Welsh tag: “The truth against the world”. This British blog attributes the words to Iolo Morganwg. Some claim them for much more ancient Druids, some for King Arthur, and some for Boudicca (Wikipedia | History.com), queen of the Celtic Iceni, who died in the year 61 fighting the Romans. (If the words do originate with her, they’d have first appeared in a much earlier form of Brythonic than the modern Welsh quoted above.) Amazon, no surprise, sells a black t-shirt emblazoned with them, accompanied by the awen /|\ symbol. (The Amazon page for the shirt airily notes, “Show your support for culture, history, tradition and peace”. Oh, where’s Horace when you need him?!)

The Gorsedd of the Bards has adopted the words as their motto, and there’s a bardic chair with them carved into its back for winners of the Welsh National Eisteddfod. (The words appear on the larger chair to the right, just below the /|\. The glare of the camera flash obscures part of the line.)

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creative commons/Wicipedia (Welsh Wikipedia)

Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely considering we’re human, we want our truth boxed and bubble-wrapped and tamely waiting for when we deign to grant it our attention. We want to own it, defend it, and — gods help us — buy and sell it, like anything else. Fortunately, truth isn’t like “anything else”. I know it in its purest form when I serve it rather than try to possess it. And maybe it’s not a moving target: I am.

Christian, Pagan, humanist, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and so on — if you pray, meditate, study, struggle, do ritual, and pay attention, you too know these things from experience.

Rather than a list of principles straight from the mouth of deity, or set of ultimate equations about reality scrounged up in a Silicon Valley lab, truth seems to be a function, which Google obligingly tells me is “an activity or purpose natural to or intended for a person or thing”. We can live from it, in other words. We can express it through our lives and actions to a greater or lesser degree, but we’ll always find it hard to put into “words now and forever”. Words don’t do that kind of thing well at all*, and neither, the accumulating evidence of human history shows, should we.

So I can sing and dance the truth better than I can profess it from the soapbox of this little blog in the early decades of the 21st century. (You need to know I sing and dance quite badly.) And if it’s true that a person can experience deep realization gazing into the heart of a flower, as I noted in the previous post, any “truth” in that moment isn’t coming through words. It’s a function of the prepared individual and the flower and the moment of attention. It’s “an activity or purpose natural to or intended for a person or thing”. And so to the degree that I stray or get distracted from “the activity or purpose natural to or intended for me”, I lose the ability to serve truth.

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The “truth against the world” often means conflict and struggle. The “world” in this case seems to signify a human form of inertia and resistance to time’s change. The desire to box and bag the perfection of a moment effectively kills it, leaving me with a dead thing, a mental photograph that doesn’t show the living being that’s its original. The “world” doesn‘t seem to mean the tree outside my office window, the woodchuck nibbling the tender clover in the back yard, the sunlight blessedly falling all around, the “Time of New Talk”, as Rudyard Kipling called the springtime returning to India in The Jungle Book.

So if I want to serve truth, to practice “an activity or purpose natural to or intended for me”, I find I’m working with a kind of electrical circuit, with resistances and poles and a definite direction of flow. The more I struggle to own truth, to box it and lord it over others as if I finally “have” it, the more I forfeit the “spark” of my electricity — the metaphor’s a useful one — the very thing that keeps me alive and vital and rooted in what is “natural to or intended for” me.

The word “world” has a whole set of specifically Christian associations I’d like to glance at here. Be of good cheer, says Jesus at one point in the Gospels. I have overcome the world. To me one big takeaway of that is a priceless unspoken corollary. I have overcome the world, and so can you. The Galilean says to me, I have overcome the resistance in myself to serving truth, rather than owning it. Do that, and you too will be able to say of your holy experience “I’m the way, the truth and the life. Nobody gets to the Source, or stays centered in it, except like that”.

And I hold this out not as an “opinion”, or worse as some kind of dogma, Druidic or otherwise, but as a potential truth to try out, to test, to practice till I know it from my own experience and can live it more fully. Or prove it inaccurate, say so, and look elsewhere. And maybe you will, too. You can be my Horace: “if you can better these principles, tell me”. Because as one current meme suggests, I can hold all kinds of opinions without evidence. But as soon as I present them as “truth” to others, untested in my own experience, I’m guilty of lying and fraud.

To repeat Greer’s words from the previous post, “at the human level, the individual Awen for the first time may become an object of conscious awareness. Achieving this awareness, and living in accord with it, is according to these Druid teachings the great challenge of human existence”. The world (not the world that the truth is “against”) seems to manifest this out of the same awen, but without human conscious awareness. It’s what we’ve labeled instinct, though that doesn’t account very well for plant energies that manifest leaves and branches and fruit and roots. That’s one reason why we find the natural world a restorative presence when we walk in it, savor it, apprentice ourselves to it. Notice that you don’t have to believe nature is restorative. You know this from your experience in it, and any belief — more accurately, trust — comes after.

And so I return to words that are “holy” to me, because I keep discovering ways they prove worth my ongoing time and exploration. They’re also holy because the principle behind them can be rediscovered by anyone who does what they describe:

Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth …  It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit. (Greer, John Michael.  Druidry — A Green Way of Wisdom, qtd. in Carr-Gomm, Philip. What Do Druids Believe? London:  Granta Books, 2006, p. 34.)

