Archive for the ‘Brighid’ Tag

But What’s It All For?

[edited/updated 10 Feb 2020]

(I’ve posted rants before, and alerted readers up front. What follows is another, lit with caffeine, a dose of the cabin fever of a typical long New England winter, and maybe even some insight.)

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What’s a spiritual path for?

We can say, using a mixed bag of traditional language, that its goal is to reconnect us with cosmic law, attune us to deity, re-balance us, align us with the flow of the Ten Thousand Things, show us God’s will, conform us to the ways of Spirit, and so on. (Sometimes it’s to save us. Other times it spends us like the prodigal sons and daughters we are. Either way, value gets exchanged.)

Or we can use the language of modern commerce and say we want to optimize our results, so we can increase efficiency, profits, and customer satisfaction. (Pay particular attention here: do you respond, like I sometimes do, more to this formulation of the goal than to the first? Ask yourself why, and then ask what follows from your response.)

If you’ve read the classic Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (maybe pausing to ask “Why seven?”), you know there’s little new under the sun. The magic of the book isn’t the habits themselves so much as it is its streamlining and re-ordering of principles we’ve always known, which is a magical act: to optimize flow, to organize what we need to understand and feel and do, all in ways our minds and emotions and bodies can recognize and put into motion.

We need and seek out such new re-formulations of old wisdom in every age.

Or if a book’s not your thing, you can find an even more compact form of the Seven Habits at the author’s website. They’re an excellent primer for whatever we intend to achieve.

Memes are another form of magic. If something “goes viral”, that means it’s found the optimal way to spread, to replicate, to make its mark. Using image and word, it shapes itself as a key to locks everywhere. It activates upon arrival. Like an object within range of the motion sensors on the sliding doors of our psyches, it opens us and enters.

Advertisers deploy music, light, voice, color, rhythm, beauty, movement and image — magical techniques, every one of them — and opening us, they implant desires in us for things we never knew we wanted.

Mages look with vast amusement at our materialistic culture that often mocks magic or “doesn’t believe in it”, even as we encounter and often yield to magical influences every single day of our lives. In the process, magical techniques earn billions of dollars for their users, bending our thoughts, emotions, and credit cards to the wills of corporate and political magicians who’ve mastered some of the cruder techniques of glamouring other people. This isn’t paranoia but simple fact: what else is advertising for? What are political campaigns ultimately intended to accomplish? A catchy slogan, a memorable logo, an appealing face and even a dollop of charisma, and you’re halfway there.

You could say that beginning spirituality is nothing other than beginning to (re)build our “defenses against the dark arts” a la Harry Potter. Anyone half-awake (and I don’t mean “woke”) knows the need for such D.A.D.A. is at an all-time high today. Exhibit A: today’s headlines and media feeds any time we choose to look at them.

While carnival- and circus-owners and confidence-men long ago discovered “There’s a sucker born every minute”, we can (to mix a metaphor or two) learn not to suck. The old Hippocratic oath “Do no harm” may not resound in many ears like it used to, but everyone still needs to swear some version of it. We can update it to the jargon of a 21st-century version: Don’t be a jerk. This can be our Silver Rule, since clearly so many of us no longer want to know or practice the Golden version. The Medieval world and its Latin speakers had their own con-men, and their own cynical, world-weary warning: Mundus vult decipi. “The world wants to be deceived”.

Looking for a guide for electing government officials, choosing life partners, spiritual guides, car dealers? If you can’t find anyone who works with the habits of effective people, then “simplify, simplify”. Find one who’s at least trying to practice the new Silver Rule and shows some persistence at it. And with any discernment, and the blessings of even one small god or goddess, we can begin to practice it ourselves. (So I begin again, which is I suspect 9/10 of any spiritual path worth walking.)

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Thecu and Brighid, storm goddess and triple goddess, both in their own ways forging, healing and inspiring us:

When storms pound the walls of the world, empower me with wisdom.
When thunder rages, forge my sinews into strength for myself and others.
When human contrivances fail and fall in tempests, illuminate my path forward.
When the bridge breaks, guide me to build a boat to cross with.
When fires blast, fix my will to continue what my ancestors began.
When the shores vanish, show me your compass.
When darkness shrouds my North Star, show me light within.

Now this is a prayer of petitions and visualization. (Adjust the pronouns at need.) But sometimes such forms can feel too demanding. I often like a more meditative version as well, one that encourages me to see these things already in manifestation, not merely waiting to appear. Just a few tweaks — acknowledging the presence of the goddesses already, of spirit at work before I even begin to think the words …

When storms pound the walls of the world, you empower me with wisdom.
When thunder rages, you forge my sinews into strength for myself and others.
You illuminate my forward path, when human contrivances fail and fall in tempests.
When the bridge breaks, you guide me to build a boat to cross with.
When fires blast, you fix my will to continue what my ancestors began.
You show me your compass before the shore has vanished.
When darkness shrouds my North Star, you show me light within.

