Archive for the ‘earth-centered spirituality’ Tag

“First and Last Things” — Druid & Christian Theme 9   2 comments

Now that I’ve reached the end of this series on some possible shared spaces between Druids and Christians, I’d like to pause and take stock.

How many of us have experienced anger, frustration or a kind of spiritual PTSD from our contacts with Christianity? How many have found one or more of these posts irritating or painful? Yet how many still feel drawn to something alive in Christianity or Christian practice?

From the wild stats this particular series has generated, I have to conclude it’s provoked a whole complex, difficult medley of thoughts and feelings. Consider, as I have, new readers from outside the circle of the most common visitors — North Americans and a few western Europeans, with the occasional Australian or New Zealander. This series, however, has drawn readers from Iraq, China, Turkey, India, Japan, Hungary, Singapore, Greece, Pakistan — and a readership from all of these nations showed up not just for single post but for most of this series.

And what should appear here as the 9th theme? Magic? Prayer? Initiation? Heresy — the right to choose — along with heterodox beliefs and practices? The Otherworld? Divine kingship? All promise rich materials as fitting ways to close. I’ll probably tackle at least a few of these in the coming weeks. If only because a series like this, like a devotional practice undertaken with love over time, almost always generates a momentum no finite thing can contain.

aceofcupsOr what about a shift of terminology? Would that help at all with any of these themes? If instead of “Baptisms of the Elements”, we called them “Elemental Sacraments”, would that easier name make a difference? Would it make it any easier to move beyond instinctive antipathies and past traumas?

Christian Druids and Druid Christians have already found ways to integrate their practice and ritual, celebrating spirit as it actually manifests, regardless of creeds. Some of the best links happen in community and fellowship. We experience something together beyond words, even as we struggle to embody it in language. But it’s that initial encounter, not the subsequent formulation in speech or writing, that constitutes the source of spiritual energy.

Saint Francis sings in part:

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth
who sustains and governs us …

Here is insight and wisdom and reverence indeed, one that may find resonance for both Druids and Christians.

An “incarnational” Druidry, one that shares with Christians a deep gratitude for natural beauty and for the mystery of birds and beasts, for the holy gifts of choice and speech, thought and reason, for birth and dying and rebirth, and for the voice of the sacred in dream, vision, prayer and ritual, and for the transformational power that a spirit-filled person can manifest, whatever the tradition, will earn respect and a hearing in any quarter a Druid would want to find one.

Likewise, a humble Christianity, one which seeks first to model love of self and other, of spiritual freedom, of service and stewardship of the created world, of care for the body, and delight in our kinship with the natural world, one which reads with reverence the Book of Nature, will move and persuade and welcome Druids and other Pagans far more than any scriptural proofs or the tongue of condemnation, doctrine or preaching.

“Let our deeds and our shining faces be our testimony”.

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 Image: Ace of Cups.

V.P.A.S. and You   Leave a comment

[Updated with link 1 February 2017]

Sometimes ya gotta love acronyms. (No, not you specifically. People in general. Not that I’ve ever met a person-in-general. Only individuals, who annoyingly refuse to conform to abstractions. Thank the gods.)

Especially if you can find ways to play with acronyms as well as learn something useful from the ideas they compact into memorable form.

So first, let’s look at the A.S. part of the acronym in the title.

This post is inspired by an article in Scientific American from a little over a year ago Nov. 2015) titled “Perception Deception“. (Link to the author Michael Schermer’s blog — scroll down to November 2015 and the article.) In it, the author examines recent studies that point to our — and that includes all species — perceptions of reality as useful rather than necessarily accurate.

(Does it have to be either-or, the author plaintively asks at one point?)

graph-cartoonIn other words, it doesn’t matter how close to reality our perceptions are, as long as they give us advantages in survival and reproduction. Or, as the article puts it, they have Adaptive Significance. The sun doesn’t “rise” or “set”, to use a trivial example; instead, the earth rotates. But unless we’re attempting a spacecraft launch, we don’t need a more “accurate” understanding. Living as if the sun rises and sets grants us perfectly reasonable adaptive capacities.

We don’t need to go far at all to find larger and more weighty human examples. If your parents told you growing up not to talk with strangers and you put that precept into practice, it’s just possible you avoided some serious unpleasantness. There’s adaptive significance: you survived by escaping kidnapping, abuse, death, or recruitment into cult or gang or band groupie-dom.

