Archive for the ‘Caitlin Matthews’ Tag

Autumn Purposes   Leave a comment

kindling11-19

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

fire-wo-flash

“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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Unpacking the Triad Further   1 comment

[Edited/updated 19 Oct 2019]

But if I’m honest (I’m continuing the conversation, if only with myself), the work I’ve done with my recent Triad is far from complete. My Western and particularly my American individualism needs radical tempering. I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that I was reading and would soon review Caitlin Matthews’ The Lost Book of the Grail (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2019). Now feels like an appropriate time — but I’ll blend it with further expatiation on that Triad. If the book’s worth my time, or yours, let me show something of that value in my own life.

First, here’s Matthews:

The Grail knights quest on behalf of those who are locked outside the story of hope, reconciliation, or healing, in order to move the stagnation of stasis into another hopeful condition. In the many psychologically based commentaries upon the Grail legend, from Joseph Campbell onward, there has developed a very modern stress upon the individuality of the Grail hero’s journey. However, this stress on the individual has served rather to point out the division in modern consciousness–often expressed as a vague loss of nature or holism–from the collective. The living context of this division speaks of how we are split off from ancestral or faery roots: and those who seek for help today are often weakened or unable to heal because they do not think, work, or imagine from a collective basis. How can we heal if we leave out the rest of the world from the equation? (Matthews, pg. 239).

Samhain is a wonderful time to look for ancestral guidance, to an ancestor who may be myself in a previous incarnation, waiting to reach out to a descendant (who may or may not be me again). And given how, in myth and legend, Otherworld time often runs differently than here, backwards, perpendicularly, non-linearly, a-causally even, we can heal in many directions, receiving and offering healing across what looks like temporal obstacles and barriers. I am inseparable from the collective, I walk with the body my ancestors have bestowed on me, I accomplish whatever work I do with their hands; I look out at you with their eyes. And so do you, with yours.

My little economies in the post on the recent triad — what do I need, what can I do, what needs to be done — ignore that collective. They’re a starting point. But merely squeezing a few more bucks out of some substitutions and shifts of priorities in my one household, while possibly helpful, ignores larger trends and patterns, and closes my eyes to our collective experience until it impinges on my little self to the point where I can no longer avoid responding. (Compound that with a fear of the Other stoked by far too many politicians in too many countries, and you get, not collective consciousness and honour and action, but collective targeting and collective hating and collective bashing. Because, let’s face it, fear is easy, and cheap, earns money for political campaigns, runs like a reflex off the reptile brain in us all, and moves people to pick up causes, banners, and bombs.)

Even gathering with the Massachusetts grove for Samhain on Nov. 1 will help awaken me to a more collective awareness. Stand in ritual with others, and the walls can come down. I can hear the many voices of those who stand around us, skins on or off.

BAM Druid Gather

Rather than a set of OSFA* instructions for how to manifest the subtitle — “The Sevenfold Path of the Grail and the Restoration of the Faery Accord” — Matthews gives us stories and lore and many pointers for our own ways.

[*OSFA — one size fits all]

Here’s Matthews again, talking about origins and directions — the Grail is a kind of vector or arrow through and around time, continually answering human need:

The beginnings of the Grail myth go back to the very dawn of human consciousness, and to the desire of human beings to make some kind of direct contact with the divine, to receive healing, and to make right the wrongs of the world. The Grail appears as a vessel of mercy that, through different spiritual agencies, offers an opportunity to those qualified by courage and belief to bring that mercy. Whether we look to ecstatic and initiatic drinks of the ancient mystery cults, or to the miraculous manna found by the Israelites in their desert wanderings, or to Celtic myths of cauldrons that provide plenty, wisdom or eternal life, we find a collection of vessels from many cultures; each contains a substance that enables those who discover it to be healed, nourished, and experience divine communion (Matthews, pg. 22).

Two pointers right there: courage, and belief. Don’t have either? No problem — there are many others to explore, until I can serve them. I don’t need to have courage, but I can serve it.

Your cauldron 
I drink from it.
Your body 
I wear it.
Your hands
I raise them.
Your spirit 
It flames in me.

