Archive for the ‘Jesus and Druidry’ Tag

“Both Cauldron and Wand”   Leave a comment

Devotees of Brighid, fans, and the simply “Brighid-curious” may enjoy John Beckett’s post “Solas Bhride: A Goddess Speaks Softly in Many Forms”, a reflection on his recent pilgrimage to Ireland.

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In 2015, I posted the still-popular “Beltane and Touching the Sacred.” In it I said (updated for the current next Full Moon at the end of April 2018):

Here we are, about two weeks out from Beltane/May Day — or Samhuinn if you live Down Under in the Southern Hemisphere. And with a Full Moon on April 29 (0058 GMT April 30) there’s a excellent gathering of “earth events” to work with, if you choose. Thanks to the annual Edinburgh Fire Festival, we once again have Beltane-ish images of the fire energy of this ancient Festival marking the start of Summer.

You may find like I do that Festival energies of the “Great Eight”* kick in at about this range — half a month or so in advance. A nudge, a hint, a restlessness that eases, a tickle that subsides, or shifts toward knowing, with a glance at the calendar. Ah! Here we are again!

I’m off again in a few weeks for the 2nd Mid-Atlantic Gathering — MAGUS 2018, with the theme “Sacred Time, Sacred Space”. Looking for a fore-/after-taste? Here’s last year’s post.

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Effective people, says Philip Carr-Gomm in his little book Lessons in Magic, “use both their cauldrons and their wands”.

Often a short quote like that is enough to launch me, set me off on reflection and contemplation and experimentation. (Echoing the near-endless spate of how-to books and guides to personal transformation, the idea of being “more effective” underlies the Protestant work ethic, its distortions in the American disdain for the poor as deserving their struggle, and much besides of bad and good.)

Put “effective” into the most crass terms: how to get what you want.

We often assume creativity — inspiration — comes first, and any manifestation second. But just as with so many things, it can be illuminating to examine assumptions as much for what they leave out as in. What can we learn, I ask, from both its truths and falsehoods?

The most famous creation story portrays both a creator and an “earth without form and void, and darkness … on the face of the deep”. Some translations suggest we can reasonably render the first few lines like this: “When God was creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and empty, and darkness hovered over the waters”. In other words, creativity needs material to work on. And the material in this version of the story is already present. Creation in such a case is a forming and shaping of cosmic substance already in existence.

You could say the cauldron is the scene — the stage for creation, the setting. Without it, no workshop, no lab, no tubes of paint and brushes and palettes. No place for anything to “take place” — an idiom itself full of significance and teaching. Everything hovering, like the spirit of the god over the waters in the Genesis account, but no entry-point into manifestation. Waiting in creative tension, but with no results. Brooding on the nest, but no eggs to sit and warm and hatch.

And here’s the wand — or a compass in this case. Some kind of magical tool or instrument helps focus our creative energy.

jesus=compass

French — ca. 1250

But Carr-Gomm rightly lists the cauldron first. Cauldron — Grail — womb of Mary in the Christian story — these precede creation. And they’re not passive, either, Mary is invited — not compelled — to nurture and carry the divine child. Her assent isn’t automatic, or pro-forma. Blessing our materials — inviting their participation — helps our creative process. Indeed, some kind of blessing is the key that makes creativity possible. We just often do it unconsciously. Ritual can help prod us to greater awareness. (As with all careless acts, ritual done badly can send us deeper asleep.)

For the Grail in the Arthurian mythos truly “has a mind of its own”. Though it may seem to be “just an object” — the goal of male knightly questing — it’s the Grail that chooses who ultimately satisfies its steep requirements, who may catch a glimpse, and when it will materialize and manifest.

