Archive for the ‘fire’ Tag

“The Provocations of Now”   2 comments

[Solstice light and fire can fill us with energy to tackle the big stuff.  At least, that’s my sense of this post, after drafting and revising it. Here goes.]

fire circle -- crystal collins

MAGUS ’18 fire circle. Photo courtesy Crystal Collins.

The title for this post comes from a line in a recent column in the UK paper The Guardian. (I routinely skim the foreign press both as an escape from the breathless hyper-partisanship of U.S. media and also for key perspectives often wholly absent from American consciousness.)

Every age has ’em: the issues screeching for our attention, promising imminent peril and world-flattening disaster if we don’t ramp up our paranoia, doubt, fear and despair to the pitch of the writer, pol, preacher, activist, etc., etc. If you haven’t developed a nervous twitch just from hearing certain triggering labels in the 24-hour news-cycle, you obviously haven’t been paying attention.

Which is exactly what I try to practice and quietly urge on others, if they choose to give me space to talk. Often they don’t, and I don’t insist. Stop paying attention, which is a form of our energy, to absolutely everything, just because it asks for it. Pay attention specifically to what builds, to what gives joy and life to you and others. Otherwise, why bother?

What follows is geek-talk, if you’re not a Tolkien-fan. You might as well use the search box at the top left to find a topic that interests you, or wander elsewhere on the Net to track down what will feed and nourish your powers. Surf well.

OK, you’ve been warned.

Remember the Council of Elrond in The Lord of the Rings? In that remarkable extended scene with its many speakers, Gloin recounts how an emissary from Mordor comes to Dain Ironfoot, king of the Dwarves in Moria, and demands Dain’s compliance with a request. Dain answers prudently:

“I say neither yea nor nay. I must consider this message and what it means under its fair cloak.”

“Consider well, but not too long,” said he [the emissary].

“The time of my thought is my own to spend,” answered Dain.

“For the present,” said he, and rode off into the darkness.

We’re always asked to decide, to react — preferably as-quickly-as-possible — but certainly not to spend our time considering the messages we receive, or to originate a response that’s not simply a manipulated reaction for or against.

The time of our thought is our own to spend, if we reclaim it, which is precisely what we need to do if we’re to find a balance and poise that will let us act prudently, navigate our own lives with a measure of confidence and joy, avoid inadvertently assisting the dis-eases of our times, and possibly aid the forces of light.  (Yes, sometimes the admittedly exalted and grandiloquent language of fantasy has its place in a realist view of things. In times that feel over-the-top, eloquence and dramatic language fit perfectly. If they move us in any way to preserve our own integrity, they merit a place in the action.)

And we each need to do this in our own ways, which means no single formula that I or anyone else proposes will suit us all. No OSFA.* The Druid tradition of the triad quietly tells us to look beyond crippling polarities — it bids us ask where the third factor lies, and what it contributes to the situation — but it’s far from the “only solution”. Other factors shape any situation, but threes at least have the virtue of avoiding the potential deadlock of twos. A tie-breaker is built-in, so to speak. Freed from the grip of either-or, many a situation opens onto unexpected possibilities and directions.

I refuse — with the defiant gesture of Galadriel repulsing the Shadow — to spend my hours in despair, like Denethor, who thought he saw truly with his palantir, when all he perceived were the visions Sauron fed him. And a corollary: If I can’t contribute effectively to matters I care about, I will work where I can create and originate something positive, however modest. Instead of complaint, muddying the atmosphere for myself and those around me, I will build as much as I can.

And I vow — with the wisdom of the exchange of Elrond and Gimli following the Council — to keep faith with my own ideals, even as I test their validity.

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,” said Gimli.

“Maybe,” said Elrond. “But let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.”

“Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart,” said Gimli.

“Or break it,” said Elrond. “Look not too far ahead, But go now with good hearts!”

But what does that mean in my case? Showing up to write this blog, I reach 400+ people who find some value in what I say. If I can help raise spirits, I’ve found one way to serve. We each have many, and to identify them and give them attention can be a revelatory experience. We each matter much more than we believe or feel most days. (What dark magic have we allowed to enspell us that we think so little of ourselves?)

Lastly, I swear fealty to what I know of the highest and best, trusting that any purgation I face, should I fall short of my own ideals — as I have and will again, no doubt — will necessarily restore me at length to the commitment and service I aspire to.

There, a triad for myself, and for any others who may find value in adapting it to their situation, experience and capacities.

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*OSFA: “one size fits all” — a personal meme reminding me to suspect the single fix, the one answer, the sole acceptable response, the cloned ideal, the mono-culture, etc.

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“It’s Time to be Sorted”   Leave a comment

“When I call your name”, says Professor McGonagall in the first Harry Potter film, “you will come forth. I shall place the sorting hat on your head, and you will be sorted into your Houses”.