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Image: Pexels.com.

Welcome, Brighid

Often, simple is best.

Mantle of Brighid about me,
Memory of Brighid within me,
Protection of Brighid around me
keeping me from harm,
from ignorance, from heartlessness,
this day and night,
from dawn till dark,
from dark till dawn.

— John O’Donohue (adapted), The Four Elements, Transworld Ireland, 2010, pg. 109. (Also available in Random House editions.)

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Crafting Brighid’s crosses. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

Outdoor Imbolc, Mystic River Grove:

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Outdoor rite. Photo courtesy F. Hanks.

May you be forged anew, inspired and healed.

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Posted 1 February 2020 by adruidway in Brighid, Brigid's cross, Druidry, Imbolc

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Flame, Holy and Mundane

Much of Paganism is defining spaces, places and the awareness we bring to them. At its heart it’s a kind of continual prayer: O let me wake into the holy in every moment.

This is sacred time, go the words of standard OBOD ritual. This is sacred space. We name it to remind ourselves, to evoke it through intention and attention, but also to recognize what’s already there. We can create sacred space because sacred space shapes us from birth. It’s our heritage, our birthright, unless we give it away.

So we call it back.

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With Imbolc a little over a week away, those who honor Brighid find themselves turning even more closely to her presence and influence. Year-round already and always, yes, for those who revere her, but also more keenly when her festival nears.

“We are entering the dark half of the year”, writes Teo Bishop in a post for the Autumn Equinox, “and now more than ever is the moment to engage with your daily practice”.

(When isn’t it the moment to engage? I don’t know about you, but my “dark half of the year” doesn’t politely wait for September. You’re no doubt tired of my repeating this theme of the need for a practice. Please understand: with a blog I have built-in reminders and prompts for my own practice. If I’m not practicing, the words don’t come easily. Blogging is one of my spiritual barometers. It’s also a prod in the behind. By posting fairly regularly, I also get to check in on my worlds, I’m reminded to listen to where I need to open up to the holy energies we all bathe in each day.)

“One of the most common responses I see to the idea of developing a daily practice”, Bishop continues, “is that there is no time. This assumes that a practice must be a long, complicated ritual, full of gestures and ritual phrases. It paints a practice as yet another way that the struggle of our day to day life is a weight on our shoulders.

But the daily practice can be framed another way.

Let it begin with something small. Light a candle, take one, deep breath, then extinguish the flame.

That’s all.

It won’t take but a second”.

In that second the Holy Flame expands to fill our consciousness — or it can, if we permit it. A simple practice that goes far to making a seemingly-mundane moment a sacred one.

ADF ritual puts out the sacred fire at one point, describing it this way:

Extinguished without
but burning within.
The living fire flames within us.

In Working the Tool-kit, I wrote:

Fire work, or apprenticing yourself to the element … can begin with a fire pit, or candle-lighting, if an outdoor fire isn’t practical for you. From such simple work with each of the Elements, a profound and beautiful practice can grow over time. This is also one of the freedoms in which a Druid can wholeheartedly participate in a Christian or Jewish service, in part through some of its seemingly “smallest” ritual gestures and events.

Or as mage and author Josephine McCarthy describes it,

My deepest personal experience of that is with the lighting and tuning of the candle flame. The intent to light a candle to prepare the space for a ritual act developed from that simple stance, to an act of bringing into physical manifestation an elemental expression that lights through all worlds and all times: it becomes the light of divinity within everything (J. McCarthy. Magical Knowledge, pg. 70).

As a focus for meditation, for out-of-body work, for reverence, for kindling the spirit in times of heaviness and despair, fire has no equal.

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Brighid so beautifully merges sacred and profane, because her triad of aspects, as goddess of smithcraft and the forge, of bardic inspiration and the awen, and of healing and the vital flame, all circle around holy fire. Lighting a candle can be purest prayer.

It’s very old, this focus on fire. (Focus itself is an old word for “hearth” or “altar”. We make an altar of what we focus on). We read in the Rig-Veda 1.26.8, “For when the gods have a good fire, they bring us what we wish for. Let us pray with a good fire”.

One way to understand this passage, of course, says simply that “if we build it, they will come”. On occasion that’s exactly right. Dedication is its own reward. Often, though, the arrival of gods lies in our building — the impulse to light the fire, the desire for kindling light and flame, is itself divine presence.