But we know that most crimes statistically involve people who know us, so the ultimate adaptive significance of that parental instruction may turn out to be low. If that makes us into distrustful adults who find it difficult to open up to others, we may never connect with another person to reproduce and pass along our genes to a new generation. Low adaptive significance for the individual. But paradoxically high for the species: excessively fearful individuals self-select and remove their genes from the genetic melange of the human future. In other words, and among other things, heroes remain possible.

The premier example the studies cite is the Australian jewel beetle:

Females are large, shiny, brown and dimpled. So, too, are discarded beer bottles dubbed “stubbies,” and males with mount them until they die by heat, starvation or ants. The species was on the brink of extinction because its senses and brain were designed by natural selection not to perceive reality but to mate with anything big, brown, shiny and dimpled (Scientific American, Nov. 2015, pg. 75).

Now apart from providing wonderfully vivid and useful ammunition to cartoonists, misanthropists and meme-lovers about the relative intelligence of males and their sex drives, the example seems to me to undermine the point the researchers actually wished to make. Here is a perfect example of how perception needs to match reality quite faithfully, or it won’t confer that sought-after adaptive significance.

In other words, species also need to possess what the article terms Veridical Perception — the VP of the acronym — if they’re going to survive. Or as my mother repeatedly counselled the teenaged me, you have to live in (and perceive) the real world.

(She neglected to add: “Just not all the time”.)

It’s true that human culture can shelter from reality some highly inaccurate perceptions, and for long periods. To quote a whimsical example, Humpty Dumpty exclaims,”Why, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!” The mutual support we give each other, and human law, medicine, societal expectation and life experience, all help moderate and temper and refine our perceptions of reality to help minimize the damage inaccurate perceptions can cause. But wackadoos and wackadooism still persist. We can just generously think of them as genetic outliers. Experiments in adaptive significance, not veridical perception.

It is also an argument of the article that species with high adaptive significance consistently out-survive species endowed only with veridical perception.

Yet despite what current politics and media suggest, most humans live in approximately the same perceptive universe. Our differences loom large only in certain select domains. In spite of the noise these few domains are generating right now, the immediate adaptive significance of most of our behaviors remains high. (It’s flaws in their long-term adaptive significance that remain our great challenge.) Drive down the highway and — while a few accidents do indeed happen — the marvel is that most people see the universe in ways similar enough that we don’t take out all other drivers on the road in a single day of apocalyptic Hollywood bloodshed, simply because what you see as a red light I see as green. The relative absence of “carnage” — a loaded word in the U.S. right now — is an encouraging thought.

evolution-cartoonBut side by side with adaptive significance, we might remember that evolution doesn’t “progress”. Where and how the arc of history may bend will apparently always be an experimental question, not an ideological statement.

A sparrow flying around today isn’t an “improved” or “more” evolved version of an ancestral theropod or archaeopteryx. The same is true of modern humans: we’re not any better suited to life in cities or at a desk in corporate America (or on the tundra or in the jungle) than our Cro-Magnon or Neanderthal forebears. We’re distinctly not “new and improved”. What we are is adapted, and adaptable.

It doesn’t have to be a choice: our behaviors more often possess adaptive significance when they also arise from veridical perception. We thrive when we “do the true”.

Veridical Perceptions with Adaptive Significance

And what about Druidry, just one of our many attempts at a veridical perception, at an accurate grip on reality? Does it also confer any adaptive significance? Is it just a Western 21st century middle-class indulgence? Does it offer an edge that can help us navigate tough times and steer us through these beginnings of a centuries-long post-industrial transition?

The next post will look at some possible responses to these questions.

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Images:graph cartoon; evolution cartoon.

“Collapsing Now” and “Inevitable Progress”   2 comments

[OK, what follows is a rant. Continue for your own discomfort. I say little that’s new here. Just retuning and returning with notes I’ve sounded before. Mostly, as with blogging, I’m talking to myself, but out loud. Say it to see how it sounds. Flavo(u)r to taste. You indulge me by sometimes liking what I write, if it has any merit you can use. And your comments, as always, are welcome.]

