Archive for the ‘initiation’ Tag

Druiding without (an) Order — 2   2 comments

[Part 1 | Part 2]

path28In the previous post, I looked at thirteen facets of Doing Druidry that mostly revolve around inquiry and study. You can’t easily be a Druid without engaging in at least some form of one or more of them, because each of them connects you to the worlds where Druidry happens. (If that sounds restrictive or dogmatic or exclusive to you, just go back and look at the list! Got something to add that makes you a Druid? Tell us a little about your journey as you go for it!) The list doesn’t characterize only beginning Druidry, but serves as a rough outline for the kinds of studies that can occupy Druids their entire lives. However, that’s not the only thing happening in the life of a Druid.

In this second post on Doing Druidry without an Order, I want to look at five less tangible aspects of Druidry (and other traditions) that may have occurred to you as you read the previous post. These five are initiation, spiritual formation, community, proficiency and service. From the first glance it should be clear why they’re harder to talk about and describe in terms that people can identify. But that fact in itself makes it worthwhile to try. As you may come to see, these five aspects are closely linked things, almost versions of the same thing.

Initiation

Like other intensely personal experiences, initiation will always be a live issue for many of us. What it is, who can experience it, who can oversee, facilitate or “give” it, what happens when we undergo it, and what we become as a result,  can all provoke passionate discussion and disagreement. Most spiritual traditions have an equivalent of one or more initiations among their practices, and the most non-religious among us still experience “built-in” initiation in human events like birth, death, sex, grief and creative flow. Change characterizes each of them. You’re not the same afterwards. When and how you discover this, however, can range very widely.

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We could claim that one of the things that distinguishes modern Pagan practice from older traditions is the option of self and group initiation. As a comparison, Christians, for instance, can’t usually baptize themselves; to become a Muslim requires two witnesses to hear you recite the shahadah, and so forth.

Like other groups, OBOD succeeds tolerably well in having it both ways: the coursework for the grades of Bard, Ovate and Druid includes self-initiations that members can perform, and as a member of the Order you can request a group initiation with other members, and these two initiations aren’t “the same thing”. The rituals are different, the outcomes can be different, yet paradoxically they are in important ways “the same”.

You don’t need to do both a self and a  group initiation, but it makes little sense to continue unless you do one of them. (Doing both gives you a feel for their interconnections and value.) They’re part of doing Druidry. If you’re doing Druidry without an Order, you’ll come quite naturally to initiation in your own way. Your life will see to that. You can seek out initiation, of course, adapting published rituals to your purposes, or crafting something unique to your own experience. Or you can wait until an experience shapes itself into an initiation, which you may not recognize until after the fact.

For an earlier 3-part series on initiation, go here.

Spiritual Formation

This largely Christian term has no ready Pagan equivalent, though this aspect of practice certainly exists in all spiritual traditions. Christian spiritual formation means molding or conforming one’s life to Christ. In Pagan terms it means moving beyond, diving deeper, maturing in practice and wisdom. You begin to embody more of what your tradition values and holds up as an ideal, of what your deepest spiritual connection opens up to you, and open you up to. Pagans speak of Elders, those with earned authority and sacred connection, in ways similar to how Christians speak of saints, of holy individuals that spirit shines through.

One of the joys of a practicing group is the heightened chances of encountering and knowing such people, learning from their example and growing through associating with them. Being around them can constitute a form of initiation. As a number of the Wise have remarked, spirituality is “caught” rather than “taught”. We’re all in training.

Community

The most obvious difference between the experience of the Solitary and the Order member might seem to revolve around community. Christians acknowledge the priceless gift of others. In Hebrews 12:1, for instance, the sense of a supporting community, many without bodies, pervades the verse: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”. The interior worship spaces of Orthodox churches often have icons on almost every available surface, emphasizing this spiritual presence of a larger community than only those “with skin on”.

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icons at Varlaam Monastery — image courtesy Andrea Kirkby

Pagans may talk of raising power, while Christians acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit. Isaac Bonewits notes:

If the people in a group have bonds of genuine friendship or love between them, their ability to perform ritual will be greatly enhanced. The psychic and psychological barriers that most people keep between themselves will be fewer and more easily breached. This is why Wiccans place so much emphasis on “perfect love and perfect trust” — love and trust, even when imperfect, tend to strengthen each other and increase a group’s psychological and psychic unity (Rites of Worship: A Neopagan Approach, pg. 105).

