Archive for the ‘four elements’ Tag

After-ritual Inquiry   Leave a comment

map30-7-17“So how did the ritual go?”

Site statistics for the last post drew readers from surprisingly varied lands: Vietnam, South Africa, Argentina, Ukraine and Latvia among them. I highlight these simply because their national languages aren’t English (with the exception of S. Africa). Not only are readers there interested in Druidry, but they’re seeking out English-language media that talk about it.

“Show us applied Druidry and we’ll pay attention”, you’re saying.

Here’s a follow-up, an excerpt from my “post-mortem” journal entry after the ritual. Because “feels” don’t really tell the whole story, as you’ll see. How I think a ritual progressed, and the whole picture with every factor included, can be two different things.

First off is the ritual set. You know: state of mind, weather, time of day, preparation. Alert. Noticing many animal presences, especially ants, flies, aphids, grasshoppers. Slightly edgy, the way I often feel when stuff’s going on I know I don’t otherwise notice. (Material for later meditation there.) Weather sunny and clear, 73 F (23 C). Approximately 2:00 pm. Preparation minimalist, with a few objects I was led to choose in meditation earlier that day. (Barely visible, behind and below the cup to the left/north sits a black Cherokee owl cup, containing objects from my first OBOD initiation, along with a symbol of the wild boar, one of my animal guides. (Yes, in one sense this wasn’t “minimalist” at all; I’d pulled out all the stops for this rite.)

Below is an image with the fire lit, a little more than halfway through the rite. I began with a standard OBOD ritual opening: “By the power of star and stone, by the power of the land within and without …”

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In the picture I’m facing East. Directly in front of me is the blue bowl of water for West. To the right, South, the dragon candle-holder, with a green candle.

“Green for South?” I hear the purists gasp. Yup. Why? As one of my friends might say (and spell) it, that’s the color of “the green fyre” of nature. I’d been nudged to use green at our Midsummer ritual. More than the sun, how the Land flourishes under the sun at the solstice says “summer” to me. Your climate and tools differ? Excellent! We’re both learning to listen to what’s in our faces and under our feet and in our hearts.

On the far side of the circle in the East is a deer-bone whistle from Serpent Mound. Its high pitch matched the cry of birds overhead, the wind in the trees. Finally, to the left and North is my Ovate anchor stone and one of several offerings, a cup of milk and a slice of bread (already offered by the time of this picture), white for the northern snow, for Lugh Lord of Light, and for Thecu Stormbringer*, for fertility and harvest both, how we are all nourished from the time we are born, “the fat of the land”. What is it that fire burns, after all?

Dry wood lay ready, kindling and newspaper, too. I’d just said these words “I ask your aid in consecrating this fire circle and the greater circle, that has its center here, its circumference everywhere.”

Out with the book of matches. One after another. Nothing. The fire wouldn’t light.

So back into the house for wooden matches. “Disaster! Bad omens abound! No fire means no passion, no energy for your work. AND you broke your ritual circle!”

Well, no. Remember the part above about the “greater circle”? I was still in it. I pondered the nudge to include this line as I wrote it earlier in the day. And if such “ritual breakage” distresses you in your own rites, you know what to do: cut yourself a ritual doorway, The circle won’t blow away during the few minutes you’re gone.

Sometimes a break in the ritual points to a specific focus for the ritualist to attend to. I took the need to get better matches as a ritual message: when I tend any fire — energy — passion — heat — will — decision — I need to pay particular attention to beginnings, to my tools, to an extra step that might be necessary to assist with manifestation. Fire spoke: any ritual worth its salt links self-as-home together with the ritual action. Fire comes from within as much as from without. Much more useful and to the point than irrational fear of bad ritual mojo.

“I kindle this fire in honor of all the elements,  earth and form and north the altar, air and breath and east the means, water and cauldron and west the capacity.”

At length, after a meditation I’m still reflecting on, the closing, again adapted from OBOD ritual: “As the outer fire dies down, may it remain a pure flame within. This circle is closed in the apparent world. May its inspiration continue within us all, a gift”.

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*In the next post, an update on my work with Thecu of the Nine Paths of Storm.

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Part 2: First Seed, Outward Leaf   Leave a comment

[Part 1: Frequency-Matching for Love and Money]

When I wrote earlier this year in May, reviewing the first Mid-Atlantic MAGUS Beltane Gathering, I noted briefly how “the initial inward glimpse of the Gathering came to one of the organizers almost a decade ago.  There’s yet another indication, if I need the reminder, of the possible time-gap between first seed and outward manifestation.”

