Archive for the ‘grail’ Tag

“It is difficult/”   Leave a comment

to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

OK, W. C. Williams, I’ll bite. What’s “the news”? What is it that’s “found there” in poems and songs? Is it really different — better — more necessary — than other things, found in other places? If it is, how can you — or I — trust it?

How we answer these questions (any Bards worth their salt pose difficult ones) goes far to showing us for what we are, where we find what we need, and whether any number of us are dying from a lack of it.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could — at last! — track down that skittish, reluctant poem, lasso it, corral it, hog-tie it and get it to give up its … what?

For all its seeming colloquial innocence, the poem fragment threatens to stalk mythic ground. More about that in a bit.

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There’s a funny, wry essay (if you’re into actually reading things called “essays”!) called “The Arrogance of Poetry”, by Mark Halliday. (It appeared almost two decades ago now, in the Georgia Review in 2003. Here’s a Jstor link to the first page of it, where you can get a taste, and see if you want to sign in and read the rest of it for free.)

Halliday speaks a common truth: “We are romantics: we keep expecting the marvelous ___ that will change our lives. We try to ___ intelligently, even skeptically, but we are ready to fall in love”.

Fill in the blanks from your own experience. Versions, versions. It’s no surprise that Halliday’s has “poem” and “read”, but I suspect you can do better, because it’s your life we’re talking about, after all.

Right now — Sunday, a sunny afternoon in late February, my belly reasonably full of a very late breakfast of eggs and toast — I’d fill the two blanks with “insight” and “live”: “We keep expecting the marvelous insight that will change our lives. We try to live intelligently, even skeptically …”

Maybe you write “deity” and “worship”. Or perhaps for you it’s “person” and “date”, or “high” and “use”. If you’re flush with cash, it could even be “decorator” and “remodel”, or “designer” and “dress”.

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Poem, song, Other, Grail. We storm the castle, only to find it empty and cold. We hold the Grail in our hands, but then fail to recognize it before we set it down and walk away. Perceval, Lancelot, Galahad. Guinevere, Elaine, Isolde. So many stories.

Tennyson writes:

Then move the trees, the copses nod,
Wings flutter, voices hover clear
“O just and faithful knight of God!
Ride on! the prize is near”.

Yes. Always over the next hilltop, around the next curve. A sensible Druid might sit down and stretch out under the trees, instead, and listen to those wings, voices, leaves. Who knows who will get “there” sooner?

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The “daily practice” I’m always yammering about is one of the few things I know for sure.

I bring the bowl to the Fountain, hold it out, and once again it fills. It’s not much, just a modest bowl, rough pottery, nothing fancy, carrying enough for a deep drink, or a day’s cooking. Tomorrow I’ll need to refill it. When I bring it inside, I set it by a window. Sometimes the sun glitters on the surface of the water. Then the sparkle flashes across the opposite wall, blinding bright for a moment.

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I bring in the sheet of metal I’ll use to incise the runes of storm that Thecu asked for. I’d left the gray metal tilted against a stone in the backyard, a landmark in case a storm came and covered it before I’d fetched it in. Across the stone surface, a tracery of lichens — some green from snowmelt — say nothing.

Posted 23 February 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, grail, spiritual practice, spiritual quest

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Octobering   Leave a comment

[Updated/edited 22 Oct 2019]


S. Vermont, Windmill Hill Pinnacle, looking west. Photo courtesy B. Blair.

Yesterday six of us, along with two malamutes, hiked the trail to the Pinnacle of Windmill Hill here in Southern Vermont. We’re well past the peak of autumn colors, but a blunt beauty remains, as oranges and yellows, ochers and burnt siena take the stage. The sky, restless, is already into November, brooding grayly over it all.