Of course, one of the discoveries Druids make is that they are never alone. Solitary, but not alone. A whole world of Others surrounds them, and if that is where community lies for that particular Druid, that is the call to answer.

Proficiency

We can become refined in the presence of others. Lifted out of our own concerns by the group energy, we can begin to “see larger” than when we arrived, and to take something of that enlarged perspective home with us like a fragrance or flavor to our hours and days. Elastic beings that we are, the company of other people “facing the same direction” can stretch us more than we can easily stretch ourselves, making us more flexible, adaptable, compassionate and empathetic. Think of the privilege of finding a good listener, someone who can still their own concerns and focus their attention on you and your world. How many of us know the love another can express in hearing and seeing us, even if they say little or nothing else? Our lives have been witnessed, our struggles acknowledged, we can walk from there a little lighter of heart.

By their fruits you shall know them, says Jesus, and a good test of a group or Order in the simplest of terms is the kind of people they produce. Are they enjoyable to be around? Do they lift you up or drag you down? Are they kind to each other?

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Service

I desire to know in order to serve, runs the vow in more than one magical order of repute.

So I was struck when my teacher remarked one day that he serves in order to know. That’s how I grow and learn, he says. Offer yourself in “the unreserved dedication”, as some Orders call it, without qualification or expectation, and you will benefit. I get so tired of hearing about service, remarked one long-time member. Go apart for a while, counseled our teacher. You’ll be eager to return when you see how it’s a gift of love. You may just need to be on the receiving end for a time, for that to happen.

We may first begin to recognize the value of service when others serve us with love. If you’re like me, you may have a favorite restaurant (pre-virus, if necessary) where the food isn’t the main thing that draws you back. Yes, the meals are good. But it’s the ambience, the atmosphere, the attentiveness and welcome of the staff, the mood of other customers treated hospitably, that shapes your total experience. We go back for the service as much as anything, we say, when people ask.

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In every case, Solitaries find ways to fulfill these aspects. It may demand more flexibility and creativity, or it may take the Solitary in directions others do not understand. Service to the non-human world, for instance, can often pass unseen, unacknowledged for an entire lifetime, known only to the “bird and beast, bug and beech” the Solitary serves.

Listening to Each Other — Recent Comments   5 comments

A series of recent comments here has been helpful to me, even as I try to gauge how to approach these posts, and how far and where to take them.

I had breakfast with a Druid friend this morning, a short while before he’ll be off for an extended cross-country skiing trip, far from regular tourist routes, hiking in and out, and camping and staying in trail-side shelters. I value him in part because he’s a good listener, and as a consistent character trait, he seeks to find balance in his own reactions to his daily inner and outer life, even as he shares them with others. It makes for some priceless insights, if I shut up to catch them.

Such reflection is a gift, something to cherish and encourage in others. I try to listen here in the same spirit, when you comment in posts about what’s going on in your worlds and experiences. Often of course I don’t not know enough of your circumstances to comment usefully, but I keep listening partly for that very reason. Who knows the whole story, even of our own lives? (The late ABC commentator Paul Harvey called his popular broadcast The Rest of the Story. We keep paying attention, if we’re wise, because the story hasn’t ended yet by any means, and we’re all part of it, telling our piece as we live it. And if you suspect reincarnation is an accurate aspect of the story, its chapters can grow quite lengthy indeed.) Listening, patience, gratitude: a triad cutting across all traditions, proven countless times over and over in its profound power.

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Krista writes:

Dean, I’m always especially interested when you write on this particular topic. Having been raised in the Christian Faith, and having had no quarrel with the Christianity of my youth, my own Druid practice always has something of a Christian flavor to it even though I no longer consider myself a Christian. But I don’t consider myself Pagan either. Always was a bit of a square peg. So throughout my Druid journey I’ve become very comfortable blending and assimilating and it works quite well in my private practice. It’s a bit more challenging in community practice, but I’m working on it and I adapt when it’s called for. I think it would do the Druid community a world of good to acknowledge, and have more discussion about, different Druid perspectives rather than focusing almost exclusively on the Pagan perspective. Thanks for taking it on!

