Archive for the ‘earth spirituality’ Tag

1: Druid and Christian — “The Table Round”   Leave a comment

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

In this post I’m more cranky than usual, so I invite you to read with compassion rather than judgment — for your own sake, never mind mine.

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Where’s the real “Good News”, Jesus? Why is it so hard to find it in the churches with your name attached? Saints still appear, but more often in spite of Christendom than because of it. “Jerusalem, we have a problem”. (The problem, of course, is limited human consciousness, not the example of spiritual mentors and teachers, whom we keep deifying rather than actually following. Slow learners, all of us.)

“Be not simply good but good for something”, Henry David Thoreau exhorts his readers. Like what, Henry?

“A Christian must be esoteric!” exclaims Father Heinz Naab, in David Lindholm’s article, “Meeting a Modern Druid Christian in the Garden of Delights“. But what that esotericism means is left to the spiritual discretion of the seeker.

“The practice of sacramental spirituality can be pursued apart from the various pathologies of political religion”, notes John Michael Greer in his essay “The Gnostic Celtic Church“. In sacrament rather than creed lies one potent meeting-place for Druid and Christian.

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In Christian tradition, Jesus is about 33 when completes his mission, dying on a Roman cross and afterward appearing to his followers, still spiritually alive. His “actual” age matters less than its metaphorical value, just as dogma matters less than experience. In Christian and Jewish terms, he was the right age to enter the priesthood (see Numbers 4:3).

In terms of the tarot, that much disputed and profoundly useful tool, we can gain further perspective. With Caitlin and John Matthews’ version, the Hallowquest Arthurian deck, the numerological practice of adding the numbers of his age together gives us 6, the card of Taliesin (who assumes forms human and animal before he is devoured by Ceridwen and nine months later is born again as the future bard). A fruitful theme for meditation — I could, for instance, see Taliesin as an avatar of the divine incarnating in creation, a model for human transformation through spiritual practice.

Or we can add the 11 years’ difference between the 22nd and last card of a traditional deck and Jesus’ age, and taking a second passage through the deck, arrive at the 11th card, which in Matthews’ version is the Round Table.

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Da Vinci, “The Last Supper”. Wikipedia — public domain

So many of the paintings depicting the Last Supper present Jesus not at the head of the table, but at its center, fulfilling his words (John 15:15) and dissolving the distance between them: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you”.

And the medieval Round Table, which the 13th century French poet Robert de Boron‘s Merlin creates in conscious imitation of that Passover table of Jesus and his followers, also seats 12, with an empty seat left by Judas and only to be filled when a worthy knight achieves the Grail. (In later versions of the story, it’s Sir Galahad who earns the right to sit in the Siege Perilleux, the Perilous Seat.)

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Galahad taking the Perilous Seat. Painting by Evrard d’Espinques (15th  c). Wikipedia public domain. Words in red: “… assist galaad au siege …”

Jesus does not establish a hierarchy but abolishes it instead. He is immanu-el — god with us, present in humanity and in the natural world. And as a model for such fellowship — no one can claim a dominant seat at a round table — the object is a fitting symbol. Merging human and divine in his own person, Jesus offers a powerful exemplar. This is how creation is healed: we manifest our true identity instead of cowering behind our imagined powerlessness. For we are fearful of nearly everything — the future, the world, disease, death, and each other perhaps most of all. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

We see how distant we are from such manifestation if we attempt it through such avenues as “identity politics” today, for this spiritual achievement is precisely what politics of any sort can never deliver. Nor, in the end, is it intended to, though “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” fail without the spirit. (Humans as political animals have had long enough, after all: centuries, millennia! And nothing better within “Christian states” than non-Christian ones. Advantages of geography and resources, yes. But does anyone sane imagine America as a “fully Christian nation” (in the terms its Dominionist advocates propose) could provide such consciousness?)

Instead we have a model, a guide and a set of images from a blend of Druid and Christian sources that point toward a profound spiritual practice common to both traditions. But if we would follow it, we also need to hear the scale of things where it happens most readily: “where two or three are gathered together in the name of divinity in creation …” Let what we incarnate today be a sacrament that we share with others we meet.