The Wikipedia entry for “Holy Grail” notes that Chrétien de Troyes, the first to put the story in its Medieval form in the 1100s with Perceval as questing knight,

… refers to this object not as “The Grail” but as “a grail” (un graal), showing the word was used, in its earliest literary context, as a common noun. For Chrétien a grail was a wide, somewhat deep dish or bowl, interesting because it contained not a pike, salmon, or lamprey, as the audience may have expected for such a container, but a single Mass wafer which provided sustenance for the Fisher King’s crippled father. Perceval, who had been warned against talking too much, remains silent through all of this and wakes up the next morning alone. He later learns that if he had asked the appropriate questions about what he saw, he would have healed his maimed host, much to his honour.

So much of value here to note: the importance of a middle way between extremes, applicable to easily perceived tools in hand as well as more subtle tools like language. Don’t talk too much, but don’t shut up entirely..

With the slipperiness inherent in non-physical things and experiences, and the names we give to them, the san graal or “holy grail” becomes in Medieval French also the sang real “royal blood”, launching one of the oldest conspiracy theories still popular today concerning the possible existence of surviving lineal descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Add to this the World War II legends of a struggle between Hitler and “the forces of Light” for possession of the historical Grail and its immense powers, and you set the stage for the flowering of a new generation of Grail myths and legends. Archetypes continually regenerate; indeed, the Grail is among many other things an illustration of just such archetypal power.

And as we know from our own experiences with creativity, there are indeed many grails each time we manifest something — even if you prefer that they’re all subsidiary to a single magical One and Holy Grail. (Which in a certain sense they are.) Another question to ask, practice to experiment with: “What is the grail in this situation?”

Now this is all well and good, you say. Good fun, diverting, the stuff of fat best-sellers and million-dollar movie scripts and much silliness in pop culture and media. What of the wand? And what does any of this have to do with me?

Fear not. The wand gets at least its fair share of star billing before the end.

To take a turn through pop culture, why does Harry Potter take Hagrid’s advice and seek out Ollivander’s, apart from Hagrid’s plug that “there ain’t no place better”? Harry needs a wand. He survived the attack on him as an infant, with the scar as mute but vivid testimony of its potency.

But for any serious and conscious creative-magical work (all creativity is inherently magical), he’ll need a wand. It’s simply a matter of time before we ourselves come to the same conclusion.

“I wondered when I’d be seeing you, Mr. Potter!” says Ollivander.

And as with active Grail, the wand, we learn from Ollivander’s, and elsewhere, “chooses the wizard”. [Note how tall the interior of the shop is in the video clip — the airiness and “head-space” appropriate to a wand. And it’s at Ollivander’s words “I wonder” as he goes for the third wand that we hear again the hallmark and mysterious musical theme.]

And of course, with the tradition of clusters of three long associated with things magical, the third wand’s the charm.

Franz Bardon, no slouch when it comes to personal experience, magic and occult instruction, observes in his fine text Initiation into Hermetics that

Everything that can be found in the universe on a large scale is reflected in a human being on a small scale” (pg. 31) and “A true initiate will never force anyone who has not reached a certain level of maturity to accept his truth” (pg. 55).

Again, as with so many things, truth is better treated as experimental — to be tested through our own direct experience, rather than either swallowed credulously, or rejected out of hand — both falling short of the magical quality inherent in threes. Either-or too often simply misses the point we seek.

A wand extends and sharpens the creative ability — the inspiration and clarity of East, the dawn, air, what a bird sees when it flies, the overview, the big picture, the influx of Light from the sun. Its time is spring — the perfect tool in the hand of a gardener, whose version may take the form of trowel or spade.

Consult the recent and masterly exposition Wandlore and you’ll discover a major key:

The most basic hidden secret of magic is that the wizard must go within … inside the mind, and there, encountering Hermes, lord of communication, be led into the otherworlds.

