Archive for the ‘Imbolc’ Tag

What It’s All For, Part 157

“Why am I dealing with these things now, at 71?” a dear older friend asked recently. “Couldn’t I have tackled it earlier along the way?” After a pause, he answered his own question: “But I didn’t have the necessary perspective any sooner than this to handle what I discovered about myself, and about the work I needed to do”. I spiral like we all do, when I think I’m merely circling. Last year, this year, next year. More of the same old thing, or something new, unexpected, challenging. Often both together. Arms of the spiral.

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Silver-white back yard, 11:42 am EST, 10 Feb 2020

Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time knows my focus rests primarily on the inner texture and quality of my journey. Among other things, I’m a Druid, and sometimes I’ll post about a more outer-facing “Druid” subject — a sacred grove, an altar, images from a group ritual I took part in. But mostly I write about aspects of my own spiritual growth, or lack of it; about my questions, doubts, strategies, techniques, discoveries — things I hope are also useful in some degree to anyone who practices a spiritual path over time. Especially after the initial gloss has worn off, the honeymoon is past, the foothills are behind you, and the first outlines of your life’s work present themselves. And usually not in a form you expect, or even recognize right away.

This is the point when I find it’s often fitting to laugh helplessly, laugh so hard you end up gasping for breath. Or maybe it’s not fitting, but I do it anyway. Because you can’t take yourself too seriously. (Well, of course you can, and we all know those who do, but they’re often not the easiest people to be around. By the grace of forbearing friends and family, may I learn to grow out of my own vanity. If you’ve been with this blog long enough, you know most of what we work on falls into two categories, ego project or container issue.)

Enough of you recognize something of your own experience in what I write here that you keep coming back. Or at least you find the spectacle of my journey entertaining, because in fact it’s nothing like yours at all. You’re crafting a wand, planting a sustainable garden, protesting inert government officials to get off their asses, raising children to honour the earth and each other, or you’re single, widowed, newly launched into a different life than you foresaw, but living your path as best you can, in all its singular beauty and strangeness, in churches, temples, bedroom shrines, backyard altars, cathedrals of trees, holy places of the heart. You belong to a god or gods, or you’re non-theistic, you know the signs and songs and pass-words of your beliefs and practices and community, even if they no longer describe you fully, or maybe especially if they do.

Or you’re undergoing your own inner apprenticeship, something near-impossible to talk about, even with dear friends, and especially with family, who are often the last to know, or to come to grips with how dear Sue or Bill or Jimmie has “changed” and grown into something exotic and possibly uncomfortable and maybe more than a little threatening to an old dynamic that no longer works for all the people it used to link and to explain to each other. Or you’re bound firmly, as far as you can tell, in a circle that for whatever reason you need to stay in for now, in order to survive at all.

All you know, to quote that Victorian or maybe Edwardian novel, is that for your family, you are no longer PLU — “People Like Us”. Elvis has left the building. The horses have broken through the fence and gallop, heedless of human cries, across the plain and away.

Or you’re not changing. Everything and everyone else has changed. You’re becoming more of who you’ve always been. Why can’t they see that?!

Right in the midst of such tumult, it can feel like the very last thing that’s happening is “what it’s all for”. Instead it feels the exact opposite of that. Let the dust settle and the rubble stop bouncing, though, and a different outline can begin to emerge.

(Try to map spiritual geography most people will recognize and you miss the mark 50% of the time. Still, in baseball, that’s a mightily impressive record.)

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I know now that what it’s really all about is the white rabbit.

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My mother’s elder sister gave me this porcelain hare when I was seven. We’d visit her just once a year, for a long weekend — my mother and I traveled to Iowa most springs to stay with that side of the family. I remember thinking some seven-year-old boy version of “But I can’t play with it — it’s too delicate”. It was a “shelf-sitter” for sure, but even then it carried a charm it’s never lost for me. Its pinkness never bothered me as “girly” or wrong for a boy (I shot the image above on a pink towel to emphasize the painted highlights). For all I know the figure was a commonplace object several decades ago — some of you may have one just like it sitting on a mantle. But all I knew then was that someone had entrusted me with a delicate object, one valuable for its own sake, not for what I could do with it. It arrived, as such gifts sometimes can, at a moment when I could appreciate it.

In all the many moves of my life — at last count, 22, including to and from China, Japan, Korea, and six states in the U.S. — it’s traveled without damage. I thought of it for a long time as an Easter rabbit — not THE Easter Rabbit, but a rabbit associated with springtime. Now it’s an Imbolc hare as well.

Blessings of Imbolc
hare to you, warmth of white fur
soft as dream, close as the dreaming sky
against your skin. Grace of paws
in the snow to you, delicate toes,
each touching with its own print.