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Images: Last Supper; Siege Perilleux/Perilous Seat, by Evrard d’Espinques (fl. 1440-1494), Wikipedia public domain.

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Passing It On   Leave a comment

What would you teach a young person asking to apprentice with you for the wisdom, skills and insights you’ve gained in your life? And how would you go about teaching these things?

The season itself encourages me to be mindful of such things. With its focus on harvest, completion, the Ancestors, and with my own middle age upon me, it’s natural to take stock and ponder what’s most worthwhile out of all the experiences and insights a human accumulates over several decades.

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Before going any further, why not take a few minutes and write down your responses to those questions in the first paragraph above?

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What follows is one half of a possible conversation with the other person.

“Thank you for asking. You honor me by bringing these questions to me. In turn, I’ll start by asking you what you’ve learned so far. We build on what we already have discovered, so this is a good starting point. Let’s go for a walk — you choose the direction.”

“One way to begin to answer these things for yourself is to look at times in life when you are happy, or totally engrossed in whatever you are doing. What were you doing, and what did the experience feel like? No need to hurry toward an answer. We can talk again in a few days. Time for a cup of tea or coffee, right?”

“What would go on your ‘favorites’ list? You know — favorite colors, places, animals, people, activities, etc. These things can be a source of comfort, encouragement and energy when you need to recharge or rebalance. Turning to them consciously and gratefully and making them a regular part of your life can assist you greatly. And they can be keys to explore further, and develop as part of your personal toolkit for living. For instance, carving out space and time to practice them, and making a physical space where they are represented, can make a surprising difference in our experience of each day.”

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“For some people, these can become doorways to a profession or career. For others, they become rituals and practices to restore and rebalance. For still other people, they can become spiritual symbols and subjects for meditation and insight. Here on my table altar is a hawk feather I found while my wife and I were looking at property here in Vermont. It was a teaching symbol that continues to remind me to pay attention to small signs. Because way beyond random probability, they can often turn out to be big signs.”

“What kinds of things are you good at? If you don’t know or aren’t sure, start asking and paying attention. Everyone has certain latent strengths, talents and abilities. It may be that others have already helped you find some of them, or have encouraged you if you’ve started showing or practicing them, but you can find them on your own as well. They may not always be things that others value right away, but you probably practice them anyway. In fact, some of the things we can be shy about are often things we deeply value and don’t want to expose to others’ opinions or judgments, so we keep them hidden. In spite of what Western culture tells us, there are such things as good secrets. Respect your own sense of when to open up about them, and when to keep them private. Or if I’m listening to the wisdom of plants and trees, build my root system first, then flower second.”

“If you’re wondering about what we’ve been talking about so far, or if you’re thinking they don’t seem very spiritual things, you’re partly right. We often undervalue such things, or think they don’t matter, or overlook them when we’re considering ‘matters of real significance’. Yet all these things make up part of the value of each individual. Each of us has importance, and each of us has core purposes we can discover and fulfill.”

“One powerful way to grow and learn is to serve. You hear a lot about service, and about ‘selfless service’. But I’ve found that the most balanced service is one that we may enter knowing we’ll benefit along with others, but not worrying about that either way. We serve because it’s another way to be grateful for what we’ve received. But we also serve because the universe makes us curious, and service takes us places we can reach in no other way. It connects us to people and places and other beings who we can help and who can help us. Service builds relationships. It’s a form of love. Though it may sound very strange to say it, loving another person can be a form of service. That includes loving ourselves. If we think about the numbers of unhappy people in the world today, loving ourselves is truly a vital and desperately needed form of service.”