How many of us have heard others (or ourselves) say at some point, “I hate labels!”

Well and good. We’ve all been mislabelled throughout our lives, so it’s not surprising we’ve come to dislike careless and indifferent labels, and especially loathe the unfair or cruel ones that stick like chewing gum to our heels. What we hate, I’m asserting here, are inaccurate labels. But we long for recognition or acknowledgment of our true qualities. We want to be known. To be called — labelled — as friend, beloved, loyal, true — few of us indeed would refuse these labels.

Why then does Hogwarts sort students into Houses from the outset of their time in Hogwarts? Isn’t that the worst kind of labelling — setting up and closing off expectations that may harm the still-emerging personality and talents of each young student?

Let’s examine the scene.

First, the students have been chosen to attend the School. It’s certainly possible, I suppose, that a student could refuse to attend for any number of reasons. (Doubtless someone deep into Potter lore can tell me if I’m misconstruing this particular point in some way.) But I do know that when Wise Ones call us to accept a kind of destiny like this, it often opens up a corresponding inner recognition in us that our time has come. (Or if it doesn’t, it’s probably not yet our time after all.)

Second, McGonagall calls each name. Insofar as our names represent us (and some choose a Craft or magical name for just such reasons), we face an accurate or honest recognition of who we are, and who we can become. Called by name, we emerge from a group and are assessed individually. “You will come forth” — the real you. Our specific and unique potentials are each recognized.

Third, it’s neither a casual acquaintance nor a cruel bully labelling us, but the Sorting Hat, an intelligence and insight above our own — literally, in the case of the Hat resting on top of each student’s head. (Note for a moment how McGonagall’s hat is virtually identical in its shape and crook, though not color, to the Sorting Hat.)

Fourth, no student — or anyone else assembled — questions the Hat’s judgment (though Harry whispers the fervent request “Not Slytherin!” — which the Hat, after assessing him carefully, does honor). We retain our individual choice. Most of the new students look pleased at the Hat’s judgment.

An accurate assessment of our talents and potentials means we can deepen what we do well, while borrowing some of the confidence and insight and skill we’ve built up and already possess to tackle new areas and abilities. As a shy and bookish adolescent, I continually faced challenges to speak up, to express myself, to “not hide my light under a bushel”, to practice confidence around others until I both increased my store of it, and could also mock it up and enter situations where I might never have ventured before.

Or to play with words for a moment, one possible anagram of the name Hogwarts seems helpful (it’s easy to get caught up in such things and push them beyond their utility): “as growth”. Hogwarts is a metaphor, an image or icon or analogy of life-as-growth. It’s not the same thing, but an image of the same, a representation or likeness.

As George Bernard Shaw puts it,

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy (Dedication, Man and Superman, 1903).

Each of the four Houses corresponds in Rowlings’ universe to one of the classical elements. Gryffindor is Fire, the will, the self that chooses, focuses energy, manifests. The Sorting Hat, recognizing and representing our True Will, and serving as its mouthpiece in the sorting ceremony of Rowlings’ novels, knows us truly for what we are, and for what we may become.

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Fire, and All That Beltane Stuff   Leave a comment

One of the pleasures of OBOD Gatherings is taking part in the group initiations with those who opt for them.

Many don’t. An initiation is always personal, and many wish to honor that by outward solitude. It’s no surprise that the two initiation experiences, solitary and group, can each have a very different feel. As they should.

With a solitary initiation, at a time of your own choosing, you dedicate or consecrate your work, your attention, your energies to a task in ways personal and unique to you.

Of course, no initiation is wholly solitary. What you say, think, and feel are all between you and those present, with and without their skins on. In fact, in one of the paradoxes of spirituality, those others can help make the initiation more personal and solitary. My first Ovate initiation — I won’t say “self-initiation”, because in my experience all true initiations come about the same way, whether like my first you do them in your living room, or with a group, as with my second OBOD Ovate initiation — my first initiation packed a punch significant enough that I wrote about it to my Ovate tutor.

Recording it, shaping it for telling, if only for a journal entry, is an important facet of the experience, and communicating something of that to one’s tutor is recommended in OBOD, and wholly appropriate. The deepest experience can’t really be written about anyway. In this way we learn to honor the Law of Silence, one fourth of the old occult dicta, to know, to dare, to will and to be silent. Mix ’em and match ’em: know your will, and dare to be silent, rather than casting your pearls before swine. (Jesus knew more than a thing or two about magic.) As with telling dreams, others often cannot experience the most meaningful part of what we’re trying to communicate anyway.

As you’ve doubtless heard: “Guard the Mysteries! Constantly reveal them!”

It’s one of the delights of OBOD that it recognizes, and encourages, either or both forms of initiation. After all, fire is fire.