A week or so ago a friend was grieving for the end of a rich garden. The season can work that grief in us, ransacking the fields of our inward spaces, piling on change and loss and uncertainty in a thick melange, along with the aging of our mortal bodies, and whatever other challenges we face at the moment. Throw in the diminishing daylight here in the northern hemisphere, and the frosts and fogs and die-off of green vegetation, and it can hurt like The End, rather than a stage of the journey. One of the remedies she shared was her rediscovery of gratitude for the body, how the simple act of attention to breathing can bring solace. It goes in, it goes out. Draw in strength on the in-breath, then breathe out all that needs to go, that passes in time.

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Sometimes altars find us, rather than the other way around. A large boulder I’ve been meaning to drag and roll to my backyard grove has gained a partial moss and lichen mantle, so I took leaves I’d gathered on the hike yesterday, and a ritual bowl, a quartz stone and my ceremonial sword out into the afternoon sunlight and laid them across the uneven surface and took the photo.


At the bottom right you can see one of the egg-shaped black walnuts that have been banging on the metal roof of our garden shed when they fall, or rustling as they subside in the grass.

The sword points south, toward the top of the picture, but the other directions don’t line up according to the SEA (standard elemental associations). To the east (left in the picture), our fishpond does its part to throw off the elemental alignments. The stone itself makes do for north, and also the earth, upholding everything else, while the leaves stand in for air. Even the sun seems to have found a different place in the sky than west, the shadows suggesting morning, not mid-afternoon.

You can call the altar a prayer, or a prayer your altar. Sometimes we need to “finesse our fanes”, to turn them on, help them reach us where we are, even as we stretch to find them, extending a tendril of thought, of feeling.

Breathe, and activate air. Drink, and water “comes back online”. Stand on the autumn earth, leaves crackling underfoot, melt from the morning frost glistening on your shoes. Sometimes presence already is prayer, our listening an offering, the few remaining crickets and grasshoppers sluggish in the low sun.

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The Faery Grail … is ultimately about the giving of food as a ritual of hospitality that creates communion between faeries and humans: the wisdom that it purveys is the neighborly consideration of all life that arises in human awareness as a consequence. Those who offer and drink from the cup in peace are the children of one universe, in communion with the natural world even as their ancestors were, who enjoy the ancestral feast. When the rules of faery courtesy are broken by violence, rapine and theft, the Faery Accord in broken. This is ultimately what causes the blight upon the human world that we call the Wasteland: the riches of the Rich Fisher no longer flow. Humanity enters into a warfare with Faery, displaced people wander the land without protection, and even the court of Arthur is visited by mocking and embarrassing tests. Fertility fails when the waters of the Faery Grail are withdrawn: but when they flow again, the land becomes fertile and is repopulated. People are brought once more into communion with their ancestral belonging (Matthews, The Lost Book of the Grail, pg. 274).

Faery Grail or Holy Grail, Christian or non-Christian, both cause and cure are the same, Matthews observes. (It is a symptom of our division and separation that we misunderstand and argue even about that, and suffer.)

Not as the world gives, do I give to you, says the Galilean Druid. Having scorned the gift, and abused the hospitality offered to us, how can we know the giver?

A topic for meditation and ritual and discernment, as the turn of the year that is Samhain approaches.

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“Many people”, this morning’s spam solemnly observes, “today іgnore the ability to see out of [t]heir [v]iew”. Like much spam, it’s badly edited, unidiomatic, and — often — true, albeit in sometimes truly weird ways.

How well do I see “out of my view”? Can I even begin to see out of someone else’s view until I see out of my own? Am I ever “in view of myself”, or am I the one thing I can never actually see? I don’t know about you, but with such questions I can easily pass a whole morning.

If there’s a supreme strength to the practice of Druidry, it’s in its potential to connect us where connection is badly needed — to the world that begins wherever we find ourselves, to our places, starting with our skin and bones, and flowing outward to the skin and bones of the world all around us. But though we named it uni-verse, “one-turn”, somehow we don’t quite believe our own label or the perception behind it — that it’s all turning together, intimately linked in every way. Hence, it often remains a potential, giving us a lifetime of work to explore how it — and we — manifest.

And if there’s a supreme weakness to Druid practice, it’s a naive belief that “it’s all good” — that everything would be fine if we’d just “get back in touch with nature” — that the “human project” can finds its whole purpose and satisfaction within this glorious physical world. Sustainable, reverent, cooperative, harmonious — these are enough.