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Damh the Bard’s beautiful prayer-song to Brighid begins:

There’s a tree by the well in the woods that’s covered in garlands,
Clooties and ribbons that drift in the cool morning air,
That’s where I met an old woman who came from a far land,
Holding a flame o’er the well, and chanting a prayer.

Devotion has put the clooties and ribbons there. Devotion allows the encounter with the old woman. Who is it that’s “holding a flame o’er the well”? The singer, yes. The old woman, too. And both at once. I increase my chances of holy encounter when I sing a prayer with a flame. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”, says the Divine Son and Sun. First, we need to gather. When I’m aware of that Other, the flame kindles.

Damh continues:

She told me she’d been a prisoner trapped in a mountain,
Taken by the Queen of Winter at Summer’s End,
But in her prison she heard a spell the people were chanting,
Three days of Summer, and snowdrops are flowering again.
She spoke of the Cell of the Oak where a fire is still burning,
Nineteen Priestesses tend the eternal flame,
Oh but of you, my Lady, we are still learning,
Brighid, Brigantia, the Goddess of Many Names.

Part of our human magic is to participate with the divine in making holy — sanctifying, hallowing the time and space. We can never reduce it to rote: “Oh but of you, my Lady, we are still learning”. The gods “switch us on” when we devote ourselves to their holy fire. But we do the same for them. Rarely will they force open a door we keep resolutely shut.

Where is the fire still burning?

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Seven Flames for Meditation

1) What does it take—literally and intentionally—in order to kindle you, and in order for you to kindle other things in your life?

2) What offering, if any, do you make to help you kindle? What else could you bring into your practice? What could you discard?

3) What is sacred to you? How do you find, invite, welcome, increase the sacred? What sacred ways are a part of your life right now that can help you kindle?

4) What ways, if any, do you tend to discount, push away, ignore, or feel “aren’t my way of connecting with the sacred”? What can you learn from your attitude towards them?

5) Where are you already kindled? What is burning, warm, or fiery in your life right now?

6) Where do you desire kindling? (Where do you need to bank a fire and cool off?!) Or to put it another way, what needs to catch fire in your life?

7) How has sacred fire already honored your practice and now flames inwardly for you?

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Image: Pexels.com

Autumn Purposes

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the winter’s kindling, and 8-years-dry oak firewood, for lighting the woodstove

We’re drawn to where the action is. And in the Dark Half of the year, that’s often inward. Things may go to sleep, but they’re dreaming, and so it is with us. “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose” — not only “under heaven”, as the saying continues, but over and around and within heaven as well.

Southern Hemisphere, enjoy your Turn to the Bright Half of the year, as all the composting, nurturing, imagining, dreaming, and magical preparation burst forth in the physical world as gardens, fruition, construction, birth, renewal — that messy, joyous recreation of the world. Beltane is not somehow “past”, like a carton of milk beyond its “best by __” date, but engaged, active, igniting bird talk and tree bud and a host of things half seen, but nonetheless busy for all that we may not (mostly) be aware of them. Then again, in the half-light of increasingly longer days, you can sometimes catch a glimpse …

And for us “dark-half-ers”, care of the body can become a practice we may explore more fully. What does this bone-house (Old English bánhús “skeleton, body”) ask of me, in order to keep on serving me a while longer? What can I touch — and what touches me — that needs my attention and reverence? Where am I right now? The house is cooling as the temperature drops outside, as rain makes way for snow later today, a polar front dipping down from Canada. Time to step away from blogging and light a fire.

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Sometimes, too much light: woodstove with flashbulb

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“it takes dark to see fire best”: same burn, without flash

Likewise, Brighid isn’t only a goddess for Imbolc, or for the Bright Half. She’s at least as busy minding and reminding us to keep the flame lit the rest of the year, too. Or, if you’re not for the gods (though the gods may be for you), what else asks for your tending? And what is tending you, perhaps outside your knowledge? Particularly in America, loneliness is a common affliction. How deeply are we tended by things we have forgotten! But how do we reconnect, rediscover?

Fire-dreaming can help, says the woodstove. Rain on the roof, too, says November. Light, sound. The savors of root- and bulb-vegetable umami — onions, beets, garlic, turnips, potatoes. Don’t forget tastes, says the kitchen.

A beloved neighbor three miles down the road died suddenly over the weekend, out raking leaves, and we drop off a homemade raspberry cake for his widow. His Siamese is grieving, too — she was his cat, and where is he now? Touch, knows my wife, fitting action to word, making friends gently — respect for the Siamese temperament. Comfort, animal comfort of contact, beyond words.