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front yard this morning — fire in the rain: last of the snow, first hint of the green

At MAGUS 2018, in a week and a day, we’ll be initiating Bards, Ovates and Druids in separate rituals. A good half of ritual is theater, and there one can experience the truth of the lines from the “Charge of the Goddess“: “Therefore, let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you”. If we don’t let them, how will they manifest? Learning how is the practice of our path.

As a Wise One has said, “At birth we’re fitted with a consciousness that allows us to go to school, get a job, and make our way through life. But we owe it to ourselves to reach higher, deeper, beyond. These don’t come with being born — we have to reach for them”. For me at least that rings true. Hence, among other things, this blog. Maybe I should rename it “A Druid’s Reach”.

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awen-sample

awen pendant

As I write this it’s drizzling outside. I’m adding one more awen pendant to the set I’ve made as Bardic gifts for the initiates — a last-minute addition has appeared on our roster of initiates. As a participant in the ritual I also get to say some of the most wonderful lines — a privilege, to assist in the shaping of others’ initiation experiences.

Beith — birch (genus Betula) — is a tree associated with the Bard. The first letter of the ogham alphabet, beith/birch is a pioneer tree, one of the first to take root in an open area. As a tree of beginnings, it’s an apt reminder of the focus of stepping onto a Druidic path: song, voice, word, music, poetry, imagination — all prime tools of the Bard, and never abandoned as one proceeds to deepen one’s practice of Druidry.

I’ve written elsewhere here of MAGUS and Beltane (MAGUS ’17 | the series Touching the Sacred | Triad for Rekindling Sacred Fire | Beltane 2016). In the latter post, I wrote:

Beltane, like the other “Great Eight” festivals of contemporary Druidry and Paganism generally, draws on a swirl of energies as democratic and mongrel and vital as you could wish for. Find a group to celebrate with, or if you prefer solitary practice, get outdoors, invite the season, contemplate on images and energies alive and at work in your awareness. Bring them into some physical form to ground and manifest them in your world. We all need reminders to help us through those “difficult” days with humor and grace and even, spirits friendly and stars favorable, with gratitude. What better than with something that’s come into your world through you?

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Posted 25 April 2018 by adruidway in awen, Beltane, Druidry, fire, initiation, MAGUS

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Hot Mic Druidry   Leave a comment

It’s Unverified Personal Gnosis, of course, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the mic is always hot. The universe — intelligent Web that it is (after all, it gave birth to you and me, right?) — is always listening, manifesting and responding to us.

Often it can feel like we pray and get no response. For that reason, some — many — may have sensibly dispensed with prayer. No surprise there, since asking has never done much in isolation. Oh, it does a little. It opens a few windows and doors, but if we don’t look out or walk through, they soon close again. Follow-through, follow-through, I say to myself.

Edinburgh Fire Festival bonfire

What about the prayers the universe prays to us? Do I really think it only goes one way?! How many prayers have I left unanswered? What is my part in manifesting? If I’m god-like, then what’s god like?

Part of the magic (it’s all “mostly magic”) is a matter of scale. Hot mic Druidry, just like hot mic Christianity (and hot mic atheism, for that matter) is partly a responsiveness to being alive, a sensitivity to here and now, this moment. So much of the time I’m anywhere but here. We use the future as a substitute for a larger present.

I shrink the present into the longest I can pay attention before something better takes its place. But (one of the handful of truly powerful and magical words in English, along with yes and if, why? and thanks! and even our own names, magical or mundane, chanted with intention, until the potential of what we are starts to resonate and I gasp at large we all really are) — but with loving attention, the present can expand to contain everything else. And I know that’s when the magic happens.

Most of us experience this intermittently, in “flow” moments. To taste this is to experience the “kingdom within”, as José the Carpenter put it. The old Hermeticists and Qabbalists spoke of Malkuth, kingdom, just below Yesod, foundation. The kingdom is just that close, and once the windows and doors open, we have the Foundation for everything else. And the “eye of the needle”, so easy or hard to pass through, depending? Well, that’s the eye of our own perception, clenched tight from disuse, or opening to let in the Light and Voice of the Silence. We don’t need any more teaching at this point. We need prods and reminders to put into practice what we already know.

What metaphor will catch my attention this time? Which one will work for me and aid me in taking that next step? Truth-of-this-Moment, enough to jump start the next one.

So I keep catching pieces, fragments, glimpses, echoes. Sometimes it’s downright embarrassing how much of my time here I squander, until I recall that this too is mission. There’s no hurry along the spiral. Only the Fire burning in each of us. Sit still warming myself a little too long, and that part gets scorched. On to the next, in turn. (The “best” among us just get basted more evenly.)

In this season of the approaching fire festival of Beltane, it’s no surprise our images and metaphors are fire. Cold can burn, too. If we can fight fire with fire, can we not welcome fire with fire?

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Images: Edinburgh Fire Festival bonfire.