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 6   Leave a comment

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

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

The DEVIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The TOWER

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

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

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

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

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

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

The STAR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But four more arcana remain for us to consider.

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IMAGE: live long and prosper;

New Year, Old Year   Leave a comment

Around a fire into the evening on Tuesday, a delicious and quiet Samhain with three others. Before that, a lovely group Samhain of 40 last Friday in Western MA. And one more Samhain celebration to come, with our Vermont Seed Group on Saturday, in two days’ time.

A fine invocation for Thursday evenings of the Samhain season, in Caitlin Matthews Celtic Devotional:

As the Winter closes about our ears, and the wind blows chill, I call upon my soul’s teacher to show me the progress of the day. In the depths of doubt and uncertainty, may we always be shown the next step of the road.

And we are.

Three years ago on Samhain I wrote:

We stand at the eve of winter in the northern hemisphere, with the change to standard time in the U.S. to underline the shift and bring on darkness an hour earlier in the evening. The change proves useful, I find, to draw me out of private thoughts and back toward awareness of the planet beneath my feet and all around me, awareness too of all the kin who whisper and flap and caw and bark and write blogposts and sit across the table from me.

I’m called to fast, I’m summoned to be born. Ignore the call, and I suffer, goes the divination.

Celtic-Cross-Layout-240x300So I heed my own words and listen.

What does the Tarot say? With the classic 10-card Celtic Cross spread, I ask about the shape of the coming year. Here are the cards I drew, with fairly standard interpretations of the positions first.

1–The present. Also, the self, or the querent’s state of mind: King of Pentacles.

2–The crossing card, placed over the first card; the immediate influence, problem, challenge, etc.: Queen of Swords.

3–Destiny; in some spreads, placed above as the “crown” of past influences: Devil.

4–Distant past; or in some interpretations, the future — to the right: 5 of Swords.

5–Recent past, or conscious focus, above: 7 of Cups.

6–Future influence; or the unconscious, the underlying or the true driving force of a situation — below: 9 of Pentacles.

7–The querent; self-perceptions: 4 of Pentacles.

8–External influences: Knight of Wands.

9–Inner emotions, a tangle of fears and hopes: The Star.

10–Outcome or final result: The Moon.

Detailed Analysis:

kingpentI start with seeing the major arcana as the soul’s journey, and minor arcana as individual human lives. Here, both as my own physical incarnation and as a wider representation of earthly powers and princes, card 1 with the King of Pentacles is dominant. The Court cards may be interpreted as personalities, with the king as an older male, and pentacles concerned with resources. The challenge or immediate influence of card 2 is the Queen of Swords, a feminine influence or figure in thought. As a past influence or tendency toward destiny, card 3 with the Devil is immersion in materiality, often polarized as male and female, or dual in nature. It can also represent dark magic, against and by the self most of all. Numerically his Tarot number 15 reduces to 6, linking this card, and the Devil’s influence, both to the future and to the unconscious — no surprise.

The distant past (or future) of card 4 in the spread is the 5 of Swords, a mental sorting or balancing. This can lead to a crisis or challenge all its own, because — arising from a single element — it is incomplete. It presages the later Star of card 9.

7cupsThe recent past and conscious focus of card 5 is the 7 of Cups,  magic, spirituality, results, completion, mixed with or focused on emotion. The unconscious or true influence of card 6 is the 9 of Pentacles, a fixing, ending or culmination of resources. Card 7, self-perception, is the 4 of Pentacles, stability or security — again, of resources. The external influence of card 8, the Knight of Wands, is a younger personality or presence, more fiery and ambitious. Card 9, the card of hopes and fears, is the Star, deeply important on the other path I practice, and present in our proverbs and idioms as guiding star, north or pole-star, and also as dis-aster, ill-starred-ness. Its Tarot number 17 reduces to 8, and hence influences or pairs with card 8. The final outcome or result of all of this is the Moon, whose Tarot number 18 reduces to 9 and pairs with card 9: a strong linking of the last three cards.

