Archive for the ‘Jesus and Druidry’ Tag

Magic, For and Against — A Follow-up   Leave a comment

I’m looking more closely at some spiritual criteria I mentioned in the previous post. First, I’ll repeat the quotation I want to dig into and expand on, from my own experience. J. M. Greer notes:

… consciousness has a surface and a depth. The surface is accessible to each of us, but the depth is not. To cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others, the depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough (J. M. Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Weiser Books, 2012, pg. 88).

This profound observation, I asserted, rewards extended meditation and experimentation. It lays out its claims in clear terms.

Of course, if I’ve never accessed the Depth, I can’t say much of value about it either way. Fortunately, all of us do access the Depth, and we do so with considerable regularity — in dreams, if in no other way.

I capitalize Depth, because my working hypothesis, shaped over decades of creative writing, teaching, and sometimes humbling spiritual experience, is that the “Depth” Greer’s talking about is the same “Deep” that Taliesin names when he chants “The Awen I sing, from the Deep I bring it”.

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Northampton, MA weaving show, July ’19

[T]he depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough. The creativity all of us have accessed at some point in our lives — the hunch that pays off, the gut instinct, the inner voice, the Song that will not let us go till we bring more of it into our lives — is evidence, to me anyway, that the Deep is also striving to make contact with us. Or to put it in the 60s terms of Leonard Cohen’s poem, God(dess) is alive, magic is afoot. Magic is alive, god(dess) is afoot.

And here are the four questions I asked myself, also from the previous post:

(1) Is this true in my life right now?

Absolutely. Every time I sit for contemplation, every time the “apparent world” recedes even a little, I sense and rediscover yet again the difference between the surface and the depth. I may not always be able to “bring from the Deep” what I need in the moment, at least consciously, but the effort to approach the shore, stand at the water’s edge, even just to get my toes wet, adds to the reservoir, strengthens the links I’ve been building to the Deep. It also increases the number of access points available to me to experience such things again.

But skip a period of contemplation and I’m subtly off my game for that day. I tense up driving on the interstate, I’m less patient with other drivers as well as myself — I “drive stupid” — and options also start closing off when I face any kind of obstacle, challenge, delay, barrier, whether it’s a stretch of road work slow-down, and I’m already late for an appointment, or it’s a project where listening is the largest part of my task, tuning in to what matters, being my best self, catching the wave.

But even the act of regaining lost ground, after eventually catching myself in such situations, can be a blessing. The return just feels so damn good. It keeps me alert, widens the path a little more, restores me to gratitude again. (Will I forget, ignore, deny the need, the hints, to stay open and connected? Probably, though that feels unutterably foolish right then.)

To say it another way, it re-opens magical doors I shut myself.

In Greer’s words, you cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others. You can, if it clarifies things for you, replace “magical” with “positive”. And if you think positive changes in others don’t have ripple effects on everyone they come in contact with, you just haven’t been paying attention. Sometimes you have been that person for others. And sometimes they’ve told you so.

We’re each a tributary to the Deep for others.

(2) In what ways?

That’s such a curious question to answer. Over time, I begin to wonder in what ways not?

To give a kind of answer advertisers would hone in on, If I’m balanced, positive, listening to my partner, sex is often better. More widely, I find I more often choose foods I need, rather than merely what tastes good. I sleep better. With more energy, I feel more like exercising, which feeds into the whole loop. I’m more fun to be around. I dream more interestingly, I create more magically. More little things go right. (I don’t have to mash a finger while hammering nails, or gash myself slicing vegetables.) The world doesn’t have to knock at a closed consciousness to bring (shock?) me back to harmony with it.

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Northampton, MA weaving show, July ’19

(3) How often have I reached any kind of depth in my own consciousness? How did I do that?

I stepped away to listen to a phone message that turned out to be from a telemarketer, deleted it, and came back, thinking for about half an hour as I try to answer this question.