We need more, because our own consciousness asks for more. Because when this “apparent world” fades, we confront other worlds with different challenges and questions. Now what?! A deist might say, “Pilgrim on earth, thy home is heaven; stranger, thou art the guest of God”. An animist has likely already encountered beings beyond the physical orders we encounter here — beings that wear different bodies than earth ones, clothed in astral or other forms. Even a staunch materialist would probably concede, along with Hamlet, that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. By “philosophy”, helpful footnotes inform us, Hamlet appears to mean our modern word science. And if there’s one thing most Druids would prudently admit, we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface. Of almost anything.

“As a spiritual tradition based on reverence for and connection with the powers of nature”, writes Emma Restall Orr in her Druidry and Ethical Choice, “more than anything else Druidry teaches us to honour life … Druid ethics are built upon the release of ignorance and the respectful creation of deep and sacred relationships”.

Release of ignorance, I keep whispering wryly to myself — out of humbling, extensive personal experience — is a full-time job.

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Unpacking the Triad Further   1 comment

[Edited/updated 19 Oct 2019]

But if I’m honest (I’m continuing the conversation, if only with myself), the work I’ve done with my recent Triad is far from complete. My Western and particularly my American individualism needs radical tempering. I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that I was reading and would soon review Caitlin Matthews’ The Lost Book of the Grail (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2019). Now feels like an appropriate time — but I’ll blend it with further expatiation on that Triad. If the book’s worth my time, or yours, let me show something of that value in my own life.

First, here’s Matthews:

The Grail knights quest on behalf of those who are locked outside the story of hope, reconciliation, or healing, in order to move the stagnation of stasis into another hopeful condition. In the many psychologically based commentaries upon the Grail legend, from Joseph Campbell onward, there has developed a very modern stress upon the individuality of the Grail hero’s journey. However, this stress on the individual has served rather to point out the division in modern consciousness–often expressed as a vague loss of nature or holism–from the collective. The living context of this division speaks of how we are split off from ancestral or faery roots: and those who seek for help today are often weakened or unable to heal because they do not think, work, or imagine from a collective basis. How can we heal if we leave out the rest of the world from the equation? (Matthews, pg. 239).

Samhain is a wonderful time to look for ancestral guidance, to an ancestor who may be myself in a previous incarnation, waiting to reach out to a descendant (who may or may not be me again). And given how, in myth and legend, Otherworld time often runs differently than here, backwards, perpendicularly, non-linearly, a-causally even, we can heal in many directions, receiving and offering healing across what looks like temporal obstacles and barriers. I am inseparable from the collective, I walk with the body my ancestors have bestowed on me, I accomplish whatever work I do with their hands; I look out at you with their eyes. And so do you, with yours.

My little economies in the post on the recent triad — what do I need, what can I do, what needs to be done — ignore that collective. They’re a starting point. But merely squeezing a few more bucks out of some substitutions and shifts of priorities in my one household, while possibly helpful, ignores larger trends and patterns, and closes my eyes to our collective experience until it impinges on my little self to the point where I can no longer avoid responding. (Compound that with a fear of the Other stoked by far too many politicians in too many countries, and you get, not collective consciousness and honour and action, but collective targeting and collective hating and collective bashing. Because, let’s face it, fear is easy, and cheap, earns money for political campaigns, runs like a reflex off the reptile brain in us all, and moves people to pick up causes, banners, and bombs.)

Even gathering with the Massachusetts grove for Samhain on Nov. 1 will help awaken me to a more collective awareness. Stand in ritual with others, and the walls can come down. I can hear the many voices of those who stand around us, skins on or off.

BAM Druid Gather

Rather than a set of OSFA* instructions for how to manifest the subtitle — “The Sevenfold Path of the Grail and the Restoration of the Faery Accord” — Matthews gives us stories and lore and many pointers for our own ways.