“Collapse now”, counsels John Michael Greer, “collapse now and avoid the rush” as industrial civilization devolves and careers along an increasingly wobbly course. Greer, whose words and ideas have intermittently appeared here, is a “talk-walker”, someone who lives what he advises others to practice. An increasingly widely read blogger and master gardener, as well as author and mage and archdruid emeritus of the Druid order AODA, Greer lives largely off the grid. Owning no car, and growing a large portion of his food, Greer and his lived choices make his words carry more weight with me than the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking.

Of course, Greer’s choices are just one possible set, and not even the best for many of us. But they’re his, not manufactured for and sold to him by someone else.

And Stephen Hawking? Just yesterday he wrote in an article in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper that, yes, he’s lived a life of extraordinary privilege; that, yes, elites like him and his circle have long ignored the plight of working-class folks; and that, yes, recent elections and votes in the U.S. and U.K. and elsewhere betoken a cry of anger and anguish. But he can still write in an astonishing stew of ignorance and arrogance that

what matters now, far more than the choices made by these two electorates, is how the elites react. Should we, in turn, reject these votes as outpourings of crude populism that fail to take account of the facts, and attempt to circumvent or circumscribe the choices that they represent? I would argue that this would be a terrible mistake.

No, in fact, the reaction of elites matters far less. It will be quite predictable. We’ve seen it repeated endlessly over the span of millennia. They won’t do what they could do, because it’s really not even theirs to do, though we’ve often abdicated choice to them. But as we always have, we choose day by day to put into action the causes that bring us where we go next.

three-things-cannot-be-long-hiddenThat’s neither good or bad in itself: it’s simply how cause and effect have worked, and will continue to work. But so often it’s not in the self-interest of any elite to do what the “electorate” may want or need. That’s what makes them the elite. Plotting a course of self-interest is how they got to be elite. That’s what “people do” in such circumstances.

And — always — people can do something else. I can, and so can you. I did yesterday, and you did too.

Not according to Hawking, though. Current trends and practices

in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world. The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits [Hawking’s link] while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.

Inevitable, progress, socially destructive. There it is, in a nutshell, the reason we’re collapsing. The first two assumptions are just that, assumptions. The third factor looms before and around us, resulting from the first two.

We’ve demonstrated over time, far better than any New Age workshop or guru ever could, how we create our reality. Assumptions are, after all, powerful magical techniques. Hold them strongly enough, inject them with emotion and attention, and they shape consciousness. They make up the outer circumstances, often the inner ones, of life. One life, a billion lives, in high tech or on a factory floor or in a studio or classroom or garden. One life, a billion lives, filled with pain, joy, a mix.

“With resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we are going to have to learn to share far more than at present,” says Hawking. But who will start today? You, privileged physicist Stephen Hawking? Whenever I read or hear “must” and “have to”, I know someone’s avoiding actually doing that “must” or “have to”, or, more likely, is shunting it off onto someone else’s shoulders. I try to minimize that in this blog, but my percentage slips from time to time.

Waiting for “elites” to act is exactly the wrong course of action. We each take steps each day to build whatever balance we have in our own lives. Sharing resources? One way I share is to “consume less”, of course. Will I recycle this bag or box, or throw it in the trash? Will I replace these lightbulbs with higher-efficiency ones, or maybe just not use lights as much? Candles, or darkness. Will I reduce my car-trips, combining tasks and appointments? Will I sell the car, and use public transport? (It may not be available.) Will I unplug appliances that eat energy even when they’re “off”? Will I grow anything at all that I can prepare myself and eat, rather than buy from halfway around the planet? Will I downsize a habit, a car, a house, a hoard of possessions, an attitude, a life?

One and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one make ten. “Suddenly” a lot? Nope. Accumulating every day. We know this. The world now vividly reveals the human psyche. (The fact that it also does many other things needn’t be lost on us either, in our species-centric obsessions. Other lives have their say.) Our Western popular culture now gives us The Hunger Games, Divergent, The 100, Terra Nova, Incorporated, The 3%, and so on.

The beauty of our individuality is that there’s no “single solution” but a multitude of choices, because we’re a multitude of people.

brian-savage-thank-god-a-panel-of-experts-new-yorker-cartoonThe city-dweller in a third-world nation foraging for scraps through piles of refuse exhausts her options and migrates with her family to another region where she can grow a small garden. Or find work. Or mount a protest with others large enough it draws media attention to a problem. Or, sometimes, die trying any of these. Sometimes we can shame ourselves into fixing things. Sometimes we just turn away. Every choice matters, every choice contributes to the pool. Nothing is lost. All that we do returns to us, so we can see our choices more clearly. Why else have worlds like this, where choice is possible and makes such a difference?