As Carr-Gomm notes in The Druid Tradition, talking of Iolo Morgannwg, the brilliant creative mind behind much of the Druid Revival, but with important teaching more widely applicable and relevant to today’s headlines,

… when it comes to working with the esoteric, we are to large extent under the influence of Mercury, or Lugh, the god of communication between human and divine worlds … But Mercury is also the god of thieves and of deception — of stage magic, and the manipulation of illusion as well as of high magic — the manipulation of consciousness and the causal world. Those who have not clarified their relationship with Mercury fall prey to both aspects of his influence, and it is then hard for the academic [or anyone! — ADW] to understand how the same person can combine genuine material with the fraudulent, how they can channel both divinely inspired insights into Druidry and complete nonsense, how they can be upright and honest and engage in deception or delusion (pg. 27).

And rather than belabor the benefits of walking a spiritual path, and also to cover a truly immense amount of ground, the end result, recorded in T. S. Eliot’s grand poem The Four Quartets, in the last line of the final section “Little Gidding“, is that “the fire [of wand and purified will] and the rose [of the Grail and the perception of spiritual unity] are one”.

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Image: Christ with compass: “he set a compass upon the face of the depth” (Proverbs 8:27)

Carr-Gomm, Philip. Lessons in Magic. Lewes, East Sussex: Oak Tree Press, 2016.

Bardon, Franz. Initiation into Hermetics. Merkur Publishing, Inc., 2016.

MacLir, Alferian Gwydion. Wandlore: The Art of Crafting the Ultimate Magical Tool. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Books, 2011.

Carr-Gomm, Philip. The Druid Tradition. Rockport, MA: Element Books, Inc. 1991.

For an evocative single-page note of just some of the material behind Eliot’s poem, see here.

 

 

http://blog.sciencemusings.com/2011/07/setting-compass.html

 

 

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Insourcing Our Spirituality 1: “Jesus Christ is My Chief Druid”   Leave a comment

As a practitioner of what the following podcast calls “blended spirituality”, I was particularly interested in Tapestry’s recent conversation with Rev. Shawn Beck.

You can find the entire podcast (38′) here, along with some print excerpts of the interview.

As an OBOD Druid and an ordained priest in the Anglican Church in Canada, Beck faces a range of reactions when people learn of his practices.

“Well, that’s sorta neat, but actually you can’t do that” go some of the responses, both Christian and Pagan.

“In fact, I’ve been practicing it for a while, and I can”.

Our human liking for boundaries shows clearly here.

Beck book“What I find so interesting is that you’re not dabbling … you’re committed to both traditions”, says interviewer Mary Heinz.

One of the occasions for the interview is the publication of Beck’s book Christian Animism, which promptly goes onto my reading list.

Beck remarks, “I do identify myself as primarily Christian — heavily influenced and really spiritually transformed by Neo-Paganism”.

Asked how these two paths impact his daily practice, he notes that bringing in the feminine divine, and the value of nature as sacred, touches both his daily prayer life and public ritual.

“If I give a blessing, I may say … ‘one God, creator and mother of us all'”, says Beck. For him, the blending of paths augments language and practice, expanding them and their sensibilities.

“What do your superiors in the Anglican Church have to say to you when they weigh in?” queries Heinz.

Besides keeping his bishop apprised of his work and thought (and his blog*), Beck notes, “As a priest, I need to be sensitive to what’s actually going to be helpful to the people that I’m with”. Whether it’s skipping a Starhawk reference with those who might find it frightening, or — in the other direction — “gently giving permission to people to explore that part if it’s helpful …”, Beck uses discrimination and experience to guide his priestly work.

Though he doesn’t currently serve a parish, he is responsible for the training of other Anglican priests — such is the continued confidence his superiors repose in him.

Converted to Christianity in his teens, while also exploring Eastern religions through reading, Beck observes that many of his teen peers at the time belonged to a Fundamentalist church. Even then, he learned and practiced discretion. “And so if I wanted to talk about not just Jesus but also some of these other things that I was reading and exploring, I would always know that the emotional tension in that room or in that relationship would get sky-high”.

“How much of this journey can I share with others?” is therefore one guiding question for him, as for so many of us.