May your practice and path bring you into contact with what is deepest and most worthwhile within you.

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*Ursula LeGuin says it well: a writer attempts to “say in words what cannot be said in words”, as she puts it. And so a writer resorts to story, getting at the “truth” through imagination.

Off into the Deep End Again

In what follows, among other things I’m setting out elements from my own peculiar spiritual journey. So if what I write irritates or angers you, that’s probably a good signal to stop reading and go do (or eat) something else. When it’s not to your taste, any more than a mayonnaise and peanut butter sandwich, there’s no need to take a second bite. Or even a first one!

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A recent comment on an old post asking “What’s the spiritual meaning of X?” is what launched this post. In some ways, the question asks, “What’s appropriate action in this moment?” Or maybe, “How might I respond to this appeal to my attention?” or “Should I even bother to pay attention?” (Maybe we should start with “What’s the physical meaning of X?”)

The X in the question above isn’t the main point (Yeah it is! shouts the seeker in me), for though it’s what snags my attention and draws a lion’s share of the drama, the meat of the question is about meaning, about how and where my attention is focused, and about what if anything happens as a result of that focus.

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One of the discoveries we can slowly make in worlds of time and space is that few things have a single meaning, spiritual or otherwise. At the most literal level, a good dictionary will list several meanings for almost every word. Even deceptively “little” words (“Those? They’re the absolute worst!”) like English a, an, the have numerous meanings, as learners of English discover to their dismay, and writers have attempted to catalog. (Alan Brender’s Three Little Words: A, An, The lists 52 meanings and uses for ’em — one for every week of the year.) What to do with a universe so perverse? says the rationalist in my spleen. Hey, you rhymed! says the bard at my elbow.

Meanings are almost always plural. OK, but does that in turn mean that it’s just “Pick a card, any card”? Well, it’s true that some days, or some whole lifetimes, can feel that way.

Usually if I’m noticing something, it’s communicating to me, and further, I usually already have a hunch or suspicion of some possible meaning(s) of that communication. These two go together, usually so intertwined I can’t separate them. We’re trained to sift and sort all the input from our senses and select only what we need to notice. If something’s already risen to my conscious awareness, the “meaning filter” has let it through. The “Ten Thousand Things” can fade into background. The particular thing or event or person now stands center stage.

My right shoulder and forearm have been bothering me on and off for over a month. Exercise helps some, but I’m still fine-tuning which exercises. As we age, the cartilage in the shoulder and spine, the facet joints, start to deteriorate, says my wife, with her physical therapy training. In fact, the shoulder is often the first to go.

And I can leave it at that. But I can also choose to listen how my experience opens up insight, including insight about the experiences of others.

If something’s already communicating to me, how can I respond?

Meaning-bearer, I greet you. Thank you for arriving in my world with your messages. As they unfold with my intention, may I honor and fulfill them with my life.

“Wait just a minute”, says another of the selves I wear. I can hear the outrage grow in his voice. “Do you mean I should be grateful for shoulder pain?!”

That’s not what I’m saying. Pain sucks. But like the X of the opening question, pain isn’t the final point. “If the world were only pain and logic”, says Mary Oliver in her poem “Singapore”, “who would want it?”

One of our great skills as humans is to bring the hidden into manifestation and to clothe the non-physical with form and shape. We do it throughout our lives, constantly. No surprise, we’re pretty good at it. (Wedding planners, investment bankers, gardeners, contractors, parents, janitors, children, athletes, generals, lovers, daydreamers, cooks, doodlers, singers … OK, you get the idea.) We bring into existence something that wasn’t there before. It’s also how we fall in love.

That spark of attention that events kindle in us also ignites our attempts to put them into words. For this reason many cultures consider speech a holy thing — words as spiritual objects are not to be lightly disrespected or misused. The Queen of Faerie tells Thomas the Rhymer to hold to silence in her realm, “so that his speech might store up power” for his return. In many cultures, songs and stories tell how speech is a divine gift, how creation happens through words, and knowing the right word, the true name for a thing, is a key that opens many doors.

Insofar as I think with words, then, I can hallow thinking through conscious intention. My attention and my intention, my noticing and the shaping of my consciousness in return, can be choices. (They’re also a deal of work, as anybody knows who’s tried.) They can be gifts to myself and to others around me, because they change me. Such holy things are never in vain. Even this much, just the attempt, although the fullness of meanings may not yet have come clear to me, takes me into sacred territory. With the sacred in my heart, I start to become a holy meaning maker with the materials of my attention and intention. These are among my return gifts to the sacred within and around me.

Stranger on earth, thy home is Otherworld. Pilgrim, thou are the guest of gods.

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The Céile Dé, Celtic Christian heirs to older teachings I mentioned in a previous post, offer on their website this article “Advice at the Threshold“, including the questions below, as a gauge to some of the challenges of conscious awareness of the awen:

In the course of what would be a typical week, would you say that you are very likely to experience one or more of the following?

+ hurt feelings
+ feel offended or insulted
+ lose your temper
+ act or react on impulse and regret it soon afterwards
+ complain about your lot
+ blame others for your inward state

If you want a clear account of my recent emotional geography, look no further than the list! (That unfriendly planetary virus that’s currently making the rounds doesn’t help.) But if I move beyond that threshold into realms of awen, I’m no longer a passive recipient of someone or something else’s meaning, floundering and struggling to figure out “what it all means”.