For this post, let’s substitute “frequent” for “possible”. Life on earth often means adapting to that pace — that’s a large part of “growing up”, working patiently with the gaps between seed and manifestation. Life in the “fast lane” is precisely that — unearthed, out of harmony with the planet, with embodied existence in general. The old tradition of letting the land lie fallow, to restore its fertility as well as to rest, testifies to this ancient understanding. Even as we try to increase the pace of change here for our own benefit, the land, like humans, need breaks from busy-ness. Land unbusied by humans is “wild” going about its own concerns that do not need humans. So much that we find restorative in wilderness stems from its rootedness in its own rhythms, in a pace it sustains through countless ages. Attuning to that pace, as so many traditional cultures show us, is health-giving. Yet all wild landscapes change, too.

throught he mother stone -- Wendy Rose Scheers

photo courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers

Earth following its own nature brings things forth “in season”. There’s a time for everything, and everything in its time — and we say the same thing, even more, about place.  Even at death, that instant of change, we work with liturgies which (re)assign places: we hear “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. Pagans regularly “ground and center”. Humans attempt to earth changes, to ground or integrate or heal them with the sovereign power of physical stability and constancy. Terra firma. The fixed and reliable earth. Back on solid ground.

Many qualities of earth match the same ones we cherish in other people. “You can always count on her”; “He’s solid — you know where you are with him”; “I feel safe and protected around him”; “She’s a total earth-mother”; “She’s a really well-grounded person”; “He’s the salt of the earth”. Earth-home. This old “bone-house”, bānhūs, as the Anglo-Saxons called it, the skeleton of the physical body that mirrors earthiness, that holds the flesh up. Backbone, spine — good things. Courage of earth. Resilience.

If an inner threat encroaches on me, if I need respite and retreat, I open my practical tool-kit and deploy a triple protection exercise. As I turn from what troubles me, I ask for the protection of earth. In vision I approach a golden mountain. Set in the rock are enormous, heavy double doors. I walk through and they close protectively behind me.  I proceed, coming to a second set of doors, even larger and more massive than the first, which also thud shut after I pass. I feel the echo in my bones. On through the final set of doors, greatest of the three, which close with a resounding boom. Safe behind these triple doors, I regroup. Here I can regain balance and poise, seek insight and perspective. I will emerge only when I’m damn good and ready.

And we make games of change because in contrast to earth’s stability, change still does happen. We notice it most clearly against the “background” of the land, of the concrete, the manifest, the dense material world. And so we flirt with change and chance, we attempt to build, or flee from,  a “house of cards”, we enshrine reminders to ourselves in proverbs like the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, we see (or miss) the approach of a “tipping point”,  we witness the point itself in volcanoes, earthquakes, those sudden and massive shifts in previously reliable earth, we lament it in accidents, injuries, illnesses. We gamble, take risks, bet on our intuitions of what will last and what will lurch and abruptly buckle. We “time the market”, watch for that “point of no return”, and so on and on.

In a word or two, then, much of the time we get it. We’re good at earth.

But earth’s just one of the elements. Also breathed on by air, washed by water, flamed with fire, we manifest spirit — we’re that quintessence, those five points of essence, of existence. “Every man and woman”, says Aleister Crowley, “is a star”.

When our “lives rearrange in the winds of change”, as one song goes, when we set sail on the ancient sea within us, when that slow-burning fire flares up and heats everything, when spirit nudges us through all these forms, then change happens. A key: the elements working in concert usher in smoother change than the kinds that shatter the worlds of form. But as a transformer of spirit myself, I may choose to ignore the ebb and flow of energies. When I cast the elements aside, ignore spirit, turn my face from all things around me speaking what I need to know, then I invite more violent change. Nothing, nothing, nothing — WHAM!

But there, in the broken soil of change, a seed germinates, splits open, sends forth its first pale tendrils, and begins again the long game of living. How will it, how will I, manifest this time?

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From an earlier post — “Creating a Goddess Book“: “The physical world, so important for manifestation, by its nature tends to lag behind the swiftness with which vision can appear. But that lag is precisely part of this world’s immense value: its inertia and density allow for greater permanency and resistance to change, so that we can experience the results of vision over time — and fine-tune it if we choose. Unlike in dream, where the subtle stuff of vision or imagination can wisp away so quickly, physical manifestation tries to linger.”

Guide of the West, Part 2   Leave a comment

So here’s the task I set myself in the previous post:

… I’ll take up ritual and its close alliance with emotion. Through rite and ritual, powered by where emotion can guide me, I can begin to (1) find out what I need to know (Air), (2) clear the way for the will to act (Fire), (3) empower my imagination (Water), and (4) help myself heal (Earth).

This morning, after fasting from coffee for three days, my wife and I dove back into our joint addiction. That meant, in addition to washing the carafe, cleaning the coffee mill of the remains of a brand that we found irritated our stomachs and left us with weird dreams. In spite of an organic label and a source we trusted, that particular brand goes on our NO list.

Yes, I’ll readily admit it: we’re coffee snobs. I say, if you have a habit, addict responsibly. Why pay a barista to do what we can do at home much more cheaply and satisfyingly.