“Alive — magical — responsive”: this is some of the language Beck uses of his Pagan practice that catches the interest of the interviewer.

“For the last five years, I’ve been blessed to live on a lake, on a farm, off the grid”, Beck replies (11:45). “In Saskatchewan … No running water … I run and get the water … It’s a life embedded within nature”.

What does that permit him? “Part of it for me is being attentive to presences within nature”. As a Christian animist, he says, “the world is filled with a myriad of neighbors … So it’s about recognizing that that tree that I’ve been praying beside is alive and conscious and praying with me … It’s not just a vague sense of spirit, but that the universe is comprised of persons, and these persons are my neighbors”.

“Christians when they see a person addressing a non-human person in any way, they assume that it’s worship”, Beck says.

“I ask things of my human neighbors all the time, and they ask things of me all the time. And we don’t call that praying to each other. We just call it talking to each other”.

For a decade his family has been hosting talking circles. Among the directions of these sharing opportunities, people answer the question, “Where have you found Sophia in your life this past moon? Lady Wisdom — where has she been at work in your life?”

These are some of the highlights from the first half of the interview — I hope you find it worth listening to the whole.

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*Beck’s most recent blogpost as of this writing is from March 9th: “A ChristoPagan view of magic and prayer”.

Seven Trees   Leave a comment

The Tree is a world-wide wisdom-glyph, a potent symbol of connection and energy and life. The Tree features significantly in Druidry, among its many other appearances, with one reasonable explanation of the meaning of the word druid linked to trees, to a derivation from two reconstructed Indo-European roots *deru/*doru/*dru-, with its cluster of related meanings — “tree, oak, rooted, sturdy, true” — and a second root *wid-, “know, see, perceive, wise” [see the American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots]. This names — and challenges — Druids to be “wise knowers”, “truth-seers”, “tree-sages” and so on.

So the list of “Seven Trees” in this post is a selection from a vast root-stock alive in a metaphorical and literal First Forest, whose roots reach everywhere. Nonetheless, throughout time humans have found such selections to be useful, because their specificity nourishes inner seeds of creativity and encourages them to germinate. We lift a bucket from the wisdom-well and drink from it, marveling as it answers a deep thirst in us. A sapling puts forth leaves in the human psyche, so that new cultures, discoveries and insights can emerge. Choose your tree(s).

1) The Tree of Dreaming

Dreams often link us in unexpected ways to much that we push out of waking consciousness. Desires, fears, hopes, inner truths we deny or secretly suspect, creativity, inspiration, wisdom and insight and encounters with non-physical beings, enemies and friends, guides, companions, challengers and initiators and teachers. Each night we climb a branch, and we may retain something or nothing on waking. The leaves of the Tree brush against us, we drink from its sap, its branches lead to new possibilities, and we stir and wake and dream again.

I drink each morning from the forest pool, imbibing the wisdom of my dreams. What offering do I make in return? Gifts of self, gifts from my worlds.

As a meditation practice, I can commend this for recall and for wonder. The trees are mirrored in the pool, and their leaves blanket the forest floor beneath my feet. I sit on a tree trunk, and eat from the fruits and nuts around me. Before I return, I give thanks. A favorite tree nearby helps this manifest and concretize in my life.

2) The Tree of Kindred

The image here is obvious: the family tree. Linked as we ultimately are to everyone else on the planet, descended from common ancestors, we are this season’s leaves on the Tree, budding, greening, fading, falling and re-emerging on branches immemorially old. But because it is difficult to do more than express a general love for all things, we can begin more fruitfully if we love this leaf and that twig, slowly expanding our circle as we live and encounter new beings and extend our connections. The individual is a powerful key. Which ancestors have particular resonance and teachings for you in this life?