How many of us hear even a part of our own experiences in what Krista shares here? Neither Christian or Pagan. It’s a perspective and an experience I suspect is more common than we recognize. “Square-pegged-ness” could probably define a number of us, and in fact much contemporary spiritual practice across traditions echoes this sense of having to find and tread our own paths. Because what price “purity” of belief or practice strictly within the confines of one tradition or school, church or community, if spiritually we’re suffocating or starving there? It can take a deal of work just to recognize such a priority, and honor such a spiritual imperative.

The influx of the divine that swirled and took shape in and around Christianity still has valid things to teach us, even as individual churches and whole communions and major denominations struggle to find their way.  The existence today of over 20,000 Protestant denominations, to say nothing of other Christian traditions, testifies to the difficulty of satisfying the questing individual soul with system and conformity, doctrine and creed.

Group practice and community often mean more to many people than words of affirmation recited at a particular portion of the weekly service, though they may describe much of value, too. But the flame that burns at the heart of what is called Christianity does not appear to keep itself neatly smouldering within any bounds set by humans, any more than it does in other spiritualities. If it did, how much would it really be worth? Instead, it kindles and warms anyone who brushes up against it for any length of time. Inconveniently so, dynamically so, wonderfully and provocatively and endlessly “inspiritingly” so.

What other perspectives or flavors of Druidry do we often overlook, besides the Christian one(s)?

Until we can begin to answer that question adequately, I’m borrowing, for the space of a quotation anyway, some monotheistic but non-Christian flavor from Tolkien’s Silmarillion, hearing in it an echo of Druidic awen, and a further gift of the elemental fire that kindles us all:

Then the themes of Ilúvatar shall be played aright, and take Being in the moment of their utterance, for all shall then understand fully his intent in their part, and each shall know the comprehension of each, and Ilúvatar shall give to their thoughts the secret fire, being well pleased.

And disabledhikernh writes:

Thank you for this post. I am hard pressed to find other Druid Christians, so I have felt kind of isolated as such. Now I don’t 🙂

Isolation, that challenge to solitaries — and how many of us are solitary, even if we enjoy a local community of others, before and after we gather with them? The anvil of solitude can forge us spiritually in ways nothing else can, though the costs can be correspondingly high.

(One of my spiritual practices, for what it’s worth, found in other interesting places, too: If this experience is happening for me rather than only to me, what can I take from it? Where can I travel with it? What doors does it open, and not just close? What beauties glow behind the doors? What deities flare and bloom there? How far, I whisper to myself, half in fear, half in wonder, how far can I really go?)

Steve has been sharing something of his journey in previous comments, and writes:

This series of posts is proving to be a thoughtful and thought provoking treatment of what is a “delicate” subject in many circles. When I first encountered some of your earlier posts on the intersection of druidry and christianity I admit to taking a very cautious approach, almost an attitude of “this is too good to be true”. With time to read and think about what you are saying it seems more likely that you are speaking from hard won, first hand experience. Thank you for doing this.

“Delicate” is apt. Steve’s caution here sounds at least as hard-won — and needful — as any experience of mine, and vice-versa. My caution in how definitively I assert something, how deep I dig, how far I push, what I ask that I can’t answer, is ongoing. Rather than encounter walls, or provoke readers unnecessarily with observations I can’t back up from experience, I want to explore respectfully — mostly so I miss as little as possible of value as I go.

One of the most startling overlaps or intersections of traditions for me happened during an initiation. I still don’t know altogether what it “means”, though it was over five years ago now. In a clear inner encounter, all the more unexpected because I hadn’t opened a Bible in many years, I saw how

out of his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and his face was like the sun shining in its strength (Revelation 1:20).

Rather than “meaning” anything at first, the experience shaped me within its own context, just like other profound experiences, whether of pain or joy, grief or wonder, which we analyze only later, and put labels on, as we “process” them, seeking to incorporate or reject them, expanding or contracting them to “fit” what we can accept at the time. At the time, this experience confirmed for me the energy and love behind the initiation, flagging it as powerfully memorable.

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Milan’s bosco verticale — vertical forest, completed in 2018*.

(After a car accident over three decades ago now, I surveyed the overturned and totaled car I’d been driving, walked gingerly over a puddle of broken glass to retrieve my wallet, flung from the dash out the window by the impact, massaged a sore neck that was my only physical outcome of the event, and marveled in gratitude that no one had been hurt. Anything the accident “meant” came only later: Insurance claims. My sometimes-psychic brother, agitated all morning before my phone call home to explain what happened and ask to be picked up. The eventual replacement of the car. The job interview I was returning from, the mantra I’d been chanting, my mindset, the weather, the other driver, and so on.)