We love to label — it’s a prime way to make sense of a crazy world — though we also resent others’ haphazard labels applied to us. If I label, and count up the “most memorable” experiences of depth — which aren’t always the most profound, sometimes just the most flashy and attention-grabbing — how many more worthy instances have faded from memory? — I’d certainly include these from the first half of my life, ones I still recall:

I’m 6, and I realize I have a recurring dream of falling into water and drowning. The dream doesn’t come every night, but it’s certainly familiar. I can only relax, and finally fall asleep, if I let myself stop struggling. I’m both dying, and watching myself die. It was so strange. I never told anyone till decades later.

I’m 8, and see a wind-spirit in a field. I have almost no reaction at the time, only later. It is so outside my experience till then that I have no way to understand it. Only to remember it.

At 11, in late November, I’m crying beside my father’s unconscious body by the side of our farm road, after a speeding car had struck him. The walls of my world shift.

At 15, bringing in our herd of cows for evening milking, I have a vision of a girl I know, and yearn to reconnect with somehow, though I’ve never met her in this life. What does that even mean? I didn’t know.

I’m 19, and I’ve just receive the letter that alerts me to prepare for initiation onto the other spiritual path I practice. I sit alone for hours, hearing … what is it? I’m so lifted out of myself.

I’m 20, and one weekend a late-night discussion with a dorm-mate who is psychic leads to him bringing me with him onto the lower astral plane. I still don’t know how, though suggestion and night-time consciousness play their parts, surely. I see beings that normally inhabit only nightmares. I am fully awake, and can’t sleep for hours after that.

At 21, when I have an out-of-body experience while dancing with an order of Helveti-Jerrahi dervishes visiting the University of Rochester campus.

At 24, when I encounter a goddess in a grove near my father’s new farm in western New York state. She towers over me. What does she want — if anything? I’ve been wandering outdoors all day.

I’m struck as I excavate memory that while some of these experiences of non-ordinary consciousness are in some senses unsolicited, in that I wasn’t specifically working to enter them, each nevertheless has a setting, a stage for the experience, a state of consciousness prepared for wider possibilities than are customary with us. And that, from the perspective of today, seems in large part their purpose, or their impact, anyway: to signal that “wider possibilities than are customary with us” are possible.

The “hows” of many of my later experiences are more conscious. I’d taken on a spiritual practice by then. They are, as far as I can determine, also more shaped or comprehensible in terms of those practices — the practices themselves provide a frame or context to understand what the practices have catalyzed in consciousness.

(4) And what lasting changes have I brought about when I did so?

This is another question that really deserves my extended reflection over time. One of the most interesting changes I’ll note right now is increased elasticity: what this universe can do seems limitless, or at least my consciousness of that is greatly broadened, which is much the same thing. The context, the intent, the need and the available imaginative or magical reservoir make all the difference in what actually happens.

Another change is a sense of profound spiritual purpose. I know I got stuff to do, but I’m also being used for tasks and larger goals I often don’t know about until later, if at all. In Druid-Christian terms, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). This insight and the purposes, I’d assert, are both larger, and simply apply far more comprehensively, than most of us are prepared to accept.

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Magic, For and Against (D.F.B.V.R.)   Leave a comment

[A Follow-up]

If you happened to notice a couple of recent comments (or not), you know that people are looking for help of all kinds, and sometimes reach out for specifically magical aid.

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In this post I want look again at how I view and use magic, because such scrutiny is useful most of all to me, in order to clarify for myself what in the world it is I think I’m doing. And maybe secondarily such introspection will be useful to you, too, if you’re looking at your own practices and beliefs. It’s useful to have something to push against.

I’ve written about magic in numerous posts (for instance, here), and also on a main page. Much of my practice rests on whatever builds up spiritual stamina and a positive vibration over time, which I’ve found is one of the best uses of magic as a long-term “tool for living”. Such a practice lends itself to uncovering creative solutions, keeping the awareness open and flexible and curious (which is a major reason I urge a regular practice on you, my readers).