I am the hallow-tide of all souls passing, writes Caitlin Matthews in “Song of Samhain”, from her Celtic Devotional (pg. 22):

I am the bright release of pain
I am the quickener of the fallen seed-case
I am the glance of snow, the strike of rain.
I am the hollow of the winter twilight,
I am the hearth-fire and the welcome bread,
I am the curtained awning of the pillow,
I am unending wisdom’s golden thread.

 

I pick up that thread again, and I pick it up, always dropping it, always — always — finding it again.

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Flavors of Druidry

This is a brief post to celebrate flavors of Druidry elsewhere. Below, a shape of awen formed of human shadows — photo by Welsh Druid Kristoffer Hughes.

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Australian Druids just celebrated Lughnasadh, and Serpentstar, the free OBOD newsletter for Australia, has just published its most recent issue — you can read it online or download it as a PDF here. Lovely images and articles offer a glimpse of the Land and Druids Down Under.

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Cornwall actively promotes its language and culture, and that includes Cornish Druidry. Here’s a prayer to Brighid in Cornish, with an English version, from Trelawney Grenfell-Muir:

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Brigid a’n Kugoll, gwra agan kyrghynna.
Arlodhes an Eyn, gwra agan kovia.
Gwithyades an Oeles, gwra agan enowi.
Yn-dann dha gugoll, gwra agan kuntelles,
Gwra agan daswul dhe gov.

Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us,
Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
And restore us to memory.

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Imbolc in the Snow

After the recent frigid temperatures in New England and across many of the northern states, 34 F/1 C earlier today felt positively balmy. Here are some friends and I (to the right) sitting in a cleared circle in the snow round an Imbolc fire. (The smartphone camera makes it look like we’re wearing acorns on our heads.)

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photo courtesy Spring K.

Little wonder, given how appealing the orange flames are, that words for fire, hearth and focus/focal point are connected in many of the Romance languages: Spanish fuego, French feu, Portuguese fogo, Italian fuoco, all from Latin focus “domestic hearth” which includes among its senses “house, family”. With a fire we’re halfway home — a house at its most basic is a roof and walls around a fire, where a family may flourish, conserving its vital heat.

Meeting Merlin at a remote inn on a winter day, King Arthur in Mary Stewart’s The Last Enchantment strides in and exclaims to the inn-keeper, “Wine we will not wait for, nor fire”. Warmed by these two essentials, a mortal can begin to consider other matters. And perhaps sense the spring-tide slumbering beneath the snows, sure as the sky, still waiting.

Praised be Brighid: “Goddess of fire, Goddess of healing, Goddess of Spring, welcome again!”*

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*Damh the Bard — “Brighid”.

Posted 3 February 2019 by adruidway in Brighid, Damh the Bard, Druidry, Imbolc

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Imbolc Blessings to You

Keeping the cold at bay with our trusty woodstove has taken most of my energies over the past several days, so I’m simply reposting six previous meditations on Brighid for this Imbolc 2019. [Note: These appear in reverse chronological order.]

The Enchantments of Brighid

Brighid: Druid and Christian

Moon of Brighid

Nineteen Days of Brighid

Brighid of the Snows

Mantle of Brighid about Me

And of course the exquisite song by Damh the Bard in honour of the goddess:

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Posted 1 February 2019 by adruidway in Brighid, Damh the Bard, Druidry, Imbolc

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Living Enchantment

“Who’s been here before you?”

Josephine McCarthy, whose Magic of the North Gate I reviewed here, writes about magic with the instinctive feel as well as insight of someone who practices it.

Among the many ways to conceive magic, she suggests one useful way is as an

interface of the land and divinity; it is the power of the elements around you, the power of the Sun and Moon, the air that you breathe and the language of the unseen beings … living alongside you. With all that in mind, how valid is it to then try and interface with this power by using a foreign language, foreign deities, and directional powers that have no relevance to the actual land upon which you live? The systems [of magic] will work, and sometimes very powerfully, but how does it affect the land and ourselves? I’m not saying that to use these systems is wrong; I use them in various ways myself. But I think it is important to be very mindful of where and what you are, and to build on that foundation (Josephine McCarthy, Magical Knowledge Book 1: Foundations, pgs. 19-20) .

