Archive for the ‘Iolo Morganwg’ Tag

Ways and Means to the Holy

We don’t have to “go anywhere” to contact the sacred.

“Everything that lives is holy”, William Blake declares. Fine, Billy, but how do I reconnect when I’m just not feeling it? In my better moments I may know it’s all holy, but I’m kinda down right now, dude, and I could use some help.

Druidry, after all, delights in “doing something” as a spiritual solution to many problems. Christianity may stereotypically insist “Ye must be born again!” as a prerequisite before anything else can happen, while Druidry as stereotypically suggests “Let’s go for a walk in the green world”.

What if neither of these is a viable option at the moment? Suicide hotlines get callers who’ve often tried every option they can lay hands on, and they’re still suicidal in part for that very reason: nothing’s working. And even those of us not in crisis at the moment can feel overwhelmed by events beyond our control.

If we step even one pace beyond the stereotypes, we find in counsel like “Be still and know that I am God” a place where Druidry and Christianity can draw closer. Something happens in stillness that all our elevator music and muzak and noise and ranting and partisanship try to overwhelm but cannot silence, because it is already silent. What is it?

In a post from Oct 2017 I wrote:

“The practice of sacramental spirituality can be pursued apart from the various pathologies of political religion”, notes John Michael Greer in his essay “The Gnostic Celtic Church“. In sacrament rather than creed lies one potent meeting-place for Druid and Christian.

What to do when one of our most human, instinctive and immediate responses — to touch each other in comfort with a hug, a hand on a shoulder — are actions dangerous to our health?

If the sacrament of touch is denied us, what other modes does spirit have?

The Sacrament of Hearing

“The Voice of the Beloved sustains us”. Whether it’s a telephone call to or from that particular person, or a special video, or piece of music, sound can carry us into spirit. The human capacity for memes and mantras and ear-worms is one we can use to our advantage. Set up what I actually want running through my inner worlds, and I’m halfway home.

And — paradox alert, because that’s much of human experience — in the sacrament of hearing, of listening, we may hear what is singing behind the silence …

Kaisenkaku Asamushi Onsen in Aomori prefecture, northern Japan / Wikipedia /

The Sacrament of Washing

Taking a bath or shower, and visualizing the gunk leaving our bodies down the drain and away can be a spiritual practice. Many traditions urge sacred bathing. (Besides, in lockdown we can let ourselves get pretty grody.)

A Hindu turns if possible to Mother Ganges, Catholics visit holy sites dedicated to manifestations of Mary, it’s a lovely Japanese custom to visit an onsen, and followers of Shinto and plenty of non-religious people as well find hot springs, saunas and mineral pools to be restorative.

The Sacrament of Blessing

Seven words make up a lovely blessing some of my friends use often: “Bless this day and those I serve”. If I live by myself, I’m one of the people I serve. Let’s remember to bless ourselves. We need it. Pets or other animals, and houseplants, may rely on me for food and shelter and affection, so I can add them to those I bless. Outward to friends, neighbors …

What else can I bless? Asking that question thoughtfully can open many doors.

The Sacrament of Prayer

Prayer has long been a potent sacrament in the lives of many. The words and sounds can help restore our connections to spirit, partly because they’ve done so in the past. Like a spiritual battery, they’ve accumulated a charge. We jump-start more often than we realize.

The words of the Druid’s Prayer, or of a song or poem not “officially recognized” as a prayer may turn out to be your prayer. Sometimes we need something even more compact — just a few words from a longer form, a sacred name, a whisper — or a shout. If you’re alone, that’s easier. Try it, and note the power of prayer at the top of our lungs.

Grant, O Spirit, your protection

One simple prayer available to everyone is simply breathing. We hear in the Gospel of John: “The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit”. Experiencing the spirit in our own breathing is a doorway for some. It’s there — sacrament in the life action of our bodies.

You may see in several of the above sacraments how touch has managed to find its way to us. Hearing involves sound waves touching my ears, bathing makes me intimate with water, and so on.

The Sacrament of Cooking and Eating

Some of our most common acts are sacramental in potential, and we can activate them by according them the respect they’ve earned in our lives. Food and drink keep these bodies alive and moving. Preparing food has often been a holy activity, at least around our holy-days, if not every day. Combine eating with blessing, as many do, and I can heighten my awareness of spirit-in-substance. A blessing on the incarnate spirit which sustains us.

