Archive for the ‘four elements’ Tag

Firsts, Followers, Magics   Leave a comment

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Pine on our south property line

OBOD’s weekly email “Inspiration for Life” offers good advice here, but frequently my question after reading is this: how exactly do I go about practicing any insight it contains? And of course part of any answer sends me back to digging through what I’ve learned. It prods me to open my spiritual toolkit once again.

Here’s a recent weekly prompt, as I think of it, for a possible focus I might take up during the week:

Don’t feel bad about feeling bad. Don’t be frightened of feeling afraid. Don’t be angry about getting angry. There is no need to give up when we are feeling depressed. Nor should we be dismayed at the grief which often accompanies the outgrowing of anything which needs outgrowing. We can be glad that our soul is speaking to us and pushing us onwards. We frequently need to persevere with a period of inner turmoil before the dust can settle and be swept out the door. — Donna Goddard

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First comes an experience, and then any emotional response to it we may have. Sometimes there isn’t one, though often one comes, just not right away. My wife and I moved out of state for a promising new job, quit within a month, and moved back to Vermont in mid-September. In various ways I’ve been dealing with more fallout from that over the past thirty days than I did in late September, when the event happened, or shortly after we returned.

These delays frequently catch us off guard because of the time gap between initial event and response. Then we react to our reactions, without looking at the cause. Sometimes our secondary reaction takes up our attention and energy far more than the original experience or emotion. So we fill too many waking — and dreaming! — hours grappling with the effects of effects, rather than being cause in our own lives. And if like me you’ve truly mastered this peculiarly modern and dysfunctional art, you now feel guilty for a second, third or even fourth-level reaction: your response to your response at emotions stirred by the initial experience. How craftily we perform these perverse and twisted magics against ourselves!

Fortunately, the same skill we use in tying ourselves in knots can serve to aid us in climbing free. It needs only our fire to turn it to our purposes.

So I summon my magic, starting with the Law of Reversed Effort. Rather than resisting the guilt, inertia and listlessness, I realize they’ve become so heavy they start to drop off me, pulled by their own weight and gravity. They puddle in a mess around my feet. Stepping away, I begin to rise, calling for help if I wish from teacher, friend, familiar or other beneficent spiritual presence as I ascend.

As I rise, I pass through clouds, and then suddenly I’m above them. Here the sun shines with an intense brightness I can feel warming my skin. I continue to ascend, the earth growing smaller and smaller beneath me. It’s now a blue-green ball of coolness beneath me, the solar system around me. Then that too recedes. The whole galaxy swims around me, then clusters of galaxies, shining strands of stars and families of stars. Piercing the sphere of the cosmos like a soap bubble, I rise yet further, into another and larger universe. I slow and pause, absorbing the sense of light and freedom and expansiveness.

When I am ready, I descend back the way I came, through galaxies, back to the solar system, back to earth, and down into my body again. When I feel my physical form sitting on the chair, I savor the sense of lightness and ease, and give thanks. Then I open my eyes, savoring the gift, and record the experience.

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In this world rich with experience, it’s fine that I am not always the cause. But it’s immensely helpful, in such an interconnected world, to remember that things don’t happen to me, as if I’m a stone, but for me, because I’m an integral part of the web. It’s feedback for what we’re all doing. Just this shift in awareness can begin to free me to find useful insights, spiritual tools, and paths forward, right in the middle of circumstances that otherwise may feel like dead-ends. Because choosing to be the effect of thoughts about experiences will return me to remarkably useless perceptions, like “That’s just your imagination!” which of course is perfectly true, but not, however, in the sense that this accusation comes.

Imagination is spiritual sight. It’s never just one thing. In fact, it constantly, unfailingly, eternally (internally!), tries to show us multiple, innumerable other ways to see, to perceive, to understand, to celebrate, to create. It shows us ourselves, and everyone and everything else, as we can be. Not in a Disney, fluff-bunny or Hallmark sense, but in the truer sense of potential buried and awaiting all the transformations that human consciousness is designed to achieve and manifest.  Here, where it’s needed most. In the middle of the sturm and drang, the drama, the doom, the headlines, the media chatter. Yes, right in the middle of it all, a birth, a growth, a flowering.

Imagination at work is nudging the roll of the cosmic dice, when the Dungeon Master sets us to establishing who and what we will be in this iteration of the Great Game. Because we know we’re the dice, the throw that sets them rolling, the twinkle in the eye of the Master, and the numbers that come up which we then agree to play with, as well as the Players themselves.

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Or if that package of metaphors doesn’t work for you, fire is always burning. Honor it. We decide what to use it to ignite, warm, inspire.

