Archive for the ‘enchantment’ Tag

Living Enchantment   Leave a comment

“Who’s been here before you?”

Josephine McCarthy, whose Magic of the North Gate I reviewed here, writes about magic with the instinctive feel as well as insight of someone who practices it.

Among the many ways to conceive magic, she suggests one useful way is as an

interface of the land and divinity; it is the power of the elements around you, the power of the Sun and Moon, the air that you breathe and the language of the unseen beings … living alongside you. With all that in mind, how valid is it to then try and interface with this power by using a foreign language, foreign deities, and directional powers that have no relevance to the actual land upon which you live? The systems [of magic] will work, and sometimes very powerfully, but how does it affect the land and ourselves? I’m not saying that to use these systems is wrong; I use them in various ways myself. But I think it is important to be very mindful of where and what you are, and to build on that foundation (Josephine McCarthy, Magical Knowledge Book 1: Foundations, pgs. 19-20) .

Lest all this seem confusing (and it can be), recall again the prayer that reflexively acknowledges “… these human limitations … these forms and prayers”. The great challenge of spiritual-but-not-religious is precisely this — to find a worthy form. Find the forms that work for you, respect them and your interactions with them, and listen also for nudges and hints (the shoves you won’t need to listen for — that’s the point of a shove) to change, modify, adapt, expand, and try something new. A spiritual practice, like the human that applies it, will change or die. Sometimes, like the shell the hermit crab uses for shelter and carries around with it for a time, we need to leave a home because we’ve outgrown it — no shame to the shell, or to the person abandoning that form of shelter.

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Besides, this sort of debate — about which deities and wights to work with, which elemental and directional associations remain valid and which have shifted, and so forth — while perhaps more acute for those inhabiting former colonies of European powers because of cultural inheritances and influences — resolves itself fairly quickly in practice. It’s best treated, in my experience, individually, and case by case, rather than in any dogmatic way applicable for everyone. Stay alert, practice respect and common sense, and work with what comes.

What does this have to do with Brighid?

I’ve written of intimations I’ve received from one who’s apparently a central European deity, Thecu Stormbringer. The second time I visited Serpent Mound in Ohio, I heard in meditation a name I’ve been working with: cheh-gwahn-hah. Deity, ancestor, land wight? Don’t know yet. Does this name or being somehow remove or downgrade Brighid from my practice, because it has the stronger and more local claim, emerging from the continent where I live? Could it in the future? Certainly it’s possible. But in my experience, while other beings assert their wishes and claims, it’s up to us to choose how we respond.  We, too, are beings with choice and freedom. That’s much of our value to each other and to gods and goddesses. We have the stories from the major religions of great leaders answering a call. Sometimes they also went into retreat, wilderness, seclusion, etc. to catalyze just such an experience. All these means are still available for us.

For me, then, part of the Enchantment of Brighid is openness to possibility. The goddess “specializes” in healing, poetry and smithcraft — arts and skills of change, transformation and receptivity to powerful energies to fuel those changes and transformations. We seek inspiration and know sometimes it runs at high tide and sometimes low. As this month moves forward, we have a moon waxing to full, an aid from the planets and the elements to kindle enchantments, transformations, shifts in awareness.

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Trigger Blessings   Leave a comment

What? Well, we’ve heard a great deal, at least in the U.S., about trigger warnings — flags to alert you to media content that might possibly cause you distress.

(These days I find myself asking what doesn’t cause distress to somebody, somewhere.)

So why not look for trigger blessings instead?

You know — signs, clues, hints, flags that something out there (or in here) might possibly bring you joy, strength, inspiration, the will to carry on.

Do such things even exist?

They do. And often we mediate them to each other. Hello. I am your trigger blessing for today. Grandchild singing tunelessly, pet warm in your lap, neighbor waving on the way to work, kind stranger who lets you into line — many of our blessings come through persons. And we can be a blessing to others.

Not a bad goal, and prayer, for one day a week, to start: let me be a blessing to others. Then, having asked, watching for the moments I can make it happen.

Not for my sake (though serving brings its own rewards) but because it’s so clear others very much need blessing. Just as much, it turns out, as I do.

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Since working with the Enchantments of Brighid, you could say I haven’t had anything remarkable to show for it. Led a workshop discussion on Past Lives, Dreams and Soul Travel. Caught a miserable sinus infection, along with my wife, after a weekend trip to celebrate her dad’s 85th birthday. (The old guy’s in better shape, in some ways, than I am.) Had a few dreams I’ll get to in a moment. Enjoyed the growing light that February brings to the northeast U.S., whatever the weather. Felt a stirring of creativity easily attributable to chance, or cycles of change. Nothing especially unusual here. Move along.