“Finding something larger than myself and connecting to it is the only lasting source of happiness and fulfillment I’ve found. We long to feel deeply that our lives matter, and that kind of connection brings meaning and purpose and a deep sense of rightness. We may connect to a craft or art or skill, and we may connect to another person or organization or movement. During my life, I’ve moved around a bit among these at various times. Some people find one way to connect and spend their entire lives with that single way. But like everything else, there’s no single ideal way for everyone, but simply the way that works best for you right now. This isn’t something to believe, though you can if you want to, but it is something to test and try out and determine its validity for yourself.”

“Extending these insights into the practice of a craft, an art, a religion or spiritual path, an organization or cause or profession, are each natural developments of the initial urge and instinct to serve and to express our talents and abilities. A god or gods may help us focus our service, or become the center of what we do. But our service may not take that particular form. Our judgments about others’ choices will always be incomplete. To know our own purposes and priorities is the task of a whole life. We can honor others’ choices and give them the freedom to choose just as they give us that same freedom. There’s a deep test: does my practice afford others the freedom to choose? And does their practice offer me that same freedom?”

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“In this world of time and space and change, there is a spiritual adage whose insight I’ve learned the hard way, repeatedly throughout my life. And it’s this: each day’s rhythm means we must re-win our spiritual freedom for that day. It’s an ongoing practice, not a single achievement. In fact, it’s the substance of our service.”

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East   Leave a comment

Feeling from the West, and from the South the fire of intention set on slow burn. Now on to thought, consciousness, intellectual discrimination — the original sense of the word, that priceless ability to make distinctions, not our unfortunate modern meaning-shift of imposing them hurtfully on our brothers and sisters. Properly-made distinctions distinguish between stupid and wise uses. Distinctions by themselves are inert, lifeless. They need human consciousness to animate and manifest them.

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ECG directional banner for East and the Hawk of Dawn. Design by Dana Driscoll.

But often, feeling is first, before thought, before reflection. We feel and then think about it, even as we experience and then reflect on what happened. e e cummings captures it perfectly in his love-poem of that name:

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

and death i think is no parenthesis

So much here, in the “syntax of things”, the pattern and web that bards sing of. Here the Bardic impulse lives: thought in the service of feeling, shaping in words what comes first in emotion. So we continue to turn counterclockwise to work our spell, from feeling to intention and now to perception, clarity, naming what first was wordless. My spellchecker flags my initial typo “worldless” — true as well, because without thought is no distinct world, for feeling floods everything, without the distinctions of thought.

We flow liquidly from feeling to feeling, not bothered by the categories and parameters and boundaries of thought. But feeling, if it’s to lead to anything other than the next feeling, needs the mold and shaping power of thought to give it direction and focus. Thoughtless feeling blunders and bumps into things, knocks over both bad and good, never noticing the wreckage. But wise thought charged with feeling bears a rare potency.

How marvelous that thought is also magically linked to spring, to beginnings and formative activity! The freshness of new thought, the airiness of clean perception is indeed Springtime. And the cosmos invites us to say, as cummings poem announces, “we are for each other”. Because as another Bard reminds us, “no man is an island, entire of itself”. (What do they teach in schools nowadays? We’ve long had that wisdom laid out before us that we need to navigate difficult times. True Bards have always been out in front, pointing and singing us to our heart’s deep desire.) We are kin, family, relatives. The Lakota know it, calling the cosmos mitakuye oyasin, “all my relatives”, winged and footless and four- and two-footed.

It’s in the Western world in particular that we’ve carried individualism too far and made a cult of it, set up altars and applied ourselves to worship. Friendships and families, strained. Human connection breaking. The Me generations are reaping the harvest of being cut off from the cosmos. Sever the link to the worlds, cut the original umbilicus that was never meant to break, and we’re just “stupid bags of skin”, to quote yet another philosopher. Beings who live, and die, alone. Sad, and wholly avoidable.

Thus to thought, to link us up, to relink us, Latin religare, from which comes the noun religio, a relinking. The multitude of shapes and forms that religion can take testifies to mental creativity. Almost anything shaped with love can help to relink us to what we need to truly live. Lose the love, though, and any form empties out pretty fast. It can’t serve its purpose without feeling, any more than it can without thought. Without the heart, religion dies. Without the head, it’s brain-dead at birth.