“Both Cauldron and Wand”   Leave a comment

Devotees of Brighid, fans, and the simply “Brighid-curious” may enjoy John Beckett’s post “Solas Bhride: A Goddess Speaks Softly in Many Forms”, a reflection on his recent pilgrimage to Ireland.

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In 2015, I posted the still-popular “Beltane and Touching the Sacred.” In it I said (updated for the current next Full Moon at the end of April 2018):

Here we are, about two weeks out from Beltane/May Day — or Samhuinn if you live Down Under in the Southern Hemisphere. And with a Full Moon on April 29 (0058 GMT April 30) there’s a excellent gathering of “earth events” to work with, if you choose. Thanks to the annual Edinburgh Fire Festival, we once again have Beltane-ish images of the fire energy of this ancient Festival marking the start of Summer.

You may find like I do that Festival energies of the “Great Eight”* kick in at about this range — half a month or so in advance. A nudge, a hint, a restlessness that eases, a tickle that subsides, or shifts toward knowing, with a glance at the calendar. Ah! Here we are again!

I’m off again in a few weeks for the 2nd Mid-Atlantic Gathering — MAGUS 2018, with the theme “Sacred Time, Sacred Space”. Looking for a fore-/after-taste? Here’s last year’s post.

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Effective people, says Philip Carr-Gomm in his little book Lessons in Magic, “use both their cauldrons and their wands”.

Often a short quote like that is enough to launch me, set me off on reflection and contemplation and experimentation. (Echoing the near-endless spate of how-to books and guides to personal transformation, the idea of being “more effective” underlies the Protestant work ethic, its distortions in the American disdain for the poor as deserving their struggle, and much besides of bad and good.)

Put “effective” into the most crass terms: how to get what you want.

We often assume creativity — inspiration — comes first, and any manifestation second. But just as with so many things, it can be illuminating to examine assumptions as much for what they leave out as in. What can we learn, I ask, from both its truths and falsehoods?

The most famous creation story portrays both a creator and an “earth without form and void, and darkness … on the face of the deep”. Some translations suggest we can reasonably render the first few lines like this: “When God was creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and empty, and darkness hovered over the waters”. In other words, creativity needs material to work on. And the material in this version of the story is already present. Creation in such a case is a forming and shaping of cosmic substance already in existence.

You could say the cauldron is the scene — the stage for creation, the setting. Without it, no workshop, no lab, no tubes of paint and brushes and palettes. No place for anything to “take place” — an idiom itself full of significance and teaching. Everything hovering, like the spirit of the god over the waters in the Genesis account, but no entry-point into manifestation. Waiting in creative tension, but with no results. Brooding on the nest, but no eggs to sit and warm and hatch.

And here’s the wand — or a compass in this case. Some kind of magical tool or instrument helps focus our creative energy.

jesus=compass

French — ca. 1250

But Carr-Gomm rightly lists the cauldron first. Cauldron — Grail — womb of Mary in the Christian story — these precede creation. And they’re not passive, either, Mary is invited — not compelled — to nurture and carry the divine child. Her assent isn’t automatic, or pro-forma. Blessing our materials — inviting their participation — helps our creative process. Indeed, some kind of blessing is the key that makes creativity possible. We just often do it unconsciously. Ritual can help prod us to greater awareness. (As with all careless acts, ritual done badly can send us deeper asleep.)

For the Grail in the Arthurian mythos truly “has a mind of its own”. Though it may seem to be “just an object” — the goal of male knightly questing — it’s the Grail that chooses who ultimately satisfies its steep requirements, who may catch a glimpse, and when it will materialize and manifest.

The Wikipedia entry for “Holy Grail” notes that Chrétien de Troyes, the first to put the story in its Medieval form in the 1100s with Perceval as questing knight,

… refers to this object not as “The Grail” but as “a grail” (un graal), showing the word was used, in its earliest literary context, as a common noun. For Chrétien a grail was a wide, somewhat deep dish or bowl, interesting because it contained not a pike, salmon, or lamprey, as the audience may have expected for such a container, but a single Mass wafer which provided sustenance for the Fisher King’s crippled father. Perceval, who had been warned against talking too much, remains silent through all of this and wakes up the next morning alone. He later learns that if he had asked the appropriate questions about what he saw, he would have healed his maimed host, much to his honour.

So much of value here to note: the importance of a middle way between extremes, applicable to easily perceived tools in hand as well as more subtle tools like language. Don’t talk too much, but don’t shut up entirely..

With the slipperiness inherent in non-physical things and experiences, and the names we give to them, the san graal or “holy grail” becomes in Medieval French also the sang real “royal blood”, launching one of the oldest conspiracy theories still popular today concerning the possible existence of surviving lineal descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Add to this the World War II legends of a struggle between Hitler and “the forces of Light” for possession of the historical Grail and its immense powers, and you set the stage for the flowering of a new generation of Grail myths and legends. Archetypes continually regenerate; indeed, the Grail is among many other things an illustration of just such archetypal power.