Blessings of animal presences to you.
Alertness of hare to you, ears pointed
towards the awen, that whisper
each of us hears, time’s changes tumbling
round us. Fleet foot of the hare
to you, the answering dance of hare,
a dive into a burrow, or a mad dash
(dash of the Mad March hare, a month early)
for the nearby hedge and through,
through to all the bright fields opening beyond.

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Posted 10 February 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, hare, Imbolc, magic, spiral

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Making the Most of “Magic Sunday”

Here we are, on an excellent day to test our actual as opposed to our rationalized beliefs: It’s “Magic Sunday”. What’s that, you ask (if you haven’t already read the day’s numerological clickbait)?

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A “sugar-shack”, New England Imbolc — the start of maple syrup making

Whether you deploy the European sequence of day-month-year, or the North American one of month-day-year, today is 02-02-2020. A palindrome, the same sequence backwards and forwards. You can read more about it in the middle-market, slightly left-leaning USA Today. (I monitor a range of about a dozen papers spanning the political spectrum. Leftist hysteria balances rightist hysteria, sort of like stomach acid and an antacid, except not.)

After reading the article, ask yourself: do you feel your mood or perspective even slightly altered, knowing the rarity of a palindrome date like today’s 02022020 sequence last occurred some 900 years ago? (See Palindrome Daypalindrome date.) Of course, if you keep reading, other similar dates loom in the next two years. Anticlimactic?

Try doing a task today, specifically focusing on the rarity of the date as a source of empowerment — even, or especially, if you don’t believe in such things.

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Now add to this the celebration of today, at least in North America, as Groundhog Day (No shadow! Early Spring! Go, Punxsutawney Phil!). And Imbolc. Does that change anything for you?

The foregoing is an illustration of our varying susceptibility to what’s been called “magical thinking”.

I find the term less than useful, because it’s often disparaging: irrational, superstitious, and so on. Instead, let’s look at all such things simply as inputs. Inputs surround us continuously: the weather, our diet, home, job, nationality, other affiliations, memberships and identities both chosen and inherited. What do we grant access to our mood, attitude, perspective, belief system, emotions? What operates largely below our level of awareness, as a sort of background hum? What do we resolutely shut out so decisively that it can gain little traction with us (even if it impinges subconsciously)? Do we even know?

Take it as a “Druid challenge”, or a bit of research, a holy ritual, a game — whatever makes it useful and engaging to you.

And if so inclined, try a form of alchemical magic most everyone uses — coffee, or a little sugar, in the form of maple products, sweets, cookies, candy — to satisfy that midwinter carbohydrate craving — and give you a “magical” sugar or caffeine buzz. Now that you’ve magicked yourself, explore what comes next.

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Image: Wikipedia sugar-shack.

Welcome, Brighid

Often, simple is best.

Mantle of Brighid about me,
Memory of Brighid within me,
Protection of Brighid around me
keeping me from harm,
from ignorance, from heartlessness,
this day and night,
from dawn till dark,
from dark till dawn.

— John O’Donohue (adapted), The Four Elements, Transworld Ireland, 2010, pg. 109. (Also available in Random House editions.)

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Crafting Brighid’s crosses. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

Outdoor Imbolc, Mystic River Grove:

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Outdoor rite. Photo courtesy F. Hanks.

May you be forged anew, inspired and healed.

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Posted 1 February 2020 by adruidway in Brighid, Brigid's cross, Druidry, Imbolc

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Flame, Holy and Mundane

Much of Paganism is defining spaces, places and the awareness we bring to them. At its heart it’s a kind of continual prayer: O let me wake into the holy in every moment.

This is sacred time, go the words of standard OBOD ritual. This is sacred space. We name it to remind ourselves, to evoke it through intention and attention, but also to recognize what’s already there. We can create sacred space because sacred space shapes us from birth. It’s our heritage, our birthright, unless we give it away.

So we call it back.

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With Imbolc a little over a week away, those who honor Brighid find themselves turning even more closely to her presence and influence. Year-round already and always, yes, for those who revere her, but also more keenly when her festival nears.

“We are entering the dark half of the year”, writes Teo Bishop in a post for the Autumn Equinox, “and now more than ever is the moment to engage with your daily practice”.

(When isn’t it the moment to engage? I don’t know about you, but my “dark half of the year” doesn’t politely wait for September. You’re no doubt tired of my repeating this theme of the need for a practice. Please understand: with a blog I have built-in reminders and prompts for my own practice. If I’m not practicing, the words don’t come easily. Blogging is one of my spiritual barometers. It’s also a prod in the behind. By posting fairly regularly, I also get to check in on my worlds, I’m reminded to listen to where I need to open up to the holy energies we all bathe in each day.)