It’s also a radical act in this time of fear and emotional manipulation on all sides.

As a fix for specific trouble, without that accumulating magical pool to draw from, I find magic less helpful. Or to change metaphors, if I keep the battery charged, its energy stands ready at need. Without that reserve, though, I’m often better off with other tools. If I’ve neglected to maintain my reservoir as best I can, I don’t need to beat myself up about it. I do need to turn to other strategies, however, to deal with the matter at hand. Then perhaps I can take the broad hint of my life experience and attend to replenishing my spiritual account. This goes double if I’m helping others.

Some practitioners are skilled at assisting others through magical means without both taking on karma and also not accomplishing what they originally set out to do, which is offering assistance. As the person making the request notes, the issue is sensitive. So carelessly-handled energy, however abundant, isn’t what’s called for. Who pours water on an oil fire?

As J. M. Greer notes, with the wisdom of earned experience:

… consciousness has a surface and a depth. The surface is accessible to each of us, but the depth is not. To cause lasting changes in consciousness that can have magical effects on one’s own life and that of others, the depth must be reached, and to reach down past the surface, ordinary thinking and willing are not enough (J. M. Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Weiser Books, 2012, pg. 88).

This profound observation rewards extended meditation and experimentation. It lays out its claims in clear terms. Is it true in my life right now? In what ways? How often have I reached any kind of depth in my own consciousness? How did I do that? And what lasting changes have I brought about when I did so? The terms Greer sets forth aren’t merely subjects for debate or argumentation, but of demonstration and proof. Ultimately they aren’t merely matters of opinion, however much we may think everything is these days.

(What good is my opinion, if it’s ill-founded or useless? But it’s mine! counts for very little, when trouble has laid waste to my life. Come the earthquake, flood, conflagration or tornado, inward or outward, and I have bigger things to worry about than my opinion.)

Until I can answer those questions to my own satisfaction, and also give an account of them to anyone who may ask me for help, I have no right to pretend I can help. (Your mileage, as they say, may differ.)

So what good is your “magic”, if it can’t help others? I can hear some of you asking.

It can help others. But it’s decidedly not M.O.D., “Magic On Demand”.

I need to meet the other person, to sound out their concerns and situation, before I barge into it, waving my possibly awesome magical tools. A second or even third sounding isn’t out of order. True, the law of love trumps all other spiritual laws. If I’m acting out of love, for the good of the whole, most of my actions will be right.

Most?! I now hear some of you say. Well, there are no guarantees. At least, not in the cosmos as I know it. You may live in a different one.

One of the most powerful magical tools in such situations is the use of blessing. Before I rally vast forces, brandish my mighty arsenal, and strike down imagined enemies, my own or someone else’s, let me bless the situation first. More than the elemental weapons at my command (and they are real, though they mostly operate on non-physical planes), let me begin — and end — in love.

(There’s possibly even a good reason why a certain well-known god recommends this spiritual tool above all: it’s simply the best — the most potent, and with the least blowback. The Galilean Master says, “But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone takes your cloak, do not withhold your tunic as well” (Luke 6:27-29, Berean Study Bible). Hint: he’s not taking a passivist approach. He’s not even necessarily indulging in the hyperbole he frequently deploys to underline his point. He’s offering a powerful spiritual technique. Not the sole technique, but a very good place to start. “Love casts out fear”, the most potent magic worked against us — today as much as ever.)

Blessing is one way to fast from ego. Bingo!! says my spiritual crap detector. A truth I can use right now.

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Warning — SPOILER ALERT!! — the season-finale fan-made clip below from the Netflix series A Discovery of Witches shows the heroine Diana turning to elemental weapons at need. We may well use them on the astral plane, and the results may indeed be as pyrotechnic there as CGI renders them here.