Thus armed with our indulgence and our insufferably caffeinated arrogance, we perform the daily ritual. First, the banishing, or cleaning. Then the invoking, or grinding and brewing. Finally, the savoring, black or with milk or half-and-half. Or sometimes, if a new brand turns out especially bitter, a spoonful of maple syrup.  This is also known as the sense of ritual well-performed. In other words, as with most cooking — and magic — season to taste. There are recipes to learn, and then there are local variations and individual adjustments. Both prove needful.

Coffee invites assessment and comparison. (My mistyped original read “incites”, which is also true.) So should ritual. We brew coffee almost daily, because we like it enough to find it worth the effort. Anticipation heightens the preparation, the performance. Not all batches are the same, and I can always fine-tune what I do. Feeling can guide me well, but not exclusively.

If it’s to have any benefit, ritual (or magic) needs similar practice, and the doing of it IS the ritual, IS the practice of magic. I should enjoy the experience enough that it’s worth the effort, the outlay of time, material, and energy.

Otherwise, why do it? Can I answer that question sensibly? (A lack of common sense has oft defeated many an evil overlord.) A more modest Druid like me has much to learn from the great and (ig)noble. Success, for evil or good, depends on feet planted on the good earth, first of magics. (After all, Yesod, “Foundation”, is a low, easily-reachable branch on the Tree of Life. It’s “a vehicle allowing movement from one thing or condition to another …” says Wikipedia. Or as Basics in Kabbalah puts it, “The foundation (yesod) of a building is its ‘grounding’, its union with the earth (malchut).” A measure and sounding of our time: you can find such formerly hidden knowledge simply by following an internet link. Do we dismiss such magical familiars because they have made our lives too easy?)

four-elements-tattoo

What will I write onto and into my skin? What will I invite deeper?

So back to the four elements, to the task enumerated at the start of this post. I learn (Air) which coffee to buy — and whether today is even a coffee day — apply the heat (Fire) to water (Water!) and ground the rite (coffee, Earth, pun included) at its conclusion — a pour of hot black nectar into our two waiting mugs. Any excess of thinking or willing gets balanced by this cauldron of feeling, of desire and pleasure and outcome. Hold the mugs in our hands, warmth and aroma as much a part of it all as taste on the tongue. Incidental effects, like the temporary sharpening of attention, the rise of blood pressure (I’m chronically low), the motivational effects to a sluggish intestinal tract, are all side benefits not to be disdained.

OK — I’ve taken the analogy further than it can bear, or perhaps not far enough. We tend to think of ritual and magic in abstract terms, when in fact they’re a series of concrete choices and actions and manifestations. Humans are magical transformers, with time and space our field of play. Whatever we manifest has its causes: as with the universe outside our skin, so with the universe inside. This isn’t just metaphysics but actual physics. If the definition of insanity is to expect different results from doing the same thing, then sanity can begin simply by trying something new.

And “old-new” might be a very good alternative name for our uni-verse, our “one-turning” which offers ritual as one of its keys and clues.

And what of healing? I wrote in March of this year, in the post “Healing From the Past“:

I add to my practice a henge-meditation. We needn’t bother ourselves to make any such claim as “Druids built Stonehenge” in order to make use of the spiritual dynamic it offers as a source of healing. Merlin sets the precedent: Stonehenge-as-symbol, in Geoffrey’s telling is older than its present home in southern England anyway. Not its origin but its power is what we need. Magic thrives when our intent makes the occasion a necessity: our focus is single and sharp not from force of will but from desire, emotion, need, want, hope, imagination, planning and preparation, ritual foundation, and love.

A final note: to make ritual “economical” in terms of any wear and tear on the practitioner, which means us, (1) start small, (2) keep records, (3) experiment to find what works and what doesn’t. As with coffee, check in frequently: how does it feel? Does the brew need tweaking? Make this aspect part of the process — though not its sole determinant. Ritual and magic, done skilfully, are among the most scientific as well as loving things we do.

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Image: Four Elements tattoo

 

Guide of the West   Leave a comment

Julie Babin

Coastal Louisiana. Photo courtesy Julie Babin

 

Who knows when odd reading can lead to insight — and material for a blogpost?

Take, for instance, this delicious (to me, anyway) fragment:

“Emotions alert us to specific issues, and they do so without any subterfuge. If we are aware enough … our emotions will be able to contribute the energy we need to move into and out of any situation imaginable, because they contribute the specific energy and information we need to heal ourselves” (Karla McLaren. Emotional Genius: Discovering he Deepest Language of Soul. Laughing Tree Press, 2001).

This kind of statement makes me sit up and pay attention. Partly because any large claim switches on my crap detector, but also because I immediately want to try it out. You know, set up an experiment to test the claim.