3) The Tree of Transformation

Humans transform trees into useful objects of wood, wood is a workable substance, and we respond to the beauty of the grain and warmth of wood in our homes and other structures. A tree is a living thing, growing throughout its life, which in some species can be very long indeed. All trees have their seasons, of fruit and flower, youth and maturity. Many species connect with other nearby individuals, and botanists are beginning to discover the central importance of tree species and individuals in the ecology of forests and woodlands. Trees are human cradles and coffins, doorways and walls, and have come naturally to represent all the experiences and choices that face a person in life. Christ was a carpenter, and died on a wooden cross, or in the language of some Christians, “God died on a Tree” — the most incorporeal linked to one of the most physical of living beings. Trees are doorways to other worlds, thresholds (also made of wood) to change and growth. In the distinction between transient leaf and lasting tree we have an image of what immortality might mean, the leaf of one personality among thousands, and the deeper link to the World Tree.

Yggdrasil

Yggdrasil, one example of the World-Tree

4) The Tree of the Worlds

In many cultures, trees link worlds, three or five, seven or nine. (In Norse mythology the World-Tree Yggdrasil links the Nine Worlds of Niflheim, Muspelheim, Asgard, Midgard, Jotunheim, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, and Helheim.) We live on Middle-Earth, between upper and lower — or many other — worlds.

Many other regions and cultures also express images of a World-Tree, including Siberia, China, many African tribes, the Aboriginal Americas, and so on. The Tree holds the worlds together, and also keeps them distinct, and as a perceptual image makes travel between them possible. As below, so above: once you know where you are, it becomes a lot easier to go somewhere else. Abandon cultural markers, and I forsake a ready cultural visa — ignoring the admonition of the popular credit card advertisement, I “leave home without it” and not surprisingly, I may run into all kinds of trouble at the borders.

5) The Tree of Wisdom

In the Garden of Eden, the serpent tempts Eve with fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Unlike mere knowledge, wisdom transcends polarities, and is rarer and all the more valuable for that reason. We cannot stay ignorant, but we do pay a price on the road to wisdom, often through pain and suffering, individually and culturally. Because unlike so much knowledge (nowadays increasingly accessible to anyone with an internet connection), wisdom must be earned. In the Biblical story, the two trees of Knowledge and Life grow in the center of the Garden, twinned expressions or manifestations of inner realities.

6) The Tree of Life

The “brain-stuff” of the cerebellum is called arbor vitae, the “tree of life”, in anatomical terminology, because of its branching structure. Several tree species popular with landscapers share the name arbor vitae — they’re ever-greens, always green, and so appropriately named. The medieval arbor vitae, tree of life, was deployed in Christian theology, linking human and divine worlds, the World or Cosmic Tree with the tree(s) of Eden and the tree of the Cross. In the teachings of the Qabbalah, adopted by Western magical traditions, the Tree of Life is a map of creation.

As one of my students once remarked, “Eve’s mistake wasn’t one of eating but one of sequence, paying attention to the right order of things. Eat from the Tree of Life first, and then eat from the Tree of Knowledge”.

7) The Tree of Silence

east pondAs I mentioned above, there are many trees we could include in any list like this, the tree being such a powerful collection of understandings, physical beings, symbols, images, experiences, and cultural and spiritual markers and maps. Those on quests often find themselves needing silence, retreat, withdrawal, fasting from superficial human interaction in search of deeper, more meaningful connection.

Both religious and secular literature abounds with stories and images of the sage, wise woman or man, spending a period of time, or an entire life, in a wilderness, desert, or forest. And the young initiate, seeker of wisdom, or adventurer, often must traverse the wilderness, venture into the forest, only to discover she or he is never truly “out of the woods”. The lessons, growth and discovery always continue. But then the rest we seek, the repose and restoration, are so often found in silence. Over and around and in these silences rises a tree, in whose shade we rest, listening to its wisdom. In the rustling of its branches, which only helps the silence deepen, birds and bug and beasts peep out from time to time, kindred on our way.