The Sacrament of the Image and Object

Photographs, statues, objects collected from a walk or a ritual or as gifts from another — all these things bear a power to tend us. They can evoke memory, their physical substance is imbued with all the times we’ve handled them before (touch seeks us out, once again!), and they have a power to shift our attention to specific places and times.

The Sacrament of Ritual

I talk a lot about ritual here, because we all do ritual constantly. Each of the sacraments above is a ritual, or has ritual elements in it. Part of the sacrament of ritual is to recognize how many things can become rituals — and more importantly, how much of their already-existent ritual power helps shape and influence and move our lives.

A barefoot Kris Hughes, recreating Iolo Morganwg’s simple summer solstice ritual on Primrose Hill in 1792, at East Coast Gathering 2015. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

A friend of mine makes a ritual out of starting to write. He lights a candle, or some incense, and invites the muse of the moment to his writing project. A few other friends explore the meditative and sacramental power that wood-carving and weaving and knitting have, as well as enjoying their concrete manifestation, resulting in useful objects and garments.

May you find and feed your lives with sacraments that mean and matter to you.

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The Day’s Eight Tides

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backyard — bluets, with a few dandelions — too lovely to mow

Adapted from the Barddas of Iolo Morganwg:

Here are Morganwg’s eight tides or holy times of the day, consisting of three hours each:

1. Dewaint: 12:00-3:00 am (2400-0300)
2. Pylgeint: 3:00-6:00 am (0300-0600)
3. Bore: 6:00-9:00 am (0600-0900)
4. Anterth: 9:00-12:00 (0900-1200)
5. Nawn: 12:00-3:00 pm (1200-1500)
6. Echwydd: 3:00-6:00 pm (1500-1800)
7. Hwyr: 6:00-9:00 pm (1800-2100)
8. Ucher: 9:00-12:00 pm (2100-2400)

If we wish to align these hours with the Four Directions, one possible table could work out like this:

Pylgeint and Bore, late night to mid-morning — East
Anterth and Nawn, mid-morning to mid-afternoon — South
Echwydd and Hwyr, mid-afternoon to evening — West
Ucher and Dewaint, early to late night — North

Here each pair of tides is a time of transition with ever-shifting energies, as the flow created by the “daily generator” of our diurnal cycle moves from the North around the compass and back again.

Or to give a specific example, say it’s 8:00 in the morning. That puts us in the second part of Bore (the Welsh word for “morning”, as in bore da “good morning”), and nearing the transition to South, as daylight continues to grow. This time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, Bore and the Solstice link closely, as light and heat wax and increase day by day, and also during each day. Each day shows in miniature the cycle of the year, with light growing and lessening, dark growing and lessening.

What possible uses of this naming and patterning come to mind?

Well, if I’m awake, a prayer or charm I recite for each of the eight tides, or of the four pairs of them, as I become aware of them. They offer a chance to lift me out of narrow concerns into larger ones. They are a freedom I can give to myself.

Acknowledging the dominant direction and tide at the time of any significant action I (or others) undertake.

Meditating on the shifting force of each direction on each tide as the light and dark ebb and flow, alternating through the year.

Mapping on my own locale the activity and impact of actions taken during the different tides, of weather (especially as the planetary and local climate shifts and heats up), bird and animal and plant life, my own energy and awareness, and so on. To give one obvious example, this time of year our back yard doesn’t receive direct sunlight until well into Bore. Our house lies north-south, with much of the backyard in shadow by late afternoon. What can it teach me, this “Shadow of the West”? An opportunity the land where I live offers me.

Devising personal ritual and dedicating my awareness according to the tides of the days. This can shift daily, or seasonally, as I desire and need. The tides give me a focus for meditation, and a chosen context or “energy border” for my work with the Ovate grade.

As I finish up this post, I’ve entered Nawn, 12:00 to 3:00 pm. Though it’s a rainy day, and I can celebrate the coming of water to plants and trees, keeping the Northeastern U.S. its habitual and lovely green, and replenishing water tables, I can also sense the waxing sun behind the clouds. Delighting in the enchantment of the apparent world, and watching as that enchantment fades, as OBOD ritual frequently proclaims, are twin kinds of awareness that deserve exploration and cultivation.