Lest all this seem confusing (and it can be), recall again the prayer that reflexively acknowledges “… these human limitations … these forms and prayers”. The great challenge of spiritual-but-not-religious is precisely this — to find a worthy form. Find the forms that work for you, respect them and your interactions with them, and listen also for nudges and hints (the shoves you won’t need to listen for — that’s the point of a shove) to change, modify, adapt, expand, and try something new. A spiritual practice, like the human that applies it, will change or die. Sometimes, like the shell the hermit crab uses for shelter and carries around with it for a time, we need to leave a home because we’ve outgrown it — no shame to the shell, or to the person abandoning that form of shelter.

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Besides, this sort of debate — about which deities and wights to work with, which elemental and directional associations remain valid and which have shifted, and so forth — while perhaps more acute for those inhabiting former colonies of European powers because of cultural inheritances and influences — resolves itself fairly quickly in practice. It’s best treated, in my experience, individually, and case by case, rather than in any dogmatic way applicable for everyone. Stay alert, practice respect and common sense, and work with what comes.

What does this have to do with Brighid?

I’ve written of intimations I’ve received from one who’s apparently a central European deity, Thecu Stormbringer. The second time I visited Serpent Mound in Ohio, I heard in meditation a name I’ve been working with: cheh-gwahn-hah. Deity, ancestor, land wight? Don’t know yet. Does this name or being somehow remove or downgrade Brighid from my practice, because it has the stronger and more local claim, emerging from the continent where I live? Could it in the future? Certainly it’s possible. But in my experience, while other beings assert their wishes and claims, it’s up to us to choose how we respond.  We, too, are beings with choice and freedom. That’s much of our value to each other and to gods and goddesses. We have the stories from the major religions of great leaders answering a call. Sometimes they also went into retreat, wilderness, seclusion, etc. to catalyze just such an experience. All these means are still available for us.

For me, then, part of the Enchantment of Brighid is openness to possibility. The goddess “specializes” in healing, poetry and smithcraft — arts and skills of change, transformation and receptivity to powerful energies to fuel those changes and transformations. We seek inspiration and know sometimes it runs at high tide and sometimes low. As this month moves forward, we have a moon waxing to full, an aid from the planets and the elements to kindle enchantments, transformations, shifts in awareness.

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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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Oddments and Evenments

A 4:34 video of the recent Gulf Coast Gathering by M. Fowler:

C. S Lewis titles a chapter in his book Mere Christianity “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe”, and there are many such clues. Much of spirituality consists in looking and listening long enough to perceive them.

Rather than a set of don’t’s, a livable spirituality consists mostly of do’s, if only because they give us a path of action rather than avoidance. Do try out what you’ve learned, do love other beings, do test your understanding of the universe against the universe itself and see where you can improve what you do, if only for the pure pleasure of the doing. Do watch for patterns and spirals, do celebrate when you can, because much passes by, never to return. Do drink deep, because with or without you, life keeps brewing marvels.

Love and timing: two powerful ways to live which — combined — work even better. Each is a mode of dancing with life, rather than resisting it. Feel the sway of your lover’s back, note the slight change in pressure of your lover’s arms, and be ready to move on into the next steps. Part and return, part and return again. These bodies wear out anyway. Why darken the changes with unneeded stress, violence and worry?

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In a post from late 2014 I invoked Brid and Ogma for a tongue, and over time received a set of them, Hurundib and Fizaad and Hodjag Rospem, among them conlangs for my fiction, as well as impetus for my Facebook group that practices Old English and among other things right now is reading Peter Baker’s Old English translation of Alice in Wonderland/Æðelgyðe Ellendæda on Wundorlande.

Ask, and it shall be given — just usually not in the limited way I’ve set up. Make my parameters too narrow, in fact, and I effectively shut off the very thing I seek. How often that’s happened to me I can’t begin to count, even in retrospect. Sometimes (most of the time?) our prayers need escape clauses. When I learn to give Spirit room to work through its endless forms and wisdom and energy (after all, it permeates all things, not just this middle-aged Druid), it’s amazing what results and can manifest. A home in the country, time to write, healing from cancer. It just took longer, with many more twists and turns to get there, than I’d planned: read that as “expected and thought I’d constrain the energy of the universe to manifest for me”.

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Today, wind and sun and cold — a defiance of anything the calendar has to say. Yet even and especially in the darkest and coldest of times, the promise of solstice: a fire burns at the heart of things.

Hail, then, Eternal Flame! May the awen, the gift of Brighid, the truth that nourishes lives and worlds, burn bright for you all.

winter solstice 17

Winter Solstice fire 2017

Trigger Blessings

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

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

So why not look for trigger blessings instead?

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

Do such things even exist?

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

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

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

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

Except …

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

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

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

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

And the dreams …

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

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

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

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

Albert Hird

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

Trigger blessings to you all.