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Gratitude to you, my readers, for the 401 of you who follow this blog. Numbers both don’t matter at all and also matter deeply. Some of you visit briefly, and some stay longer. Knowing you’re reading and thinking about these things helps me keep writing. A blessing on you and your houses, you and your dear ones, you and your own walks each day and always.

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Image: Yggdrasil.

Refreshing “Home”   Leave a comment

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.

5: Druid and Christian — Holy, Too   5 comments

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

But what about the moments when something outside of us, without our conscious intention or instigation (or with it), announces itself to us?

You know — those times when no circle or congregation, no rite or prayer has claimed us in our striving, and something reaches out to us of itself.

Dream, presence, deva, spirit, ghost, exaltation, angel, mystery, expansiveness, ecstasy, cosmic consciousness, god/God — a hundred names for what well may be a hundred different things. But each or all of them qualitatively different from you and me. The shiver, the awe, the freaking out, the reverence, the fear, the adoration, the Other. Or so virtually every description of these encounters suggests. And yet we’re intimately linked to them somehow, or we could never experience them in the first place.

What to do with this mass (and mess) of human experience? Religions often attempt to categorize, naming some portion as legitimate or amicable or “good”, and others as impostures, as frauds, as inimical or “bad”, and setting forth ways to grapple with it, to formalize human interactions with it.

On the other hand, with almost no consistent measure except the subjective available to it, science has for a long time typically dismissed the whole category as incoherent, though psychology and recent advances in neuroscience have begun to rehabilitate the subjective as a domain for serious study and insight. Or to put it another way, “The visible clings to the invisible”, say the Wise. WTF? says science.

So we devise rituals as one way to tame and investigate the subjective. Whether we go to wild places on a vacation or a quest to find ourselves, whether we spend too much to attend weekends and workshops on soul retrieval or finding our inner warrior, whether we rise and kneel in the pews, stand in Pagan circles, or renew our prescription to the current drug of choice, we try out options to scratch the itch of the Holy. Sometimes it’s merely a single mosquito bite. Sometimes it’s a whole-body rash.

Looked at one way, then, by pursuing a Druid-Christian approach we’re doubling our odds of successful encounter and engagement. Looked at another way, we’re muddying the waters, profaning the well, treading the old syncretistic path that usually ends not in transformative encounter but at best in a bland, safe vanilla spirituality void of those tradition-specific commitments that give each tradition its spiritual punch.

How to experience both living god/God and living earth? We wouldn’t have endlessly fracturing Christian denominations if “Jesus people” had a lock on things. Nor would we continually feel the need to hive off and fracture and splinter and regroup in virtually every other way as Druid and Pagan practitioners, either. Rather than seeing these things as weaknesses, we could celebrate them, always asking for integrity in ourselves first and foremost: what do we seek? What purpose does it serve? Who benefits?

Funny how the same questions never lose their applicability. Avoid personal integrity, and we squander our time demonizing opponents rather than incarnating the Holy in our words and deeds. Both difficult to access and continually present, the Holy is a paradox singularly appropriate for humans, who rarely make things easy for themselves.

Whether it’s solstice dawn or empty tomb, death or birth or other experience of transcendence, we seek communion, drink from a common cup, listen to and watch each other’s words and faces for signs of that contact, that connection. And when a strange-familiar wordless joy overtakes us, we try to put it into words for each other, as I do here, to pass it on.

IMG_1631

Front entrance — my office, where I write this blog. Winter ’16.

May the Holy light your roof and bathe you in itself.
May the season offer you its generous portion
and open the door for gratitude.
May you turn to joy rather than despair
to nourish and sustain you in your trials and triumphs.
The blessings of your life to you,
rooted in each day’s grace and gift.

4: Druid and Christian — The Holy   Leave a comment

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

“You can’t just draw a circle, step inside, and say it’s sacred. You just can’t!” said an acquaintance this last weekend.

In fact, you can.