Oh, she meant well, we sometimes say. Or he didn’t mean it, we remark. But we usually offer these as excuses, rather than opportunities. J. M. Greer, citing the Barddas, that 19th century compilation of Druid Revival teachings, notes:

… a unique Awen is said to be present in each soul from the moment it comes into being, and guides it on its long journey up through the Circle of Abred — the realm of incarnate life in all its myriad forms — to the human level of existence. It is at the human level that the individual Awen for the first time may become an object of conscious awareness (Greer, The Gnostic Celtic Church, pg. 12)

As above, so below: we share in our humanity as individuals precisely because awen is present within each of us, but in each of us it’s a unique awen. To be a person is to be “awenized”, but also to be an awenizer. The Welsh call this awenydd, one filled with awen, a poet or bard.

Wait, you say. I’m not a poet or a bard.

Greer continues:

… the individual Awen for the first time may become an object of conscious awareness. Achieving this awareness, and living in accord with it, is according to these Druid teachings the great challenge of human existence.

Another way to approach it: You might say “awen isn’t just for poets anymore”.

When something comes into my awareness, catching my attention and seeming to signify s o m e t h i n g, “does it mean it”? One way to answer: Only if I respond and make meaning along with it.

Things “mean”, and “have meaning” for us, because in some way they are pointing us toward greater awareness of our awen, prodding us to become more conscious of it. Human existence provides a spiritual opportunity to make our awen a mode of consciousness — our prime mode of consciousness.

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If I and my life could mean anything right now, in addition to whatever they already mean, what do I want that to be?

One way to grapple with this enormous question is to reply with a question: How and where — because I can’t know it unless I’m already in touch with it — is my awen already emerging and appearing?

For me, oddly enough,  resistance is a key component. (Like so many people with mixed motives, I’m often working against my own destiny — a brutally efficient way to discover what it is when it smacks me in the face.)

“What are you rebelling against?” asks a character in The Wild One.

And Marlon Brando’s character Johnny Strabler replies, “What have you got?”

Johnny’s point underscores how rebellion or resistance is reactive — it takes a mechanical response to meaning-making, rather than a creative one. That is, the event, circumstance, or other person is still in control of what I do.

But once I get even some glimmers of my own awen, I start to know what’s right for me. Of course we can still confuse “what’s right for me” with ego, impulse, reactiveness and so on, but it’s a big step. Yes, I can cherry-pick meanings from the events in my life and miss larger beneficial meanings — we witness each other doing this all the time, while remaining half-blind when we do it ourselves.

But I sometimes think our resistance helps us from capsizing our lives with too much change all at once. The sailor’s strategy in heavy weather of deploying a sea anchor can stabilize a boat, keeping it pointed in the desired direction even as it slows forward movement. A little resistance can be a good thing, a way to try out the meanings I’m making, giving them a test drive.

“Find and follow your own awen” eventually becomes the foundation of each of our individual ways of life. That’s what gives them their integrity, power and beauty. And in the words of that wonderfully ambiguous expression current when I was in secondary school and still heard occasionally today, “It takes one to know one”.

Sometimes it takes one very far indeed.

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Can anyone identify either of the flowers above? The first is from a tree in our front yard that eventually produces a firm reddish-brown berry about the size and shape of a small olive. They remain on the boughs through the winter. Cedar waxwings come through in February and devour them all, usually in a single day.

The second, I’ve been told, is some kind of hyacinth, but I haven’t yet found a variety that matches. (Same color alone isn’t enough for identification!) Any ideas?

The Céile Dé and the Fonn

The Céile Dé, sometimes Anglicized as Culdee, is one current revival of an ancient and largely monastic Celtic Church of the British isles. If you’re looking for aids to meditation and a means to reduce anxiety, gain focus and know your own core being, a fonn of the Céile Dé may be for you. I was privileged to attend a Céile Dé presentation at Solar Hill in southern Vermont several years ago, and to experience a demonstration of several fuinn (pl. of fonn). As part of a spiritual practice, you too may find these chants potent for healing and balance.

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salamander, Camp Ashby, MA

The Ceile De website notes:

The fuinn (plural) are said to bring the three parts of us — Spirit, Psyche and Physical, into harmony. They offer a powerful practice that can help us sink into a deep meditative state … or enflame the heart.

Most of the fuinn are short and repeated over and over. Fuinn can also be “prescribed” as anam leighis (soul medicine).

The three free chants on the website clock in respectively at about 6 minutes, 3:20 and 2:45. Once you’ve listened a few times and harmonized to the energy and rhythm of the chant, you can begin to adapt the form to passages from other poems, songs and prayers that uplift you. A slow, meditative chant works, as the website observes, “because we always have our voices and hearts with us”.

Using the previous sentence, “our voices and our hearts together” can form a group chant.

“The awen … I sing … from the deep … I bring it” serves equally well as an individual chant, which can be effective in alternating periods of silence and chant. Try experimenting with where you divide up the line, into three or four parts, or one longer slow chant.

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You can read an OBOD article on the Céile Dé here.

I invite you to post about your experience with these chants.

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From the Druid’s Prayer Outward

Ri, a’h Isprid, do iscod …

Grant, o Spirit, thy protection …

If I pray, or make a vow, in a constructed language like the one I used to translate the Druid’s Prayer two months ago, is the prayer worthy, or the vow valid?