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Prayer — “Grant” vs “Embody”

If you join rituals of many of the contemporary Druid orders, you’ll encounter the Druid Prayer frequently. (In OBOD rituals it’s simply standard practice.) Some Reconstructionist Druid groups may eschew it because it originates during the “Druid Revival” period beginning in the 1600s, rather than from what we can recover of historical Druidry, but for all that, the claim often used to introduce it, that it “unites all Druids”, is more than wishful thinking. Or it could be.

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back yard, facing east

Also called the Gorsedd Prayer (Welsh Gweddi’r Orsedd), it’s long been part of the Welsh National Eisteddfod as well. The “inspired literary scalliwag” Iolo Morganwg composed it, and you can find several versions of it, including the Welsh originals, here. It’s survived because of its power:

Grant, O God (or Goddess/Spirit/etc.), Thy protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences,
the love of God (or Goddess/Spirit/etc.) and all goodness.

As a prayer of pure petition, it has value. The prayer makes no mention of reciprocity — the petitioner doesn’t promise to do anything in return for these very large gifts. In short, stripped of the politeness of the first word “grant”, the prayer says “Give.”

But if the Granter gives, the effects of the gift do provide a kind of return. If we’re protected, strengthened, granted understanding, knowledge, love of justice, of all existences and of God, you could argue that large transformative effects will doubtless follow, and constitute their own return. We certainly won’t be the same, act the same, or — most likely — pray the same. If we can’t get there any other way, sincere and heartfelt petition can do the trick.

As with so many elements of our group practice, we too rarely talk about them; first we’re busy preparing and then doing them, and feasting and socializing after. The sense of having “held up our end” can be palpable after ritual: the atmosphere tingles with a sense of scales recalibrated yet again. Witnesses, petitioners, performers, vessels and channels for holy energies to enter the world through our own imperfect and holy lives, we’ve reconnected, remembered, listened.

But because I know how I can end up mouthing the words, even as their familiarity is a comfort and a part of the ritual energy flow, I keep returning to the practice of embodying rather than merely asking. I need something to stop me, shake me, take me out of myself, and yes, out of the ritual moment, while holding me to a higher standard than I came with. It’s a kind of second prayer, or personal ritual. It may take me 10 or 20 minutes to fulfill it, because I need to slow down to do it, whether I say the words aloud or bring them to awareness in some other way, feeling them in my bones, touching the earth, cupping a ritual flame, gazing at the horizon, repeating them till they sink in, carrying their vibration till a door opens inwardly, any and every one of these ritual gestures. “Do till it’s true”. I want to realize “as above, so below” however I can. All I know is that for me the energies of this different manner or form of prayer also differ — and I need that difference.

So here’s one version of the words, a small part of what feels to me more of an “embodying” prayer:

Holy Ones,
in your protection I stand here,
strengthened, understanding your ways,
knowing and loving your honor as the source of mine.
The justice I do today and every day
mirrors my love for the good things
you give, just as the love I receive
is justice, the sword of truth you raise
in my life, handle toward me.
Wherever I am, may I remember
and live these things always.

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Perilous Seats and Baiting the Truth

mach-chairThe Welsh proverb A gwir yn erbyn a byd — “the truth against the world” — hasn’t lost any of its force. It still offers a challenge, read one way; and a simple statement about the nature of things, read another. Or maybe they’re the same thing.

The words appear on a chair in the Welsh parliament house in Machynlleth. The chair itself is fairly recent, the words traceable at least to Iolo Morganwg and the first Gorsedd of the Bards in the 1790s.

This relatively modern chair may serve us as an apt stand-in for the Siege Perilous, the “Perilous Seat” of Arthurian lore. In the old story as Malory retells it in his Morte D’Arthur,” He shall be born that shall sit there in that siege perilous, and he shall win the Sangreal.” Looking beyond pronoun gender, if you have no truth in you that you will maintain in spite of the world’s ways, don’t even think about sitting there. Better than the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, the Chair puts you where you deserve, weeding out the unworthy with death.

What truth, you ask? In each moment I can assert the possibility of spiritual integrity in each person I meet, while striving to manifest it first in myself.

I can’t wait for the other guy. “You first”? If we all do that, who will ever grow? We see around us the eyes of the spiritually dead. (Some days we join them.) The sad conclusions they’ve come to, in the face of suffering and setbacks, have no life in them. They’ve bowed out and accepted a living death. They (we) are the wounded kings and queens of our present-day Wasteland.

iolo-reliefIn times like this, spiritual integrity can mean living with intention, living counter to the prevailing mood of pessimism and despair. But more importantly, counter to living without any intention at all. You know, the home-from-work, plop down in front of the TV or computer and insta-drug.  Waiting to be entertained (is that so bad?), to be led, to be fed, to be used for another’s purposes because we have none of our own. Well, maybe it is so bad.