But they also come with CAUTION labels. And we need to know these first, if we want to come out of the situation whole, and in a better position than when we started. If you don’t believe me, well, go find out for yourself. Then you’ll know. As I’ve said, it’s not a matter of opinion but of demonstration. Get proof — accept no substitutes.

(If you want to see Diana’s fire-bow and arrow in action, fast forward to around the 2:20 mark.)

One of my take-aways: what a powerful visualization Diana’s firebow is for dispelling limiting mental constructs! Try it out, especially if you’re a visual person!

To sum up, here’s my magical process in such situations. Discern. Fast. Bless. Visualize. Repeat as needed. D.F.B.V.R.

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IMAGE: Clouds https://www.pexels.com/photo/down-angle-photography-of-red-clouds-and-blue-sky-844297.

558/172 — Or, What It Is I Do All Day   2 comments

That — according to the statistics WordPress freely offers to the obsessed among each of its subscribers — is today’s proportion of published posts to unpublished drafts sitting on this site that never made it to your eyes. Except the number is misleading. All of the published posts were drafts at one point. (Many feel like they still are.) It’s all draft till you die, said one of my writing instructors. So you can always revise. A poem (a life) is never finished, simply abandoned. Then mix in the perspective of this Druid who sees rebirth as part of the process, and death as simply the end of a chapter, a stanza, not the book, not the Song.

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Original and image. Courtesy Pexels.com free images.

My chosen magic, I’ve discovered (What’s yours? Have you found it yet?), is to write myself into new spaces and truths. Yes, often an experience will boot me into new territory, but it’s reflecting on it, writing about it, trying on multiple understandings of it, that converts much raw experience into its subsequent effect on me — turns it into resource, compost, practice, training, the tenor and temper of my days.

How else to explain two people, same experience, very different outcomes? It’s what we do with what happens that matters. And what I “do” isn’t ever “done” — I’m what I’m doing, after all. (As you are you.) I keep adding, revising, re-imagining. Or I can, at any point along the way. The inexpressible freedom of this is something I keep encountering, flowering where I least expect it, hidden beyond the rise of the next hill, flickering through the screen of leaves in the woods around my house. An eye or ear or sometimes a whole face shows through the leaves, then disappears behind them again.

Gerard Manley Hopkins gets it, writes it:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

Am I really listening? Do I hear it? Listen harder, says one of my teachers. Each mortal thing does one thing and the same. I read the poem aloud to myself again, not troubling over meaning, just attending to the sounds and echoes of the words.

Other counsel: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid, says the Galilean master. Peace, a different kind of giving, no need for trouble or fear: immense gifts. Gifts Druids often claim. Gifts bigger, for the world today at least, even than any kind of salvation “down the road” — bigger to our current time-fixated mindsets, anyway, because they’re gifts for here, now. We need them today!

So am I called to receive differently — not as the world receives — in order to recognize and accept the gift? (If the gift is different, then — so my thought runs — my receiving of it must be different, too.) It sure looks like it. And that could explain much of our current sense of estrangement from “how things should be” — the sense of wrongness abundant in personal and public spaces, the partisanship, the distrust and anger and fear. “The time is out of joint”, exclaims Hamlet. But we may or may not share his corresponding sense of duty towards the situation: “O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!” (Not the whole show, Hamlet. Just your piece of it. Or at least start there.)

But how do I receive differently? As a Druid, I tell myself, I look to what I’m already doing. (Truth be told, as I’m still learning, we never start from scratch. There’s always a pilot light burning somewhere, at the heart of things. If I’ve lost sight of it, then that’s my practice: recovery.) I breathe, yes, but the air is also ready to come in and go out at the same time. Thus do many spiritual traditions counsel us to watch our breathing as one of the first and readiest and most powerful meditations or spiritual exercises. Do that attentively, regularly, and you’re halfway home.

