Archive for the ‘Druidry’ 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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Four Holds on Joy   Leave a comment

Loosening Holds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What We Deserve, What We Owe   Leave a comment

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At Camp Middlesex, Ashby, MA. Photo courtesy Anna Oakflower.

I appreciate that these two things — what we deserve, what we owe — preserve the power to provoke and unsettle us. In the millennia of recorded human history, we’ve grappled long with them both, trying out a range of responses, never wholly satisfied with any of them, though it seems almost every generation in the last few hundred years has claimed to have arrived at some definitive version.

It’s no surprise they’re linked, our rights and our obligations, to put them in more contemporary terms. And it should be no surprise that the second of the pair gets much less air time. But what are our duties and obligations? What do we owe, and to whom? Pop culture offers its ready wisdom: what goes around comes around, you get what you give, there’s no free lunch.

John Beckett in a recent blogpost outlines seven things we owe Pagan newcomers, and they are helpful guides to anyone connecting with others. Among things we might reasonably be said to owe, he notes, are hospitality (a world-wide value), respectful boundaries, clear expectations, and an honest history. And only by acknowledging that we owe these things to others can we rightfully expect to claim them in return for ourselves. To put it in other terms, where we expect to benefit is where we are called to honor others’ expectations for those same things. Such human reciprocity is the cornerstone of civilization.

For we receive so much so freely already, a gift. The black walnut in our back yard has gone golden yellow, its heavy mealy nuts falling, to the delight of our gray squirrels.

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black walnut, 14 October 2018

The last salamanders before the frosts come are walking their fires across the earth.

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salamander — photo courtesy Anna Oakflower

 

Mushrooms drank in the wet summer and autumn of New England this year, and emerged in their unlikeliness.

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OBOD ritual knows the power of summoning us to “what we may deserve” — a little quiver of reckoning in those words. Do we even know? How far do our presence and actions extend?

A stand of pines reaches skyward, lifting vision with them.

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Do we deserve this world? Do the clouds deserve the lakes that go still and mirror them back to the sky? Sometimes the only fitting response is gratitude and generosity in return.

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millpond, Camp Middlesex, Ashby, MA

From these come the first stirrings of spiritual presence for many — the strange and marvelous givenness of our world, and ourselves in it.

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East Coast Gathering 2018   Leave a comment

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

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

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initiates and officiators, after the Bardic initiations

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

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

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

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Kris Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image at Llywellyn Press site for Celtic Tarot:

khughes celtic tarot

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

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

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

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

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

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Gathering attendee prepping for Druid Staff workshop

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

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

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

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

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

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Images: Kris Hughes; Llywellyn Press Celtic Tarot.

Your Brain on Autumn   Leave a comment

“Human cognitive powers have a seasonal rhythm, and for those living in temperate regions in the northern hemisphere they are strongest in late summer and early autumn”, says an article in the 4 Sept 2018 New Scientist (subscription req’d for full article).

We can assume, in spite of the article’s “hemispherism” (a tendency to privilege the northern hemisphere, or exclude the southern one from consideration altogether), that a similar rhythm holds true for the southern hemisphere in their late summer and early autumn, while the north slumbers uneasily beneath snow and cold in late winter and early spring. Southern friends, if you’re so inclined, bookmark this and return to read it when it’s more seasonally appropriate for your Land.

It stands to reason that harvest, with its demands for food preparation, its expanded food sources and increased nutrition, its social gatherings and preparations for the coming winter, would draw on and amplify human capacities of every kind, cognitive powers included. The lethargy of the heat of high summer has passed, and that crisp tang in the air and the red and golds that blanket hillsides in New England in particular, and draw so many to name autumn our favorite season, all conspire to spur us to activity. In the U.S., schools re-open, and you can feel the tilt and shift of the change from summer from late August through September.

Pagan and Magical Orders have long identified the equinoxes as times of particular inner activity. Initiations in many Orders take advantage of this heightening for its boost to ritual. By pairing our actions with what happens to the planet, we harmonize with currents deeper and more lasting than “what’s new” or what reaches the headlines or media-feeds on our preferred sources of gafs — gossip, advertising, fear-mongering, and sensationalism — that we still call “news”.

For what is truly “new” has of course been going on just beyond our noses all the while. The earth shifts and rebalances every moment. Plants renew the air, and we can keep breathing; they send forth seed and fruit, and we can keep eating. In spite of human assumptions, they’re under no obligation to do so, yet they gift us with their own substance year after year, just as we feed them with our breathing and our waste and our own bodies when they wear out. Break the cycle we’ve built together over eons, each learning the others’ gestures and energies and characters, and the relationship falters, like any relationship we no longer tend.