Part of the gift of the initiation experience is that I was largely able to let go of what it “meant” at first and focus on accepting its effects on my awareness. What it “meant” and “means” has continued to unfold, though not necessarily along “orthodox” lines. And that no doubt drives some of what I write here. Images and metaphors as divine “transparencies” or hierophanies, ways to connect to the limitless, ways it “shines through”, are part of our spiritual furniture, and part of my bias or individuality or inner architecture. They may or may not be yours, but you have yours.

May you find and explore them richly.

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IMAGE: urban trees — public domain; Bosco Verticale — Milan, Italy’s “vertical forest”.

*For more info and pictures of the Vertical Forest, see this article.

Oh, Slip Away to the Wilderness!   1 comment

Slip away to the wilderness and pray.

I bless and consecrate you with water … with spirit, and with fire.

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How often we’re put off by language — or drawn in and inspired, and for mostly the same reasons. The first piece of wise Druid counsel above comes, in fact, from Luke 5:16, describing what Jesus often did. Seems like a piece of uncommon good sense these days for anyone to practice, a sacred intention to add to our hours.

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Another version* puts it like this: “Jesus often went away to other places to be alone so that he could pray”. Does that feel like anything most of us need to do regularly, to get off by ourselves so we can hear ourselves and our awen speak, and not merely listen to the strident echoes of the “24-hour news cycle”? Hear what life is constantly saying to the chakras and energy centers of our being**.

The second line above comes from Matthew 3:11-12, where John the Initiating Chief (Christians may know him as John the Baptist) names the powers he and Jesus invoke when blessing and hallowing others who seek out that particular ritual. Water, spirit, fire. What is baptism but blessing — literally, dipping in water and other holy substances or elements? A baptism in an initiation, and vice versa, symbolized by elements that have always been holy worldwide: water and fire, and spirit that animates them all. Call them elemental sacraments as I have, if that brings them into closer kinship and familiarity and comfort.

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One of my teachers observed that just as we can choose to go through initiations organized and conducted by others, we can initiate intentions and directions in our  own lives. An actual ritual can help to impress this on the mind and senses, reifying it, to use technical language — making it “thingly”, bringing it through “right down to the physical”.

So I find my own ways of slipping away into wilderness to pray, listen to the trees, sing the awen, and prepare.

And initiation? Many have long looked at the Biblical Book of Revelation as a guide to our inner spiritual architecture, with the seven churches it describes in detail as the varying focus and health of our seven inner energy centers, typified in various traditions as chakras or by other names, the spiritual eye among them, along with the halos on pictures of saints, the sacred heart, the gut instinct, and so on — yet another piece of the philosophia perennis, the Perennial Wisdom we cloak with our regional robes, names and forms, then “name and claim” as the Sole Truth of the cosmos (which we just so happen to be in exclusive possession of).

So you have a vision, and it’s natural to be told to get it down in words before it fades:

Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden candles is this: The seven stars are the messengers of the seven Gatherings, and the seven candles are the seven Gatherings. (Revelation 1:20).

Then you work to initiate your vision, with the Messengers (Instant or otherwise), and the Light sources you find at hand, LED, spiritual, human. A little paraphrase that I assert does no injustice to the original, and we’re on Druid territory. And why not vice versa? Rework a Druid ritual in Christian terms, and see what you may discover.

We can initiate or baptize our complete body, energies centers all working together, to (re)call it to its holy purpose as an Ancestor-in-the-Making, a Walker-between-the-Worlds, a Holy One. If the world around us, or some other world we’ve walked in lately, seems sacred or holy, or some other ideal summons us, we can “level ourselves up”, to use the language of gamers — shift energy and consciousness, so that we mirror and embody — incarnate — that holiness, rather than working against it.

So I choose the time of ritual with care, honoring the harmonics of the planets and stars, the tides of earth and our lives. Three days, or maybe seven, beforehand, I slip away to the wilderness and pray. As part of my ritual — perhaps the core of initiation, or perhaps other words come — I say, “I bless and consecrate you with water … with spirit, and with fire”.