“One of the most common responses I see to the idea of developing a daily practice”, Bishop continues, “is that there is no time. This assumes that a practice must be a long, complicated ritual, full of gestures and ritual phrases. It paints a practice as yet another way that the struggle of our day to day life is a weight on our shoulders.

But the daily practice can be framed another way.

Let it begin with something small. Light a candle, take one, deep breath, then extinguish the flame.

That’s all.

It won’t take but a second”.

In that second the Holy Flame expands to fill our consciousness — or it can, if we permit it. A simple practice that goes far to making a seemingly-mundane moment a sacred one.

ADF ritual puts out the sacred fire at one point, describing it this way:

Extinguished without
but burning within.
The living fire flames within us.

In Working the Tool-kit, I wrote:

Fire work, or apprenticing yourself to the element … can begin with a fire pit, or candle-lighting, if an outdoor fire isn’t practical for you. From such simple work with each of the Elements, a profound and beautiful practice can grow over time. This is also one of the freedoms in which a Druid can wholeheartedly participate in a Christian or Jewish service, in part through some of its seemingly “smallest” ritual gestures and events.

Or as mage and author Josephine McCarthy describes it,

My deepest personal experience of that is with the lighting and tuning of the candle flame. The intent to light a candle to prepare the space for a ritual act developed from that simple stance, to an act of bringing into physical manifestation an elemental expression that lights through all worlds and all times: it becomes the light of divinity within everything (J. McCarthy. Magical Knowledge, pg. 70).

As a focus for meditation, for out-of-body work, for reverence, for kindling the spirit in times of heaviness and despair, fire has no equal.

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Brighid so beautifully merges sacred and profane, because her triad of aspects, as goddess of smithcraft and the forge, of bardic inspiration and the awen, and of healing and the vital flame, all circle around holy fire. Lighting a candle can be purest prayer.

It’s very old, this focus on fire. (Focus itself is an old word for “hearth” or “altar”. We make an altar of what we focus on). We read in the Rig-Veda 1.26.8, “For when the gods have a good fire, they bring us what we wish for. Let us pray with a good fire”.

One way to understand this passage, of course, says simply that “if we build it, they will come”. On occasion that’s exactly right. Dedication is its own reward. Often, though, the arrival of gods lies in our building — the impulse to light the fire, the desire for kindling light and flame, is itself divine presence.

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Damh the Bard’s beautiful prayer-song to Brighid begins:

There’s a tree by the well in the woods that’s covered in garlands,
Clooties and ribbons that drift in the cool morning air,
That’s where I met an old woman who came from a far land,
Holding a flame o’er the well, and chanting a prayer.

Devotion has put the clooties and ribbons there. Devotion allows the encounter with the old woman. Who is it that’s “holding a flame o’er the well”? The singer, yes. The old woman, too. And both at once. I increase my chances of holy encounter when I sing a prayer with a flame. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”, says the Divine Son and Sun. First, we need to gather. When I’m aware of that Other, the flame kindles.

Damh continues:

She told me she’d been a prisoner trapped in a mountain,
Taken by the Queen of Winter at Summer’s End,
But in her prison she heard a spell the people were chanting,
Three days of Summer, and snowdrops are flowering again.
She spoke of the Cell of the Oak where a fire is still burning,
Nineteen Priestesses tend the eternal flame,
Oh but of you, my Lady, we are still learning,
Brighid, Brigantia, the Goddess of Many Names.

Part of our human magic is to participate with the divine in making holy — sanctifying, hallowing the time and space. We can never reduce it to rote: “Oh but of you, my Lady, we are still learning”. The gods “switch us on” when we devote ourselves to their holy fire. But we do the same for them. Rarely will they force open a door we keep resolutely shut.

Where is the fire still burning?

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Seven Flames for Meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image: Pexels.com

Flavors of Druidry

This is a brief post to celebrate flavors of Druidry elsewhere. Below, a shape of awen formed of human shadows — photo by Welsh Druid Kristoffer Hughes.

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Australian Druids just celebrated Lughnasadh, and Serpentstar, the free OBOD newsletter for Australia, has just published its most recent issue — you can read it online or download it as a PDF here. Lovely images and articles offer a glimpse of the Land and Druids Down Under.

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Cornwall actively promotes its language and culture, and that includes Cornish Druidry. Here’s a prayer to Brighid in Cornish, with an English version, from Trelawney Grenfell-Muir:

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Brigid a’n Kugoll, gwra agan kyrghynna.
Arlodhes an Eyn, gwra agan kovia.
Gwithyades an Oeles, gwra agan enowi.
Yn-dann dha gugoll, gwra agan kuntelles,
Gwra agan daswul dhe gov.

Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us,
Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
And restore us to memory.