[*OSFA — one size fits all]

Here’s Matthews again, talking about origins and directions — the Grail is a kind of vector or arrow through and around time, continually answering human need:

The beginnings of the Grail myth go back to the very dawn of human consciousness, and to the desire of human beings to make some kind of direct contact with the divine, to receive healing, and to make right the wrongs of the world. The Grail appears as a vessel of mercy that, through different spiritual agencies, offers an opportunity to those qualified by courage and belief to bring that mercy. Whether we look to ecstatic and initiatic drinks of the ancient mystery cults, or to the miraculous manna found by the Israelites in their desert wanderings, or to Celtic myths of cauldrons that provide plenty, wisdom or eternal life, we find a collection of vessels from many cultures; each contains a substance that enables those who discover it to be healed, nourished, and experience divine communion (Matthews, pg. 22).

Two pointers right there: courage, and belief. Don’t have either? No problem — there are many others to explore, until I can serve them. I don’t need to have courage, but I can serve it.

Your cauldron 
I drink from it.
Your body 
I wear it.
Your hands
I raise them.
Your spirit 
It flames in me.

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Five Things I Love About This Blog   2 comments

1 — First of all, you, my readers. Forget superficial social-media “likes” (though on occasion it’s true they’re heartening to receive). Many of the most-read posts here are curiously “liked” the least, or not at all — from which I conclude you’re too busy reading and thinking about them to worry overmuch about “liking” them, thank the gods.


Older posts I haven’t referenced in years still get “views” — some of you are either referring friends to them, or systematically reading backwards and sifting through all the wordage here for anything that has value for you. Knowing how, with a little persistence, I can find a window into something of value in the odd or throw-away reference or turn of phrase in my all varied reading on- and off-line, it’s good to know some of you do the same.

2 — Further, you come from all over — from 102 nations, if I can trust WordPress site analytics. That means that important ideas I grapple with here, and get wrong as well as right, are reaching a wide readership, and provoking reflection. Not surprisingly, the U.S. and the U.K. are the most frequent source of readers, but other nations both expected and more surprising appear on this July’s roster of “Top 20” sources of page views — Turkey, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan (Germany and India also normally both feature among the Top 10 when I look at rosters for whole years but for whatever reason didn’t make it last month; Hong Kong isn’t a separate nation — why WordPress treats it as one is interesting to contemplate):

US: 958
UK: 137
Canada: 63
Australia: 44
France: 16
Spain: 15
Brazil: 13
Ireland: 10
South Africa 10
Romania: 9

3 — Our much-abused, misunderstood, but still persistent human instinct for the spiritually real, the true, the valid, the potent. To choose just one topic, if your sustained interest in a cluster of posts on Druidry and Christianity on this blog is any indication at all, we sense an intersection there that deserves our attention and exploration. Powerful stuff (a highly technical term) still flows into our worlds and consciousnesses from both traditions and practices, and particularly from their cultural-symbolic-magic conjunction. The Grail, we can say, has never ceased to nourish us.

4 — Our hunger for new — and newly-revitalized — spiritual and pragmatic forms into which we can pour our hopes, dreams, emotions, energies, practices and magic. Rituals, perspectives, prayers, songs, communities — these forms take a multitude of shapes, but any vaunted “decline” in religion that our media love to examine from time to time is very far from the lived experience of many people — we still long to re-link to the numinous, the sacred, the holy, the universal, as much right now as we ever did. Maybe more.

5 — How writing for an audience has helped shape both my writer’s craft and my spiritual practice. What I share, and what I keep private, have shifted over time. You’ve tolerated my moods, my humours, my obsessions, my sometimes narrow or limited perspectives, and you still keep coming back. Sounding my experiences and trying to understand them out loud has given me insight into what can and should be shared, and what shouldn’t or can’t. In this, our deeply confessional era in the West, silence is even more golden — as one of the old “Four Powers”* of the Magus (or of the Sphinx), it retains its place and purpose.

*”to know, to dare, to will, to keep silent” — in Latin: noscere, audere, velle, tacere.

So thank you!