One direct test: does the spiritual world take them seriously? How do I know? And what, in turn, can that tell me about intention, creativity, awen and gods I may not worry about “believing” in, but whom I’m happy to work with, if I ask and if they choose?

(O Bríd and Oghma, for the gift of speech already I thank you …)

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eastern counter-glow over our roof at sunset

“Sound”, says the Old Irish In Lebor Ogaim, The Book of Ogams or the Ogam Tract, “is the mother of Og(h)ma, and matter his father”. Sound becoming language, the tongue of human beings, mediated by a god. The awen you sing, from the deep you bring it. And I pray you will.

No, I’m not claiming for my nascent Celtic con-lang any sort of special divine or holy status. (At least not in advance.) All languages are holy, or could be. But yes, I am working magic, going with an intention, asking blessings on it, charging it with desire, putting in a sustained effort, sailing with the wind, trusting to its fulfillment in time, doing my part, perceiving it from the vantage point of already-manifested, working with the as-if principle, feeling it as much as thinking it — because feeling charges an intention till it begins to spark, and it kindles (mostly) along paths we’ve laid for it, following the principle of the path of least resistance.

“I look forward to seeing where this goes as you work through the details”, writes Steve.

So do I, whether he was referring to the language or the prayer behind it, or both, or something else. “Working through the details”, the concrete form or mold into which we invite the magic to pour, helps give it shape. But whether it fills that form, or another more open to its flow, isn’t wholly up to us. If you’ve been at all involved in the building of a house or barn, with concrete being poured, you’ve run across stories of the concrete forms blowing out, and the heavy wet stuff flowing everywhere you didn’t want it. Magic is alive, god/dess is afoot, as much when I stub a toe or mash a finger as when the magic shifts my life to wonder and growth. Force flowing into form.

More than a little humility can help keep us from acts of outright stupidity in the face of divine power manifesting. Insisting that magic go a certain way is like commanding the tide: the tide always wins. But not seeing it as a contest, but as a chance to sail on the seas of magic, lets me ride the waves, tack across the wind, or run with it, and reach harbor. A light hand on the tiller, a boat that isn’t an ego project, a “vanity vessel”, but a seaworthy ship.

Expecting the wind to drive my boat out onto the waves, steer it where I want to go, and deliver me without any further effort on my part beyond the “ask”, is folly beyond telling. To put it more crudely and memorably, in words a friend said to me recently, it’s just naive as f*ck.

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So what lies “outward from prayer”? (Between sacred and profane may lie the merest hair’s breadth. Live, pure, wise, fire and true are also among our four-letter words.)

Make the turn, just don’t insist on logic as the link.

The Great Triad of Jesus is familiar to many, but too often we forget the hard-earned admonition that immediately precedes it:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

I know I squander the holy far too often, casting it aside like a paper wrapper around the candy of what I think I “really want”. After all that asking, seeking and knocking, I just let it slide from my fingers. So I take up the task again, asking, seeking, knocking — until I find that supple, elusive thing I need like blood and breath.

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I’m slowly reading two related books (like many “bookies”, I almost always have more than two going at any one time), to listen to them echo and ricochet off each other: Thomas Kunkel’s Enormous Prayers: A Journey into the [Catholic] Priesthood, and Rev. Lora O’Brien’s A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood. The first volume I’d salvaged free from the last day of a used-book sale where any remainders were given away to clear space. The second I recently bought used, though it appeared in 2019.

We still grant to “priest” and “priestess” an aura of magic and mystery — tarnished, yes, by years of unfolding Catholic scandal among others, while also reclaiming, often from non-Christian sources, new resonance and imagery and sacred fire. As one priest in Kunkel’s book exclaims, “… people are starving today for mystery, the power that grounds, suffuses and surpasses all things, that ever-present but elusive reality … as a result, our souls are withering from underuse and lack of nourishment.” And we know this because “people have a sickness that no psychologist or physician can cure …”

We need to move beyond prayer to find that use and that nourishment. Fortunately, many are beginning to wake again to themselves, and to reclaim that holy task, rather than yielding it to any other.

Priests and priestesses? Needed, yes. Needed very much at times. But not essential. The life we each hold (a trust, a sacred heirloom, a gift from the ancestors) is enough.

And may you know blessing as you too reclaim, and name, and flame.

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Kunkel, Thomas. Enormous Prayers: A Journey into the Priesthood. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.

O’Brien, Rev. Lora. A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2019.

“Am I Crazy, or Just Fabulous?”

(And are those my only options?)

The title comes from a casual workshop comment on the awen with Welsh Druid Kristoffer Hughes at East Coast Gathering a couple years ago. As we take our first steps in this fabulously crazy year of 2020, it’s a superlatively appropriate question to ask.

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“May your bridge be a star, and your star a bridge” — Winston-Salem, NC. April ’19

Or to take it for a spin, account for your life in your own way, on your own terms, and you may well see a change — especially if you respond to some of its challenges with mu — that great Zen keyword which in at least some traditions means “un-ask the question”.