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Imbolc in the Snow

After the recent frigid temperatures in New England and across many of the northern states, 34 F/1 C earlier today felt positively balmy. Here are some friends and I (to the right) sitting in a cleared circle in the snow round an Imbolc fire. (The smartphone camera makes it look like we’re wearing acorns on our heads.)

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photo courtesy Spring K.

Little wonder, given how appealing the orange flames are, that words for fire, hearth and focus/focal point are connected in many of the Romance languages: Spanish fuego, French feu, Portuguese fogo, Italian fuoco, all from Latin focus “domestic hearth” which includes among its senses “house, family”. With a fire we’re halfway home — a house at its most basic is a roof and walls around a fire, where a family may flourish, conserving its vital heat.

Meeting Merlin at a remote inn on a winter day, King Arthur in Mary Stewart’s The Last Enchantment strides in and exclaims to the inn-keeper, “Wine we will not wait for, nor fire”. Warmed by these two essentials, a mortal can begin to consider other matters. And perhaps sense the spring-tide slumbering beneath the snows, sure as the sky, still waiting.

Praised be Brighid: “Goddess of fire, Goddess of healing, Goddess of Spring, welcome again!”*

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*Damh the Bard — “Brighid”.

Posted 3 February 2019 by adruidway in Brighid, Damh the Bard, Druidry, Imbolc

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Imbolc Blessings to You

Keeping the cold at bay with our trusty woodstove has taken most of my energies over the past several days, so I’m simply reposting six previous meditations on Brighid for this Imbolc 2019. [Note: These appear in reverse chronological order.]

The Enchantments of Brighid

Brighid: Druid and Christian

Moon of Brighid

Nineteen Days of Brighid

Brighid of the Snows

Mantle of Brighid about Me

And of course the exquisite song by Damh the Bard in honour of the goddess:

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Posted 1 February 2019 by adruidway in Brighid, Damh the Bard, Druidry, Imbolc

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Enchantments of Brighid

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brighid: Druid and Christian

[Edited/updated 1 Feb 2019]

We could subtitle this post “Druidry — the Ironic Survival”. Philip Carr-Gomm notes in his book Druid Mysteries:

Although Christianity ostensibly superseded Druidry, in reality it contributed to its survival, and ultimately to its revival after more than a millennium of obscurity.  It did this in at least four ways:  it continued to make use of certain old sacred sites, such as holy wells; it adopted the festivals and the associated folklore of the pagan calendar; it recorded the tales of the Bards, which encoded the oral teachings of the Druids; and it allowed some of the old gods to live in the memory of the people by co-opting them into the Church as saints.  That Christianity provided the vehicle for Druidry’s survival is ironic, since the Church quite clearly did not intend this to be the case (p. 31).

Sacred sites, festivals and folklore, tales of the Bards, and the old gods: there you have the substance not only of Druidry but also of Druid and Christian linkages and considerable common ground.

Do we need all four to practice Druidry, or to honor Brighid?

Yes. We already have all four, to a degree that allows us to build on what we have, if we choose. While guided tours to sacred sites continue to make money for their organizers, we can gain access inwardly, through dedicated practice.

How?

On the day before the 19 Days of Brighid, we have many points of access, if we’re willing to explore them with attention, creativity and love.

1) Kildare is Cill Dara, “Church or Cell of the Oak”. Find an oak tree or leaf. “As above, so below. As within, so without”. Can you proceed from there? If you’ve been reading this blog, or have a practice of your own, you have an inkling or a clear idea of what you might do next. Here then is a first door to the Enchantment of Brighid.

Now for 18 more.

2) For a guided meditation, many songs exist. One I’ve posted about previously is Damh the Bard’s song “Brighid” . Enact the song, as your circumstances permit. Read through the lyrics first, or just listen through. Then do what comes to you to make the song come alive. What will you offer at the Well? If you have a bowl of water and a candle or tealight, enact the first appearance of the goddess. Say the prayer of the song’s chorus, or your own.

3) Using the help of the video in the previous post for making a Brighid’s cross, make the creation of your own cross — from reeds, strips of paper, fabric, etc. — an offering, a gift, an act of mindfulness, a devotion to Brighid.

4) Troubled by doubt? Blocked into inaction by hesitation, fear, or talking self telling you not to be ridiculous? Note the lines in Damh’s song: “But in her prison, she heard the spell the people were chanting: Three days of Summer, and snowdrops are flowering again”. The people — that’s you and me — help free her from prison. We imprison the divine, but we have the power to liberate it again in our lives. What chant comes to you? Listen for it as you go about your day, reading the headlines, listening to conversations, songs on the radio, and so on. Meditate, and write down what comes. This is a prayer the people are chanting.