Except …

Enchantment often works best under cover. No one’s contacted Industrial Light and Magic, or WETA, or the local CGI crew, to mock up a trailer for the work of Brighid. The goddess, or our own life patterns if you prefer, can pull it off without the splashy special effects.

Though they’re present, if I look behind the glamours and bad mojo of our deeds, our headlines and our endlessly squawking media to all the other things, better ones, that are happening all the time.

My wife and I are making plans for a family and friends gathering to celebrate our 30th anniversary. An online Old English group I founded just held its first Skype meeting to practice the language, with 8 of us chatting awkwardly, with a good deal of laughter, for 40 minutes. Ideas are percolating, following on the Druid-and-Christian themes I’ve explored here in numerous posts, for a session at the 2nd Mid-Atlantic Gathering this coming May — a breakout discussion group I suggested will talk about the many intersections of the Druid and Christian experience.

Our finances, always interesting, continue to be interesting, but just in new ways. It turns out we won’t starve after all. (Or if we do, I’ll document it here.)

And the dreams …

In the first, from 31 January, I face Thecu, many-armed and -faced, pointing toward the east and to either the 4th or 3rd of her 9 runes of storm. Near her, a patch of intense darkness. My spiritual Guide and Teacher from my other path appears, says it’s always a choice: leave it alone or walk through. Bless the darkness — no reason to fear it. New fears, old fears: the old are a marker; the new, often, no more than distractions, unless I let them teach me something.

The second, from 4 February: I am warning others of an approaching tornado, but no one can hear me.

In the third, which my dream journal records for 9 February, I’m with a group of students from my former boarding school, though in the way of dreams I don’t recognize anyone. We’re talking about diversity, when one student shouts “Be careful!” Then I’m flying over trees, leading with my left toe. I arrive at an abandoned house somehow connected with my parents. I shout, “You never shared your pain with me!” and wake, at ease, reflective.

While going through old documents and photographs, I come on an image of my dad’s grandfather Albert whom I’ve never seen before, age and sepia blending, formal pose and 114 years all combining to distance him and bring him near. Yes, Ancestors, I’m still here, still listening.

Albert Hird

Turns out more than enough is happening to keep any respectable Druid very well occupied.

Trigger blessings to you all.

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Enchantments Re-enchanted   3 comments

All things listen to each other, even if they don’t intend to, because they share one world. As if on cue, New Republic‘s deputy editor Ryu Spaeth devoted a 6 February 2018 article to “An Education Through Earthsea“.

Admiring and condescending by turns, Spaeth opens with a strong claim: “The most beguiling promise of fantasy fiction is that of self-knowledge”. Maybe. Let’s see where Spaeth wants to go with this.

Because such stories typically feature young adults perceiving that promise and striving to claim it, their characters and plotlines can become hackneyed and cliched. Spaeth asserts that “Although rooted in our oldest legends, they hold less appeal to adults in the twenty-first century than Le Guin’s more critically celebrated works” that treat of gender, social structures and mores — human worlds and all their potential to limit as much as to liberate. Quoting Le Guin, Spaeth observes, “Enchantment alters with age, and with the age”. Odd, then, that it’s our oldest legends that have re-surfaced and that continue to appeal to so many.

But does “enchantment alter with age”, in any sense Spaeth would have us understand?

“In our age, movies and television have taken over the enchantment business”, he says. Taken it over? Yes, in many quarters. But often badly — ruling it no better than contemporary political parties and social movements do our human worlds. Enchantment is no “business”. Le Guin also wrote for the ones who walk away from the Omelas* of mass society and its blindnesses,  of its imbalances in our times of ravening consumption and cold indifference to “all our relatives”, as the Dakota Sioux call them, these many Others who share our worlds, furred, finned and feathered.

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nearby February snowfield

Spaeth ultimately condemns the fantasy quest for wisdom as a product of a particular time and place:

It is an approach that may be out of step with the times; to treat life as a mission to discover oneself can read like solipsism, especially when we know that so much of identity is shaped by factors beyond our control, by race, gender, class. Perhaps only a white American in the postwar period could have written the Earthsea books, could speak of an autonomous self within its own narrative, waiting to blaze forth; writers and filmmakers are more conscious now of systemic forces and the undertow of history.

Both a seemingly “woke” critique and also a deeply oblivious and superficial one: neither Le Guin nor her Earthsea wizard-hero Ged, after all, stop at self-knowledge as any kind of endpoint, but continue on an arc that ultimately finds him old, stripped of the glamours and powers of the difficult wizardry he has practiced much of his life, and at length “done with doing” in Tehanu which follows the trilogy. And each of these things, just as Ged’s beginning does, arises from “systemic forces and the undertow of history” present in Earthsea. Different ones, but hardly absent! To take just one instance, Ged is dark-skinned; the foreign Kargs who attack his village, and spur him to his first act of magic, are white. It’s because of “systemic forces and the undertow of history” that we need self-knowledge and wisdom, along with the strength to quest for them — in spite of the distractions and barriers every age has provided.