Of course, if we leave religion in the hands of thieves and scoundrels, we’ll get the same result we do when we leave governance in similar hands. But that’s on us. Religion well-practiced can relink us to what nourishes and feeds us. When (not if) it’s not doing that, it’s always time to wrest the reins from the hands of the incompetent and the malicious. Little wonder we’re in a spiritual-but-not-religious age. But the spirit needs a container, a form, a shape, to embody it in a world of bodies, forms and shapes. A formless spirituality may work for spirits, but we have bodies while we’re here, and an embodied spirituality will almost always serve us better.

So I light my fire, I meditate with an image, I write and draw and dance and do ritual to embody what I want to celebrate and remember and welcome into my life and the lives of those I practice with.

And I write about some of that here.

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As this blog approaches its 6th anniversary and 50,000 hits, I again want to thank all of you who visit and read. Site statistics tell me more of you stay than leave, which in turn tells me I’m talking about things that matter enough to you that you come back, and wrestle with some of the same issues, and attempt to make of your lives something worthy of the gift of life we’ve been given.

 

“It takes night to see fire best”   2 comments

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Like so many truths, the title for this post is both a truism and a guide.

Want to perceive something? Set it in high contrast to something — often, anything — else. Human consciousness, biologists tell us, is built to detect patterns and contrasts. Among other things, consciousness is a sophisticated survival mechanism. What stands out from the background may be friend, food or foe. That’s one good reason why we won’t be color-blind any time soon, any more than we typically ignore hair or eye color, gender or height or clothing. These are all vital signals that convey information too useful to ignore.

Fire, full moon, night, autumn — as my wife said, after we’d sat for an hour talking and fire-gazing, “It’s very grounding.”

Why not “ground and center” with fire? Oh, I know the reasons: earth helps neutralize imbalances, reconnects us to our physicality when we may be lost in thought or feeling, and so on. Earth’s a great insulator. It helps deaden psychic forces, just like eating meat does after intense ritual or magic or a nightmare. Ground and center, that basic of Pagan practice, one that renews itself as we walk our paths.

But sometimes if I’m too grounded, neutralized and banked and bermed, I need fire. The centering’s still crucial — focus is part of our struggle in this age of so many distractions. In this case, it’s “spark and center”. (With water or air, then, it can be “bathe and center”, or “breathe and center”.)

Kindle me to action, don’t drug me to inertia. In our age of rampant anti-depressants and opioids, you might say we need new prescriptions if we’re to flourish and thrive as the gods invite us to do.

And by “kindle” I don’t mean “prod me to outrage”. That’s a “flash in the pan”. I’m going for a slow burn, the kind that makes good stews and soups, that’s perfect for barbecue so tender the meat falls off the bone, and the ashes keep warm for hours after the flames have died down.

That’s also the kind of kindling that keeps me warm through winter. In this counterspell to our times, I turn us counterclockwise, from West in the last post to South and Fire. As we edge toward Winter in the northern hemisphere, I evoke Summer in us. After all, my preparations of food preservation and stacking firewood and insulating and covering and closing all aim to shelter the sacred fire within.

It takes sacred fire to understand sacred fire, so I lit one last night. Like any dedicated practice, and like all good ritual, action and prayer embody each other.

In these times, the sacred shines all the more brightly by contrast.

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Evaluating Values, Part 2   Leave a comment

Here’s the second half of the set of values I began looking at in Part 1.

Let go and move on.
Set goals.
Care for self and others.

For a nation that claims to be forward-thinking and looking, we’re accumulating an impressive ability to lick old wounds and live in the past. “Times were better when” can afflict the best of us. But even if it’s true, I live now, not then, and I need to begin with what I have today. I’m older (any “wiser” part is an independent variable).

If I’m listening to here, safe in my home cosmos, and honest with Deep Self, I already have a foundation to build on (“here”, “safe” and “honest” are the first three values from Part 1), one that lets me proceed to the next three steps. (Hint to self, or Self: they’re not necessarily steps in a sequence. Repeat-practice any as needed. Each also offers me an extended theme for meditation.)