In this case, like most of us, I’ve got a running start on just such a test. We can all name stories, movies, songs that grab us and move us. Even — if they reach deep enough, if we’re open and vulnerable to their magic — on the fifth, tenth or thirtieth read, viewing, hearing. Among your top contenders you may count a childhood favorite. The quality of these repeated experiences, at least for me, leaves no doubt: gods are alive, magic is afoot. Magic is alive, gods are afoot. (Leonard Cohen nails it again.)

In fact, so completely may the magic live for you that you guard it zealously and jealously. You watch who you choose to tell about it, because you’ve learned the hard way how another’s misunderstanding or mockery can sting, and even, if it’s carefully targeted, ruin a beloved experience for you.

The number and quality of claims McLaren makes are quite remarkable. Here they are again in list form. Emotions:

— alert us to specific issues.

— don’t lie or mislead — they offer no subterfuge.

— contribute the energy we need to move into and out of any situation imaginable.

— contribute the specific energy and information we need to heal ourselves.

Or, to put it elementally and alchemically, emotions identify what we need to know (Air), clear the way for the will to act (Fire), empower the imagination (Water), and help us heal (Earth).

McLaren also wisely includes a kicker, escape clause, out, safety switch: If we are aware enough … Of course. Isn’t that always the issue at the heart of things?

Stay with me here. (As the Rocky Horror narrator exclaims, “It’s just a jump to the left!”) Working with adolescents in a boarding school for sixteen years let me reflect on my own emotional growth or lack of it, even as I served as an adviser to hundred of students over the years. Because I advised freshman and senior girls, I frequently saw emotion more openly expressed than I might have with boys. How often I’d witness some variation of “I’m so upset/amazed/impressed/in love! Oh my god, I can’t believe X. I was A and now I’m B. I’m so upset/amazed/impressed/in love!”

The lesson here is emotion can be so strong that at first we have no distance from it, no perspective or comparison. We recycle it, loop with it, rehearse it. “All or nothing” is the adolescent’s stereotypical default setting, partly because so many experiences are firsts and really don’t offer any basis for comparison: first love, first significant failure, first challenging success, first death of a close friend or family member, first major social embarrassment, first large moral choice, and so on. Emotions don’t lie, but when the tide sweeps in and then out again, how do you make your way through the wreckage to picking yourself up and drying out and moving forward?

With some progress towards maturity comes that invaluable ability to detach, step back, gain perspective on one’s own situation and experience. (We might say that IS maturity.) Only then can emotion alert us to specific issues. (If you look at the media and the world right now, we see repeated spikes of emotion with far too little detachment, reflection, proportion, perspective. Keep a person, a community or a nation in the first stage of emotion and they’ll never reach the second stage, let alone any of others. That way mature judgment dies.)

While cooler heads may lament the manipulation of whole groups by the technique of constantly lighting new fires, all while stoking the flames of old ones, there’s a useful lesson in the power of emotion. To lift a line from “Storybook Love”, the theme song to The Princess Bride, “it’s as real as the feelings I feel”.*

And it is. Emotion is real. The gifts of emotion, however, come in what we find after strong feeling. Feel the feeling, yes, I’ve learned. (Can’t do much if I’m repressing it. Genii still in a bottle, that trick.) Then work with it — from outside. Return whenever I need to fine-tune my understanding by checking in with the authenticity of the feeling. Just don’t invite it to take up residence and watch as it tracks in dirt and hangs its laundry over my windows.

Anger. Fear. Lust. Self-pity. Doubt. Feel any of these lately? These are among my top five most potent negative emotions. They’re also five of my teachers. I’ve learned more from anger and fear than I could tell you in any reasonable-sized book.

Awe. Curiosity. Amazement. Gratitude. Love. Another five, among the most potent positive emotions. Also fabulous teachers. Alchemized versions of the preceding negatives, shaped by the spiritual work we’re each called to do in our lives.

Emotion, our elemental Guide of the West, serves us best when we respect its proper domain. Its role is not to usurp our sovereignty by taking the throne.

In the next post I’ll take up ritual and its close alliance with emotion. Through rite and ritual, powered by where emotion can guide me, I can begin to (1) find out what I need to know (Air), (2) clear the way for the will to act (Fire), (3) empower my imagination (Water), and (4) help myself heal (Earth).

That is, I can begin to take McLaren at her word, and try out the claims she makes.

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*”it’s as real as the feelings I feel”

Triple Solstice, 2017   Leave a comment

Yesterday our local group celebrated an early Solstice. The forecast rain held off — Blessing of the Sun! — and at the very end of the rite as we uncast the circle, a couple of birds landed in the branches of the tree above the altar, just a few feet overhead. As many of you have also witnessed, the natural world acknowledges the energies of ritual respectfully performed.

solsticealtar

Several members of our group are Wiccans — note the brooms to sweep away negative energy as needed. They’re not only working tools but useful working symbols as well. By that I mean a symbol to carry into meditation and deploy in visualization, as well as a physical object. Catch myself in less-than-desirable states of consciousness? Out comes the “inner broom”. My particularly stubborn inner trash gets swept into heaps, dumped in a bucket and cast into an inner river which dissolves it and washes it away, reintegrating it into the cosmos. (Repeat as needed.)