Let’s consider for a moment the joys of those being our options: a touch of insanity, or unsurpassed excellence. Make these specifically Druid madness and marvelousness, and you just might be onto something. Especially if you mix them …

The counsel of a bard — Gerard Manley Hopkins, that blessed fool of Victorian England, writes in “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” (you know you’re near bardic territory with such titles):

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

What I do is me … the greatest spell any of us will ever work. Each thing in the universe is dear for its individuality, its singularness. Irreplaceable you.

Now to turn this potent enchantment to a purpose, rather than watch it subside into itself like a melted-down candle. How many of us are quite literally mis-spelled? That is to say, there are definite spells or enchantments in play, but they do not work wholly or even partly for our benefit. The spell is working counter to our purposes. (How many of the knights in Arthurian myth quest nobly for the Grail, and never catch even a glimpse of it? Or to quote author Feenie Ziner, who writes about her son’s quest in the wilderness for a truer vision than 70s America offered him, on any great moral journey, the devil is always a stowaway. We take the mis-spelling right along with us, we yield to almost any spiritual enchantment that comes along, especially if it’s cleverly packaged, and we give it space in our rucksacks and backpacks, a place on our storage shelves.)

So often we can hear other bards answering. They’re in endless conversation with each other, when they’re not sitting stunned after a visit from gods, or mead has simultaneously fired and rewired their inward sight, or a spell of solitude eventually returns them hungry for the magic of simple, daily things — a crackling fire, the wet nose or soft fur of a pet, the comfort of a friend’s presence when nobody needs to say anything at all. And sometimes they talk most when they find themselves right in the middle of these simple things. Because in the end, where else is there?

As the late author, mystic and former priest John O’Donohue puts it in Eternal Echoes*,

Each one of us is alone in the world. It takes great courage to meet the full force of your aloneness. Most of the activity in society is subconsciously designed to quell the voice crying in the wilderness within you. The mystic Thomas a Kempis said that when you go out into the world, you return having lost some of yourself. Until you learn to inhabit your aloneness, the lonely distraction and noise of society will seduce you into false belonging, with which you will only become empty and weary. When you face your aloneness, something begins to happen. Gradually, the sense of bleakness changes into a sense of true belonging. This is a slow and open-ended transition but it is utterly vital in order to come into rhythm with your own individuality. In a sense this is the endless task of finding your true home within your life. It is not narcissistic, for as soon as you rest in the house of your own heart, doors and windows begin to open outwards to the world. No longer on the run from your aloneness, your connections with others become real and creative. You no longer need to covertly scrape affirmation from others or from projects outside yourself. This is slow work; it takes years to bring your mind home.

The work of both Druid and Christian — as it is the work of anyone walking a “path with heart” — is to turn from the “seductions of false belonging”. Christians may call this “the world”, and offer strategies for dealing with it that are specific to their tradition. Such guidelines can be most helpful if, as my teacher likes to say, they’re truly a line to my guide, and not an obstacle to testing and knowing for myself.

More often than not, Druidry simply presents its particular practices and perspectives on living in harmony with nature, trusting that anyone who follows them deeply enough will discover much the same thing. Rather than do’s and don’t’s, it suggests try this out for yourself and see. (Imagine a more directive Druidry, a more experiential Christianity. What could happen?!)

One thing I admire about O’Donohue, and seek in other writers and teachers and traditions, and try to model myself if I can, is never to present a problem or criticize a behavior without also offering at least some strategies for negotiating it. Show me a how — and preferably more than one. A palette of choices.

Here O’Donohue spotlights one of the challenges the human world offers us — the seduction of false belonging, whether spiritual, political, romantic, economic, etc. — and identifies an answering response or strategy of finding our true home, of resting in the house of our own heart, of bringing the mind home.

Now these poetic expressions are lovely and metaphorical — at least until we begin to experience them for ourselves, and find out what they can mean for us. Every human life offers opportunities to do so, though one of the “seductions of false belonging” urges us to discount them, to treat them as idle fantasies, as pipe-dreams, to replace our instincts with advertising slogans. Cynicism about spiritual opportunities abounds, because like so much else, hucksters have sought to monetize them, to profit off our naivete and first attempts to build that true home, to rest in the heart-house. Nothing drives us from such homes like mockery and shame.

Mis-spell me, spell me wrong, and I’ll look everywhere but in a song to tell me what I need to know, where I want to go. Home is the poem I keep writing with my life.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of my daily go-to practices involves singing the awen, what I’ve also called the “cauldron sound” in Druid terms. Others know it as the hu, the original voice that sings in everything. Hindus call it om, and Christians term it the Word of God, the “amen, the faithful and true witness”. You encounter mention of it in many different traditions around the planet, because it appears to have an objective reality (and that’s something to explore, rather than accept — or reject — dogmatically).

Here’s a short video of Philip Carr-Gomm and Eimear Burke leading a chant of the Irish equivalent imbas: One key is to experiment — find the song, the word, the home that fits. And hermit-crab-like, move when it no longer can house you, or shelter your spirit. 

And one Druidic extension of these practices can be to search out and experiment with sounds and voices specific to our individual heart-homes and houses. Our spirit animals can be helpful in this pursuit, alerting us to inward places to visit, and situations to avoid, or plunge into. Or as the Galilean master noted, “In my father’s house are many dwelling-places”.

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*O’Donohue, John. Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong. HarperPerennial, (reprint of 1999 original), 2000.