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Grail 5: Some Assembly Required   Leave a comment

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]


To recap: I rely on sacred sound, on awen, as my first and go-to practice. (Let’s call it East for now, since I need air to sing it.) Without the daily retuning it affords me, I find “all bets are off”. It clears the way, keeps me facing my own best interest more of the time, inspires me, keeps the creative stream flowing, helps me with compassion for others going their ways. In short, I like myself better when a sacred melody is my heartsong. Life flows more smoothly.

Some personal assembly is required for the “spiritual components” I’ve mentioned in this series. I can’t force a flower to open. What I do needs to flow from me gratefully, gracefully, as if I let myself out of a cage I didn’t know barred me from wider, richer experience. I may stand at the door a little dazed at first, but then the world outside the bars invites me. Spirituality offers a series of recipes. I don’t need to make and live on bread alone, or just green curries, but practice means I’ll improve on what I’ve started already. For what it’s worth, consider: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one thing well”. (When you fully understand that, you can explain it to me!)

Or to paraphrase what I remind myself: The awen is already flowing in your life. Find out where!

If you want a poem version of the reminder, try Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”. Yup, awen coming thru: “your imagination calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting, over and over announcing your place in the family of things”.



Elaine of Corbenic*, King Pelles’ daughter, bearing the Sancgraal/Frederick Sandys, 1861

The Elements, part of my “family of things”. Water, and West. Grail — Cauldron — Feminine Principle — Goddess — Virgin Mary — Yang and Yin together again. Octave, door, spiral key. Working with the Grail bears similarities to a form, like a kata in martial arts. Alone, it may not seem like much. As part of a path, a spiritual choreography, it opens out into unexpected country.

How I assemble, and what parts I choose, that becomes my practice.

I have a lovely blue-green vase given to me by a former student. It sits on a shelf, and needs dusting from time to time, especially after the winter season with ash from the woodstove. I also eat from a commonplace bowl that’s gotten chipped from wear, and lives part of its life submerged in soapy water along with all the other dishes I’m washing. Both are forms of the Grail. One sees daily use. The other looks pretty. Sometimes I feel a Grail in my heart, a divine space of possibility. The Grail is my heart, is everybody’s heart — our hearts together form the Grail.


Another image of Elaine, by Arthur Rackham, 1917.

Seen from one side (the Grail has no sides), I’m on a Grail Quest. Seen from the other side, the Grail is the first thing I started out with, or that started out with me, as I tagged along childlike. It gave me away to the world (a way to all the worlds), knowing I’d always come back.

[*Elaine of Corbenic, the Grail Maiden of Arthurian legend, is the mother of Galahad with Lancelot.]


Earth, north. I sit gingerly at the keyboard, easing my back where I pulled a muscle yesterday on our icy driveway, carrying in an armful of firewood and nearly falling, catching myself with a wrench. Boar snorts at my shoulder, saying you know what to do. I reach to touch his bristles, reminding myself to relax, to shift, rock, ease the muscles from sitting too long in one posture. I stand up to look out the window at blue twilight on the snow, and stretch.

Grounding what I experience is key to bringing its use fully into my worlds. I practice this, writing, embodying shapes I’ve seen in vision, drawing (badly) the sword from yesterday. Though sword is east, it’s also undeniably a physical object — north, steel, mined from earth. Holding it, even in imagination, I ground the experience further. Holding a piece of metal or wood in my hand as a ritual equivalent, feeling its solidity and inertia, I ground further. Grail-in-all-things, goddess-in-all-things.


Fire, south. Sun each day, moon each month, two great spirals for practice, a daily sun salutation, surya namaskar. A monthly moon meditation. Knight connects a version of this rhythm to polarity working with the Grail, too. Two ritual-contemplation questions arising in meditation today: “What is the sun of the moon? What is the moon of the sun?” I don’t need to understand everything before it becomes part of me. In fact, with much that I value deeply, like my wife, my marriage, understanding happens only after it has become part of me, and I of it, not before.