“I can call spirits from the vasty deep”, says Glendower in Henry IV, Part 1 (Act III, sc. i).
“Why, so can I, or so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?” responds Hotspur.

It’s a valid question.

We say “it’s sacred” the same way we say we love. It’s wishful thinking, or it’s meant to seduce, or it spills over from a heart already overflowing. Or a hundred other things. And we can usually tell the difference, being the fine-tuned crap detectors that millennia of gossip sessions rubbing shoulders with the neighbors have made us.  If not, give it time. And as Zora Neale Hurston quipped (about love), “Everybody can do enough to satisfy themselves, though it may not impress the neighbors as being very much” (Dust Tracks on a Road, pg. 203). The same holds true for ritual.

Access to the sacred is the big-ticket item, and if you’re at all insecure about your own access, you’re more likely to try tearing down the competition.

But rather than argue from a position of dogma, if I really want to know rather than simply score cheap points, I need to join the circle numerous times, attend mass the same number of times and then — maybe — I might be able to compare notes. Adjust as needed to fit the two practices I’m intent on assessing. And most important of all, deserving of seeming to be tacked on at the end here, because I’m saving the best for last: I need to bring equivalent reverent attention and curiosity to each rite. Otherwise, why bother?

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So we begin our rite together, Druid and Christian, Christian and Druid:

Now ask the beasts, and let them teach you,
and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.
Speak to the earth, and let it teach you,
and let the fish of the sea declare to you. [Job 12:7-8]

We call to the great bear in the starry heavens, power of the north …
We call to the hawk of dawn soaring in the clear pure air, power of the East …
We call to the great stag in the heat of the chase, power of the south…
We call to the salmon dwelling in the sacred pool, power of the west …
[OBOD ritual, adapted]

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More than anyone else in recent decades, Isaac Bonewits looked at ways to improve liturgy. Yes, we can connect with spirit, with the holy, in any number of ways, and on our own. But when we do so publicly, communally, we usually do it in ritual. How can our rituals be good? And then, how can they be better?

You can find four excerpts from his book Rites of Worship on his website. In
Dramatic Tension, Humor, Play and Pacing in Liturgy“, he examines links between theater and ritual, noting

Pacing is something that anyone familiar with the theater will tell you is absolutely crucial to the success of a performance … The only way to learn pacing is to experiment a lot with modular design and to rehearse the people in your group to find their skills and limits. A five-minute guided meditation may be too long for some groups, too short for others. Taking thirty seconds to bless each person in turn is fine if you only have a small group, but can be a disaster with a large one. A chant that naturally builds to a peak in three minutes should not be dragged out for ten. Many problems with pacing are solvable by artistic means, especially musical …

We may think one rite’s sacred and another isn’t, in other words, when what’s really going on is the holiness is leaking out of a rite through inattention to theater. It was, after all, a burning bush and not a burning blade of grass that God used to catch Moses’ attention.

For private rites, I ponder Jesus’s counsel:

When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing … on the street corners, so people can see them. Truly I tell you, they already have their reward. But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray …

Private circle, inner room: we set apart sacred space in order to perform a (second) sacred act, just as much as we perform a sacred act in order to set apart sacred space.

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3: Druid & Christian — Samhuinn & Sovereignty   Leave a comment

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

In a 2013 post I wrote that when I remember the ancestors,

I make my very own Samhain-on-the-spot, the veil between the worlds thins, and I converse with the dead, with the Otherworld, with the generations stored in my DNA and blood and bone.  Perhaps you could call it racism in the best sense of the word — a celebration of all who have gone before me and who, by living, have delivered me to this moment of my own life, as I write these words.  It doesn’t last, but it also endures forever.