And as we know from our own experiences with creativity, there are indeed many grails each time we manifest something — even if you prefer that they’re all subsidiary to a single magical One and Holy Grail. (Which in a certain sense they are.) Another question to ask, practice to experiment with: “What is the grail in this situation?”

Now this is all well and good, you say. Good fun, diverting, the stuff of fat best-sellers and million-dollar movie scripts and much silliness in pop culture and media. What of the wand? And what does any of this have to do with me?

Fear not. The wand gets at least its fair share of star billing before the end.

To take a turn through pop culture, why does Harry Potter take Hagrid’s advice and seek out Ollivander’s, apart from Hagrid’s plug that “there ain’t no place better”? Harry needs a wand. He survived the attack on him as an infant, with the scar as mute but vivid testimony of its potency.

But for any serious and conscious creative-magical work (all creativity is inherently magical), he’ll need a wand. It’s simply a matter of time before we ourselves come to the same conclusion.

“I wondered when I’d be seeing you, Mr. Potter!” says Ollivander.

And as with active Grail, the wand, we learn from Ollivander’s, and elsewhere, “chooses the wizard”. [Note how tall the interior of the shop is in the video clip — the airiness and “head-space” appropriate to a wand. And it’s at Ollivander’s words “I wonder” as he goes for the third wand that we hear again the hallmark and mysterious musical theme.]

And of course, with the tradition of clusters of three long associated with things magical, the third wand’s the charm.

Franz Bardon, no slouch when it comes to personal experience, magic and occult instruction, observes in his fine text Initiation into Hermetics that

Everything that can be found in the universe on a large scale is reflected in a human being on a small scale” (pg. 31) and “A true initiate will never force anyone who has not reached a certain level of maturity to accept his truth” (pg. 55).

Again, as with so many things, truth is better treated as experimental — to be tested through our own direct experience, rather than either swallowed credulously, or rejected out of hand — both falling short of the magical quality inherent in threes. Either-or too often simply misses the point we seek.

A wand extends and sharpens the creative ability — the inspiration and clarity of East, the dawn, air, what a bird sees when it flies, the overview, the big picture, the influx of Light from the sun. Its time is spring — the perfect tool in the hand of a gardener, whose version may take the form of trowel or spade.

Consult the recent and masterly exposition Wandlore and you’ll discover a major key:

The most basic hidden secret of magic is that the wizard must go within … inside the mind, and there, encountering Hermes, lord of communication, be led into the otherworlds.

As Carr-Gomm notes in The Druid Tradition, talking of Iolo Morgannwg, the brilliant creative mind behind much of the Druid Revival, but with important teaching more widely applicable and relevant to today’s headlines,

… when it comes to working with the esoteric, we are to large extent under the influence of Mercury, or Lugh, the god of communication between human and divine worlds … But Mercury is also the god of thieves and of deception — of stage magic, and the manipulation of illusion as well as of high magic — the manipulation of consciousness and the causal world. Those who have not clarified their relationship with Mercury fall prey to both aspects of his influence, and it is then hard for the academic [or anyone! — ADW] to understand how the same person can combine genuine material with the fraudulent, how they can channel both divinely inspired insights into Druidry and complete nonsense, how they can be upright and honest and engage in deception or delusion (pg. 27).

And rather than belabor the benefits of walking a spiritual path, and also to cover a truly immense amount of ground, the end result, recorded in T. S. Eliot’s grand poem The Four Quartets, in the last line of the final section “Little Gidding“, is that “the fire [of wand and purified will] and the rose [of the Grail and the perception of spiritual unity] are one”.

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Image: Christ with compass: “he set a compass upon the face of the depth” (Proverbs 8:27)

Carr-Gomm, Philip. Lessons in Magic. Lewes, East Sussex: Oak Tree Press, 2016.

Bardon, Franz. Initiation into Hermetics. Merkur Publishing, Inc., 2016.

MacLir, Alferian Gwydion. Wandlore: The Art of Crafting the Ultimate Magical Tool. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Books, 2011.

Carr-Gomm, Philip. The Druid Tradition. Rockport, MA: Element Books, Inc. 1991.

For an evocative single-page note of just some of the material behind Eliot’s poem, see here.

 

 

http://blog.sciencemusings.com/2011/07/setting-compass.html

 

 

Devotionals   Leave a comment

On a Druidry Facebook group I’m a member of, the question arises a few times each year: what makes Druidry distinctive? In other words, if you’re looking over your options, “Why this and not that?”

Sustained contact with the green world is first practice, never abandoned, never out of date.

In a comment on the last post here, bpott said she was told in meditation to “practice devotionals to the gods outdoors. Lighting a candle to Brighid and sitting with her, or pouring water in a bowl for the moon to infuse its energy and listening to Manannan are such devotionals. There is indeed much to be gained through these spiritual practices”.