Americans, of course, are all elites in their own way. We’ve seen the figures, how we consume a very large percentage of the world’s resources, far larger than our share. Greer counsels “collapsing now” as something prudent, as an act of self-interest, because our two choices are not really choices at all. We can collapse more gradually, with foresight and preparation, or we can collapse painfully, in places violently, resisting change all the way down. Collapsing or not collapsing are no longer the options. How we collapse is.

It’s not some unique event, the collapse of a civilization and economy. History doesn’t so much repeat itself as find endless variations on a small set of themes. The collapse of a petroleum-consumption-empire-supported lifestyle doesn’t mean “the End” but it does mean massive change in a certain set of imbalances.

It’s safe to say large portion of the readership of this blog is blanketed, for now, against the worst sufferings these changes can bring. If you have both the leisure and opportunity to ponder the words of a privileged white blogger, you’re statistically pretty likely to be privileged yourself. Yes, we’ve been “inconvenienced” by changes already. Yes, our “standard of living” may be declining. Most of us aren’t yet starving, in prison, or dead. But our heads and hearts are troubled, our bank accounts are scary-shrinking, our stresses, health, credit-cards, relationships and uncertainties maxed out. We’ve had a foretaste, certainly. Those of us who live more on the fringes in any way will, like canaries in the mine, bear more of the assault of change. We’re already beginning our own forms of collapse, of hopefully creative down-sumption.

The healing, creativity, practical tool-kit, and hope that Druidry offers, like other spiritual paths also do, involve steps we can take now and daily. Whether we actually take any of them, whether we see them as beautiful and wise opportunities to begin to reclaim ourselves and our world, or as RAORPSEMFs, Ridiculous Avoidances Of Real Problems Somebody Else Must Fix, will determine to a great extent how the next minute, month and decade will go for any of us.

Yours along the journey,

A Druid Way.

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Images: Three things; panel of experts.

Personal Holy Days   Leave a comment

In addition to whatever religious, ritual or secular calendars you may follow, you’ve probably begun to recognize and honor your own holy days. You know, the ones that fall between the official dates on the calendar that hangs on your wall or scrolls from your desktop. Some difficult, some joyful. It may be that you count your birthday or some other similar day among them. Hobbit-like, you may have come to enjoy gifting others rather than yourself on those days, with a feast, or outing, a picnic, perhaps in a back yard, garden, or favorite annual reunion campsite that has begun to take on numinous qualities, because your love has helped to make it so.

A valuable piece of wisdom there, in the transformation our love and our repeated attention can make of almost anything.

For me, my parents’ anniversary on the 26th of June plays that role. Long ago my father and mother set the tone, because they almost always made it a larger family event. A month later in July, my father’s sister celebrated her anniversary, and with a number of May family birthdays preceding it, the late June date falls squarely in the middle. The typically good weather here in New England, together with the first early garden produce (strawberries! asparagus!), make it a perfect candidate for a holiday gathering, a cookout or garden party. This year would have marked my parents’ 60th anniversary (they made it to 46), and for me the date’s taken on a “second solstice” quality. Cherish such days in your year. If you’re like me, such personal calendars subtly shift and re-form over time.

So yesterday a libation and some quiet reflection, a walk through my new Druid grove awaiting its formal consecration, and the working out of some light physical karma that has come to flag for me a potential shift in consciousness. “Pain is often the creator of awareness,” one of my teachers like to say, rather ruefully, and it’s proven true for me. When I wake up enough to know once again I’m in the hands of Spirit, minor pain and discomfort can open a chance for sharpening awareness quite effectively.

Outwardly, builders recently finished repairing the foundation and rear wall of our garage, a necessary dedication of resources if it wasn’t to fall down our sloping back yard.