And perhaps I close with some version of the blessings from recent posts, drinking what seems right to drink, making an offering from that drink to whoever it feels right to honor at the moment of the rite:

I now invoke the mystery of communion, that common unity that unites all beings throughout the worlds. All beings spring from the One; by One are they sustained, and in One do they find their rest. One the hidden glory rising through the realms of Abred; One the manifest glory rejoicing in the realms of Gwynfydd; One the unsearchable glory beyond all created being in Ceugant; and these three are resumed in One.

May the blessing of the Uncreated One, of the Creative Word and of the Spirit that is the Inspirer be with us always …

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*Easy-to-Read Version, 2006, Bible League International.

**Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev. 2:29).

Your Brain on Autumn   Leave a comment

“Human cognitive powers have a seasonal rhythm, and for those living in temperate regions in the northern hemisphere they are strongest in late summer and early autumn”, says an article in the 4 Sept 2018 New Scientist (subscription req’d for full article).

We can assume, in spite of the article’s “hemispherism” (a tendency to privilege the northern hemisphere, or exclude the southern one from consideration altogether), that a similar rhythm holds true for the southern hemisphere in their late summer and early autumn, while the north slumbers uneasily beneath snow and cold in late winter and early spring. Southern friends, if you’re so inclined, bookmark this and return to read it when it’s more seasonally appropriate for your Land.

It stands to reason that harvest, with its demands for food preparation, its expanded food sources and increased nutrition, its social gatherings and preparations for the coming winter, would draw on and amplify human capacities of every kind, cognitive powers included. The lethargy of the heat of high summer has passed, and that crisp tang in the air and the red and golds that blanket hillsides in New England in particular, and draw so many to name autumn our favorite season, all conspire to spur us to activity. In the U.S., schools re-open, and you can feel the tilt and shift of the change from summer from late August through September.

Pagan and Magical Orders have long identified the equinoxes as times of particular inner activity. Initiations in many Orders take advantage of this heightening for its boost to ritual. By pairing our actions with what happens to the planet, we harmonize with currents deeper and more lasting than “what’s new” or what reaches the headlines or media-feeds on our preferred sources of gafs — gossip, advertising, fear-mongering, and sensationalism — that we still call “news”.

For what is truly “new” has of course been going on just beyond our noses all the while. The earth shifts and rebalances every moment. Plants renew the air, and we can keep breathing; they send forth seed and fruit, and we can keep eating. In spite of human assumptions, they’re under no obligation to do so, yet they gift us with their own substance year after year, just as we feed them with our breathing and our waste and our own bodies when they wear out. Break the cycle we’ve built together over eons, each learning the others’ gestures and energies and characters, and the relationship falters, like any relationship we no longer tend.

The initiation of cause and effect, which the Wise tell us we have repeatedly rejected corporately as a planet, has not disappeared or been switched off, or cast aside for something better. It still awaits our preparation and acceptance. With it, we can heal and create and thrive and change. That doesn’t mean it leads to heaven, or the apocalypse, or the Singularity. It’s simply life. And without it, we do what we always do when we reject growth. We stagnate, suffer strange outbreaks of dis-ease, regress, accumulate toxins, bloat, stifle, blame, blunder, and flail about. We cannot stand still, so if we don’t progress, we lurch backward, trampling new growth. The cosmos mirrors itself back in our awareness. We get what we give.

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dew on spiderwebs earlier this a.m.

The first glimmers of acceptance of the initiation spring up around us in individuals who have taken another step. And each of us has, in small and larger ways. Chickens come home to roost politically and environmentally. Mass consciousness shifts by fits and starts, even as individual consciousnesses grapple with change, whether each welcomes or fears it, resists it or works with it. The tipping point, however, is not yet. What we cannot force for the planet, however, we can navigate and midwife for ourselves and our closer circles. This will help more than almost anything else, because it prepares us to weather and grow through further changes and trials, even to flourish, and find joy.

Autumn renews in a different fashion than Spring. We are not seeding, at least not right away. Instead, we gather seed. We take stock, store up, brew, reap, glean. We’re weatherizing, stock-piling, fermenting, pickling, consolidating. We are, in the fuller old sense of the word, brooding, as a hen does its eggs. The soft yet edged light of September bathes days when the sun shows, a goldenrod month, a month of falcons.

Septem is “seven” in the older Roman calendar, the seventh month, counting from the similarly old beginning of the year in March. Seven is fullness, the sum of the 4 of the earth’s quarters and the 3 of the eternal cycle. Now that it’s also the ninth month in most current calendars, it draws as well on the magical symbolism of that number, a three of threes.