Samhuinn is remembering and honoring connection. One reason it looms so large in Pagan practice is simply that the essence of ritual is connection, and successful ritual means good relationships. On social media like Facebook, we think that we decide if we’re “in a relationship” or not. Westerners in particular like to imagine we’re free, among many other things free to choose. But many of our relationships that matter most aren’t matters of choice. Our existence itself, as a part of this universe of beings, is the first and greatest example. So the biggest “relationship” question often isn’t whether but how: how will I maintain good relationships — with myself, with other beings, with the planet?

In language many Pagans would find congenial, Catholic priest and eco-theologian Thomas Berry writes* (in The Great Work):

…we will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things came into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.

“Religious naturalist” Loyal Rue makes an immense and related claim,** deserving (as I try to approach such things) neither acceptance or rejection at first, but simple meditation and reflection:

The most profound insight in the history of humankind is that we should seek to live in accord with reality. Indeed, living in harmony with reality may be accepted as a formal definition of wisdom. If we live at odds with reality (foolishly), we will be doomed, but if we live in proper relationship with reality (wisely), we shall be saved. Humans everywhere, and at all times, have had at least a tacit understanding of this fundamental principle.

And we see a movement among some Christians towards a center that Druids and other Pagans also strive towards. Michael Dowd, former fundamentalist and author of Thank God for Evolution!, writes:

I am an unabashed evidential mystic—a sacred realist, a Christian naturalist. Reality is my God and evidence is my scripture. Big History is my creation story and ecology is my theology. Integrity is my salvation and doing whatever I can to foster a just and healthy future for the full community of life is my mission.

In Arthurian tradition, the Lady of the Lake gives Arthur his sword, affirming his right to kingship, and she receives it back again when, mortally injured after the battle of Camlann, he is borne away to Avalon to be healed.

We can see the Lady as a exemplar of Sovereignty, right relationship to the cosmos. As a representative of the inward reality that lies behind our outward world, she initiates and instructs the king — metaphorically, the archetypal “royal line” in all of us. Demonstrating again and again through her actions that leader and land are one, she shows that psychic wholeness and healing can never be isolated or merely individual. We are communal beings. Hermits and recluses often report dreams filled with people, a compensation for their outward communal “drought”. The famous Grail question points to this same reality: “Who(m) does the Grail serve?” Not just the one who finds it or achieves it! The cheap and shallow English labels “winner” and “loser” simply do not apply.

If we connect with our ancestors in the largest sense of the word, with our physical forebears and also with anyone who has helped us to reach who we presently are and may become, we may begin to see that even in spite of what may be our best efforts to live only for ourselves, we still end up contributing to the entire cosmos. Whether that contribution makes us worthy ancestors to those who will come after us is another matter, and our individual and communal charge.

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Interlude — a different preview of Edinburgh’s annual and marvelous Beltane Fire Society Samhuinn celebration. Samhuinn can provide us with a mirror to see ourselves as ancestors (don’t we all “see through a glass darkly”?).

Here’s the link to the Beltane Fire Society’s Samhuinn 2017.

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Right relationship — the first ritual goal I will strive to keep in mind as I finish drafting my personal Samhain rite.

This evening my wife and I will gather with another couple a few miles away.  We’ve shared several of the “Great Eight” festivals before, sometimes with a formal ritual, at others with that most ancient ritual of all, friendship, food and fire. One partner of the couple often faces a difficult time at Samhain, due to her psychic awareness and to past bad experiences with the day. So for us sometimes the kindest ritual is not to celebrate Samhuinn in any formal sense at all, but simply to be present and grounded ourselves, and to help be grounding for her.

A fire can help burn away negative energy, and making a practice of imaginally gathering and tossing into the fire any negative energy, to be consumed and returned to its elements for the cosmos to rebuild into healthy and balanced forms, is appropriate work. Doing it physically and unobtrusively can also be part of maintaining the fire.

A blessed Samhuinn to you all.

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*Berry, Thomas. “The Wild and the Sacred,” in The Great Work. New York: Harmony/Bell Tower, 1999, pg. 49.

**Rue, Loyal. Religion Is Not About God. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005, pg. 135.

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