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Enchantments Re-enchanted

All things listen to each other, even if they don’t intend to, because they share one world. As if on cue, New Republic‘s deputy editor Ryu Spaeth devoted a 6 February 2018 article to “An Education Through Earthsea“.

Admiring and condescending by turns, Spaeth opens with a strong claim: “The most beguiling promise of fantasy fiction is that of self-knowledge”. Maybe. Let’s see where Spaeth wants to go with this.

Because such stories typically feature young adults perceiving that promise and striving to claim it, their characters and plotlines can become hackneyed and cliched. Spaeth asserts that “Although rooted in our oldest legends, they hold less appeal to adults in the twenty-first century than Le Guin’s more critically celebrated works” that treat of gender, social structures and mores — human worlds and all their potential to limit as much as to liberate. Quoting Le Guin, Spaeth observes, “Enchantment alters with age, and with the age”. Odd, then, that it’s our oldest legends that have re-surfaced and that continue to appeal to so many.

But does “enchantment alter with age”, in any sense Spaeth would have us understand?

“In our age, movies and television have taken over the enchantment business”, he says. Taken it over? Yes, in many quarters. But often badly — ruling it no better than contemporary political parties and social movements do our human worlds. Enchantment is no “business”. Le Guin also wrote for the ones who walk away from the Omelas* of mass society and its blindnesses,  of its imbalances in our times of ravening consumption and cold indifference to “all our relatives”, as the Dakota Sioux call them, these many Others who share our worlds, furred, finned and feathered.

snowfield

nearby February snowfield

Spaeth ultimately condemns the fantasy quest for wisdom as a product of a particular time and place:

It is an approach that may be out of step with the times; to treat life as a mission to discover oneself can read like solipsism, especially when we know that so much of identity is shaped by factors beyond our control, by race, gender, class. Perhaps only a white American in the postwar period could have written the Earthsea books, could speak of an autonomous self within its own narrative, waiting to blaze forth; writers and filmmakers are more conscious now of systemic forces and the undertow of history.

Both a seemingly “woke” critique and also a deeply oblivious and superficial one: neither Le Guin nor her Earthsea wizard-hero Ged, after all, stop at self-knowledge as any kind of endpoint, but continue on an arc that ultimately finds him old, stripped of the glamours and powers of the difficult wizardry he has practiced much of his life, and at length “done with doing” in Tehanu which follows the trilogy. And each of these things, just as Ged’s beginning does, arises from “systemic forces and the undertow of history” present in Earthsea. Different ones, but hardly absent! To take just one instance, Ged is dark-skinned; the foreign Kargs who attack his village, and spur him to his first act of magic, are white. It’s because of “systemic forces and the undertow of history” that we need self-knowledge and wisdom, along with the strength to quest for them — in spite of the distractions and barriers every age has provided.

The same book Tehanu ends with mortal rescue by a dragon (and not some contrived deus-ex-machina salvation, but one motivated by and in response to human love for a child), followed by an even larger revelation of magic at the very heart of Earthsea which I will not spoil here, and lastly with a woman’s dream of planting a garden — not in some newly-recovered Eden, but a late planting, “right away if they wanted any vegetables of their own this summer” (Tehanu, Bantam 1991 edition, pg. 252). The oldest of magics, dragon and green world, rooted squarely in the midst of human life.

Any worthwhile enchantment survives Spaeth’s dismissal wholly unscathed.

The old stories flourish because they have something to say to us we’re not getting from Washington and Hollywood and Industrial Light and Magic, however temporarily beguiling they may be. Enchantment in the end can never be an “industry” or “business”, whatever glamours its often debased versions toss our way. We earn them, but we can’t purchase them.

And because we each do have our “own narratives”, whatever else we may be, we do have choices, however hard, and at least in part we are our stories, especially if we know and tell them well enough that we do not merely justify all our choices, but grow through them into something more than we were before.

In these days of growing light, along with a typical February snowstorm coming to the Northeastern U.S., the Enchantment of Brighid continues to unfold.

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*A discussion of Le Guin’s genre-defying “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”.

Enchantments of Brighid

One of the Enchantments of Brighid is openness to possibility. The goddess specializes in healing, poetry and smithcraft — skills of change, transformation and receptivity to powerful energies to fuel those changes and transformations. We seek inspiration and know sometimes it runs at high tide and sometimes low. As this month draws to a close, we have a moon waxing to full, an aid from the planets and the elements to kindle enchantments, transformations, shifts in awareness.

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A day ago we finished a box of wooden matches. The box holds 250, and since we use them only for lighting our stove, that means we go through just part of a box every year. Emptying a box doesn’t happen that often, so it’s noticeable.