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Mantis, 4 Sept. ’17. Photo courtesy Jodi Klue.

Mantis, you landed on nearby steps to interrupt a casual conversation a few weeks past, so this time I invite an image of you here to do the same. You become a prayer I can pray often. Let me see interruption as spiritual opportunity, the green world and all the persons in it as companions and allies and teachers, not adversaries. If you offer difficult gifts, I will not just refuse them outright.

You are my divination and message-bearer. (Yes, “sometimes a bird is just a bird” — until awareness greets it like a friend, with understanding that makes good sense of experience. Nothing has the “final word”. The Spiral opens onward, even as it offers rest and respite. Keep questing.)

Plainly you’re turning with the year, the vibrant green of early adulthood now muted, brown as leaves that carpet the yard and driveway. Hunter, are you weary? What have you seen with those complex many-faceted eyes? The power of awen: the empathy to enter other lives and know them, to sing their energies and possibilities, to feel slender legs beneath me, two powerful ones raised and ready to clutch. To sing and die and rise again, to thread the labyrinth of time.

Ah, shape-shifting is a mighty way to “let go and move on”! We do it each night in dreams, a practice I can extend to waking hours. Who can I become to know this world better? What links of sympathy connect me to all life? How does this moment offer doorways into what the cosmos needs next? How can I serve? Out of self and into Self and into other selves. Brother fox and sister hawk, I hear you breathing, your lungs contract and fill in my own chest.

Sometimes I can serve by setting a goal. Let me take the last two practices together: I set a goal to take care of myself so I can take care of others. After all, I can only serve if I CAN serve. How often I misunderstand self-sacrifice! If I can only perform the sacrifice once, chances are I’m limiting myself.

O wisdom-guide, you whisper, Often the best sacrifices are ones you can keep doing. The point isn’t burnout. Make it sacred, sacri-fice it, so you can make it sacred again.

Those of us who attended the recent East Coast Gathering are resuming our “mundane” lives. How to integrate the vision and energy of a Gathering, or any time of intense spiritual uplift, back into daily living is a perennial challenge.

But slowly I am coming to see that I need to “get spiritual” just so I can begin to see that the “mundane” is also absolutely overflowing with spiritual energy. We need to re-charge, yes: so we can flow again. Or to put it another way, my ability to tune in to a seemingly “ordinary” interaction in line at the supermarket, or pumping gas, or climbing the steps at work can transform the apparently mundane into a spiritual connection. The “apparently mundane” in all its flatness and dullness is our workshop, laboratory, spiritual opportunity. Empty canvas. It’s easy to perceive and ride the spiritual currents during events like ECG. Then I get to practice during “everyday life”. I am transformer, I am catalyst, I am pathway in and of myself. It can always begin again with each of us.

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Evaluating Values, Part 1   Leave a comment

[Part 2]

As a set of guidelines, the six principles my new school works to embody and put into practice offer a new angle on some profound Pagan principles. I’ll list them, then look at each one from my own perspective. (Season to your taste. After all, in the end we’re the ones who choose to adopt — or refuse — whole sets of values. Whatever story we tell about them later, we’ve chosen or turned from them.)

Be here.
Be safe.
Be honest.
Let go and move on.
Set goals.
Care for self and others.

Be here. Am I here, fully, now? Well, in New Jersey, yes. Over our last week of professional development, one presenter made a point I’ve been carrying around. We tell kids, and adults too, to “pay attention!”. But do we ever teach how to do that? What’s it mean, really? Is it just one thing, or a collection of practices? Is it even always the same thing?

I’m going to look at “being here” in terms of trees. When I walk up to and greet one of my new favorite trees here in NJ, I’m also listening for a rhythm, a wave of energy that has its own pulse. It may take me a bit to tune in to it, or once I do tune in, to harmonize with it. Touch can help. The give-and-take is part listening, part sinking into myself. I’m both more with the tree, and also more with myself. Trees differ as much as humans, so the rhythm or pulse differs with each one. Some challenge. Some welcome. Some heal. Some rouse. Some just have better things to do than interact with humans — nothing personal, you understand.