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And just as true as the seemingly mystico-magical but quite practical saying “if you build it they will come,” if you’ve already come to a place, sometimes you have to (re)build it in some way to flourish there. And when you do, everything else re-equilibrates to the new harmonic you’ve established. Energy will flow first along the easiest channels it finds, and I’ve learned that often means right through the middle of any weakness, hole, or gap in my being and circumstances. I perform that service, I’m that easiest channel, a part of any dynamic I seek to transform, and the sooner I get that, the less wear and tear on the earth, water, air, and fire bodies that Spirit wears locally, in what I am pleased to call me, my life. No distinction, really, as I keep relearning. Jiji muge, the Zen Buddhists say. Between one thing and another is no separation.

Tamias_minimus

Tamias Minimus, aka chipmunk

So we must act mindfully and vigilantly at all times, they tell us. Nope. Not at all. Fat chance of that happening! snarks my inner brat. I don’t know about you, but I mess up all the time. That’s where the learning and growth is, the crack in the sidewalk where weeds finally push through, the shell the chick pecks open to move to the next stage, the new home the hermit crab must seek when it outgrows the old one.

Life’s what happens when you’re busy making other plans, John Lennon reminds us.  Well, yes, and that’s a very good thing indeed, whispers the chipmunk, my inner guide for the month. (A mated pair lives beneath the roots of the evergreens that line our driveway.) Keep learning to listen, and you’ll plan wider.

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Image: chipmunk  (tamias minimus)

Single Stories, With Children   2 comments

[If you’re still counting, this is Thirty Days of Druidry 27. But the count obscures the actual topic, so I’m demoting it in these last few posts.]

In a recent NY Times article (“The Danger of a Single Story,” April 19, 2016), conservative columnist David Brooks writes,

As in life generally, every policy has the vices of its virtues. Aggressive policing cuts crime but increases brutality. There is no escape from trade-offs and tragic situations. The only way forward is to elect people who are capable of holding opposing stories in their heads at the same time, and to reject those who can’t.

There, right in our faces, the challenges of a “single story”: even as he strives to diagnose the dangers of binary thinking, Brooks beautifully illustrates it: “the only way forward.”

There are, of course, nearly an infinite number of ways forward. (The larger the group you look at, the fewer the ways. So look smaller, instead. We each of us will make, are making right now, our own ways forward, different from everyone else because we’re different. This post, this blog, is my set of ways. They don’t negate yours. Both-and, not either-or.)

Right now, more than in the past, we face difficulty identifying what “forward” looks like. Oh, there’s always a raucous chorus of voices who will tell you their versions. Mostly we suspect it’s “not what we have right now.” But that’s not at all the same thing as some kind of straight-jacket on reality that drops us into one kind of cosmic “only,” a limited-time offer from the gods.

[Pause for Druid meditation on the rhododendron almost ready to bloom, on the crab apple already loud with bees.]

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Back again. Readers of this blog know I work mostly in the personal as opposed to the political. And I’ll continue to insist they’re two distinct things. Of course they frequently intersect. Don’t most things in our universe?

Partly that’s a matter of scale. We’re beginning to realize, painfully, that we can only effectively know the local and personal. I can and do pretend from time to time to have wisdom about things outside my experience. (Sometimes I even get away with it.) Prophets and Wayshowers manage to pull it off with panache, and get others to buy in.

But as soon as I can, I’m taking this discussion out of the abstract and into the individual. Name a policy and I’ll show how it erases the unique, the personal, the distinctive. Policy tends to exemplify the tyranny of abstract, one-size-fits-all thinking. Draw a line in the sand and that line starts to matter more than people do, regardless of which side of the line they’re on. Is that ever right, we ask? And our answer determines our experience. There’s no such thing as free will — because we will it so.

[Pause for second Druid meditation, on appearances and other realities. Not just one reality. Boring. Not even just two. Almost as boring. Multiple, endless. Now we’re talkin’.]

I want to hold multiple stories in my head, not just one, even though I’m not running for office or proclaiming my way forward as the ONLY, as if all other options, all other universes, are BAAAAAD. No, I want to hold multiple stories because they’re beautiful, and beautifully true, together or separately, at one time or another. Each one a drop of dew, mirroring the blades of grass nearby, but also the sky. Dreamer, you cry. At the risk of riding on Lennon’s coattails, “you say I’m a dreamer, but …” We’re not there yet. That’s one thing dreaming’s for.