But this isn’t something for you to take anyone’s word for. It’s not that kind of observation. Words are meant guide us to own experience and back out again, to reflect so we can experience deeper.

Or as J M Greer puts it,

Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth.  It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit.

We regularly need reminders like these, because Talking Self sidetracks us.

“Talking Self” — you know, that chatty, sometimes neurotic self we use to read and post on Facebook, grumble at headlines we don’t like, and cheer for ones we do. It can often persuade us that it is all of who we are, because its medium is language and the thoughts and feelings language kindles in us. Name it, says Talking Self, trying to keep everything in its domain of names and words. (The Dao De Jing quietly reminds us “the nameless is the origin of heaven and earth”.)

Druidry says take yourself out of talking self and into Self — the being linked in its sinew and blood, bone and spirit, to all that is — rivers and streams, woods and meadows, valleys and hills, tundra and deserts, bird and beech, beast and bass and bug.

When you come back, you can turn Talking Self toward song or ritual, if you like — give it something to do that it does well — but in the service of something higher than reactive gossip and self-importance and anxiety.

And “going outdoors” doesn’t have to entail a frigid January plunge through a hole in the ice at the local lake. It may be as simple as smelling an evergreen twig you picked up yesterday on a walk, and now you hold it as you meditate, on the change of seasons, the incense of a living thing on your fingers and in your nose. Crafting a banner or a poem for the next time your Grove meets — at Imbolc in February. Baking and taking a gift to an elderly neighbor or the local soup kitchen. Grooming your dog or cat.

All these things re-engage the body and give Talking Self a break. Poor thing, it needs one. These practices help restore our connections. They gift us with balance. For these reasons they are, in a curious word more often associated with another tradition, incarnational. They literally put us into our bodies, even as they give Spirit shapes and forms we can experience.

Many forms of Spirit, many bodies to experience them: earth body and dream body and thought body and memory body. And others we haven’t begun to explore.

I lay the makings of a fire in our woodstove, crumpled newspaper and punky dry strips of willow from a fallen branch two years ago, and thin strips of a log split and split and split again. Wood’s our primary heat-source — we’re far too stingy to waste money on our electric backup, except in direst emergencies, and then the power may have gone out anyway. I can pause a moment before setting the match to the kindling and honor Brighid. The makings of a devotional. Not “believe in Her”, not “profess my faith She exists”, but honor Her. Often something quite different.

As someone once quipped, more important than me believing in Brighid is Brighid believing in me. What god would care to waste attention on a human who isn’t ever here? But if I’m here and as I honor Her I sense She’s here, what’s left to believe? It’s the honoring that’s important. The connection.

The Druid experience continually “abandons rigid belief systems in favor of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit”. Continually, because my rigidity will creep back in, and fire and touch can warm and soften and free me from inflexible habits and open me to change and love.

I met Brighid most intimately through the task of firing up the woodstove when we settled in Vermont in 2008.  Fire became a daily reality each winter (and much of spring and autumn, too). The wonder of fire and the opportunity of honor to Brighid needn’t be separate from the gathering of kindling and the match. Our winter-fires may not be the reverential fire of Kildare — though they can be. Every morning.

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Today I’ll take out the ash to the compost pile, the midden, lovely old word. I let the freshly-removed ash sit out in the hod for a week, so I’m not dumping a pile of embers outdoors on a windy day. Old ash out, new ash to the hod, new fire to the stove ,whose walls are still warm to the touch. I set the kindling, whisper a sometimes wordless prayer to the goddess, and watch as flames grow and spread.

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taking out the ash

 

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new fire

My devotional has to take a particular, concrete form if it’s to exist at all for the body and senses to engage. Spiritual-but-not-religious knows this, instinctively keeps seeking but then abandoning forms, because it distrusts forms even as it senses their value. But it’s the dead form and the opinions-and-then-dogmas of Talking Self that are the obstacle to spiritual connection, not form itself.

Oh, Lord [goes one prayer] forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.
Thou art Everywhere, but I worship thee here:
Thou art without form, but I worship thee in these forms;
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer thee these prayers and salutations.
Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.

Except they’re not limitations at all: the way to do them in time and space is with temporal and spatial forms. I find little limitation in building a fire and honoring Brighid too. My devotional is a matter of intention, of choice. When I’m on another plane, I adopt its forms. (In dreams I fly, with dream-power my earth body doesn’t have.) But now, here (no need to apologize for limitations*), these forms.

Without a form, no transformation, whisper the Wise.

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*The words “limit” and “limitations” are dirty words, far more obscene these days than any other. Obsessed with freedom, we miss what limits are and signify for us.

A shape is a limitation. Personally, I like shapes and forms. If I had no particular shape or form, I wouldn’t be “free” — I’d be monstrous, “de-formed”.