Rather than troubling overmuch about whether such associations are “true”, it can be more fruitful to see how and when they might be useful or accurate or faithful metaphors or maps or representations, and for which of the many different states of consciousness we all pass through.

Autumn, like every season, offers itself as a contour map of brains that have evolved over millions of autumns. What we see mirrors the tool with which we see it.

The blessings of autumn on us all.

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Rowan and the Ovate   Leave a comment

As the second tree of the Celtic ogham “tree alphabet”, the Rowan, ogham ᚂ and Old Irish luis, is associated with Ovates, the second of the three Druidic grades in much of modern Druidry.

Rowan, or Mountain Ash, is certainly up to that role, both physically and symbolically.

In Europe one common native variety is sorbus aucuparia; in the U.S. it’s usually sorbus americana. The rowan’s leaves resemble those of the ash, but the two trees belong to different families, the rowan being a relative of the rose. Standing out front of our southern Vermont house, “our” rowan was the first tree to alert me to the attention the previous owner, a native of Austria, devoted to certain plantings on the land. Not hard to notice, when our rowan stands near the road, offering its protection. In fact, roadsides are a common location for the rowan, often planted by bird droppings containing the seeds. Its European species name aucuparia means “bird-catcher” — the rowan attracts birds like cedar waxwings — we often see a flock of them come through in late winter, and strip any remaining berries for their sugars and vitamin C.

(A little digging uncovers research demonstrating the rowan’s central importance for humans as well, particularly in Austrian folk medicine, as an anti-inflammatory and treatment for respiratory disorders, as well as “fever, infections, colds, flu, rheumatism and gout” according to the article at the link.)

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The sky was overcast a few minutes ago when I took this picture. The red-orange berries are still ripening, and will be ready for harvest in October or early November, after a frost. Though our tree bears the brunt of winter’s north winds and a spray of snow and sand at each pass of the snowplow in winter, it’s a tough, scrappy species and still flourishes. Wikipedia notes:

Fruit and foliage of S. aucuparia have been used by humans in the creation of dishes and beverages, as a folk medicine, and as fodder for livestock. Its tough and flexible wood has traditionally been used for woodworking. It is planted to fortify soil in mountain regions or as an ornamental tree.

The rowan’s Old English name is cwic-beam, “quick” or “living” tree, which has survived into modern English as the variant name quickbeam. The name of one of Tolkien’s Ents in Lord of the Rings, Quickbeam is “hasty”; his Elvish name Bregalad translates to roughly the same thing — “quick” or “living” tree.

As a tree sacred to Brighid, the rowan also produces five-petalled flowers and fruit with tiny pentagrams opposite the stem — barely visible in some of the berries below, especially at the bottom left:

rowan berry pentagram

What put the tree before my attention now in particular is an invitation to serve in the Ovate initiations at East Coast Gathering in a few weeks. A rowan stave with a ᚂ on it will make a good gift to each of the new initiates.

The rowan shrugs off cold weather — it can be found at remarkably high altitudes; it flowers in white blossoms in spring and produces red berries in autumn. Thus it earns its nickname “delight to the eye” in the 7th century Irish Auraicept na n-Éces. As a tree to represent the toughness, persistence, and changing work in each season required to pursue the spiritual journey we’re all on, the rowan is a worthy candidate. It is often named the “most magical” of all the trees. As protection against another’s enchantment, it can aid us in creating our own.

Its mythological and folkloric associations are many. (You can find another rich link on the rowan here.) As a “portal tree” facilitating entry and return from other-worlds, the rowan invites contemplation under its branches.

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Image: berries — Wikipedia rowan.

Fire, and All That Beltane Stuff   Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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awen pendant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

magus banner -- W Flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

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

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

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

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

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

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

circle w bell

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

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

stone closeup w flah

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

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

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

ancestor altar in circle -- W Flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

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

dining pavillion -- W Flaherty.jpg

dining pavilion — photo courtesy Wandy Flaherty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

planning for ovate init -- gail Nyoka

photo courtesy Gail Nyoka

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

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

magus beltane

photo courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fire, friend,
the fire is in you.

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

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

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

siding creek altar -- renu

photo courtesy Renu Aldritch

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

Coffee Dragon -- Wanda Flaherty

photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty

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

throught he mother stone -- Wendy Rose Scheers

photo courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers

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