Summation:

RWS_Tarot_18_MoonWith 3 of the 10 cards coming from Pentacles, resources and the physical world will be a prime focus of the year personally and for the planet. Balancing feminine energies to the mature male energies in play are an immediate aspect of the present and near future. Destiny and past influences at work, though not inevitable, are ones we have both initially set in motion and strengthened by our sharp focus on materiality. Our outer fixation on security and stability may feel reasonable, given such destabilizing forces at work. But while our hopes and dreams focused on these things are valid, pursuing them along a still-material path, even with a renewed youthful vigor, will not return us to what is stable and safe. Other directions we have recently begun to explore can prove more beneficial. We’ll see moon-like changes, darkness and light alternating in phases.

I’ll return to this in a year and see how I did.

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1074Once again I’ve set out on the remarkable journey that is Nanowrimo, churning on toward my first day’s word-count goal of 1666 words (50,000 words divided by the 30 days of November). Not too late to join us!

 

IMAGES: The original 1910 Rider-Waite deck is now in public domain in the U.S.; these images from that edition come from Wikipedia.

Walking Your Walk   Leave a comment

“There’s nothing new under the sun” — traditional proverb.

But under the moon …

In Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional, the lunar meditation for Imbolc for this day is “Your Spiritual Quest Thus Far”. Rather than trying to assess how well I’m growing (what measures would I use?), or where my weaknesses lie (how often have you benefited from focusing on your shortcomings?), this meditation asks for something different: How’s my quest going?

It’s a great question, and it can be a tough one to answer adequately. If you’ve been on a quest for any length of time, you’ve noticed its quality has changed. As I grow, what I notice and look for and value will grow and shift as well. Maybe you’ve always sought the same thing, being the unswervingly upright, single-minded, and clear-eyed quester that you are, but I’d suspect the whole shebang (a profoundly scientific term) if my path didn’t reveal new vistas and challenges as I travelled along it.

Because I walk two different paths (though my suspicions just keep deepening that they’re really versions of the same journey, if only because they steal images, teachers, symbols, dreams, and everything else from each other) — because I walk two paths, as I’ve mentioned, the question feels particularly useful.

When I’m in doubt, I ask questions in turn. So is there anything I even idly imagine, let alone seriously think, would be more fulfilling and worthwhile? Because daydreams and fantasies are telling. Repressed material surfaces, seemingly random wishes and desires take form, and I can learn surreptitiously from what hasn’t yet stood careful scrutiny. I just have to be careful not to scare it off, timid woodland creature that it often is.

I let a delicious laziness steal up on me and cradle me for a moment, and imagine no need to take up a spiritual quest. I have friends, after all, who live their lives untroubled by the questions and practices and experiences that fill my days. They look at me as the odd man out. Perhaps, to judge by the great masses of my compatriots, they’re right.

Of course, I counter with the observation that the suffering I perceive in the lives of so many of my countrymen, to say nothing of anyone elsewhere in the world, in spite of the supposed luxuries of American life and its vast consumption of resources, is a clear symptom of spiritual hollowness, so it turns out we’re all on quest for something. Since the widespread perception in the West is of decline rather than improvement, an inkling of something rotten in Denmark, and D.C., of a gnawing sensation of something gone or going wrong, I venture to assert that numbing my doubts and unhappinesses with an even bigger gulp of more of the things frantic advertisers want me to buy won’t take away the pain. If there’s ever a Been-There-Done-That moment, then endless and mindless consumption surely qualifies.

So, to answer my own question, is there anything that calls to me, that proposes itself in place of the current spiritual quest I engage in?

Sure: going back to sleep. Blissful, untroubled slumber. Sleep is the theme of much social media — especially dreaming someone else’s dream (nightmare), less complicated than my own, or — sometimes — dreaming nothing at all. Letting myself be anesthetized by a waiting troupe of ready diversions — endless music and video-on-demand, newly-legal weed, endless waves of porn, another no-money-down adventure, the new-and-improved life that American society always dangles just beyond my cash-strapped nose. Even spirituality has been boxed, buffed, polished and marketed to the discerning (clueless) consumer: for a (hefty) price, you too can enjoy enlightenment in a weekend workshop, or a crash course of empowerments, blessings, trainings, practices, etc. God, nirvana, orgasm, all just a phone call and credit card away. Don’t believe in magic? Why would you? We’re already bespelled, magicked, ensorcelled, enchanted in a truly grim fairy tale, and it’s part of the spell to weaken our ability to detect its presence.