First star tonight in the eastern sky tonight, Grail-star. Quintessence. Yes, earth my body, water my blood, air my breath, fire my spirit — so the old Pagan song instructs me. But spirit-greater-than-fire is here — spirit the essence of all four, and more, pouring inexhaustibly from the Grail across the cosmos.

With my forefinger I trace a pentagram in the twilight sky in the Seven Directions, another form I use: four quarters, zenith above, nadir below and center.

For the good of all beings, for the good of the whole, for the good of each one, may it be so.

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IMAGES: Elaine by Sandys; Elaine by Rackham.

Grail 4: Elements, Tools, Guides   Leave a comment

[Updated 27 Jan 2019]

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

bors-sees-child-galBors has given me a sword. I see and feel it pass from his hands to mine. Now among my tasks: how to determine its nature — how and when do I make use of it — and what are appropriate thanks and service for this gift?

To what degree does this brief inner experience, which I recorded this morning in my journal, arise not from holy sources, but from my personal Grail practice and from such reading as the following, from Knight’s The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend?

Galahad, Percivale and Bors accompany the Holy Grail back to Sarras, from whence it came. The maimed king is healed, and the three knights are borne away in the ship with the silver altar  above which hovers the glory of the Holy Grail … [I]n due time, Galahad’s wish is granted, and he leaves this life and ascends … Percivale remains in Sarras, and only Bors … returns to tell the tale. In this sense Bors is in the line of succession of great revelatory mystics and prophets, and the keepers and sustainers of the inner mystery traditions (Knight, pgs. 270-271).

If I want to track the experience to its birth, the answer to an either-or question of origins probably matters. But if I want to learn what it can teach me, that question matters much less. (I can explore it at my leisure later, when I’m not storming a castle, or de-rusting my chainmail.)

Mara Freeman asserts in her book Grail Alchemy: “the legends of the Holy Grail open up paths to the spiritual dimensions like no body of lore has done before or since”. I take this as a deeply experiential challenge, not one to be answered by mere intellectual debate, but by results. Once I’ve made a serious sustained effort, I’ll know whether or not these legends — and my practice — open up paths to spiritual dimensions — for me.

(Any desire I have for my way to work for anybody else may be simple generosity, but such an innocent motive can all too quickly sidle up to my insisting it’s the only way — and that should instantly set off all our crap detectors. I keep reciting Postman’s corollary like the holy mantra it is: the main source of bullshit I face is myself. Exhibit A — Bors gives me a sword: an experience to assess and explore for what it can offer. Well and good. But I’m hot stuff because of that experience: deep piles of fresh, steaming bullshit.)

The same holds true with animal guides. (As a wise Druid asked at last fall’s East Coast Gathering, “Why is it everyone’s animal guide is Wolf or Raven or Bear? What about tomato cutworm?”)

I’ve written elsewhere of my experiences with wild boar. Again, the test of any guide, tool or experience is (or can be) utterly practical. As the Galilean master asks, Does it bear “good fruit”? That’s how to “know” in powerful and grounded ways.

Sometimes I can’t quite reach the inward space I need to inhabit for healing. But I can reach for my inner guide, through long familiarity, and touch the bristly fur on his back. Touch was one of my first experiences of my guide — totally unremarkable to me, when I was looking for something more dramatic — and less “mundane”, less physical. For whatever reason, I can readily feel his fur, his pleasure at our connection. Only later, as I note in the post linked in the previous paragraph, did I read in the Druid Animal Oracle the entry for Torc, the Boar: “… he is a representative of the Goddess — his skin can heal you” (Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm, The Druid Animal Oracle, Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1994, p. 39). And I began to appreciate this “earthed” mode of access for what it was, a priceless gift. Once again — you’d think I’d know this by now as one of my ongoing biases — I overlooked the obvious, minimized a non-flashy spiritual connection.