So often we look half-aware for something to replace negativity, and lacking a viable replacement we can get sucked back into it, because its tug draws the emotions. Symbols stand ready to our need, charged with their own emotional electricity. When I find it may not be enough merely to purify, whether with prayer, salt, incense, ritual or some combo of them, a symbol can help rally inner resources. Some unwanted stuff has a way of creeping back in, and the situation may call for an ongoing cleanse. Broom, en garde!

If it makes you feel better, because you “grasp” or “understand” such things, to call them “psychological”, by all means do so. What matters more to me, though, at least in the moment, is whether they work. One member couldn’t join us yesterday who played a specific role in the rite-as-written, so after a quick exchange of PMs with the ritual writer, I stepped in, among other things to cast the circle. This gave me a splendid excuse to de-rust a sword for the purpose and, not-so-incidentally, help me confront why I love and seek out ritual, but shy from consecrating objects I already possess as ritual aids. I’ve touched on this in previous posts [among others, here].

solsticefire

Fire comes to our ritual and bodily need (why separate them, after all?), its heat, light and hue all central to the season and a ritual working: nearby fire-pit shedding warmth on our skin, or candles flickering on the altar. But the sword is a fine tool of power, a weapon, a strong and ancient symbol, forged in flame and often enough incorporating a cross where hilt meets blade. So it gathers up a whole complex of symbolic vectors of energy.

The replica sword I cleaned up yesterday morning before the ritual is an older design than the more familiar Medieval ones with the exaggerated hilt. Its edges are very dull — no risk to anyone of injury — so it’s also ideal to transport. If by chance the police should stop me for any reason, it’s much easier to explain a stage sword than one like my other sword, much rustier, but with a wicked edge still. Seeing how well the white vinegar cleaned off the rust from the smaller sword, though, I’ll be tackling that more extensive cleaning job tomorrow.

I mention all this at some length because the curious resistance I felt at bringing a ritual tool along to the ritual told me something curious is afoot. Two swords (a promising name for a novel, or magical order!) put me in mind of the two ancient Indo-European words for elemental fire, *ogni the active, and *pur the static. Is there something at play in my conception of ritual, or my ritual purposes, that I’m missing or blocking? The smaller, less impressive (and very dull-edged) blade has the fancy scabbard. The other, larger and deadly weapon has a simple leather sheath, all practicality, but no tooled design. Surface and deeper meaning, keenness and showiness, purpose and pretension? I’m still listening.

After uncasting the circle yesterday, I drove the point of the blade into the soft earth by the altar, saying, “The circle open, but unbroken”, or some variation on those words.

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And the ritual circle in my mind, open and unbroken, interrogates me still. If I gain any insight, I’ll pick this up again in a subsequent post.

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“Where can I celebrate the Solstice?” You can find some version of this question online. Best, I’d answer, is your own celebration. Yes, there are plenty of group events around the world, but the shortest night of the year offers you your pick of how to observe the festival. An all-night party (a lively Scandinavian tradition) or a vigil (some Druid traditions) are two popular options. Or some unique combination of the two.

I plan to stay up Tuesday evening for a “second Solstice” and greet the Sun Wednesday morning, June 21st, on what will be the longest day in the eastern U.S. Where I live, daylight on the 21st is 15 hours and 21 minutes long, making the night just a little over 8 and a half hours.

The “third Solstice” is Friday 23 June, whether I attend a group celebration just outside of Boston (a drive of 3 hours in Friday evening traffic) or do a ritual solo at home.

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MAGUS 2017: The Mid-Atlantic Gathering U.S.   13 comments

The first of what richly promises to be an annual event, the Mid-Atlantic Gathering U.S. (MAGUS) took place over this last weekend, Thursday to Sunday, at Four Quarters Sanctuary in Artemas, Pennsylvania.

magus banner -- W Flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

The initial inward glimpse of the Gathering came to one of the organizers almost a decade ago.  There’s yet another indication, if I need the reminder, of the possible time-gap between first seed and outward manifestation.

And our hosting venue, Four Quarters, an interfaith sanctuary launched in 1994, was the perfect place to hold a Beltane Gathering. As the Four Quarters home page observes, it’s

a membership-driven non-profit, a vibrant community of real people living real lives. And Four Quarters actually owns the Land, buildings and equipment that make our work possible, forever set aside from the vagaries of private ownership.