Being here is listening, feeling, monitoring, relaxing, attending — a whole cluster of practices and responses that intermesh and modify each other. Fortunately, the tree (usually) takes part and helps, like in any conversation, to make an exchange happen, and make it instructive or beneficial for both parties.

Be safe. Many of the girls at the school have struggled in other places, had bad experiences as learners, face significant gaps in capacities that would let them thrive in public high schools, and vary widely in their command of work-arounds, strategies, self-awareness, support systems, and so on that help them play to the strengths each one has. How can they or any of us feel safe in a world of change and challenge and heartbreak? Significantly, other people can be a resource. In the favoritism that the West and particularly the U.S. shows to independence and self-reliance, we often overlook the family, the group, the tribe.

The girls — and faculty, too — are trained to “call group”, to ask for the help of class, team, squad, dining table, or entire school. Call group for clarification: what does each person understand about the task at hand? Call it for celebration: let’s acknowledge what we’ve accomplished. (Ask another person to call group on your behalf, if you’re too shy or stressed to do it yourself). Call it for confrontation: let someone who has bullied or threatened another hear that the group knows and rejects that behavior. Can we do that and still be safe? Can we do it and not become bullies or sources of intimidation ourselves?

Are we ultimately safe in this universe we inhabit? Is the cosmos malevolent, seeking us out to crush us and pulverize every plan and hope? If we know fully our kinship with all life, the great teachers tell us, then we can indeed be safe here. But how to get there, just like how to pay attention, is something we rarely teach, or are rarely taught ourselves. Pay attention! Be safe! How, please, can I do that? Is it safe to be here, where I’m called to be?

Be honest. Can we be honest, and safe, too? Show me!

Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”, which gets quoted a lot for various purposes, offers a kind of Pagan gospel, a trust in a deep and intricate order that our human drama often belies. Maybe we could call this the Pagan trust, one of the most honest things a Pagan can tell you about life and the cosmos.

You do not have to be good. [Really? So many moral codes tell us otherwise!]
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves. [Danger! say many scriptures. Disaster! Damnation! Doom!]

The poem shifts in what feels to me like its second pulse, the second chamber of its heart. It doesn’t say our soft animal bodies automatically transform every problem. They’re a start, not an endpoint. Start with the fact of embodiment, says Oliver. Whether or not my attention is here right now, my body sure is. But what’s next?

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

What are we to make of the “meanwhiles”? Like so many of us, you may have experienced the strange double vision of intense grief or other emotion, while the whole rest of the world all around you goes on, continues, unconcerned. Depending on where you are in your intensity, that may confuse or enrage or sadden you. How dare the cosmos not notice my suffering? Or, alternatively, if you’re swept up in a big high, why aren’t more people celebrating the amazingness of simply being alive?

But we’re not alone in the lows any more than in the highs, however isolating our internal hurricane can feel at times. But how can something of the wild geese “high in the clean blue air” communicate itself to me here in the middle of my grief or rage or despair? Here, where I’m paying attention, because I’m held in the grip of an immensity and can’t do anything else anyway, even if I wanted to.

Oliver generously, Druidically, gives us three “meanwhiles”, so perhaps we may hear at least one. But how exactly do I “head home again” out of all this?

One powerful key, or two together, appear in what I feel is the final “pulse” of the poem:

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Imagination and family. How do we access this connection, our place in the family of things? One way is through the imagination, which — like attention — we’re rarely taught how to use. No wonder the West suffers. It’s thrown aside many of the skills and strengths of imagination. We see the suspicion of art and the fear of imagination and transformation outside any sanctioned practices or churches or political persuasions or sexual orientations. So often we see the world, or a pretty fair chunk of it, as “out to get us”, instead of “inside to help us”. Imagination, that bottomless source of so much misery and joy. It’s imagination that connects us to our true family.