Freeman continues with wise admonitions about “how to tell if you have made it all up or you are being deluded”. After all, you may be wondering where my precious and much-vaunted crap detector is in all of this. Freeman says,

… the imagination is the language of the soul. It is the equivalent of our most important sensory organ — sight — only turned inward rather than outward. Every non-physical thing that exists expresses itself as energy, or Force.  The imagination is a creative mechanism that enables us to give Form to Forces of the non-physical planes. (Introduction, Kindle location 349).

I’d generalize Freeman’s words slightly here: Every thing that exists expresses itself. How else do we know it except through its expressions? If I arbitrarily rule out any non-physical expression from my interest or attention — and here we can include emotion, hunch, imagination, intuition, gut feeling, creative impulse, dream, memory, love — I merely impoverish myself. Why on the deep earth or in the starry heavens would I want to do that?!

Several versions of the following story exist:

Once not so long ago there was a great drought in a province of China. The situation grew increasingly dire. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants offered prayers, and the Chinese burned joss-sticks and lit firecrackers to frighten off the drought-demons; but no sign of rain or wisp of cloud appeared in the empty sky. Finally the people said: “We will fetch a rain-maker”. And from another province a dried-up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself in for three days. On the fourth day clouds gathered and there was a great storm at a time of year when little rain was expected, and the town was filled with rumours about the wonderful rain-maker. Asked what he had been doing during the three days that had caused the rain to fall on the fourth, the old man said: “I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order; they are not as they should be by the ordinance of Heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in Tao, and I also am not in the natural order of things, because I am now here in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao, and then, naturally, the rains came”.

This wisdom story is easily reworded to speak in Druid terms. Like most good stories, it leaps cultures without significant diminution.

Another instance: many years ago I bought a used copy of Caitlin and John Matthews’ The Arthurian Tarot. I spent several days familiarizing myself with the images, and skimming the accompanying text (The Hallowquest Handbook, subsequently enlarged) which, beyond the usual short descriptions of each card, details a number of pathworkings and other exercises for the Grail seeker. One of the cards that particularly drew me again and again was the Sword Maiden. Here is the Matthews’ description:

Under a tree sits the Sword Maiden embroidering a scabbard … Dindrane, Perceval’s sister, is part of the Grail quest. She cuts off her hair in order to weave a belt for the sword which Galahad shall carry. She grasps ideas and materializes them; perceptive and discerning, she is vigilant in the cause of truth and justice; she cuts through difficulties by taking the way of self-sacrifice.

sword maidenWhen years later I read that Knight calls Dindrane “the perfect female initiate” (The Secret Tradition, pg. 270) and wrote of Bors that “he represents the initiate … rooted in the world” I realized that I had the makings of a personal practice of polarity working for a Grail quest. Rather than typifying or idealizing any stereotypically gendered element of expression, I see them as energies, inner and outer, available to the Grail seeker in mythic and archetypal forms.

Postman notes in the article I cited in the previous post:

So you see, when it comes right down to it, crap-detection is something one does when he starts to become a certain type of person. Sensitivity to the phony uses of language requires, to some extent, knowledge of how to ask questions, how to validate answers, and certainly, how to assess meanings … What crap-detecting mostly consists of is a set of attitudes toward the function of human communication: which is to say, the function of human relationships.

You might without too much distortion call crap-detection a kind of secular Grail Quest. Or the inverse: the Grail Quest is a holy version of crap detecting — in following it, I’m looking for and working toward a full(er) and healthier relationship with the cosmos and the beings in it, expressed in language and ritual as far as they can take me: naming things as lovingly and accurately as possible, knowing them by their expressions, and also pointing and following beyond words into being (t)here.

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IMAGES: Bors; Sword Maiden.

Grail 3: Part of the Rest of a Story   Leave a comment

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

And you might think after that last post, theres nothing more I can add to the subject. I boxed myself in with a few home truths. You make your own path by walking it. Done. QED. End of story. Except …


One quality of a valid path is that it rewards the walking of it. Its not valid merely because somebody else says so. The only authority worth recognizing is ultimately the truth we each sense within, in the doing of it. (Good parenting means in part supplying the rudiments of crap detection to our children. Pass along even the minimum we picked up over some decades of living, then, when the time is right, let them risk burning their own fingers, if they must, while we stand by with first aid.)