I like the imagery of the “empty” box. Though combustible itself, its main purpose is to contain matches and provide a strike surface. An old box has a worn strike surface, and one might be tempted to toss the whole thing in the fire. But I’m keeping it for these 19 days of Brighid, and it occurs to me now that it deserves a place on my altar. The sacredness of the everyday? Well, where else can the holy mystery abide in the worlds of matter, energy, space and time. As a friend likes to say, a mest (or messed) world can be a good and powerful stage for life and joy to happen.

Not to stretch things too far — how far is that, anyway? — I am a box, and so are you. Our spaces can hold all manner of things, and it’s our intention that determines what those might be. Insubstantial in itself, the box is nevertheless a potential locus for fire and mystery, or scores of other things. We take from the box a mood or a match, strike it and lay it to paper and kindling. We don’t create the fire, but without the box, the match, the intention and the movement to bring fire and kindling together, we don’t get flames.

To me the empty box is a “found” spiritual tool (my favorite kind), one I can work with physically and also in the imagination from where magic pours forth. Kitchen magic, or woodstove magic, if you will. What belongs inside it? What are some of the matches I wish to light? Where do I find them? (Where have I found them in the past? What new sources of them open up each day?)

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On a small piece of paper I write a prayer to Brighid, and I fold and close it in the box.

Brighid: Druid and Christian

[Edited/updated 1 Feb 2019]

We could subtitle this post “Druidry — the Ironic Survival”. Philip Carr-Gomm notes in his book Druid Mysteries:

Although Christianity ostensibly superseded Druidry, in reality it contributed to its survival, and ultimately to its revival after more than a millennium of obscurity.  It did this in at least four ways:  it continued to make use of certain old sacred sites, such as holy wells; it adopted the festivals and the associated folklore of the pagan calendar; it recorded the tales of the Bards, which encoded the oral teachings of the Druids; and it allowed some of the old gods to live in the memory of the people by co-opting them into the Church as saints.  That Christianity provided the vehicle for Druidry’s survival is ironic, since the Church quite clearly did not intend this to be the case (p. 31).

Sacred sites, festivals and folklore, tales of the Bards, and the old gods: there you have the substance not only of Druidry but also of Druid and Christian linkages and considerable common ground.

Do we need all four to practice Druidry, or to honor Brighid?

Yes. We already have all four, to a degree that allows us to build on what we have, if we choose. While guided tours to sacred sites continue to make money for their organizers, we can gain access inwardly, through dedicated practice.

How?

On the day before the 19 Days of Brighid, we have many points of access, if we’re willing to explore them with attention, creativity and love.

1) Kildare is Cill Dara, “Church or Cell of the Oak”. Find an oak tree or leaf. “As above, so below. As within, so without”. Can you proceed from there? If you’ve been reading this blog, or have a practice of your own, you have an inkling or a clear idea of what you might do next. Here then is a first door to the Enchantment of Brighid.

Now for 18 more.

2) For a guided meditation, many songs exist. One I’ve posted about previously is Damh the Bard’s song “Brighid” . Enact the song, as your circumstances permit. Read through the lyrics first, or just listen through. Then do what comes to you to make the song come alive. What will you offer at the Well? If you have a bowl of water and a candle or tealight, enact the first appearance of the goddess. Say the prayer of the song’s chorus, or your own.

3) Using the help of the video in the previous post for making a Brighid’s cross, make the creation of your own cross — from reeds, strips of paper, fabric, etc. — an offering, a gift, an act of mindfulness, a devotion to Brighid.

4) Troubled by doubt? Blocked into inaction by hesitation, fear, or talking self telling you not to be ridiculous? Note the lines in Damh’s song: “But in her prison, she heard the spell the people were chanting: Three days of Summer, and snowdrops are flowering again”. The people — that’s you and me — help free her from prison. We imprison the divine, but we have the power to liberate it again in our lives. What chant comes to you? Listen for it as you go about your day, reading the headlines, listening to conversations, songs on the radio, and so on. Meditate, and write down what comes. This is a prayer the people are chanting.

5) Dance a dance you make up that has 19 steps. A circle, a square, some other shape or just steps as they come to you. Swing your arms, raise them, keep them at your sides, or clasped in prayer. Drum on a tabletop, a pot, a cup, bang two spoons together. Or step in silence. On the 19th step, say or whisper aloud or inwardly the name of the goddess. Dance when nobody’s watching. Except you and the goddess.

6) Brighid is goddess of fire. Light a flame and say “The fire is still burning. Nineteen priestesses tend the Eternal Flame. Oh but of you, my Lady, we are still learning”.