J M Greer notes in his Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. 2012, pgs. 42-53:

A field mouse, for example, has teeth and a digestive system that are fine-tuned to get nutrients from seeds and other concentrated plant foods, and so that is what field mice eat. They do not eat crickets, even though crickets are very nourishing; they leave crickets to the garter snakes. They do not eat herbs, even though herbs are very abundant; they leave herbs to the rabbits. They limit themselves to one kind of food, and as a result their bodies and their behavior are exquisitely shaped to get and use that kind of food. Rather than jacks-of-all-trades, they are masters of one.

… the elegant lines of the blade [of grass] have evolved to make the most economical use of limited energy and resources, for example, and the curve at which it bends measures the limit of the blade’s strength in the presence of the wind. Remove the limits from the grass, and its beauty goes away. The same thing is true of all beauty, in nature as a whole and in the subset of nature we call human life: beauty is born when a flow of nature encounters firm limits, and the more perfect its acceptance of those limits, the greater the beauty will be.

… The same thing is true of all power, in nature as a whole and in that subset of nature we call human life: power is born when a flow of energy encounters firm limits, and the more narrow the outlet left open by those limits, the greater the power will be.

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Triad for Rekindling Sacred Fire   Leave a comment

NOTE

A version of this post appeared on pg. 32 of the summer/fall 2017 issue (large PDF) of Druid Magazine. I’m grateful to the editors, and to their liberal policies that actually recognize the ownership of authors!

In the Southern Hemisphere, Beltane has recently passed, and we can, if we choose, draw on the “opposite” energies here in the North in November, in a six-month harmonic with the South. (Isn’t it always Opposite Day anyway?) It’s Spring in Autumn, Christmas in July, your six-month birthday.

Because when don’t we need sacred fire?

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1–Finding Fire

Every Druid tradition I know of honors fire in some way. “It is the hour of recall”, go the closing lines of OBOD ritual. “As the fire dies down, let it be relit in our hearts”.

Here is the promise of elemental fire, never quenched, always ready to rekindle. But so often I find myself dry, cool, grounded, earthed—all excellent things after ritual, ideal for smooth re-entry into our lives, but hard to live from when we crave and need the flame again.

I’ve detected more than a fair portion of Earth in my makeup: a little reserved, suspicious of quick flares, with a tendency to solidity, inertia even. Does a spark still smolder in the heart of a person like that, waiting to be relit? Can I coax it to flame again? I hold the answers like twin children, one in each arm: of course, and not today. As I write this, I look out the window at fog and wet pavement. Where do I look for flame? In moments like these, it seems a more than reasonable question.

Yes, in the electrified West, we turn a key to start the car, we flip any number of switches all day along, expecting and usually seeing instantaneous lights, readouts, computers booting, phone screens lighting, and hums and rumbles of devices jumping into action. If, like me, you happen to heat with wood, you lay paper and kindling, strike a match, and flame obliges. Praise be to Brighid!

But for all that, I keep reminding myself, we do not command fire. In her The Way of Four Spellbook, Deborah Lipp notes:

Fire has always been set apart from the other elements, because Fire alone has no natural home on the earth; Air has the sky, Water the sea, and Earth the land, but only Fire stands apart from geography. In nature, Fire is the outsider; it is out of control, and it conforms to no known rules (pg. 10).

This is lovely and poetic, evocative and wise, and, as a friend remarked when I quoted it to him, it’s also bullshit. The only place fire happens is geography, just like with every other element. Heart, fire pit, computer screen, creativity—we light and relight them constantly. It’s our extensive craft with the fire principle that’s made much of civilization possible. But mastery in the end means service, and our wizardry rings hollow whenever we forget this.

2–Serving Fire

“I am a servant of the Secret Fire,” declares Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien, 2004, p. 330). Not a bad magical declaration. So I turn to the Indo-European past and summon reconstructed ancient words* to say something like it: *Ambikwolos esmi yagnos ogneyes [Ahm-BEE-kwoh-lohs EHS-mee YAHG-nohs OHG-neh-yes], which roughly translates to “I am a servant of the sacred fire.”

So I ask how I already serve fire, because contrary to an adolescent tendency in us to see our lives as all-or-nothing, we have a starting place within us for anything that can manifest—or so some Wise Ones have told me. How else can we recognize a lack or hole or void except by feeling the outline of what’s missing, of what’s supposed to be there?

Now, when I need to reignite the fire of the sacred, and that includes writing about it, my daily practice, my own “hour of recall”, hopefully guides me to embers that still throw off heat. (If it doesn’t, I know I need to fine-tune what I do each day.) I keep re-learning that we never really extinguish sacred fire. We merely smoor it—that lovely old Scottish word—not “smother” or “suffocate” as some dictionary entries render it, but bank it, setting it to smolder till morning, when it can be breathed and fed to flame again. Peat excels at smoldering, but so do woods like hickory, and so do our human spirits.