Likewise my heart beats. (Through certain yogic practices, if you accept the evidence, it’s possible to achieve a level of physical mastery where you can stop and start the heart at will. Though for reasons that should be clear, I’m not spending my time learning that particular skill.) Can I receive the truth of how much of my life is a gift already, however I choose to honor or ignore it? Can I live the gift?

Let the fraction that is the title of this post remind me how much more I receive than I know or acknowledge. How else, indeed, is a life possible? So much flows through us to sustain us in every moment. Receive differently, tune into what’s going on this instant, then every subsequent instant.

OK, got it, I say to myself. But how to actualize this, to turn what is, after all, just a momentary perception into something useful and workable? Ah, there’s the need for a practice. Oh, we’ve attended the workshop, dived into the retreat, felt the flush of inspiration, had a mystic moment or two on our own, uninvited, or called by ritual, intoxication, chance, gift, an instant of vulnerability, openness. Useful, needful, helpful things. But to transform such a moment or interval into the richest soil where I can root and grow — that’s the work worthy of a life. And I know of no one who accomplishes that in any other way than by a spiritual practice.

That’s the magnum opus, the Great Work: to make of a life a gift in return. It is in giving that we receive, sings St. Francis.

Whitman sings in Song of Myself:

Stop this day and night with me …
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look
through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in
books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 7   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

The final post in this series encompasses four cards — The Moon, the Sun, The Judgment and The World.

In spiritual traditions that focus on the inner journey and provide recognizable descriptions to note along the way, the Sun and Moon worlds can be markers of non-physical travel. Of course, we can understand the entire Major Arcana in similar terms — signposts of the journey of the Fool on the way to wisdom.

The MOON

18-MoonWhile different creatures may appear on this card,  The Moon itself suggests latency. This is a realm or stage of potential, of possibility not yet manifest in the physical world. On this traditional card, 15 yods (the Hebrew y: Hebrew letter Yud Rashi.png) appear beneath the Moon — a source of perplexity and confusion on numerous Tarot forums.

While anyone exploring the Tarot discovers that a wealth of symbolism and figurative meaning flourishes around each card (yod begins Hebrew words like yad “hand” and Yahweh “God”), one simple explanation is that the full moon typically appears 14 to 15 days after the new moon each month.

If you’re like me, you may persist in thinking the full moon stands at the end of the lunar cycle rather than at its middle, so part of the meaning for me of the (full) Moon is precisely that cyclical flow of energies in the physical world. Completion of one cycle flows endlessly into the next. (You can also contemplate links to other cards which feature yods. In the Major Arcana, that includes the Tower.)

The Seeker arrives at Moon consciousness and benefits from its fullness, you could say, but this stage, like all the others, is a way-station and not a final destination.

What potentials lie in me that I may not recognize, but can manifest? What fullness or completion in my life indicates not a final arrival, or an opportunity to slip into passivity or lethargy, but a chance to initiate a new cycle? How can I take advantage of a crest in energy to launch this new venture, rather than waiting till the energy subsides, and change is harder to bring about?

The SUN

19-SunUnlike the Moon, the Sun features a human figure, naked and on horseback, with arms spread wide. Four sunflowers rise from what looks like a garden wall — the four elements under the light of the Sun. If we choose to call this mounted figure the Seeker or Fool, you might also choose to note that nothing is hidden — all is touched by the solar light, 11 straight sunbeams and 10 rippling ones for a total of 21, suggesting the final card of the Major Arcana, the World.

Arranging the cards in 3 rows of 7, with the Fool outside this structure as the Cosmic Traveler through its realms, the Sun is a harmonic of 12, the Hanged Man, and of 5, the Hierophant. Unlike the Moon, the Sun is indeed constant, unchanging, though mist or clouds may still interpose themselves and obscure its light. But this apparent stability and constancy is still not the end of the cycle, let alone any final arrival, but simply another stage. The illuminated human self relies on the power of its animal nature — is “naked to its influence” — yet does not need to “control” it; it holds no reins, nor requires any bit and bridle. The “horse knows the way to carry the sleigh” of the Chariot, which ends the first row of the work of the Self (and which incidentally is adorned with stars and moons). It also depicts the completion begun with the Hanged Man, whose inversion of values, or comfort with abandoning convention, has now borne fruit.