So I nip in, trailing some accidental courage, and I lay bait for truth, only half-conscious of what I’m doing. Some days that’s the only way I end up getting any. “Gonna get some” has prodigiously awful overtones these days, but I’ll apply it to truth instead. And having baited the truth, maybe even bravely, for a moment or two, my boldness gives out and I turn tail, racing back to my hole and waiting for events. For a change. For something to happen. Almost (I whisper it) anything but this.

And there’s the actual peril for most us, if we brush against our own version of the Siege Perilous. We already all know it firsthand, and Churchill put it into words: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” Even Perilous Seats turn out to disappoint. Nothing happens. Except …

OBOD Druid rituals include in their opening the words “Let us begin by giving peace to the quarters, for without peace can no work be.”

Well, that decides it, then. No work can be, I mutter to myself. We’ve witnessed the efforts towards peace and justice, how each must be founded on the other. Hard work.

The Welsh ritual asks “A oes heddwch?” Is there peace?

The ritual answer is yes. Ritual can after all prefigure reality, open a door to its happening. It IS reality, on another plane, one we may wish to echo and emulate here. Or is peace a possession solely of some Otherworld, never to make its way here? Always a grail that’s over there, not here? “Grail on a shelf.” Good luck with that, shouts a chorus of wannabe truth-speakers.

The Galilean Master said to his devotees, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” Following the example of the Wise of many lands, we too can learn to give, and not as the world gives, but as our inner truth leads us.

Can there be peace if we each insist on our own truths against the world — against each other’s? Isn’t that in fact the origin of so many conflicts? Especially in America, with everyone shouting “It’s my right!” and no one saying “It’s my responsibility.”

Peace within us doesn’t preclude needful action. It does lay the ground for clarity and compassion out of which all true transformation grows.

And for me that’s a foundational truth I’ve had to learn the hard way. Many others would like to change me to fit their views of the world. The harder and more worthwhile challenge is to change myself to fit my view of the world. If I can’t manage to do that, why expect anyone else to? Or turning it outward, ask me to change in your way only when you can show me you’ve changed. Otherwise, I have my own changes to work on. That cuts down mightily on truths in conflict. And it keeps us all busy failing our way to success, says my inner cynic.

The Welsh ritual:

Y gwir yn erbyn y byd, a oes heddwch? The truth against the world, is there peace?
Calon wrth galon, a oes heddwch? Heart to heart, is there peace?
Gwaedd uwch adwaedd, a oes heddwch? Shout above responding shout, is there peace?

One good example outweighs a lot of words. (Some questions need to be asked, some answers given, three times so we can hear them.) But once we have the example, then the words draw energy from it, and carry some of that truth that runs “against the world” and toward spiritual integrity and harmony.  Words are empty only when hearts are. Full heart, full words.

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Image: chair; Iolo plaque.

Pocket Druidry

brighid3Over the last several cold damp nights and cool partly cloudy days here in New England, many of us who heat with wood have lit the first fires of autumn. (Some days building and feeding a fire is the best theology I can muster.)

More than one Vermont Druid I know makes it an autumn ritual, invoking Brighid and celebrating the turning of the year in this private, immediately practical and also beautifully symbolic way. Way more fun than turning up a thermostat. You celebrate starting from where you are and what you’re doing. Where else, after all, can I begin?

Stay alert, I tell myself. This can be one of the times Druidry demonstrates its wonder and power and joy. We don’t always need the big ritual circles and dords* sounding their ancient welcomes, though these, too, can be apt and lovely. Sometimes, though, the best Druidry for the moment is pocket-sized.

Pocket Druidry. At last year’s East Coast Gathering, Kris Hughes led a workshop demonstrating another form of it. In the early days of Revival Druidry, the Welsh poet and Druid Iolo Morganwg  conceived a literal pocket Druidry, constructing a ritual circle for a gathering of friends on the Summer Solstice of 1792, out of stones drawn from his pocket.