Meanwhile — Oliver’s wonderful, terrible word — meanwhile, the cosmos pays no attention to our fear. It just keeps sending us messengers, in spite of anything we do. It just keeps announcing the deep good news of our real place in the family.

I find more and more I want to pay attention.

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Posted 7 September 2017 by adruidway in Druidry, earth spirituality, Mary Oliver

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Ancestry, Polytheism, Tradition   1 comment

Melas commented thoughtfully on the previous post, and I’d like to reflect on his words here. In trying to explore the questions he raises, ultimately I end up pushing hard against my own doubts and understandings and probable prejudices. By this I mean I’m mostly arguing with myself, not Melas. So here goes …

First, Melas’s initial observation:

The poem, though short, is moving, especially upon a reflection, as you have provided. Without considering the poet’s evident meaning or original intention, I’d venture upon a somewhat different interpretation than yours, that is, one based on my traditional views. Let us at least agree that ancestry bears some degree of importance in any tradition of polytheism; the difficult questions are, how much, and what if one is of mixed ethnic ancestry?

I’ll add to Melas’s two “difficult questions” here and make them four: Does ancestry in fact matter, how much, what if one is of mixed ancestry, and does polytheism affect the issue one way or another? (One or many gods, or none, we all have the same energies to work with. Or do we live in wholly different universes simply because we group and name and work with these energies differently?) To continue a theme from the previous post, if we consider a person of Greek descent whose ancestors for at least ten or more generations were most likely Orthodox Christians, is practicing Hellenismos, reconstructed Greek polytheism, a comfortable or straightforward way to find harmony with these most recent ancestors, to enlist their aid, or to maintain their tradition? Or consider the opposite: is the Orthodox Christian angering all those ancestors who preceded Christianity? Is it merely a numbers game?

When I welcome ancestors — the occasionally monotheist, sometimes pantheist, intermittently polytheist being that I am — I invite those sympathetic to me, one of their descendants, today. (Who else, after all, would want to come? Think of those family events you’ve tried to escape!) In this sense, ancestry is indeed everything. I’m here because of them, and with them rest both my gratitude and reverence. But I face choices and challenges both similar to and different from ones they faced. I have ancestors who were Christians, Pagans, atheists, agnostics, animists, polytheists and shamans. How do we sort out such identifications and allegiances?

Do the last thirty generations of so of Christian ancestors of varying degrees of devotion and wisdom trump hundreds of generations and more of pre-Christian ancestors? Will the polytheists among them fight the monotheists in the Otherworld, or at my ritual circle? Does more recent ancestry matter more than the more ancient strains? OBOD’s standard ritual includes a declaration of peace, without which no work can proceed. Those who work the rituals can attest to the power of that declaration, and to the tenor and energy of the rites that follow. What we do, and who we welcome, matter here and now. A feast is ultimately for those who actually attend (though even to be invited is pleasing, too). To paraphrase Jesus, many are called, but fewer are fed.

King’s poem in the previous post acknowledges his

people
back to the beginning of
life,
In the witness of the gods
and the ungods

Back to the beginning: bug and bird, beast and beech tree. I suspect, one of the words I prefer to use in place of believe, because it captures both my doubt and my intuition, that such matters as commitments and practices from one life may recede when we drop the body of that life. We work on what we need to learn. If we truly do experience all things as we move through each circle of existence and awareness, as some Druids teach, then so do our ancestors along their journeys. Some things we give up, even as we take on others. (Some will follow us through many lives.) Whether this time around I was baptized into the “right” church, or offered the traditional gifts to welcome my spirit guide on my vision quest, may matter little compared to our enduring work along the Spiral of all beings to learn and grow in strength and love. And from what I’ve seen, we’re all slow learners. The Spiral is large and long.

Melas comments:

To the first [how much does ancestry matter?], I would say as much as possible, since a connection by blood is an inner force and connection (literally and figuratively) that can’t be replaced easily or dispensed with as unessential. I am not wholly Greek in ancestry, but my ancestors are partly from neighboring nations, and therefore choosing for me is easier than someone half-Greek and half-Chinese. In such a case, it would be best to take a side, I mean join one tradition without scorning the other, since large distance is inconvenient and causes confusion in the mind and heart.