The initiation of cause and effect, which the Wise tell us we have repeatedly rejected corporately as a planet, has not disappeared or been switched off, or cast aside for something better. It still awaits our preparation and acceptance. With it, we can heal and create and thrive and change. That doesn’t mean it leads to heaven, or the apocalypse, or the Singularity. It’s simply life. And without it, we do what we always do when we reject growth. We stagnate, suffer strange outbreaks of dis-ease, regress, accumulate toxins, bloat, stifle, blame, blunder, and flail about. We cannot stand still, so if we don’t progress, we lurch backward, trampling new growth. The cosmos mirrors itself back in our awareness. We get what we give.

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dew on spiderwebs earlier this a.m.

The first glimmers of acceptance of the initiation spring up around us in individuals who have taken another step. And each of us has, in small and larger ways. Chickens come home to roost politically and environmentally. Mass consciousness shifts by fits and starts, even as individual consciousnesses grapple with change, whether each welcomes or fears it, resists it or works with it. The tipping point, however, is not yet. What we cannot force for the planet, however, we can navigate and midwife for ourselves and our closer circles. This will help more than almost anything else, because it prepares us to weather and grow through further changes and trials, even to flourish, and find joy.

Autumn renews in a different fashion than Spring. We are not seeding, at least not right away. Instead, we gather seed. We take stock, store up, brew, reap, glean. We’re weatherizing, stock-piling, fermenting, pickling, consolidating. We are, in the fuller old sense of the word, brooding, as a hen does its eggs. The soft yet edged light of September bathes days when the sun shows, a goldenrod month, a month of falcons.

Septem is “seven” in the older Roman calendar, the seventh month, counting from the similarly old beginning of the year in March. Seven is fullness, the sum of the 4 of the earth’s quarters and the 3 of the eternal cycle. Now that it’s also the ninth month in most current calendars, it draws as well on the magical symbolism of that number, a three of threes.

Rather than troubling overmuch about whether such associations are “true”, it can be more fruitful to see how and when they might be useful or accurate or faithful metaphors or maps or representations, and for which of the many different states of consciousness we all pass through.

Autumn, like every season, offers itself as a contour map of brains that have evolved over millions of autumns. What we see mirrors the tool with which we see it.

The blessings of autumn on us all.

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The Work of an Order   Leave a comment

Finding out about how we ourselves “do Druidry” — or other path we’re on — is a key step that all of us, it seems, keep taking. From that personal connection and insight, renewed over time and through our own experiences, comes a growing confidence in our own strengths and uniqueness that others can’t easily shake. It’s no longer just faith, but communion. It’s bone-knowledge, gut-wisdom, skin-sense. We know things, in that lovely old expression, by heart.

The more our practice, whatever it is, rests as much in doing as in believing, the more we draw strength from it in ways that can feel surprisingly like physical exercise. Our bodies learn to know our practice as well as our brains. Oak or rowan or beech become friends — our community has grown through knowing individuals, no longer just abstractions in a listing of trees in an ogham-book. The welcome of oak differs from the subtler touch that rowan extends. And these two differ from maple or hemlock. And so on through all the other furry, winged and finned kindred we encounter in the land where we find ourselves.

The work of any Order worth my energy and dedication will contain material that speaks clearly to me and seems just right. There will also be exercises and insights that I can adapt, and still others that are right to set aside for a time until they align with what I’m doing and needing to do. One of the signal advantages of an Order is its span: many hands and hearts have sifted material I might never encounter on my own, and wiser heads than mine have added insights, caveats and encouragements that I might otherwise miss. The work of an Order is more compact, in valuable ways, than the work of a Solitary. It’s denser, richer in certain ways, brewed and spiced, aged and tempered, refined and mellowed, sharpened and lit.

It also vibrates on a harmonic that reaches others attuned to it. Doing the rituals, passing through the initiations, studying and reflecting on and trying out the coursework, meeting others doing the same things, all bring me into a greater circle I discover I need, no matter how solitary I am — and need to be — most of the time. The choice, as it so often does, arises from the richness of both-and, not either-or. I find that I come not to a fork in the path, but the path itself opening out, for a time, into a meadow. Beyond is vista: mountains, maybe, or valleys shining with silver rivers, towns bright with banners and laughter. Quests beckon, mysteries abound. It’s no surprise that a medieval landscape features in so many modern dreams and deeds, with both real danger and jewelled possibility a heartbeat or horse-ride away. Just over the next hill, or back at the castle, down a corridor we never knew was there.