Winning the Dream

[Updated 8:46 am EST 12 Dec 2019]

I’ve found there’s so often a link between “finding something to write about” and paying attention to whatever might be my spiritual “work of the day”. Start with one, and the other follows you like a stray, till you take it home and make it a member of your household.

These things circle back on themselves, or more accurately — like so much else — they spiral. They’re not exactly the same each time they reappear, because we’re not the same.  No point in a lesson about something I’ve mastered, when there’s so much else a dream could tackle. (Yes, I’m a big believer that our dreams are intelligent and insightful, in spite of our best efforts to ignore them — maybe because we try to ignore them.)

I had a recurring dream throughout my 20s of being back in high school. This kind of thing — a dream-revisiting of a supposedly finished part of our lives — isn’t uncommon. (The worlds interweave much more than we often understand.) Even in the dreams, I often felt blocked, frustrated, sometimes knowing I’d already graduated, but was back because of unfinished business. Sometimes I recognized other people in the dreams, sometimes not.

I kept asking for clarity and resolution, and eventually I did “go back to high school”: I taught in one for a decade and a half. The dreams stopped shortly before the job offer came through: I finally graduated in one dream, years older than my dream classmates. Even in the dream I felt a vast sense of relief.

I’ve come to see that the past wasn’t the only thing I had to deal with. The dreams were offering preparation for the future, too. But it took re-reading of my dream journals from that period to make these connections, the shifting patterns of dozens of high school dreams, to understand part at least of what was happening.

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The title of this post, “Winning the Dream”, is partly to point out (to myself, as much as anybody) how badly “winning” fits either our dreaming or waking selves. We dream the same way we live, not to beat off all competitors (though up to a point anyone can pursue this interesting but ultimately exhausting set of life choices), but because we’re here, and this is what we do. To live, to dream, with the awen thrumming in your blood is an amazing, daunting, humbling, unmissable thing.

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Sometimes, the best transition is no transition at all. One minute you’re asleep, the next you’re awake. My dream, and my life, both leave it to me to figure out.

I suspect — one of my favorite words (rather than “believe”) — that awen is the link here — awen and genius. To work with these two (the same thing?) is to be what the Welsh call an awenydd (ah-WEHN-eeth) — one in touch with spirit: “Spirit energy in flow is the essence of life”, as Emma Restall Orr puts it in Living Druidry (Piatkus Books, 2004).

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Genius. Funny word, much changed from its early sense compared to how we commonly use it these days.

Here’s a sample of the older usage, from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is walking home in the evening shortly before Christmas:

The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who knew its every stone, was fain to grope with his hands. The fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold.

In such older usage we hear something of the Latin origin of the word — genius as “spirit”, as in genius loci, or “spirit of place”. Places, families, individuals each had their associated genius or spirit. (Nowadays we might be more likely to say “atmosphere”, or “vibe”.) From there the meaning of genius grew to include a person connected to an especially impressive spirit — one way others could explain a person of exceptional talents, gifts, virtuosity, or unusual ability. Genius came to mean “great talent”: She’s a genius in the lab. And now it’s also an adjective, common in memes and advertising: Try this genius solution to all your storage challenges!

But if you and I and everybody else enjoys an associated genius, we might be wise to check in first with the genius each of us has, rather than chasing after ones that aren’t native to us. (In fact, as I look at my life, I could well characterize most of its events as a study in either chasing non-native genius, or checking in with native genius.)

Different traditions give the genius a frequently confusing range of names — guardian angels, daemons, jinn, and so on. Some of the more polarized traditions may label the spirits of other traditions as unequivocably evil, though they often viewed their own entities as a much more mixed bag. Acceptable former gods become saints, and vice-versa, while others get tarred with the label devils. (A god or goddess survives if they can ride such changes over centuries and millennia, and work creatively with openings when they arrive.)

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Yesterday morning the hospice client I work with (scroll down to section 4 at the link, if you’re interested) was talking again about labyrinths as spiritual tools, and remarked, “You can only access the wisdom of place if you know the place you’re in”. Everything we experience is real, you might say, putting it another way. We just need to determine which world it’s real in. It doesn’t fit here? Change the this-here to other-here and it just might snap into place, complete the puzzle, fill in the mozaic, carry the melody to its close.

Know the place, know the person, and you know a great deal about the genius, or governing spirit.

In many ways, then, “winning the dream” means know the genius of whatever you’re doing, where you’re at, what you’re into.

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Five questions for sussing out genius:

1) What spirit is driving it? Is it something familiar, something I’ve worked with before? Or something new? A song came through last fall, and I don’t do songs. But maybe that’s the point: it’s time to start singing. A new way spirit is striving to get through, to express what it is, what I am. Or I’m thrown in with people I normally wouldn’t talk with, because we don’t seem to have anything in common. Well, you’re both breathing, right? You share 95% of what’s happened ever since you both started with that in-breath, out-breath thing you’re both doing. The rest, as they say, is mere details.

I stopped off this last Monday for a one-time hospice volunteer respite-visit for the family of a neighborhood 92-year old. They had medical appointments themselves, and volunteers give them precious time away, knowing someone is staying with the family member.