5) Dance a dance you make up that has 19 steps. A circle, a square, some other shape or just steps as they come to you. Swing your arms, raise them, keep them at your sides, or clasped in prayer. Drum on a tabletop, a pot, a cup, bang two spoons together. Or step in silence. On the 19th step, say or whisper aloud or inwardly the name of the goddess. Dance when nobody’s watching. Except you and the goddess.

6) Brighid is goddess of fire. Light a flame and say “The fire is still burning. Nineteen priestesses tend the Eternal Flame. Oh but of you, my Lady, we are still learning”.

7) Educate yourself about Brighid. Here’s an easy “for-instance” — a short video (5 mins.) featuring Mary Meighan, who offers several clues to a practice.

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Brighid’s Well

8) Volunteer at a homeless shelter, dedicating the service to Brighid, an offering, a way of helping to keep the human fire kindled in others. We think of such things around the big Christian holidays of Christmas and Thanksgiving and tend to drop them from memory at other times. I’ve just sent off an email to one of our local shelters, 8 miles away, requesting info on volunteering.

9) Dedicate a practice meaningful to you for each of the next 19 full moons. Ask for insight and resolution — in exact proportion to how well you keep your practice. Ready? Set … Go!

10) Following bpott’s comment on a recent post, “[P]lay (with serious thought) with enchantment”. What does enchantment look like to you? When have you experienced moments of enchantment? How did they manifest? What was going on when they did manifest? What can you do to welcome them again?

11) Again following another recent comment by bpott, take your practice outdoors, however briefly. Especially needful in the Northeastern US, because we get serious cases of cabin fever. (Our area organizes “Cabin Fever Dinners” to bring people out of hunker-down mode and into celebration over a communal meal. One of the more popular ones in our area draws 75-100 people and is held in a local church.  Yes, plenty of non-church people attend. It doesn’t hurt that the menu and kitchen are overseen by the pastor’s husband, who’s a gourmet chef. It’s very much a Brighid experience, at least for me. Generosity, kindling the fire in others.) Enjoy the thaw that’s come to the region. And wherever you are, breathe outdoor air. Let the sun shine on your skin.

12) What can you kindle and smith, inspire and heal, in yourself and others? What wells and forges exist in your life? How can you use and serve them? What wells and forges have you possibly overlooked or taken for granted? Again, how can you serve and use them?

13) Set a dream intention each night for prophetic, healing or creative dreams. Record each morning what comes. If you think nothing came, write what you imagine coming. Read it that night before you go to sleep.

14) Choose a bowl of water or goblet, etc. as your Well of Brighid. Ask for the blessing of Brighid upon it. Drink from it each morning after sleep.

15) You visit the Fire Temple on the inner planes. What do you experience there? Write down what comes. Who greets you? What gets ignited? What gets burnt away? What kind of flame are you given to return with to your life?

16) Find a poem that inspires you. (Or write one.) Make the reading and saying aloud of the poem a practice for the 19 days. Make of your love for the poem an offering.

17) Practice intense devotion for a particular manifestation of the divine in the form of a god or goddess that draws you. In a post “Loop of Brighid: The Mysticism of Devotion“, Christopher Scott Thompson says,

Rather than talking in a hypothetical way about what the mystical experience actually is, I’m going to talk about how to get there yourself through your own relationship with the gods and goddesses you personally serve. This is not an attempt to import something like bhakti from Hinduism into modern western paganism, because devotional practice to specific deities is already naturally developing within the pagan revival. However, I will be using the concept of bhakti as an analogy for the most intense and mystical forms of modern devotional paganism, such as the mood expressed in this poem [included just above this extract in the original post].

18) Read Chris Godwin’s 19 Jan 2018 post on his blog, From a Common Well, on “18 Celtic Imbolc Customs and Traditions for the Feast of Brighid“. Choose one or more to try.

19) Give thanks to Brighid for the opportunity to give thanks. There’s a paradox and a profound insight to be practiced here.

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Image: Brighid’s Well.

 

Moon of Brighid

Brighid--Patrick Tuohy

St. Brighid/Patrick Tuohy

For those of you incubating your own enchantment of Brighid to coincide with the upcoming 19 days of the goddess, you have the moon to aid you. Waxing now, it reaches full at nearly the midpoint of the 19 days, on the 31st of January — a fine symmetry, whether you choose to align with it or not.

The Solar Question for today, the 20th of the month, in Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional (Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2004) asks “What is the source of your spiritual guidance?” The Lunar Meditation* for the fourth day of the moon (counting the New Moon, Jan. 17,  as day 1) is “the wonder of life”. If I’m facing a period of spiritual dryness, if I have no other ready guidance, “the wonder of life” is a fitting source. Watching and listening, I can find in something small as the sun sparkling on an icicle a subtly radiant doorway into the Enchantment of Brighid.