Fall in love with the universe, I hear, as both command and prayer, fall in love with it, and you don’t seek policies, you seek the beating heart of each thing, to know it better, to celebrate with it in its own way, orgy or restraint, sowing or boundary. Yes, as I plant my garden and keep out the rabbits and squirrels, and sweat a little in order to live here at all, I can celebrate at the same time. No single story for me. Work and rejoice. They’re not opposites. Things together. The universe, I find, is a marrying kind of place, for worse, and for better.

 

 

Thirty Days of Druidry 26: The Chew Toys of Druidry   Leave a comment

For my birthday earlier this month, my father in law sent along a card with a cover picture of the four (five) characters from The Wizard of Oz. In the cartoon bubbles above each one are their familiar goals: a heart, some courage, a brain, a home — and Toto as a stealth fifth character gets his say, too: “Maybe a chew toy?”

Druidry has grown sufficiently into its potential that it has a green and beating heart. As for courage, many Druids do try to “walk their talk” as far as they can, at least keeping the two yoked together and pulling in the same general direction. Not all of us, and maybe not even a majority of us at any one time. But any is more than none, enough for a start, more than before. Step forward, live one’s values openly, whatever others may think of them, or quietly (still matters): against fracking, for preservation, against excess (except maybe during festivals, when mead and love-making and all-night drum circles get to play their vital parts in making Druidry just slightly less than completely respectable).

And against dogmatic certainty, if we can, allowing for enough skepticism that we swallow fewer baited hooks. Small successes: a river cleaned and reclaimed, legislation to preserve rather than consume (or at least consume and restore, replant, restock, re-establish). Is it enough, against the slide and careen of our times? We may not be able to know right now. Maybe our current pessimism is part of a useful course-correction, long in coming.

But it counts for something — all things have their weight and presence. The planet’s learning and growing too, a hive of beings that, if they soil their home, will nevertheless still die and be remade in some form, if only as atoms that were Christ and Hitler too, to work out all the consequences, bad and good together. If not me as me, some of my kin will be here in years to come. (Does it matter in one sense if I have been here before? I’m here now.)

A keen-edged kind of justice: the physical world doesn’t appear to do mercy, unless you count cosmic balance as a kind of far-seeing compassion, impersonal in its workings. The gods and spirits, I notice, do sometimes save, but not us from ourselves when we walk away from their counsel.

Brains, too, haven’t been lacking since Druidry’s earliest days, admittedly along with sometimes generous portions of looneyness. The Revival brought out themes and practices many Druid groups like OBOD still draw from, and the more purist Celtic Reconstructionists have increasingly founded their practices on what can be recovered from the past and from mostly careful and informed deduction.

As for a home, well, here we are. Living in and on it, nourished by it, drinking from it, giving back to it what we choose to give to future generations — to our future selves if you hold deeply to full-on recycling.

Which leaves the chew-toy. What things might correspond to that? The tides of current fashion and flaming opinion, sure. Scandal and media obsession, the so-called Witch Wars, the poly-, duo-, mono- and a- theist speculations that usually lead no further, sometimes, than mild clarification or further obfuscation. One or two or ten people finally turned toward practice rather than pontification. A slight deviation away from head-stuff, into things heads deal less well with, but other parts of us say home, home, I’m in native inner country here.

A seemingly casual and causal sidestep into worlds where those old questions get traded for quietly larger and equally old ones. The slant of sunlight at dawn. Dew on bare feet, now that summer’s nearing. Trill of birdsong. Instinct to breathe in the chi, prana, nwyfre, elan, vital energy alive and pulsing all around. Breathing it out as I live my life. A nudge, maybe no more, to serve in some specific way in my neighborhood: an old backyard dump to be cleaned up, a gathering to organize or attend, a seemingly chance conversation that changes the paths of the participants, infinitesimally, modestly, significantly. A move around or out-of-state. A relationship ending, a relationship beginning. A season to plant, to harvest, an injury healed, a new wrinkle, scar, perspective, discovery, wonderment.

What I chew on comes second. Remember, I say to myself, remember that sequence, that priority. My jaws don’t have to be the strongest thing about me.

Thirty Days of Druidry 10: Both Trees   Leave a comment

In Tolkien’s legendarium, his two trees of Valinor, Telperion and Laurelin, are silver and gold, both fruit-bearing, and the originals of the moon and sun.

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Either-or? How about both-and?