What discoveries am I “riding openly”? What does my “illumination” actually illuminate? What am I now strong enough or wise enough to invite wholeheartedly into my world or my consciousness?

JUDGEMENT

20-JudgementIf the Sun reveals all things, or signifies attainment of a certain degree of illumination, we can see Judgement echoing the Christian end of time and the resolution of events launched at Creation. Figures rise from graves or caskets at the blast from the angelic trumpet.

The sound of the awen helps us cast off deadness, old forms and scripts of action and consciousness, and enter a new creative cycle. We may feel spent from our previous efforts, and even enter a kind of death, but what is enduring in us, what we are made out of, does not abandon its nature. It cannot die, but simply changes form, entering the earth, the Underworld, the Otherworld, to rise again, reappear, re-seed itself, take new forms and shapes.

We may presume, if we even believe in any kind of immortality, that our human personalities will endure. But I find it highly unlikely that my love of raspberries, my preference for wearing greens and blues, my stubborn preference for Birkenstocks over formal footwear, even when a workplace or ceremonial dress-code demands shoes, will persist into another incarnation. Add up such minutiae of a life and you do not capture what is best and most valuable in a person, however quirkily dear and familiar such things may turn out to be for those who remember them. A few such energies may have arisen from past-life choices and experiences, or prodded me further along the Spiral, and these, if pervasive enough, may leave traces that endure into another incarnation.

What of my own judgement? What discernment or powers of discrimination have I acquired? How have I (not) deployed them? What judgments of others do I allow myself to be subject to or to shape me or my experiences?

The WORLD

21-WorldIn the Christian worldview, Judgement is the precursor to Heaven or Hell. For the Tarot, though, neither of these follows. Instead, we encounter the World. Is it the same World as in the beginning, or the place where we Fools find ourselves?

In those famous Zen terms, before enlightenment, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers. At enlightenment, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers. Something has shifted, but in the end only each individual can truly say what it is. After enlightenment, though, it’s important to continue along the way, and not be stopped by a false sense that with illumination or attainment of a degree of wisdom, life somehow stops or should cease to be life; mountains are again mountains, and rivers are again rivers. We emerge, as the Tarot has been hinting to us repeatedly, on another arm of the Spiral.

We see in this traditional card the four figures of the Gospel authors or Evangelists of the New Testament, three animals (eagle, lion, ox) and a human. (Many days, that seems to me the most accurate characterization of the experience of being human!)

As I wrote in Part 1:

So important is the animal accompanying the Fool from the outset that almost every deck includes some creature accompanying the human figure of the Fool.

Whether we see this as our animal inheritance, part of our make-up as a physical being with age-old drives and instincts, or as a guide or companion distinct from us, the dog (or three birds in the Arthurian tarot) is with us from the beginning.

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Where (I ask the wise beasts of my life) where would you like to go next on our journey?

 

Walking the Major Arcana, Part 4   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

If the holy terrain between Druid and Christian calls to you, better your way than one belonging to another person that doesn’t fit you where you walk on your particular arm of the Spiral Journey. A week’s worth of your own meditations surpasses anything I can write here. These themes are suggestions, prompts, points of departure. They’re mine, and they may not be yours. Their use is as sparks, kindling, tinder, fuel, provocation. Your particular path may grow out of resistance or contradiction. Thus are (spiritual) muscles strengthened.

If you’ve (mostly) survived your adolescence, held down a job, learned to deal with roommates, siblings, coworkers, parents, teachers, traffic cops, jerks, (holy) Fools, the DMV, followed a dream, fell in love, lost a bet, failed at something, succeeded at something else, and arrived here, it’s pretty likely you’ve accumulated enough insight to learn something useful when looking at cards intended to evoke insight from your experiences! We can also never fully know how our words on such subjects may be exactly what another needs to hear.