Because magic so often starts small, no more than a tickle, a spark, a whisper. Till it builds.

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Images: St. Brighid by Patrick Tuohy (1894-1930)

*The book includes a perpetual calendar displaying the 19-year lunar cycle, allowing a reader to find the appropriate Question and Meditation.

Refreshing “Home”

Keep refreshing “home” and your browser gives you different results, your Facebook feed changes, etc., my wife said the other day.

If I’m paying attention, an inner bell goes off for me at such moments, an aha! of illumination. Spiritual practice is my way of refreshing home, of choosing — or asking for — something else than what the apparent or obvious may be telling or showing me. Some animals and insects excel in mimicry as a defense, or to lure prey. So too the human world, with its heartfelt truths and its cons, its bullshit and its profound beauties, its “characters” and “originals” and its gold standard friends.

Refreshing home is a kind of alertness that many animals retain, honed senses not dulled by noise from talking self. Don’t get me wrong — human speech is indeed a gift. But like many powerful gifts, it’s double-edged. It’s true, peace to Walt Whitman, that animals “do not make me sick discussing their duty to God … Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago”*

So when I write, as in the previous post, about things like devotion to Brighid, and you’re feeling particularly agnostic about, maybe, absolutely everything, consider J M Greer’s observations about egregor(e)s, the energy of group consciousness that forms around any regular gathering and gives it a distinct character, and especially around magical groups that work intentionally with charging and exploring its potentials. Is Brighid an egregor? Does your local parent-teacher association or book club or university class differ from other groups in any way? Of course. But is Brighid “merely” an egregor?

Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and other atheists miss a very large point here. I won’t spell it out — you already know it, or else you’re not interested in knowing it.

Greer says, writing about magical lodges:

… egregors capable of carrying the highest levels of power can only be built up on the basis of the living patterns of the realm of meaning, outside space and time. These patterns are what some religions call gods, and what others call aspects of God. They have a reality and a power that have nothing to do with the egregors built up around them, but they use the egregors the way people use clothing or the way actors in many traditional societies use masks. Skillful, intelligent, ethical, and dedicated work with these egregors, according to tradition, can bring lodge members into a state of participation with the primal living powers of existence itself — a state that is the goal of most religions, and as well as the highest summit of the art of magic (Greer, Inside a Magical Lodge, Llywellyn Books, 1998, pgs. 109-110).

It’s the part of those willing to work with and within a tradition not to stop at the level of belief in it, but to test and explore its possibilities. We’re worlds away from credal faith here. But you may, if you’re around a devotee of Brighid, especially this time of year, overhear or encounter a song or poem or prayer of dedication, service, and love.

 

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*”I think I could turn and live with the animals“; Song of Myself.

Nineteen Days of Brighid

Imbolc, the February 1st or 2nd holiday, part of the seasonal cycle of the “Great Eight” Pagan festivals, has long been associated with Brighid. Goddess, saint, patron of poets, smiths and healers, Brighid is a potent presence for many Druids. Christian Druids can honor her in either or both traditions, and her legends and symbols — effective points of access to her — are many.

Among the traditions that have gathered around her is the significance of the number 19 — whether part of the ancient awareness of the moon’s Metonic cycle, or the Christian tradition for determining Easter, curiously associated with the full moon, or the 19 nuns at Kildare connected with Saint Brighid. Or the practice of 19 days of magic focused on devotion to the goddess-saint, which this post examines. As a Druid-Christian link, the number and practices associated with Imbolc and Brighid can join the others I’ve talked about in other posts here as yet another means to transcend argument or debate, and find blessing.

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Nineteen days with Imbolc in the center (on Feb. 1), the 10th day, begin January 23 and take us to February 10.

As this circle is cast, the enchantment of the apparent world fades … We stand together in the eye of the sun here and now …

So goes part of OBOD standard ritual. Why, you might be asking, if Druids say they wish to attune themselves to the natural world, do they practice ritual that sees the natural world as both enchanted and apparent?

Well, we still stand “in the eye of the sun”. Partly it’s “talking self” (see this and this post) that distracts us, that enchants us in the sense of holding us spellbound (and self-bound) rather than freeing us to grow. Circles concentrate energy and attention, contain them for the duration of the ritual, and can help charge us as instruments of the divine in order that we may “know, dare, will and keep silent”, as the old adage goes. So we circle alone and together to watch that particular enchantment fade, so that others can manifest more clearly. It’s a choice of enchantments. Do you like the current ones at work in the world? “She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes”. Sign me up!

Spending the interval from now till the beginning of the 19 days, a week from today, determining what service to offer, what magic to work, is time well spent.

I’ll be following up here with my experiences.