When the choosing is clear, the choice can align the chooser quite effectively within a tradition that can be a solace and a guide, a source of strength and identity. Today many are still born with such a clear ancestral heritage. In such a case, it may indeed “be best to take a side, I mean join one tradition without scorning the other”. Perhaps Americans feel more keenly the “confusion in the mind and heart” that Melas talks about, with our often mixed ancestries. Confusion may result, whether the distance is physical, cultural, linguistic, genetic, spiritual, psychological, etc.

But should I then be a Christian, because everyone in my immediate family was, and because though I’m deliciously mongrel in many ways, most of my more recent Swiss German, English, Welsh, French, and Scottish ancestors were Christian as well? (I have transcripts of letters from one ancestor eight generations back, admonishing her children to strengthen their faith in trying times.) Should I be Catholic, or Protestant, or provoke ire on all sides and practice a blend of Christianity and Druidry?

Candomble pic

Candomble ritual, Brazil

And I call to mind people known to me personally, who don’t count among their keys to identity a genetic match in this particular life to a particular tradition that nonetheless calls deeply to them. Is there no place for an Asian or African in an often Euro-centric tradition like Druidry? Most traditions of Druidry I know welcome all who come with good will and an open heart, regardless of DNA. And that feels right to me, and to many others. Does that weaken the tradition, or strengthen it? Or indeed not affect it either way?

What are we to make of those whose inner experiences orient them toward traditions outside their apparent genetic heritage? What of the Euro-American adopted into a Native American tribe? The person of mixed ancestry who practices two or more traditions, a syncretism that seems more the rule than the exception, if we look at human history? Many homes in America find ways to honor a colorful braid of ancestral strands, Latino and Jewish and Thai, Catholic and Native American and Nigerian, etc. Haitians practice Vodoun, and Candomble and Santeria flourish in many places in the Americas — syncretistic forms all of them.

santeria

Santeria initiate

What of other new traditions, and restored ones, among people who already have a clear cultural and genetic identity? Native Americans have established the Native American Church, a distinctive set of beliefs and practices blending Christianity and shamanism, with sacramental use of peyote. As a Wise One once quipped, “There is little nature likes so much as to destroy old forms and then create new ones like them”. Do the ancestors of Native tribes ignore their descendants because of this innovation? I suspect — that word, again — that the ancestors either haven’t figured out yet, or worry about it a great deal less than we do.

Melas closes:

This point of the essential connection between ancestors and polytheism is too often overlooked nowadays, and I think it is dangerous. If we don’t stick firmly and mainly to a certain tradition and people (again, without scorning others), we expose ourselves to the uneasiness (sometimes misery) of uncertainty, and further we render traditions unlasting, empty and jumbled by removing distinctions from them.

Does the distinctiveness of a tradition depend on ancestry, or on honoring the ancestors? I see these as different things. I may know next to nothing of my ancestry, or through misinformation and deliberate ancestral deception I may believe things that are inaccurate, but the existence of my ancestors is still indisputable. And what of ancestors of spirit, those who have taught and trained and nourished me though we have no kinship by blood? They matter equally to me and to many others. Are such calls outside our blood the calls of those ancestors?

In the end, I’d argue that the distinctiveness or value of a tradition is simply this: does it meet the needs of those who practice it? Does it nourish the heart and spirit? Does it answer our innermost cry? If it does, it thrives and flourishes: we thrive and flourish in it. If it doesn’t, then like all things in this world, it changes or dies. It may be distinct, but dead. We contain, but also surpass, all that we do. That’s time-bound, however wonderful it is. And we live in more than one world at once, acting in each. But each of us is also still a seed, a potential, waiting in the earth, even as along time’s spiral we fruit and die, sprout again and blossom. The world shows us that much every year.

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Images: Candomble; Santeria.

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