While preparing a fire workshop for MAGUS Beltane, out of ruminations like these, I made a list of questions I found I kept asking myself, so I shared them with attendees. Here are seven from that list you might use in your journal, or for a series of meditations. And if one or two of them call you away from reading this, go with them for a while along your own green and shining path. Your responses are more valuable, after all, than “finishing the article”.

1) What does it take—literally and intentionally—in order to kindle you, and in order for you to kindle other things in your life?

2) What offering, if any, do you make to help you kindle? What else could you bring into your practice? What could you discard?

3) What is sacred to you? How do you find, invite, welcome, increase the sacred? What sacred ways are a part of your life right now that can help you kindle?

4) What ways, if any, do you tend to discount, push away, ignore, or feel “aren’t my way of connecting with the sacred”? What can you learn from your attitude towards them?

5) Where are you already kindled? What is burning, warm, or fiery in your life right now?

6) Where do you desire kindling? (Where do you need to bank a fire and cool off?!) Or to put it another way, what needs to catch fire in your life?

7) How has sacred fire already honored your practice and flames inwardly for you?

3–Building a Ritual Fire

In reconstructed Indo-European, one of the words for “altar” is *asa. If you want to expand your ritual declarations and charm-making, you can say *asam kwero [AH-sahm KWEH-roh] “I build an altar”. And if you’re consecrating a talisman or another person, you might add *Yagnobi ognibi tum wikyo! [YAHG-noh-bee OHG-nee-bee toom wee-KYOH!] “I hallow you with sacred fire!”

What to burn on that altar? Here your judgment, tempered and instructed by divination, practice, dream, and study, matters more than anything I might suggest. But if you’re seeking such a suggestion, here is one. Druid and Pagan traditions speak of Nine Sacred Trees suitable for kindling sacred fires (Steward of the Woods, 2015).

What about an altar? You may well have one already, whether backyard fire pit or space cleared on a bookshelf for images, a piece of quartz found on a walk, Tarot card for the day, incense of the season, and so on.

Evidence from several different traditions tells us that squares of sod or turf were a common form that a ritual altar could take. The Aeneid (Mandelbaum, 1961, p. 117) mentions a sod altar. Records from the Scots in the 1700s (Frazer, 1929) talk of building May Day fires on an altar of sod. And the Æcerbōt, the Anglo-Saxon “Land Remedy Spell”, amounts to a ritual for creating sacred space and restoring the land’s fertility (Jolly, 1996). To do so, it instructs the ritual performer to take one sod from each of the four directions of the land to build the ritual altar. Ceisiwr Serith (2015), an experienced ADF ritualist, author, and Indo-Europeanist, gives more supporting info in an article on his excellent website, “Proto-Indo-European Religion”.

In closing, I turn for words to the Rig-Veda 1.26.8: “For when the gods have a good fire, they bring us what we wish for. Let us pray with a good fire” (Three Cranes Grove, 2007; To Pray with a Good Fire).

Note on reconstructed Proto-Indo-European:

The * asterisk is a conventional notation for indicating a reconstructed form. You can never know enough about linguistic prehistory to do more than mangle reconstructed languages. Even graduate study like mine in historical linguistics inoculates precisely nobody from error. (Though a professional career demands pursuing the unattainable.) So in releasing perfectionist worries over Indo-European reconstructions and pronunciations, I cherish the advice of the great medievalist scholar, teacher, and author John Gardner. In advising readers when trying to speak Middle English aloud, he remarks,

“Read aloud or recite with authority, exactly as when speaking Hungarian – if you know no Hungarian – you speak with conviction and easy familiarity. (This, I’m told by Hungarians, is what Hungarians themselves do.) This easy authority, however fake, gets the tone of the language …” (1978, p. 315).

Tone, we might say, covers a multitude of sins.

If you’d like to learn more, two readable, popular, and authoritative books are by West and Mallory, included in the bibliography. Work through them and you won’t need me or anyone else. You’ll be writing your own reconstructed Indo-European phrases and rituals with “conviction and easy authority”.

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Gardner, John. (1978). The Life and Times of Chaucer. New York: Vintage Books.

Jolly, K. L. (1996). Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Lipp, D. (2006). The Way of Four Spellbook. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.

Mallory, J. P. & Adams, D. Q. (2006). The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Steward of the Woods. (2015). “Nine Sacred Woods: A Druid Walk in the Park”.

Ovid. (1929). Fasti (J. G. Frazer , Ed. and trans.). London: MacMillan and Co. (Original work published in 8 AD).

Serith, C. (2015). Proto-Indo-European Religion.

Three Cranes Grove. (2007). To Pray with a Good Fire.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (1987). The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Vergil. (1961). The Aeneid ( A. Mandelbaum, Trans.). New York: Bantam Books.

West, M. L. (2007). Indo-European Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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