Archive for the ‘Caitlin Matthews’ Tag

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

Repetition and Enchantment   Leave a comment

wave1One of the glories of repetition is enchantment. We can enchant ourselves into another space and place with repetition. Mindless repetition, no.  But eager, delighted repetition, inviting the change, welcoming it as you sense it begin to steal over you — that’s a very different thing. Things do, after all, “come true.” Bringing feeling into it enlivens the charm, animates it with a spark of our own energy. Who after all tires of the ocean, though one wave follows another?

Verbal magic is one of the first magics we learn. Perhaps you’ve heard a child repeat a word endlessly, exploring the taste of it in the mouth, the joy in the rhythm of it. Maybe with a tuneless little tune accompanying it. And maybe, if you’re blessed (and you are), you’ve caught yourself with just such a tune on your lips, engaged in some repetitive task, or doing “nothing,” which is often a chance to do a very great something, a spelling of oneself into an Else-where and Else-when, a door opening to wonder.

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Now feel the change when you read these next words. You’ve heard them, some version of them, maybe said them to yourself or another, even in jest. Bitter words we hear far too often. Loser. Nobody. Waste of space.  And “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” Some variation of this very evil charm that drags on people’s vision of themselves and their world and steals away possibility. Verbal magic, alas (and also thank the powers), is very real.

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Now that you’ve had a small glimpse of the two magics contrasted (which is really the same magic, used for uplifting and destructive purposes), let me offer a restorative charm that deserves loving repetition. A charm for transforming the “I.” A spell to memorize, to whisper to oneself at need. A blessing to say over your children each night as they fall asleep. A charm to recite gazing into the eyes of an animal or human you love and who loves you. A charm to recite at dawn or sunset, the light looking into us and saying its silent word. A charm to remember what the ecstatic I is made of, a charm for the music that is the awen vibrating in us all:

I am the luck of every joy,
I am the light of the sun’s beams,
I am the door of lordly welcome,
I am the pole star of guidance,
I am the step of the deer on the height,
Mine is the step of the white-faced mare,
Mine is the grace of the swimming swan,
I am the jewel in each mystery.

Nine waves around me,
Nine winds above me,
Nine paths within me,
Nine fires about me,
Nine wells beneath me,
Nine wisdoms given me,
Nine gifts bestowed on me,
Nine skills awoken within me,
Ninefold the blessing in either hand.*

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*adapted from Matthews, Caitlin. A Celtic Devotional. Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2004, pgs. 138-139.

IMAGE: wave.

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