The HERMIT

09-HermitHermits abound in world-wide lore and legend, running the gamut from hell-bound to holy. Depending on your temperament and the rebuffs that life generously doles out to all of us, you may find in the Hermit a kindred spirit, someone who chooses, as the French have it, reculer pour mieux sauter: “to draw back in order to make a better leap” back into the fray. Or eremitic withdrawal may become the theme for a lifetime, or a whole series of them. Plenty of secular examples come to mind as well, especially if you’re rich enough to build a life from your eccentricities, like billionaire Howard Hughes.

Modern examples include Thomas Merton, whose hermit tendencies can be summed up in the name of the monastic order he eventually joined: OCSO, the Order of Cistercians of Strict Observance, or Trappists. Not content with the already spartan nature of the Order, Merton withdrew further to a hermitage on the grounds of the monastery. His books and poems and increasing fame were one vital source of balance shaping his character into the wise monk, priest and author he slowly became.

J M Greer illustrates a Druid-focused model for practice just as potentially rigorous, especially for the solitary: the Gnostic Celtic Church. Greer highlights some of its distinctive features:

… the GCC does not train people for the standard American Protestant model of the clergy—a model that assigns to clergy the functions of providing weekly services to a congregation, “marrying and burying,” offering amateur counseling to parishioners, and pursuing political and social causes of one kind or another, and defines training for the ministry in terms of the same style of university education used by most other service professions.

This model evolved out of the distinctive social and theological requirements of American Protestant Christianity and has little relevance to other faiths, especially those that do not have the financial resources to support full-time ministers.  It has nonetheless been adopted uncritically by a great many alternative religious traditions here in America. It was in response to the very poor fit between that model and the needs of a contemporary alternative religious movement that AODA [Ancient Order of Druids in America] chose to pursue an older model better suited to its own tradition and needs.

Instead of growing from a single and largely American Protestant model, the GCC focuses on what it calls the Rule of Awen, because

there is certainly a need for men and women who are willing to embrace a new monasticism centered on a personal rule:  one in which the core principle of aligning the whole life with the spiritual dimensions of reality can express itself in forms relevant to the individual practitioner and the present age, in which a rich spiritual life supported by meaningful ceremonial and personal practice can readily coexist with whatever form of outward life is necessary or appropriate to each priest or priestess, and in which the practice of sacramental spirituality can be pursued apart from the various pathologies of political religion.

Greer always packs a lot in his sometimes academic prose: following Christ’s admonition, this means in short to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. We say we want freedom, but how many of us trust our own inner guidance sufficiently to discern what is “necessary or appropriate”, and avoid the “pathologies of political religion”?

As always, the simplest and purest way contains with it the hard-earned wisdom of lifetimes. Greer lays out the central challenge we all face:

… find and follow your own Awen. Taken as seriously as it should be — for there is no greater challenge for any human being than that of seeking his or her purpose of existence, and then placing the fulfillment of that purpose above other concerns as a guide to action and life — this is as demanding a rule as the strictest of traditional monastic vows. Following it requires attention to the highest and deepest dimensions of the inner life, and a willingness to ignore all the pressures of the ego and the world when those come into conflict, as they will, with the ripening personal knowledge of the path that Awen reveals.

How many of us have even begun to recognize and creatively respond to all the myriad “pressures of the ego and the world”? (After all, this is much of what I’ve long been practicing in my own way, as recorded in this blog, and you have ample evidence here of the challenges one person has faced.)

The Matthews’ Arthurian deck depicts the Grail Hermit: “Neither Druid nor priest, as hermit he mediates the functions of both”.

Where is the “third element” in each of my life experiences? As neither pole of a binary, how does it serve both and thereby a greater whole?