In some places this capacity for judgment used to be called critical thinking, and for past generations, inner resources. In many places we seem to have abandoned them. If we havent already refined that organ of good sense so that it serves us reasonably well, wherever and whatever it is, we can begin work right there. Life will, quite ruthlessly and uninvited, lend a firm hand.

As Ernest Hemingway once quipped, when asked what was needed, before anything else, to succeed at writing: “a built-in, shock-proof, crap detector”. One reason this tool matters so deeply, and in wider fields, is this: “At any given time, the chief source of bullshit with which you have to contend is yourself”. (This corollary to Hemingway comes from Neil Postman’s invaluable classic essay, “Bullshit and the Art of Crap Detection”, available online here.)

And Postmans corollary also means knowing when to turn off the crap detector, consciously and intentionally, for purposes you choose. And the reason for this is significant:

“Each man’s crap-detector is embedded in his value system; if you want to teach the art of crap-detecting, you must help students become aware of their values”.

[Postman is talking to English teachers in this lecture/essay; he’s also talking before our current heightened sensitivity to pronouns, so cut him some slack if his wisdom outweighs his sexism for you.]

A pause here to regroup and reconnoiter:

  • my single most useful tool is a crap-detector;
  • its default target, when no others present themselves, is me;
  • my use of a crap-detector is an art;
  • and if I hope to learn how to use mine well, I need to know what matters deeply to me, because that’s where both my values and my crap live.

Where’s the Grail in all this, again? Bear with me. You’re here, if you’re following my promise in the first post in this series, to discover something about my way. Yours will, by the fact of your irreducible uniqueness, be different from mine, but also similar enough you may take away something useful.

Now you may already know all this — or think you do. In which case, write your own book, or run that weekend workshop, and tell us how it’s done (AKA how you do it). Apart from privileging your crap over mine, and separating me from some of my money in the process, I doubt you’ll be ahead in the end. I might be, if the experience helps me refine my crap detector.) The best things in life may, unlike your workshop, truly be free, but I work the hardest for them. But that way, oddly enough, I discover they’re splendidly my own, in a way yours can never be. They cost something far more valuable than money. They’re “free” in another sense because that’s what they make me. So: catch you on another rung of the spiral.

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a Grail image

As a form, a container for energies and aspirations, the Grail earns my respect. (It passes my crap detector.) As an object for contemplation and visualization, together with regular practice of the cauldron sound I’ve described, I’ve begun to learn what matters to me, which is partly to say what works for me, what kindles me, what echoes in my bones, what seeks me out because it’s mine, and what I belong to in ways I’m still discovering. The Grail can be a passport to our native country. With it, I can go home again.

And as always, I try to heed the best bards. T. S. Eliot says in his “Four Quartets” (a vastly superior poem, in my arrogant opinion, to “The Waste Land” because I come away from it better equipped for joyful growth): “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. Grail is perennially “first time” in its power to renew and heal, and in that way it’s a virgin experience. Spiritual renewal and rebirth bears this signature quality.

Paradoxes, like those in the preceding paragraph, are for me a sign and signal of approaching four-dimensional truth. As a Wise One once said, the opposite of a superficial truth is a falsehood. But the opposite of a profound truth is, often, another profound truth.

True poets and bards, they recognize this by instinct, and (at least in their better moments) never try to own it, only to announce the strange good news to us all through their words and songs. And we may catch ourselves shivering in recognition, another sign. This awe-tinged joy sparking in us, this inner alertness and attention and focus, is another quality the Grail can mediate, a quality I’ve learned to recognize with my crap-detector, which yields and bows. (Of course I can and should turn it back on — later — to assess what and where and, on occasion, what next.)

Up next — Grail 4: Elements, Tools, Guides.

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Regarding public domain status of the Rider-Waite tarot: “In the United States, the deck fell into the public domain in 1966 (publication + 28 years + renewed 28 years), and thus has been available for use by American artists in numerous different media projects”.

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