Is it any wonder so many people fast from social media, from advertising, from the Noise that strives to drown out our still small voices, those whispers of divine dissatisfaction that bless each of us and make the spiritual quest the best adventure of them all?

If you’re reading this blog, if you’ve initiated any kind of a spiritual quest at all, congratulations. You’ve already scored your first victory against distraction.

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Matthews, Caitlin. Celtic Devotional. Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2004.

July Interval   Leave a comment

Holy Ones I know, you grasp
the thread of my life. Sometimes
I feel your fingers drawing
me tight against the soundboard.

IMG_1740

lilies & hydrangeas, NW lawn

Can I sing for all of us, or does the song come for me alone? We don’t always want another to sing for us any more, though it was once a chief pleasure at the gatherings of a people. Once we knew the songs, sought to renew them when they flagged in us, when we lost the tunes from time to time. Pick them up again, friends. Then tell, tell the Tribe.

First stanzas. They can arrive in an echo, a line or two, teasing me to follow. Sometimes the whole thing turns out in an hour of listening and trial. Sometimes I fold the first words away for the next look, when maybe a day has turned and tuned me closer to where the words will go best this time. Always and never the same as last time.

Wake from a dream of speaking to those who don’t wear bodies like this, my wife rousing from a kindred dream, my parents (gone this past decade and more) in a house we have built and furnished together with them.

Sometimes I’m left ahead, not behind. It’s things that need to catch up to where I am, things that will turn round a few more turns before I understand. Then they’ll rush on ahead again.

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“Lady of the Land, open the door,
Lord of the Forest, come you in”

–Caitlin Matthews, Celtic Devotional. Gloucester, MA: Fairwinds Press, 2004, pg. 94.

IMG_1742

space of a writer at work and play

Here in New England, you can hear the Land singing a version of this Lunasa greeting. In the distance, a lawn mower, a chainsaw. And just outside my door, for almost the last hour now, swallows sing and chatter practically in my ears. They’ve commandeered for their nest the space on top of the outdoor light above the front steps, less than a meter from where I write, the front entry-way I made into a womb-like office.

A coming weekend program of workshops and talks on the other path I take, titled “How to Survive Spiritually in Our Times”.

It’s an excellent topic to explore, and I invite you, before you read any further, to look aside from the screen you’re on, grab pen and paper (or open a doc on your desktop) and write down some of the strategies you’ve learned. How have you survived spiritually so far? And what have you learned the hard way, perhaps the deepest and wisest and most valuable among your resources?

Did you stop to make at least a few notes? Did you include questions among your strategies?

Taking at least a few minutes for this is worth doing. (You can still do it, right now …)

I list among my own strategies getting my experience(s) down in writing, keeping a record. Both this blog and a bedside notebook help me place the downs and ups and make sense of why? and what next? My computer desktop fills with notes I date obsessively, and gather roughly once a month into another kind of journal. That one often I revisit perhaps just once or twice a year — as valuable as the others for patterns and themes I’d otherwise miss. A hoard of unattached dream fragments, poem notes, quotations, lines from my reading, a song lyric that’s dogged my heels and probably is asking for attention, long-term and refreshed to-do lists, scraps of conlangs, orphaned things that I’ve learned will find their homes and families if only I take them in and find them clothes and beds.

And what is spiritual survival, anyway? We get physical survival, we learn both fast and slow, throughout our lives, what we need to sustain ourselves, what we need to live. Fast, because if we miss those first lessons, we never live long enough for any others. Stay out of traffic. Respect hot and electrified things. Don’t take into your body absolutely everything (substance, person, idea, spirit) that presents itself.

Not long after these — learning them a little more slowly, but not much — come later lessons. Just as you don’t take into your body everything on offer, take into your heart even less. Give, instead. (Loving others as self-defense!) Cherish good measures. Learn which lines it’s truly wise not to cross. Learn which other lines actually are, in fact negotiable, despite what others tell you. (Study which lines keep moving.)