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The jury’s just heard the last of the testimony. The voices of the four defendants — two humans, one animal, one deity — still seem to echo in the paneled courtroom.

The DA rises slowly from his chair and approaches the jury to give them their charge before sending them off to deliberate. As he stands before them, he leans forward a little, resting his hands on the railing at the front of the jury box. At such close range, they can see shadows under his eyes. His suit is rumpled, and the once-crisp blue tie is stained and hangs loosely knotted. His trim physique looks pale, and his eyes rather glassy behind the heavy metal-framed glasses he has worn each day as this case goes forward. He speaks:

OK, folks. You’ve heard everyone involved tell their side. The facts are clear: God plants a garden in Eden, puts the man there, makes all kinds of trees grow out of the ground, good to look at and good for food. In the middle of that garden stand two trees. Let me refresh your memories here: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The DA pauses and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He looks around slowly, catching many eyes. Then he resumes his summary.

God tells the man, “You’re free to eat from any tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When you eat from it, you will die.” Note that God doesn’t say “if” but “when.”

God realizes it’s not good for the man to live alone, and after a dry run with animal companions who just don’t fit the bill, he puts the man to sleep, and from him makes a woman.

The serpent says to the woman — and everyone agrees on his words — “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman answers, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” It’s here that confusion enters the record. Does Eve know which of the two trees to avoid? Or has this all-important distinction already been lost?

I know we’ve arrived at the appearance of “he said-she said,” but it’s important to note everyone still agrees what was said.

“You certainly won’t die,” the serpent says to the woman. “God knows when you eat your eyes will be opened, and you’ll be like God, knowing good and evil.” Again, “when,” not “if.” Up to this point everyone agrees on what was said.

Now the serpent claims he tried to get Eve’s attention at this point, before she moved from her spot in the middle of the Garden, staring at the Trees of Knowledge and Life, and took that famous fruity bite. His words don’t appear in any of our official transcripts, and here’s the first disagreement. But I repeat his testimony here:

“Hey, Eve. Eve! EVE! A piece of advice. Eat from the Tree of Life FIRST! The tree of LIFE!”

Again the DA pauses, rubbing his eyes and cleaning his glasses, which he prefers over contacts. This time he takes so long that the judge is just about to admonish him, when he suddenly resumes, as if startled out of a dream.

When Eve sees the fruit of the tree is good for food and good to look at, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she takes some and eats it. My next question to you is this: how does she know these things before she eats?

Folks, to make short work of the rest of the story, which again nobody contests, God finds them. There’s an ugly episode of shirking responsibility and buck-passing to the serpent who can’t blame anybody else (though you might look again at God).

God curses the three of them, serpent, Adam and Eve. And this is my final observation to you. In spite of what we’ve heard today, neither Adam nor Eve dies for many more centuries.

Consider these things carefully, and you can only arrive at one verdict. All right, ladies and gentlemen. You’re dismissed.

/|\ /|\ /|\

But what is the verdict? Is there, can there be really only one, in spite of how we often interpret the story? A better question or at least a more Druidic one: what’s the range of possibilities?

My apologies to those of you who know this story well. I taught it in high school for a decade and a half in a “Bible as Literature” unit, and we looked at characterization, at gender, at issues of truth and specificity, and the implications of distinctions like if and when, and what the story may subversively teach below and around and in spite of what we’re traditionally told it teaches. (A small detail: as many of you also know, there’s no apple anywhere to be found.) And we looked at over-reading the story, too, which teachers are infamous for doing, and which I do here.

I’ve also manipulated the story, and added to it, for my purposes. The “if/when” distinction, however, does appear in the New International Version, which comes in for its share of criticism for instances like this, and many others.

Student atheists in my class often didn’t know the story, Jews and Christians who actually did know it (and not all did as well as they thought they did) expressed often widely disparate views on what the takeaway is or could be. It’s safe to say all our eyes were opened. If we left some discussions feeling uncomfortable, it was a useful discomfort.

Among the reasons I like this story as a Druid is that trees are mediators of such potent energies as wisdom, moral law, and life. And as the song “The Wisdom of Trees” says, “Church bells ring, and I’m glad they do, but …”

/|\ /|\ /|\

Therese1896Let’s refuse to choose between wisdom and life. Like Thérèse of Lisieux, when presented with a choice, will I say “I choose all”?

IMAGES: Therese.

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