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Image: Brighid. My preference is for deity images that aren’t sentimental or “airbrush pretty”. Contemporary artists often portray sexy gods and goddesses, which is fine, but as an image for meditation I’d rather not use soft porn.

Brighid of the Snows

The first stanza of Damh the Bard’s lovely song “Brighid” (below) places the goddess in the landscape of vision:

There’s a tree by the well in the wood,
That’s covered in garlands,
Clooties and ribbons that drift,
In the cool morning air.
That’s where I met an old woman,
Who came from a far land.
Holding a flame o’er the well,
And chanting a prayer.

Though here it’s the goddess who’s “chanting a prayer”, the bard has invoked her with song — his own prayer. And he’s gone to the “well in the wood” full of intention. Maybe not specifically to see the goddess, but knowing the tree and the well and the moment offer possibility waiting for human consciousness to activate. A gift of the gods, already given freely to us.

Here in Vermont a light snow falls as I write this, and I step away from the keyboard to take a picture.

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By February here, snow itself can signal spring to come. You can feel the longer light, and moments of snowy beauty remind you that wonder is never far away. The sap will be running soon in the maples, the sugar shacks smoking all day and night as the sugarmen boil down the sweet juice to syrup. Green will burst forth, improbable as that seems right now in a world of cold whiteness. So Brighid comes from a “far land” that is also always near to attention, intention and devotion.

Here across the Pond from the Celtic homeland, some North American Pagans can feel removed from the “gods of Europe”, bewailing their distance. This place, we can feel, isn’t “Their” land. Yet anyone who’s encountered a spiritual presence knows that place is a convenience of the gods, not a requirement — a set of clothes, not the being who wears them.

Yes, it would be splendid, we imagine, to visit that “tree by the well in the wood”, simply by stepping out the back door to a landscape steeped in stories and legends of the goddess. Yet we also know what familiarity breeds. Or as an African proverb has it, “Those who live nearest the church arrive late”.  The old saying that the gods like the offering of the salt of human sweat means effort is not wasted, devotion is repaid. Always, we have something we can offer them. And the gods give, but “not as the world gives”.

For you soon find that the gods are not merely passive reservoirs, to be drawn down whenever we happen to think of them and plug in for a re-charge, our rituals cannily crafted to work like the swipe of a credit card at a gas (petrol) pump. “Fill me up, Brighid!”

But wait, you say. Isn’t that just what we’re doing with ritual and song?

It’s really not a matter for argument, unless you need the exercise. Damh the Bard knows Brighid — you can hear it in the song. And out of love he’s traveled many times to the tree by the well in the wood. Brighid knows his name.

This, then, is one intention to cherish: may we serve them so that the gods know our names. Not to hold it up before others like a badge of pride, but as a spiritual resource to treasure and spend at worthy need. Or as Gandhi said, “If no one will walk with you, walk alone” knowing in truth you aren’t alone.

Ten years ago I didn’t honor Brighid. I didn’t “believe” in her, though I’d heard her name, thanks to all those who kept it alive in our world. Now I honor her, but I still don’t trouble myself about “belief”.

Instead, I take the hint and look. “I saw her reflection in the mirrored well”, Damh sings.

And I looked deep in her face,
The old woman gone, a maiden now knelt in her place,
And from my pocket I pulled a ribbon,
And in honour of her maidenhood,
I tied it there to the tree by the well in the wood.

Spiritual fire kindles in us at such moments.

A blessed Imbolc to you.

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Preparing the Ways

The Hopi of the American Southwest call one of their ceremonial pipes natwanpi — literally, “instrument of preparation”. As words do, this one stuck with me ever since I read it, decades ago now. No wonder: we need markers for passage into sacred time, because otherwise it can burn and blow right past us. Or, to shift metaphors, if we don’t catch the sacred wave, we can’t surf in sacred time. We miss that tidal flow, then wonder why life can seem flat or dis-spirited.

With a beloved festival like Imbolc calling us, what better time to consider how we can attune to sacred times and sacred tides?

Shinto, that perennially popular topic here at A Druid Way, offers a mid-January festival called Bonden-sai which feels harmonious with Druid practice. Of course it has cultural flavors and overlays unique to Japan and Shinto, but its focus asks for and offers a kind of natwanpi. (Besides, a cold, gray, snowy northern January can use some color and liveliness.)