The lovely and wild 150 acres of the sanctuary lie in the Allegheny foothills in southern PA, just miles from the Maryland border. Home to a stone circle, labyrinth, retreat center with bunkhouse and dining pavilion, a brewery, a drum and dance circle, sweat lodge, a handful of permanent residents, and the clean-flowing Siding Creek defining part of its periphery, Four Quarters strives to

honor the many world traditions that reflect an Earth Based Spirituality, and we work to support those traditions and welcome their people. We do not teach “One Way” of belief. We do not have “The Answer”. We do have good questions.

Here’s the Stone Circle seen from the north, a work in progress (with annual megalithic-style stone raisings open to anyone willing to join the rope-pulling and log-rolling stone lifting team). Note the nearly three-foot-long camp bell suspended from the tripod in the foreground — a deep voice audible throughout the property.

circle w bell

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

A wide-angle shot can’t capture the majesty of the stones or the power of the circle. Here’s a closer view of some of the lovely rough surfaces, mottled with rust in places, asking for touch and communion.

stone closeup w flah

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

The first time I walked the circle Thursday evening, I sensed a quiet hum of presence. The next time I came more at ease, eager to touch and listen to the land and the inner voices. By the time I reached the eighth stone, sudden tears filled my eyes. The circle holds indisputable power.

Here’s one of the altars near the center of the stone circle. The ancestors speak strongly here, if I give even half an ear.

ancestor altar in circle -- W Flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

How to convey the blend of the speaking land, the personal and the tribal at such Gatherings?! You come as someone new to Paganism, or to OBOD more specifically. Or you come knowing you’ll reunite with your people once more, across the miles. If we saw each other every day, we might begin to forget the human and spiritual wealth that surrounds us. In ritual, in conversations in the dining pavilion (below) or over coffee during breaks, we’re reminded that we’re never alone, no matter how solitary we may live the rest of the year. Inner connection exists over any distance.

dining pavillion -- W Flaherty.jpg

dining pavilion — photo courtesy Wandy Flaherty

Typically when I reflect on a Gathering a few days after, one or two things stand out sharply. But when I started naming them over breakfast this morning, I ended with a list of a score of items — nearly the entire weekend as I experienced it, a blend not to be parcelled out in soundbites or highlights.

From the place, with its cool air crackling with oxygen from the vigorous trees, to the faces and energy of the Tribe and its rituals, formal and informal, to the songs of spiritual presence that all places offer, everything stands out in memory.  Impossible to narrow down. This post is a small attempt to hint at that Everything — to urge you, if you want a taste of a particular kind of marvelous, to attend a Gathering if you can.

The way of the Solitary can indeed be a blessed one, but the Tribe also offers a great deal to reinvigorate even the most hermetic of Solitaries. A Gathering can paradoxically reaffirm the Solitary, because you meet other Solitaries. You witness the integrity of the individual path, as well as the gift of the Tribal way. Gatherings have changed me into an avid Tribe-seeker, at least a few times each year, so that when I retreat to my own smaller circle, the closing words of OBOD ritual echo true: “May our memories hold what the eye and ear have gained.”

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“Kindling the Flame” was our Gathering theme. We apparently also needed the blessing of Water, in the form of steady rain from late Thursday afternoon through the night, and intermittently all Friday, to help remind us that all the elements gather, whenever any one of them is invoked. “Thus is balance preserved”.

Thursday included an opening orientation by our special guest OBOD Druid Renu Aldritch, a workshop I delivered on “Kindling Our Sacred Fires”, the opening ritual, and preparation for Bardic initiations the next morning.

After breakfast Friday, we initiated 12 Bards. Like many others, I’ve come to see how priceless it is to support initiations and attend whenever I can, regardless of whether I have an assigned “role”. The rite washes over us all, renews the experience each of us had during our own initiation, helps us rededicate, and allows us to greet the newly initiated within ritual space.

Always there are small hiccups and endearing glitches during a ritual. I think without them we’d have to make sure we added them. And we come to expect them: they humanize a dramatic moment, when someone with a major or minor role misplaces a prop or drops a ritual spoken line, topples the incense or bowl of water, mispronounces a magical name, and so on. We laugh, disarmed, and then the next part of the ritual can reach deeper, because we’ve opened up that much more. Each initiation is unique: tears, laughter, the presence of Spirit, the call of bird or beast to punctuate a word or silence.

Friday gave us Renu’s workshop, “Kindling the Spiritual Warrior”, a theme that bears ongoing attention. Dana’s workshop “Land Healing on the Inner and Outer Planes”, her ritual later that afternoon, “Ogam Tree Galdr in the Northern Tradition”, her generous personal readings using her own tree divination system, and her conversation fired many with renewed love and commitment to this path. That evening also brought initiation to three Ovates under moonlight and the background throb of drums from a drum workshop. We couldn’t have asked for a better ritual setting.