Learn whose approval and disapproval truly matters. Learn to wield your own approval and disapproval. Sell yourself not short but long. Label idols carefully. Review regularly. Love, four-letter word and practice, not just in spite of anyone or anything that comes at you, but as the idiom goes, “for good”.

Is anything not spiritual survival? How I’m spending today continues to manifest whatever spiritual truths I’m learning.

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“You”, said Apollo to the German poet Rilke, “must revise your life”.

Holy Ones we know, you grasp
the threads of our lives. Sometimes
we feel your fingers glide, drawing
us tight against the soundboard.

You pluck from us those first notes
of song. They rise, we rise, and …

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Essential Welcome   1 comment

[Edited 9:05 am, 29 May 2017]

Today I take for my divination the two rhododendrons blooming outside our bedroom window. One hasn’t wintered well, ungainly thing, and it needs pruning at the end of the season. Whether it was winter die-off or just increasing age, a good bit of the plant is brown and lifeless. But the blooming part is lovely as ever, the lush buds spilling open into flower at one with the birdsong that begins around 5:20 a.m. now, at first light.

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It’s my mother’s birthday today — she’d be 98 if she were still with us, and I marvel each year as that number nears a full century. As many do, I’ve long found that spring and early summer can intermittently be times of intense nostalgia. Here again is new life, and in the midst of each lengthening day and its wonders, so many things seem intent on calling us to remember what has departed as well as what thrives and burgeons and grows. This is the Samhain-of-Beltane, the autumn in spring. Not a diminishment at all, but a deepening of each birth and renewal. All the earth, the dirt underfoot, is the substance of past life. In a very literal way, we could not live without the lives of those gone before us, their bodies nourishing and supporting ours, ours depending on theirs for every breath.

In her Celtic Devotional, Caitlin Matthews writes:

There are so many difficulties in our daily lives, so few incentives to act responsibly, so little support for personal spiritual growth that it is only within the broadest categories of spiritual hospitality that the soul can be encouraged to find its own natural pathway. This is especially so where the soul has been injured by intolerance and lack of charity, or scandalized by the unholy infighting of formal religion, or by its lack of respect for non-human life-forms and neglect of planetary and universal issues. These and many other reasons may drive people from formal religious adherence, but they do not stop the need for them to pray, to meditate or contemplate in union with the world …

The urge to follow a spiritual pathway comes in a variety of ways, but, in every case, the soul puts out its exploratory shoots in the context of personal devotion, testing the ground, discovering how Spirit responds, learning how true communion with the Divine can be brought about (Celtic Devotional, p. 8).

One of the many ironies of this period of human history is that while it can indeed be a time of difficulty and lack of support as Matthews describes, paradoxically it’s also a time where our need for a spiritual practice is all the more acute and obvious. Other supports for any inner life have been weakened or destroyed, and the emptiness of the available distractions shows all the more clearly. The outlines of what we need are clearer now than before.

Small wonder then that the spiritual power of authentic practice touches so many, and even a little bit can point the way forward. Whether it’s some form of Paganism or some other spiritual path that calls to us, the appeal is patent and powerful. In some form we feel the lack every day until we begin to nourish ourselves with a practice. The shape that practice takes will necessarily be our own. No one else can dictate what it should be for us. It will evolve with us as we set out on the journey.

For the beginning of a practice, then, a prayer-charm:

I weave the cincture of protection,
from the nine powers of nine trees,
strength of oak,
straightness of ash,
purity of birch,
absorbency of alder,
brightness of beech,
elegance of elm,
healing of willow,
power of holly,
everlastingness of yew.
Nine trees to circle me,
nine powers to guard me,
as the Summer song resounds.

(Matthews, Celtic Devotional, pg. 86)

May you live and grow and flourish in groves of protection.

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Matthews, Caitlin. Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayers and Blessings. Rev’d ed. Gloucester, MA: Fairwinds Press, 2004. (First published by Godsfield Press, 1996.)

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