The same book Tehanu ends with mortal rescue by a dragon (and not some contrived deus-ex-machina salvation, but one motivated by and in response to human love for a child), followed by an even larger revelation of magic at the very heart of Earthsea which I will not spoil here, and lastly with a woman’s dream of planting a garden — not in some newly-recovered Eden, but a late planting, “right away if they wanted any vegetables of their own this summer” (Tehanu, Bantam 1991 edition, pg. 252). The oldest of magics, dragon and green world, rooted squarely in the midst of human life.

Any worthwhile enchantment survives Spaeth’s dismissal wholly unscathed.

The old stories flourish because they have something to say to us we’re not getting from Washington and Hollywood and Industrial Light and Magic, however temporarily beguiling they may be. Enchantment in the end can never be an “industry” or “business”, whatever glamours its often debased versions toss our way. We earn them, but we can’t purchase them.

And because we each do have our “own narratives”, whatever else we may be, we do have choices, however hard, and at least in part we are our stories, especially if we know and tell them well enough that we do not merely justify all our choices, but grow through them into something more than we were before.

In these days of growing light, along with a typical February snowstorm coming to the Northeastern U.S., the Enchantment of Brighid continues to unfold.

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*A discussion of Le Guin’s genre-defying “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”.

Enchantments of Brighid   Leave a comment

One of the Enchantments of Brighid is openness to possibility. The goddess specializes in healing, poetry and smithcraft — skills of change, transformation and receptivity to powerful energies to fuel those changes and transformations. We seek inspiration and know sometimes it runs at high tide and sometimes low. As this month draws to a close, we have a moon waxing to full, an aid from the planets and the elements to kindle enchantments, transformations, shifts in awareness.

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A day ago we finished a box of wooden matches. The box holds 250, and since we use them only for lighting our stove, that means we go through just part of a box every year. Emptying a box doesn’t happen that often, so it’s noticeable.

I like the imagery of the “empty” box. Though combustible itself, its main purpose is to contain matches and provide a strike surface. An old box has a worn strike surface, and one might be tempted to toss the whole thing in the fire. But I’m keeping it for these 19 days of Brighid, and it occurs to me now that it deserves a place on my altar. The sacredness of the everyday? Well, where else can the holy mystery abide in the worlds of matter, energy, space and time. As a friend likes to say, a mest (or messed) world can be a good and powerful stage for life and joy to happen.

Not to stretch things too far — how far is that, anyway? — I am a box, and so are you. Our spaces can hold all manner of things, and it’s our intention that determines what those might be. Insubstantial in itself, the box is nevertheless a potential locus for fire and mystery, or scores of other things. We take from the box a mood or a match, strike it and lay it to paper and kindling. We don’t create the fire, but without the box, the match, the intention and the movement to bring fire and kindling together, we don’t get flames.

To me the empty box is a “found” spiritual tool (my favorite kind), one I can work with physically and also in the imagination from where magic pours forth. Kitchen magic, or woodstove magic, if you will. What belongs inside it? What are some of the matches I wish to light? Where do I find them? (Where have I found them in the past? What new sources of them open up each day?)

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On a small piece of paper I write a prayer to Brighid, and I fold and close it in the box.

Aboutness   Leave a comment

“I heard you saw the movie yesterday.  So what’s it about?”  “Jean and Bill are arguing again.  What’s that about?”  “OK, he tried to explain and it still doesn’t make sense to me.  But you understand those kinds of things, so tell me about it.”  And there’s the old-time newspaper seller’s cry:  “Extra, extra!   Read all about it!!”

This elusive quality of aboutness is core to so many of our ways and days.  We spend years in education (and life) dividing things up into their parts and labeling them, and then at least as much time putting them back together, searching for the links and connections between them, so that we can “grasp” them, “get” them, understand them.  Re-assemble and it might resemble what it used to be.  We crave community, fellowship and friends along the way at least as much as we prize our American individualism and independence and self-reliance.  We long for aboutness.

About is near, close, approximately, almost — good enough for daily reckoning, for horseshoes and hand-grenades. It’s about five miles.  We’re about out of time.  About is sometimes the guts, the innards, the details, all the juicy pieces.  About is also the whole, the overview, the heart of the matter.  If you know about cars or cooking, you don’t need to know every specific model or recipe to “know your way around them.”  What you don’t know you can usually pick up quickly because of family similarities they share.  If you under-stand, you know the sub-stance.  Position yourself in the right place and time (apparently beneath what you desire to comprehend, according to the peculiar English idiom), and you’ll get the gist.