Downhill from the Labyrinth, prepping for the evening Ovate initiation in the open air: Renu, Dave, Ahote, me and Cat. (We opted later for a covered stage, in case the rain continued.)

planning for ovate init -- gail Nyoka

photo courtesy Gail Nyoka

Saturday gave us Wanda’s workshop, “Awakening Your Beltane Sensuality” with its creative chance to heighten one sense by muting the others. Now that the rain had ceased, we could hold our main Beltane rite in the stone circle.

Here’s an evocative pic from Saturday night, the Fire Circle alight, a few dancers visible, along with Brom, our Fire Master, tending the flames.

magus beltane

photo courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers

By Saturday night I’d mostly finished my other ritual responsibilities, including providing a glitch for the main Beltane ritual where I had a speaking part — I dropped a line. “When that ritual pause goes on a little too long and you look around, you’re probably what’s missing”, as someone quipped over the weekend.

I was looking forward to enjoying the Fire Circle without performing for the eisteddfod, the Bardic arts portion of most OBOD festivals that welcomes the evening fires and the awen-inspiration of a Gathering and offers it back again in song and poetry and story.

But as Bards know from experience, the awen sometimes has other ideas. Fire gave me an opening line a few hours earlier during dinner. And it kept gathering more lines to it, right up to the evening Fire Circle. Verses kept changing and I didn’t have pen and paper handy, so I kept playing with lines and rhymes and their order. “Fire says improvise” came the first line. I’d invoked fire, after all, during my workshop, in several different ways. What did I expect?! Here’s the poem:

Fire says improvise —
no surprise,
when such orange wonder
seeks out skin and eyes.

Fire can burn all to black
but before,
that hot roar lifts me
to soar beyond
anything I thought to think I lack.

Most times I’m no fool —
how does this jewel
get to be so hot and cool?

Old rule, it says.
Burn madly, gladly,
or — if you must — sadly:
one way only among those other two.
For I will heat you from your crown
to your open-toed shoe.

The fire, friend,
the fire is in you.

Just get up and say it, came the nudge. Doesn’t have to be polished. I delivered the lines, gazing at the flames the whole time, then stumbled back fire-blind to my seat on one of the Fire Circle benches. The version here is close to what I remember saying, probably edited a little. Fire didn’t want an editor. Just flame, large or small. The other Bards obliged, and this eisteddfod was among the most varied and interesting I’ve known.

One of the oldest pieces of spiritual counsel in the Indo-European tradition is this: “Pray with a good fire”.

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Below is an informal altar by Siding Creek, which curls around Four Quarters, another voice audible through much of the Sanctuary as a background whisper.

siding creek altar -- renu

photo courtesy Renu Aldritch

Four Quarters brews its own mead, a taste of the Land to take inside the body. Warmed by place, fire and fellowship, we return to our lives richer by each person who attended. Long live MAGUS!

Coffee Dragon -- Wanda Flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

A final view of the Circle through the eye of the Mother Stone:

throught he mother stone -- Wendy Rose Scheers

photo courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers

Elemental Baptisms — Druid & Christian Theme 2   Leave a comment

[Themes |1| |2| |3| |4| |5| |6| |7| |8| 9|]

Spirit animates all things, earth and water, air and fire. To live is to experience, in Christian terms, a continuous sacrament. The sacraments of Druidry are the elements. Spirit makes life sacred, and we know this to the degree we recognize and participate and commit to living fully and wholly.

-- by Fi BowmanThe energies of the elements feature widely in both Druidry and Christianity. John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River, and water energies characterize the Bardic grade in many Druid traditions — inspiration and intuition, dream and emotion and astral awareness. The place of the Bard is the west, long associated with elemental water. Standing in the west, the bard also faces east — sunrise, beginnings, elemental air, perception and knowledge.

We’re always crossing and re-crossing elemental lines and boundaries. Neither earthy gnome nor watery undine, airy sylph nor fiery salamander, we’re all of these, linked to each.

We might see and call each person’s life a spiral of elemental baptisms. So we ritualize it as a sacrament and reminder. Each of us cradled in our mothers’ wombs, our earth bodies forming, the amniotic waters bathing us as we take on physical shape and substance. No breathing except what our mothers do for us. Then birth, and that first cry, a gasp of air in new lungs, the loss of that other body and its warmth, our first journeying into a world that offers us choices and ventures among all four elements.

jesus--magicianWhat more earthy place to be born for a child of god — all of us children of the divine — than a stable? How fitting that in the traditional story, animals surround the holy newborn, with their hay and straw, along with the reek of dung and the puffs of animal breath. The Golden Tarot features the holy magician surrounded by beasts, implements and symbols of the elemental altar at his feet.

Yet even at birth, at such a private affair, surely a matter of just father, mother and child only, a star shines distantly to herald each birth. We saw his star in the east, say the Magi, the Mages, the Magicians, and we have come to honor him.