Air is always breathing and flowing around us. Respect it. We decide what to breathe on, and endow with careful attention, thought, planning, symbolism, imagery.

Water is always pooling and rippling. We decide what needs nourishing at the roots, where the true dream lives, what we deeply feel, and how our hearts guide us along the paths we instinctively know already. Acknowledge it.

Lastly and most kindly, earth is ready beneath us, supporting us, stage for manifesting all we make of our lives from this moment forward. Love it.

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Peering out the windows of this train at strange new territory passing by, talking with curiously-attired strangers in the car, supping with voices and images of beasts and birds in my ears, dozing off with conversations still echoing. You know, the life of a writer obsessed for a time with characters and story.

At 27,201 words, I’m somewhat under my target word-count for Nanowrimo. The lovely impossible experience of any sustained period of writing means the simultaneous tyranny of daily word-sprints and counts and updates and bemoaning the calendar and days passing, along with a complete, blissful disregard for all these things, as I bathe in a refreshing pool under gentle sunlight, that has appeared in the middle of my story, a moment of solitude surrounded by moss and mists and a distant valley calling me to explore.

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2: Druid and Christian — Elemental Sacraments   Leave a comment

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

In the previous post I wrote: “In sacrament rather than creed lies one potent meeting-place for Druid and Christian”. It’s this junction that I’ll continue to explore here.

What’s a sacrament? A means of perceiving the sacred. Though every culture has them, in the West our access points to the holy can feel few and far between, even more precious because of their rarity. Of course we’ve trimmed and peeled many of them away ourselves — some too soon, others well after their expiration dates.

 

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Fire worship among the Yi people in Kunming, China. Xinhua News.

Nonetheless, as a doorway, sacrament itself isn’t holy, except by association. It acquires a secondary patina of holiness that makes up part of the uplift we can experience when we turn its way, if it’s still working. For it can indeed be profaned, though the underlying sacred reality it points to is immune to human tampering. That reality wouldn’t be worth much, after all, if we could trample it in the mud.  (And we do our share of trampling. One of the more startling instances comes from Quebecois French, which intentionally repurposes Catholic vocabulary for profanity — including the word sacrament itself.)

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Hence, when “the barbarians are at the gates”, they (we) can destroy things of beauty, reverence and spiritual power, but the reality that gave them birth remains untouched. It will burst forth again in new forms and guises to open the eyes and the hearts of people yet unborn.

Will it? We certainly say and believe such things. Are they merely a kind of whistling in the dark?

One test lies in sacraments themselves. Many of them may receive scant acknowledgement in a given culture. Yet who among us who has deeply loved another person doubts that there is a sacrament made manifest? We can and do sentimentalize it, in part to avoid its sacramental power.

Other examples abound, instances that many cultures hedge about with rituals of word and action. A meal shared with others, a birth, a death, a “first” in a young life: first love, first kill, first sexual experience, first assumption of other adult roles and responsibilities. The fact that in so-called secular cultures we still institutionalize and legalize such things as drinking alcohol, driving cars, voting, joining the military, merely confirms a spiritual fact — awkwardly, perhaps, and blindly groping for its deeper truth, no doubt. That we confer grades of status by age attests to our discomfort with other criteria — ones that require wisdom, vision, insight. It’s easier to grant status mechanically, by the calendar, than to search a heart.

A sacrament, then, because it’s “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace” as the 5th century St. Augustine perceived, acknowledges something that already exists. We don’t create it, though we allow it to take shape and form, to have an impact, because we make room for it in our lives. (There seems to be a Minimum Sacramental Quotient, an MSQ, in every life: we’re all born, eat, and die, even if we shy away from, and struggle to avoid, every other divine intrusion on our human busy-ness.) We can midwife the sacred, and catalyze and welcome it, then, or resist it, but only up to a point. Grace is gratia, gift — and ample reason for gratitude.

When Druids initiate a new Bard, something happens that allows a sacrament that outward manifestation. When a Christian experiences the presence of God in prayer or Communion, the connection with the sacred moves from inner potential to outer expression. We can sense it, often, with our physical bodies. Or in the words of one of the repeating songs from Beauty and the Beast, “There’s something there that wasn’t there before”. Lacking other means of access, many people experience sacraments, or at least a sacramental flavor, in the “profane” world of Hollywood and the entertainment “industry”. So let’s be more profane, not less: pro-fane, standing near a fane or shrine, rubbing shoulders with gods and spirits outside, if not in the fane, or making a fane of our bodies and lives.