Layers, strata.  This onion-like reality keeps messing us up with its levels.  Its aboutness won’t stay put as just one thing, but consists of stuff piled on other stuff below it.  Often you gotta dig down through the fossil layer to reach the starting point.  Peel it all away, though, and sometimes all you have is peel.  You may know the simple and lovely blessing — there are several versions extant:

Back of the loaf is the snowy flour,
back of the flour is the mill;
back of the mill is the wheat and the shower,
the sun and the Maker’s will.

Sometimes if you pay attention you can catch it like a melody on the wind, something that lingers behind the sunlight.  We know more than we know we know.  This is the natural mysticism that comes with living, however hard we may try to ignore it.  This is the  aboutness that underlies our lives and our days, while we scurry from one thing to another, in pursuit of happiness.  So it follows us, shaking its head at our antics.  It could catch up to us if we stopped, looked and listened, if we made space for it to live with us, rather than renting out a room next door, trying vainly to catch our attention.

Robert Frost is one of my go-to guys for insight, as readers of this blog discover.  In “Directive” he begins with that sense of constriction, and our partial memory of a past that shines brighter because of what we’ve forgotten about its difficulties.  Yes, the poem’s “about” dying New England towns and abandoned houses, but also about us:

Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather …

If there’s a place and home for us, he goes on to say, it’s reachable only by misdirection.  “You can’t get there from here,” because the “here” has no more substance than anything else.  It won’t serve as a starting point.  Time has wrenched it free of its moorings.  Things drift.

The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost,
May seem as if it should have been a quarry—
Great monolithic knees the former town
Long since gave up pretense of keeping covered.
And there’s a story in a book about it …

Yes, there’s a story, maybe several stories, a hint or two that maybe somewhere else, or someone else, will do it for it us, will finally deliver to us what we’ve been seeking.  The stories of art, of music, of the great myths we want to believe even when we can’t.  Sometimes the hints are maddening, sometimes the only comfort we can lay hands on in our seeking.

Make yourself up a cheering song of how
Someone’s road home from work this once was,
Who may be just ahead of you on foot
Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.

Aren’t we almost there?  Or is it merely illusion?  Is this a path anyone else has traveled and succeeded in the end, or our own unique interstate roaring straight toward disaster?  What lies are we telling ourselves today?  And are we waking up to them at last?  You gotta get in to get out, go the Genesis lyrics (the band, not the Bible).  You have to get lost in order to be found.  That experience is necessary, though painful.  Not one of us is the son who stays at home.  We’re all prodigals.

And if you’re lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
Then make yourself at home.

Might as well get comfortable being lost, because it’s gonna last a while.  Though we never can be wholly comfortable in illusions.  No end in sight.  The problem is that we don’t know this until the end actually IS in sight. What illusions do we need that will actually bring comfort for a time, at least?  They’re not illusions until we outgrow them, live through and past them.  In fact we need truths now that only later become illusions precisely because they will be too small for us anymore.

First there’s the children’s house of make-believe,
Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,
The playthings in the playhouse of the children.
Weep for what little things could make them glad.
Then for the house that is no more a house,
But only a belilaced cellar hole,
Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.
This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.

Our house in earnest, playhouse in our childhood, has collapsed, or will.  Our old selves won’t do.  They don’t fit.  We shuffle them off like snake-skins that bear the imprint of what lived in them, down to scar and scale, and we mourn and mistake them for ourselves, another illusion, standing there in the mirror that consciousness provides.

Who then can show us the way?  From this perspective, we need, not salvation, but someone to show us where we can walk on our own two feet.  Not out of vanity or stiff-necked pride, but because we have to make our way ourselves.  Otherwise it doesn’t stick.  It vanishes like a dream on waking.  Yes, others have carried us there briefly, by art or alcohol or sex or those moments of ecstasy that come on us unannounced and unsought, glimpses of home through the fog.

Tolkien has Gandalf and Pippin touch on it briefly in The Lord of the Rings:

Gandalf:  The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass. And then you see it.

Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?

Gandalf:  White shores … and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

Frost continues, wise old poet-guru.  (Sigmund Freud once remarked, “Everywhere I go, I find that a poet has been there before me.”)

Your destination and your destiny’s
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.

We keep flowing — we’re not meant to stay put.  Heaven as stasis, as a static destination, an endpoint, a final arrival, nothing beyond, is a false heaven.  Enchantments of different kinds surround us. Some deceive, and some actively conceal what we know we must have in order to live at all.  Yet what we seek also and paradoxically lies hidden in plain sight. The water was “the water of the house.”  It’s right here.  What can we use to gather it up?

I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can’t find it,
So can’t get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn’t.
(I stole the goblet from the children’s playhouse.)
Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.

Be whole again.  What was lost is now found.  Restoration.  Return to what is native to you — your watering place.  This is the command that drives us onward, the quest buried in our blood and bones.  Reach for it. Whole again beyond confusion.

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