His hearing is still pretty good, though his eyesight means he himself can’t read any more. But nine decades means you’ve seen a good deal. I read a little to him, and we talked. What you “read” at 92 is different than at 20 — but no less valid. As the body wears down, you’re already prepping for the transition, the next rung of the spiral. You can see it in his eyes, sharp and bright as any bird’s. He’s still taking it all in, alert to the surprise of the ordinary, as much as anything else: the taste of his lunch, the warmth of the nearby woodstove (they set his bed just a few feet away), the fall of clumps of snow melting from the roof as the temperature climbed well above freezing — to be here at all, to wear this body, even with its aches and pains, defeats and deficits. Sitting and talking with him, it feels like he’s mastered the skill of being present.

2. What apparent opposites are in play? Spirit so often manifests this way. Polarities set the stage, define the players of the game, map out a particular curve on the spiral, mediate energies at work in the situation. Identify with one or the other, and I may lose sight of the overall dynamic, where it’s actually going, and define myself solely by opposition or resistance. Which may well be the point, or it may completely miss it, depending … But do I know? Have I seen what’s in play, at play, what the drama is today?

3. What’s the flow? Polarities may set the charge moving, but it’s our presence that mediates spirit, that determines what flows toward and away from us. Taoism is a wise study of this particular aspect of being alive, and has much to teach about riding the currents, sailing where we need to go, surfing the waves of the cosmos as they manifest in the weather, the Others in our lives, the kiss of a dog’s nose, the aroma of cooking, the punch of cold air when I open the door to December.

4. What’s the form? The flow arrives into forms and beings, walls and doorways, shaped by awen and wyrd and choice and momentum. Form is a becoming, rather than anything like an endpoint. In worlds of time and space, form is “re-forming” constantly, whether on a slow scale of millennia, like a mountain, or much more rapidly, as in the stages of the life of a mayfly. Do I recognize the forms with and around me, and what energies are arriving through them? Have I included myself as one of those forms? (Exempt myself and I miss a good half of whatever’s going on, what it’s saying to me.)

5. What’s the alignment? What things are being adjusted, modified, “edited”, re-formed, and then opened up again to Spirit? (The cycle begins again, the spiral reforms on a different harmonic.) Where and how — and when? — can I join in, do my part, make a play, run with it?

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Creativity’s Messy–2: Druid & Christian

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

[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

[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

[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

[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

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

[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.

Colouring Outside the Lines

“But what can we do?” people often ask. Whatever the need, the question is a perennially valid one. What action is best for me to pursue, yes. But also, what can I do before I act, before the main event, so to speak, so that I can choose more wisely how to act on that larger scale? The Hopi of the American Southwest use a ceremonial pipe they call natwanpi — literally, “instrument of preparation”. What can I do to make of my actions a natwanpi in my own life as often as possible? How can I act now to prepare for the next action needed? How can my deeds begin to form a shining set of links, not merely a random assemblage?

Philip Carr-Gomm writes,

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.

Of course, one key is to practice the Awen when it IS easy, so that it becomes a skill and a habit to draw on when “life is far from easy”. Right now I take this advice, pause from writing this, and chant three awens quietly.

After all, what good is any spiritual practice if it doesn’t help when I need it most? I find this holds true especially with beliefs, which is why so many contemporary people have abandoned religious belief, and thereby think they’ve also “abandoned religion”. All they’ve done, often, is abandon one set of perhaps semi-examined beliefs for another set they may not have examined at all. “Carried away, pulled off-centre” — we’ve all been there. But each moment, in the wry paradox of being human, is also calling us home, “back to a sense of ourselves”.

A few weeks ago I had cataract surgery on my right eye. I was surprised how the looming procedure, with its success rate of above 95%, kicked up old fears in me from the major cancer surgery I’d experienced a decade ago. Coupled with that was a series of dreams I’d had a few years ago about going blind. Altogether not an enjoyable mindset to approach a delicate procedure on the eyes.

But instead of the victim version of the question “Why is this happening to me?” I can choose to ask the curious version of the same question. Insofar as anything in my life responds to events and causes I have set in motion, it’s a most legitimate question.

The answers, I find, can be surprising.

I feared loss of spiritual vision, because I was drifting away from the other spiritual path I practice. This is clearly a cause I’ve launched. I didn’t approach the surgery as some kind of superstitious opportunity for the universe to “pay me back” for spiritual neglect, as if the cosmos operates like a sinister debt collection agency. But if I approach my whole life as an instance of an intelligent universe constantly communicating with me, my fears have a cause, and an effect, and my experiences will mirror all that I am and bring to each moment. Not out of some sort of spiteful cosmic vindictiveness, but because all things, it seems, prod us along the next arm of the spiral. We’re all part of the Web. The same force, I believe, that pushes up the first flowers in spring, in spite of the lingering danger of frosts, the force that urges birds to nest and hatch a fleet of fledglings, even though a percentage will die before reaching adulthood, is the same force alive in me and in my life and the lives of every other being on this planet. Even our seemingly static mountains weather slowly in wind and rain, frost and sun.

Christians focus closely about “being in right relationship” with God. Druids and other practitioners of earth-spirituality are likewise seeking harmonious relations with the world around us. Though a god or gods may not have exclusive claims on me, still, if one makes herself know to me, it’s not a bad idea to pay attention. Same with anything else that knocks for my attention — and deserves it. Day-to-day practice of an earth path like Druidry is an ongoing opportunity to seek out new kinds of harmony as well keep to ones I’ve tried and tested, an opportunity to balance claims of allegiance and attention and energy, to make good choices, and to stand by them as much as I can. (Of course I’ll mess up from time to time. Part of the fun is seeing if I can mess up in a new way this time, to keep myself entertained, if nothing else. Why hoe a row I’ve already weeded, unless it really needs tilling again?!)