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One common friction-point in midwifing a sacrament is means. “What’s your fane?” Deny another’s access-points to the sacred by discrediting their sacraments, and you attempt to own and control and box in what is not, in the end, wholly subject to human will. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, “No salvation outside the Church”, just doesn’t work for many people any more. (Not to mention that sometimes what you’re looking for isn’t salvation but something else entirely.)

There’s a Pagan movement towards what has been critiqued as “inflation”, and a Christian one that has been likewise critiqued as “deflation”, of the human self. Pagans appear to deify, and Christians to abase, the self, Both meta-techniques strive to open the doors to the sacred by removing obstacles to sacraments. And making a proper container for what is holy can be a deal of work. Latter-day solutions like “spiritual-but-not-religious” attempt to bypass the need for containers altogether, but they offer their own problems, and containers tend to creep back in.

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Samhain. Hallowed Evening. Masses, rituals for the Dead-who-live. Calling out their names, those who have passed in the previous year. Hear them named around the evening fire.

“Look in the mirror, Ancestor. The veil is always thin.”

“What we have received, we pass on.”

“What do you bring from the Otherworld? And what can we offer you?”

“Assist me to erect the ancient altar at which in days past all worshipped, the great altar of all things” run the words of one Pagan rite.

Introibo ad altare Dei, intones the Catholic priest, using the words from Psalm 42:4. “I will go into the altar of God”.

“Look at the shape of the altar; it is your own consciousness”, says one of the Wise.

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Can we see here the faint outlines of a shared set of sacraments for Christian Druids and Druid Christians? What links followers of Grail, Cross and Star, who long to extend what each does best, sacramental elements, elemental sacraments in the broader sense of components, basic parts, building materials for the Door that is always open, the “Door without a Key”? Jesus says “I stand at the door and knock”, and Merlin waves and beckons from the other side. Earth and water, air and fire, blood and mistletoe, wine and breath, we bring you to our altars.

In our awkward groping ways, we all stumble on and into sacraments. For those looking to learn from these two neighboring traditions, ones with Trees at their centers, maybe one of the first sacraments to celebrate is humility with each other, humilis, an attitude and approach close to the earth, humus. “Earth my body, fire my spirit …”

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Images: Fire worship; “Living water“.

 

West   Leave a comment

Here we are, autumn of the year, gathering the harvest of what we have sown, both bitter and sweet. Hail to the West, place of the setting sun, of evening, of fullness and reflection and maturity.

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ECG ritual banner of the West. Design by Dana Driscoll.

West, traditional place of feeling and intuition, and in this cycle, the moon waxing toward fullness, too. I know: in the associations of many tables of correspondence, West is the waning moon. Why not attune to what will light the sky this evening, rather than a pattern that obviously doesn’t fit the moment? Tonight I’ll sit at my fire-circle for an evening contemplation, open as I can to what comes.

With the full moon can come illumination of what was previously hidden. We move in cycles, nourishing some causes and energies in the unconscious, till they move into awareness and we can assess whether they work to our advantage.

Larger cycles concern nations and planetary systems, whole species and immense and intricate patterns, while smaller ones shape our communities and individuals. Disasters and tragedies will keep coming, whether through deeply-rooted patterns in human psyches, or in natural cycles of change, disruption and rebalancing.

After a hurricane, rather than recriminations, it’s most useful to serve obvious need. Likewise after a human tragedy like a shooting. Let my sympathies rouse me to understand causes better, work for change, or open my compassion in concrete forms of aid. Otherwise, am I doing anything more than muddying the astral waters?

Emotional reaction has its place — we feel what we feel — but it can most lovingly be grounded in prayer, ritual and contemplation, and action, for my own good as well as for the good of others. Look to your own self first. the beginning point of all thought and action, counsel my inner guards and guides.

Here’s a first draft of a ritual meditation I’m still working on:

Earth in my hands, my gaze to the horizon,
I cast fear away, hate away, anger away.
clearing the bodies for health.
Water in my hands, my gaze to the wells of spirit
I wash in love, I bathe in compassion, I cleanse with caring,
clearing the springs of the heart.
Fire in my hands, my gaze to the flame of purification
I burn away limitation, I incinerate obstacles, I ignite useful anger,
clearing the will for further growth.
Air in my hands, my gaze to the way of wisdom
I conceive a change, I know a change, I understand a change,
clearing the mind for action.

I don’t say these things because they’re easy, but because they’ve proven themselves to me to be among the best responses over time, and the best ways to take a pro-active stance as well. They’re a practice, something I find worth doing in itself like any practice worth the name, and for healing needed so plainly and deeply.

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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.

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?)

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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”

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