Follow your own star, counsel the wise ones of many traditions. You are my guiding star, say our love stories and tragedies. A star shines on the hour of our meeting, say Tolkien’s Elves. Nothing is random.

And disaster? That’s a dis-aster, an ill star that may shine and color our lives. But other stars also — always — are shining. We are never just one thing only. And the Ovate is the grade of the north, the mysteries of life and death, healing and divination, time and fate and return. We are earth at birth, but all of the elements in turn and together, too. Stand in the north, the place of earth, of incarnation and death, and take stock. Learn the herbs that heal and harm, chant the words and sing the charm.

The call of rivers and oceans, streams and pools and wells. Water baptisms, summer swimming holes, the daredevil dive from a height into water that some of us risk. Do we long to “make a big splash” as we enter our adolescence? Surely a time of water and emotion, of dream and imagination, as the world unfolds itself into our first inklings of adulthood, as hormones surge and wash through us, working their watery changes. And those stories of the Biblical flood, of Atlantis drowned, of Mu and Lemuria. We live our lives on a planet dominated by water, we carry in our veins a blood that mirrors the primeval ocean in its salts and minerals, our bodies made of water and earth, subject to the tug of a tidal moon.

Air that fills our lungs, that in-spires us, that makes up one of the rhythms of our whole lives, until we ex-pire, that last breath going out, just as with our first cry we took it in. Air that caresses sweetly or gusts violently, every element meeting us in all its guises, fierce and gentle. Jesus on the mountain, transfigured. Jesus in the wilderness, tempted by power, by simply existing, alive, a blend like each of us of the elements and spirit.

And there in his sight the diabolic or oppositional aspects of incarnate life pull at him. Cast yourself down, the voice taunts him: you won’t really die. Who among us hasn’t stood on a high place and imagines jumping, imagined not plummeting to death, but somehow floating, flying, a power beyond what human life gives? What will we do with this enormous power each of us has to heal or hurt, make or mar the people and places we live? Renounce it, ignore it, forsake it, abuse it, explore it, fulfill it?

Conception and taking on form, an earth baptism of the North.

Birth and first breath, an air baptism of the East.

Adolescence and its hormonal tides, a water baptism of the West.

Adult passion and dedication to a worthy cause, a fire baptism of the South.

harry-potter-scarTrace the traditional order and position of each element in that sequence — North to East to West to South — and you describe a zigzag, a Harry Potter lightning flash.

And to push further at the symbolism, to go all nerdy and allegorical for a moment, because we can, we’re all marked by a vol de mort, the will of death, a will shaping the particulars of this life that ends at death, whatever may or may not follow.

But until then!!

Other baptisms, of suffering and love, growth and pain and knowledge, each time the elements forming and reforming in our experience. Bones breaking, healing. Bodies ill and recovering, hearts broken and full to bursting, minds challenged and sharpened by training and testing, blunted on battlefields and in factories, regenerated in gardens and gatherings, shaped in schools and lives.

In each life humans spiral through these baptisms, each renewing the experience and memory of the previous one, but also extending it, transforming it. Never twice the same, and yet familiar, too.

Jesus changing water to wine, a water-fire baptism of surprise at a wedding, a symbol of wholeness along the spiral, elements blending and merging. Jesus transfigured, on the airy mountain. Jesus crucified, the pain of incarnation and death, all the elements again, body and blood, breath and fire of pain, of ending. It’s finished, he says. in one gospel. I’ve done what I came to do.

Don’t each of us? To live at all, whether short or long, is to experience the whole gamut, every baptism multiple times. Death, yes. The tomb where they lay Jesus, and roll the stone door shut. Elemental baptism of earth again. Spiral, spiral.

For that’s not all. Because resurrection. Spring. Rebirth. In the northern hemisphere, look out your window. No need to believe any of these things. Walk out the door and experience them for yourself. Make a ritual out of it. Figure out after what it “means” to you. Live it.

To go pop-culture on you: I’ll be back, says the Terminator, mirror of the Creator. The great Ender, who promises a death before life even gets fairly launched. Prevent the future. But No fate — he doesn’t “win.” Instead, life changes him — our perception changes him. He becomes, death becomes, potentially at least, an ally, if a difficult one.

Death is the mother of beauty, says crazy old bard Wallace Stevens. (All bards, to make a verse or song or story, must be a little crazy from time to time. It’s good for them, good for us.) What?! I shout, outraged. Death is the mother of beauty, he repeats, quietly. Only the perishable can be beautiful, which is why we are unmoved by artificial flowers.

The gift of incarnation is to draw out from each element the fullness of what it offers. A ritual of elemental baptisms can help us recognize the opportunity of each as it spirals by, and ride the energies of the elements. Give me a rich, full life. I long to drink it all, the bitter, yes, inevitable. But also the sweet, the fair, the lovely, the shining, the joy.

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Images: elementals; Golden Tarot Jesus as Magicianscar.

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