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With Lunasa in the northern hemisphere comes Imbolc in the southern one. The ley lines linking the earth festivals around the world deserve my attention, I find, as much as the lines of connection between hills and wells, trees and stones on my continent.

So it is that Brighid of many skills, healing and poetry and smithcraft among them, pairs well with Lugh Samildanach, Lugh “equally gifted” in all the arts and crafts. Both at Imbolc with the kindling of a new cycle of birth and growth, and at Lunasa as first of the harvest festivals, we’re reminded of origins of the crafts of civilization. With human and divine inspiration and gifts supporting our lives, we draw our existence today. I eat because my ancestors tilled the earth and lived to birth and teach the next generation. I wear this body because spirit clothed itself in this form among all the other forms it takes. I peer out at the world and at all the other forms who are likewise looking at and listening to the ongoing waves of existence. From this perspective, how can I not celebrate in simple amazement?!

We’ve all felt those moments when life seems paradoxically dreamlike and marvelously real. Robert Frost, bard of New England and a Wise One I keep turning to for counsel, says,

Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes.
Is the deed ever truly done.
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Where love and need are one: how often do I separate them? Do I respect my need enough to love it, or truly need what it is I think I love? Can I align these two and make them one? Mortal stakes: is what I spend the greatest energy on actually contributing to life, my own life among others? After all, Druidry urges me to consider that each life is worthy and valuable, mine no more but also no less than others.

A Frostian triad emerges: There are three things fitting for the aspirant to wisdom — a seeking after unity of love and need, a work which is play for mortal stakes, and deeds done for heaven and the future.

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After the builders finished the weaving studio addition (visible on the left), they seeded the lawn with clover, and now we have a lovely nitrogen-fixing, weed-inhibiting perennial I refuse to mow. The bees have been loud and happy, cheering at my choice, and the crop will also hold down the still-loose soil against runoff, and help it firm up.

You can see, too, in the foreground the edge of the recent delivery of firewood I need to go stack.

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QWERTY Spirituality

“The Solstice is coming! The Solstice is coming!”

Festivals such as the Solstice, like any enduring spiritual practice, offer times for ritual connection, because ritual is one way to touch the sacred, to sing the awen again.

The challenge, often, is for those who’ve either never experienced ritual and are put off by the thought, or for those who’ve grown allergic to it and are also put off by the thought. Ritual is QWERTY spirituality: a set of keys most of us have heard about and probably know in some way, and second nature for anyone who uses an English keyboard.

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first full rhododendron flower, front yard, 5 minutes ago

QWERTY keys aren’t the only set, or the “best”, or any other exclusive label we may try to put on them. But one of their great advantages is that they’re accessible. And practicing them long enough gives us the confidence to try out other combinations — other keys on the keyboard which we may not even have seen, before we gained familiarity with QWERTY. We make the path by walking.

Can I work with that funny word QWERTY and generate a useful though admittedly adhoc guide for ritual planning? Let’s see.

Questioning, wondering, expecting, readying, touching, and y — a dependent variable. We might call it manifestation, or coincidence, or fit. Sometimes it’s the path of least resistance.

Questioning: What’s the ritual for? (Do I need a ritual?) What’s the issue? Who else is involved, visible and invisible? When is the best time? Who can I ask for help? Who’s attending? How many people will take part? How can I maximize their involvement?  Where should the ritual take place? How simple could it be? What does divination suggest? What other signs should I consider? How can I acknowledge my guides?

Wondering: Where has my attention been recently? I wonder how my dreams and the coincidences of the past month play into this moment and the ritual I’m considering. What’s my vision of an ideal ritual here? I wonder how I can involve chance, serendipity, inspiration, the awen.

Expecting: I expect about X many people. I imagine good energies at play. I play through a possible ritual in daydream or guided meditation, I anticipate the materials I need, I collaborate with friends, I bless and ask for blessing of the undertaking.

Readying: I clean and purify the ritual space as needed, inwardly or outwardly, I rely on others to do their part, I drop unneeded attitudes and thoughts, I gather materials, I double-check, I do another divination as needed, I listen to guidance, I practice common sense, I rehearse with others.

Touching: earth under our feet, breath in our lungs, light in our eyes, blood in our veins. Gifts already granted. Sweet incense, woodsmoke, breeze, rich scent of flowers, buzz of insects, animal calls, hawk crying overhead at the moment the ritual shifts, a burst of wind, sun emerging from behind a cloud. Touch and be touched.

Y — the dependent variable: Sometimes we won’t perceive this till well after a ritual. Sometimes it arrives in the middle of doing it, unbidden, grace or spiritual presence. Sometimes one person is led to act or speak in a way that makes all the difference. Whatever the dependent variable is, I can’t control it. It’s the universe participating, it’s the magic of manifestation, or coincidence, or fit. Sometimes it’s the path of least resistance spirit takes, like water along a channel, or blood through the veins. Almost always it’s saying “yes” to possibility, change, inspiration, growth and transformation.

And the awen, I notice, asks for “we” from QWERTY. We can find it in community, in the middle of the ritual, in the common experience we all share.

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