In the West we pursue ever more isolated and internal lives, busy too often with busy-ness itself, all the while crying out for the gifts of community we simultaneously keep turning away from: connection, fellowship, camaraderie, friendship, shared interests and inspirations, shared suffering and joy. Well-founded community sees that spark of individuality restored to a healthy place, one that does not render me less able to connect, but more; one that honors my need to withdraw at times, even as I also need to open to others; one that sweeps me out of indifference toward engagement with the struggles of others anywhere, who turn out to be surprisingly like me after all. We be of one blood, ye and I.

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first fire, a few days ago

Along with Groucho Marx, many of us may have grumbled some version of I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as members. And knowing ourselves as we do, maybe we’re right to say that. On our off days, we’re off on ourselves as much as anyone else. Hamlet’s our doppelganger, midwife to angst and depression and self-accusation: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do, crawling between earth and heaven?

Somehow “joining an Order” just doesn’t seem like any kind of sane response to that question, but more like the absolute last thing I would choose. Isn’t there a twilit bar or pub nearby where I can hide and drown my sorrows?

And certainly Orders aren’t any kind of cure-all or panacea. As human institutions, they’re potentially beset with all the human foibles we know so well in ourselves. Personalities clash, dreams backfire and scorch, visions implode, egos lunge and stab. We peer around at the wreckage, bandage the worst of our wounds, and vow: never again.

But Orders can also launch us toward the heights that we know or dream of, or — if we’re particularly cynical right now — doubt are possible at all: they focus and help to nourish the deepest hungers in us, beyond food or sex. In the connections they aid us in making, we touch on something that lifts us out of ourselves, we’re part of that never-ending story our best dreamers keep singing about to us, and painting, and weaving, and nudging us to explore.

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The Putney Mountain Stone Chambers   Leave a comment

A precipitous drop in temperatures from the 90s (34C) to the 40s (6C) last night, warming to the low 60s (17C) this afternoon, made for ideal conditions to visit the stone chambers around Putney, Vermont.

My Druid friend B. was my guide. The roads around Putney Mountain are not always well-labelled, many run through private lands, and some of the many dirt roads devolve to Class 4 — not regularly maintained, generally not passable without all-wheel drive vehicles, and not plowed in winter. We drove where we could, then set out on foot.

Here B. stands next to the entrance of the first chamber, giving an approximate sense of the height of the mouth.

Putneych1

A side view of the same chamber. Note the stone wall climbing the hillside in the background.

Putch1side

What we called the terraced or “pyramid” structure around chamber 1:

Putch1terracing

The chamber features a drainage (?) channel cut into the rock. All of the chambers face roughly east, and this particular channel runs due east, judging by readings from B’s smart-phone compass app.

Putch1drain

V-shaped entrance to chamber 2 — note what appears to be a stone “lintel” in the foreground.

Putch2-lintel

B crouched within chamber 2 — larger than chamber 1, and quite dry inside. The massive roof plates of stone easily weigh several tons each.

Putch2-interior

Looking out from within chamber 2. Unlike the first chamber, this one was dry enough to sit on the earth floor.

Putch2-from-int

Chamber 3 differs in the location of the entrance. Here is what looked and felt to both of us like a “processional walk” to the chamber. Merely a path left from frequent hikers exploring the area? Or something else? How to tell?

Putch3-approach

Continuing the approach to chamber 3.

Putch3-app2

B standing at the roof entrance to chamber 3 for a sense of scale. The beech (?) to the left appeared at least two hundred years old.

Putch3--near

Close-up of the kiva-like entrance to chamber 3.  The interior is deep enough for a person to stand upright in the oval space, about 8 feet (2.4 m) across.

Putch3-close

Chamber 4 — the roof has fallen in on the far side. Stone taken for building elsewhere? Similar design to the others — but perhaps run-off from hillside weakened the roof.

Putch4

Despite both learned and amateur speculation, no convincing conclusions about the purpose of these chambers exists. Colonial smokehouses? Storage sheds? Native ritual or burial chambers? Nothing quite seems to explain the massive construction, cramped and damp spaces, the exceptions of the details of chambers 2 and 3, etc. Similar stoneworks around New England raise similar questions. While dating suggests pre-European construction in some locations, other sites present what appears to be intermingled periods of building/repair.

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