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Bonden-sai, Akita Prefecture

The bonden for which the festival is named is called a “sacred wand”, though as you can see from the bonden in the picture above, “pillar” or “column” better suggests its appearance. (Let the chickens on some of the bonden above enlarge your sense of “sacred”!) A typical bonden, the Japanese National Tourist Organization (JNTO)  helpfully informs us,  measures

almost four meters in length … [and] serves as a marker for the gods descending to this world. In ancient times, bonden used to be made of paper or rice straw, but in recent years, they are often made by decorating a bamboo basket with colorful fabric. The bonden wands are carried by groups of children, townspeople, or even company employees. Each group entrusts the bonden with their prayers for an abundant harvest, good health for their families and success in business.

akita-mapBonden-sai is intimately associated with Akita Prefecture in Northwest Japan. Akita is also famed for its onsen (hot springs) and mountains, and Mount Taiheizan, the symbol of Akita City, is  a major site for the festival. Bonden-sai there means a vigorous race up the mountain with your bonden to procure the blessings of the gods.

Shinto and Japanese culture, so long linked, have celebrated the sacred in so many things that the secular West allows to pass unremarked. Whether it’s drinking tea or sake, or bathing, or marking the calendar with a plethora of festivals, Japan models practices the West and particularly western Paganism learn from, build on and delight in.

Because when the gods are dead, the human heart also dies a little every day. You certainly don’t have to “believe” in them as any kind of prerequisite, any more than you have to believe in anything in particular to celebrate Halloween or Christmas or MLK Day. The gods themselves can serve as a kind of natwanpi, a means of preparation. Belief, like so much else, is a tool, a strategy, a technique for connecting to things other than ourselves. Use it skilfully, delicately, consciously, I’m learning, and it repays the respectful treatment.

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Nyuto Onsen (hot springs), Akita Prefecture

Ultimately it’s the impulse to celebrate that’s the flame to cherish. And if it chances on occasion to be gods that help it happen, as one of the forms the sacred can take, why exclude them out of hand, just because they’re gods?

As for me, I try to take advantage of any natwanpi that comes my way. And if I succeed and connect only 30% of the time, well, isn’t that a very respectable baseball batting average?!

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Images: Bonden in Akita; Nyuto Onsen.

Seed Meets Trickle

“A seed, a seed, at Imbolc a seed!”

“Ah, the seed has long lain there fallow, only at Imbolc do you at last feel it stirring beneath the snows.”

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mlvFranz

Marie-Louise von Franz

“One must start where there is still a flow of energy, even if it is just a thin flow, even if it seems silly” — Mary-Louise von Franz, Animus and Anima in Fairytales (Inner City Books, 2002).

Before and at and around Imbolc, the god Lugh draws me powerfully. Naturally, because time isn’t linear, and the workshop talk I’ve agreed to at Lughnasadh, a six-month conjunction with Imbolc and another fire festival, is now at work (was, before I agreed to it), by the god’s hand, or my own, or — more confusing and interesting — both at once. Snow on the ground, the land still in the grip of the Frost Giants (I like mixing myths, personally, at least by season), and here comes Lugh to prod me into action with his spear. Or if not action, exactly, some kind of attention.

The shape of the talk as it comes to me now in bits and starts will deal among other thiings with the matter of encountering a god, but also of any new course of action, of imagination, of inspiration. These wear different cloaks, but from what I can see, under them they’re the same, or at least siblings, equal parts trust and terror at times. Energy — which is what we are at heart, intelligent energy on the move.

So the seed, the nudge to change, to move, to grow — it comes and roots itself in us. And when the root-strength that cracks sidewalks and shoves boulders aside and generally plays havoc with human ideas of permanence and endurance finally gets to work, things move.

sowerAnd often enough the seed then dies in the ground. What nourishes it? We stomp on it, uncomfortable thing, reminding us that something outside us wants to work its will with us, here, too. Right in the middle of streaming Netflix and election madness and ISIS and the woeful state of things and our own personal misery and joy, the particular flavor and color of crazy that the current year puts on each morning, mourning. Just because.

But let trickle reach seed and GERMINATION! Watch out! Funny, the vegetation god from the House of Bread (which is “Bethlehem” translated, as John Michael Greer obligingly reminds us) puts it this way in a Gospel, which really is supposed to be good news after all. Or as a Bard thinks of it, a song for the queens and kings we could be:

And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them, Listen, a sower went out to sow: And it happened, as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside, and the birds of the air came and devoured it. And some fell on stony ground, where not much earth was; and immediately the seed sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun rose, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and yielded fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some a hundredfold. And he said to them, Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

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We can play a part here in germination. (Says who? Well, I can argue about it, or I can try it out for myself. Which is more fun?) Where is my fertile ground? What god/dess is planting there? Where’s that trickle? Ah, there.

And so it begins. If I’ve learned anything to pass along, it’s the magic when seed and trickle meet. I can’t make seeds, but I can maintain a greenhouse for them. I can’t start the trickle, but I can pay attention when one comes — I’ve got ears to hear — and help it flow or block it. There. To work.

IMAGES: ML von Franz; sower.

 

 

 

 

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