World in your hand, circle in your pocket. Our lives, especially in the last century or so, seem to repeat a pattern: demonstrate our immense power to shape and re-create the world, then withdraw, standing back in dismay and doubt when it doesn’t turn out as we hoped. We’re still practicing, still in the elementary grades, with all the meanings that suggests. Learning to use the elements at hand, still in the early stages.

With the love of triads and threes that marks so much of Celtic art and story, it’s no surprise that the Celtic conception of our spiritual journeys should mirror this same triplicity. From the starting point of Annwn, the Celtic Otherworld, we move forth and back through three states of manifestation and consciousness, in a kind of dance that sees us revisiting old lessons until we’ve fully mastered the material, spiralling through different forms and perspectives.

Most of us hang out for a considerable time in this present world of Abred, this place of testing and proving. From here we proceed to Gwynfyd, a world of liberty and freedom beyond the pale shadows of these forces in our present world. Back and forth between Abred and Gwynfyd, with dips into Annwn here and there. And last comes Ceugant, an unbounded, infinite realm. By definition, no end point, but a new beginning. The horizon recedes.

Morganwg’s compilation Barddas (section 227) explains this cosmology through a kind of Druidic catechism of question and answer. I’ve modernized some of the archaic language in the following excerpt:

Q. What were you before you became human in the circle of Abred?

A. I was in Annwn, the least possible thing capable of life, and the nearest possible to absolute death, and I came in every form, and through every form capable of a body and life, to the state of human in the circle of Abred, where my condition was severe and grievous during the age of ages, ever since I was parted in Annwn from the dead.

Q. Through how many forms have you come?

A. Through every form capable of life, in water, in earth, and in air.

As the Beatles sing it, “It’s a long and winding road …”

One of my teachers notes that human beings recently refused a chance to rise to the next level of awareness by accepting responsibility for themselves and their actions. Some days it feels like we’re throwing tantrums because we didn’t get what we thought we wanted. Rather than awareness, we default to outrage.

In the circle we’re presently in, we refuse to accept cause and effect, continuing to live on a merely emotional, reactive level, without fuller consciousness, at least very often. We’ll readily respond to the energy tides sweeping around us, and contribute to them willingly, but deny that any of them has longer-term effects we need to weigh before leaping in, or that we always have a choice. But that’s how I feel, we say. Yes. So now own it, and go from there, counsel our guides and sages. Maybe not by diving immediately into the very next feeling that presents itself just because it knocks at the door of consciousness.

Ask why? Ask who benefits? Ask how do I live from a place of honor?

Don’t think, say our advertisers and politicians and insta-gurus galore. Don’t think. React!

Seedtime and harvest, whispers the wisdom of the earth.

The glory and wonder and marvel of it all, in the face of the sufferings we keep bringing on ourselves and each other, are the possibilities of joy unbounded that we glimpse too rarely — that view through the window, over the next hill, in a day- or night-dream, which nevertheless keep us going in spite of everything.

This — the Barddas counsels us — this is simply the way we get there. (If you find another and better way, please do let me know!) Through experiencing fully every possibility and option and choice, and living their consequences.

Less comforting that I was looking for, but a provocative insight, nonetheless. It goes remarkably far in explaining the predicaments (plural) we’re in. They’re the lesson at hand. The necessary lesson. Whatever comes, though, matters less than what we do with it. Especially with the sense of deja-vu that we’ve faced this all before. Wait, I say. Sometimes it feels like I’m still in somebody else’s lesson. Why do I have to sit in class waiting for them to get it?

For some, yes, the lesson’s familiar, a kind of review. Others need to go through the whole thing, maybe for the first time. They may never have encountered it before. But the final piece I know I’m still working on, the piece that keeps me here (I can’t speak for you), is that I have the choice to learn and show compassion. To serve. It’s not about me after all.

That’s all? I ask, grumbling or swearing, depending. Obviously I do need to be here, I say ruefully, a moment later, if only because I’ll need compassion from others soon enough, when a hard lesson comes my way. As it will, guaranteed.

Along with each lesson, that peculiar joy: This isn’t all there is. Keep going. Keep loving, in spite of all evidence to contrary. It’s human evidence, says the sage in the heart. You made it, you live it, you learn it, you move on.

And the goal? I ask. Ah, now. The big question. Your answer today is more important than anybody else’s. Because it will shape what you do next …

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IMAGE: Brighid in her form as triple goddess of healing, smithcraft and fire.

*A Youtube video of a large dord being played — sounding remarkably like a didgeridoo.

 

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