7) Educate yourself about Brighid. Here’s an easy “for-instance” — a short video (5 mins.) featuring Mary Meighan, who offers several clues to a practice.

brigidswell

Brighid’s Well

8) Volunteer at a homeless shelter, dedicating the service to Brighid, an offering, a way of helping to keep the human fire kindled in others. We think of such things around the big Christian holidays of Christmas and Thanksgiving and tend to drop them from memory at other times. I’ve just sent off an email to one of our local shelters, 8 miles away, requesting info on volunteering.

9) Dedicate a practice meaningful to you for each of the next 19 full moons. Ask for insight and resolution — in exact proportion to how well you keep your practice. Ready? Set … Go!

10) Following bpott’s comment on a recent post, “[P]lay (with serious thought) with enchantment”. What does enchantment look like to you? When have you experienced moments of enchantment? How did they manifest? What was going on when they did manifest? What can you do to welcome them again?

11) Again following another recent comment by bpott, take your practice outdoors, however briefly. Especially needful in the Northeastern US, because we get serious cases of cabin fever. (Our area organizes “Cabin Fever Dinners” to bring people out of hunker-down mode and into celebration over a communal meal. One of the more popular ones in our area draws 75-100 people and is held in a local church.  Yes, plenty of non-church people attend. It doesn’t hurt that the menu and kitchen are overseen by the pastor’s husband, who’s a gourmet chef. It’s very much a Brighid experience, at least for me. Generosity, kindling the fire in others.) Enjoy the thaw that’s come to the region. And wherever you are, breathe outdoor air. Let the sun shine on your skin.

12) What can you kindle and smith, inspire and heal, in yourself and others? What wells and forges exist in your life? How can you use and serve them? What wells and forges have you possibly overlooked or taken for granted? Again, how can you serve and use them?

13) Set a dream intention each night for prophetic, healing or creative dreams. Record each morning what comes. If you think nothing came, write what you imagine coming. Read it that night before you go to sleep.

14) Choose a bowl of water or goblet, etc. as your Well of Brighid. Ask for the blessing of Brighid upon it. Drink from it each morning after sleep.

15) You visit the Fire Temple on the inner planes. What do you experience there? Write down what comes. Who greets you? What gets ignited? What gets burnt away? What kind of flame are you given to return with to your life?

16) Find a poem that inspires you. (Or write one.) Make the reading and saying aloud of the poem a practice for the 19 days. Make of your love for the poem an offering.

17) Practice intense devotion for a particular manifestation of the divine in the form of a god or goddess that draws you. In a post “Loop of Brighid: The Mysticism of Devotion“, Christopher Scott Thompson says,

Rather than talking in a hypothetical way about what the mystical experience actually is, I’m going to talk about how to get there yourself through your own relationship with the gods and goddesses you personally serve. This is not an attempt to import something like bhakti from Hinduism into modern western paganism, because devotional practice to specific deities is already naturally developing within the pagan revival. However, I will be using the concept of bhakti as an analogy for the most intense and mystical forms of modern devotional paganism, such as the mood expressed in this poem [included just above this extract in the original post].

18) Read Chris Godwin’s 19 Jan 2018 post on his blog, From a Common Well, on “18 Celtic Imbolc Customs and Traditions for the Feast of Brighid“. Choose one or more to try.

19) Give thanks to Brighid for the opportunity to give thanks. There’s a paradox and a profound insight to be practiced here.

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Image: Brighid’s Well.

 

Moon of Brighid

Brighid--Patrick Tuohy

St. Brighid/Patrick Tuohy

For those of you incubating your own enchantment of Brighid to coincide with the upcoming 19 days of the goddess, you have the moon to aid you. Waxing now, it reaches full at nearly the midpoint of the 19 days, on the 31st of January — a fine symmetry, whether you choose to align with it or not.

The Solar Question for today, the 20th of the month, in Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional (Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2004) asks “What is the source of your spiritual guidance?” The Lunar Meditation* for the fourth day of the moon (counting the New Moon, Jan. 17,  as day 1) is “the wonder of life”. If I’m facing a period of spiritual dryness, if I have no other ready guidance, “the wonder of life” is a fitting source. Watching and listening, I can find in something small as the sun sparkling on an icicle a subtly radiant doorway into the Enchantment of Brighid.

Because magic so often starts small, no more than a tickle, a spark, a whisper. Till it builds.

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Images: St. Brighid by Patrick Tuohy (1894-1930)

*The book includes a perpetual calendar displaying the 19-year lunar cycle, allowing a reader to find the appropriate Question and Meditation.

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