The WHEEL of FORTUNE

10-Wheel-of-FortuneThe Wheel or Spiral, the lungo drom or long road of yearning of the Romani, the Wheel of Becoming in Hinduism, “what goes around comes around” of folk wisdom, all point to the circular nature of life and the resonances that our actions establish.

Or as the Lakota holy man Black Elk puts it,

Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were.

The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.

Worldwide, this circle or wheel is also quartered, divided into four fields or domains or regions. Yes, it’s impossible to square the circle , and the link will lead you into exquisite mathematical detail why this is so — but using this holy glyph or mandala as a teaching and learning device, as a tool in ritual, is another order of response to such an intersection of worlds. What is materially impossible is — often — spiritually essential. Or to put it another way, walking a spiritual path means squaring the circle every single day. (Or if you seek a spiritual practice based in mathematics, check out this origami link.)

For more insights that can lead to a unique personal practice with sacred geometry, and not incidentally provide further rich linkages between their profound influence in both Druidry and Christianity, check out Michael Schneider’s A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science.

JUSTICE

11-JusticeIn Matthews’ deck, the corresponding figure is Sovereignty: “our true self and the land are one”. The justice of this inner truth emerges in the great rebalancing that earth is currently experiencing, as the consequences of our past actions come home to us, and we begin to accept responsibility for them and to work off their effects. But we need not merely suffer them passively; we can work with them creatively for the purposes of transformation, which is what cause and effect are placed to afford to all who seek.

In the traditional deck, the figure is garbed and presented so that gender is not immediately clear. Latin justitia is a feminine noun, yet the figure of Justice as we have it here has a seated, balanced, imperial quality of the previous male figures in positions of traditional masculine power and authority.

As a further harmonic development of the Magician, Justice is a balanced expression of power: the upward right hand holds a sword, while the left grips a balance. The two pillars of manifestation again frame the seated figure, and a curtain conceals the region behind it.

What has been lost on the way to Justice? How is its expression still incomplete, indicating the need for further growth and unfoldment? What does rebalancing and attainment of a new equilibrium conceal or distract me from? What further currents of change and transformation remain that ask for my attention, and allow me to anticipate future expressions of Justice, of balance and recalibration and harmonizing?

The triple crown of Justice can be seen to reflect the magical current inherent in groups of three, and in the physical universe. The card commentary for this card in Matthews’ Arthurian deck includes this observation: “…the Goddess of Sovereignty gives three drinks from her cup, purveying the white milk of fostering, the red drink of lordship and the dark drink of forgetfulness. These she offers successively in her aspects as Foster-Mother, Consort and Renewer”.

“Mother, foster me to your service. Consort, empower us both through our union. Renewer, ease me as I strive to fulfill my vows to you”.

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 3   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

winter sun

One of the vital perspectives that much modern Druidry can offer to Christian practice is an experimental approach. Rather than depending so heavily on creeds and affirmations of faith, we can approach statements in Christian and Jewish scripture as pointers toward practice, as statements of spiritual reality and awareness if certain prerequisites of practice, wisdom and experience are met, statements clothed in symbolism and perspectives than can sometimes translate to other terms and forms without diminution.

Here’s one such example: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Ps. 118:26). Whether as a statement of faith or a lyric in a praise-song, it often elicits a comforting familiarity. But why not take it for a spin? Because it offers at least three points for exploration, contemplation and practice, we could treat it as a Druid-Christian triad, and contemplation seed:

What does “blessed” mean?
What does it mean to “come in someone’s name”?
And what is the “name of the Lord”?

Coupled with this last question is a verse often directed at non-Christians, and prominent in mission-oriented publications and preaching: “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow” (Phil. 2:10). As a form of submission to a specific deity, a Christian islam, its initial meaning seems quite clear. All will acknowledge this particular form of deity, the Christian Son of God, in a future realization of his divine sovereignty. It’s a state yet to be fulfilled. Islam as an Arabic word for Muslims also conveys a sense of free will — it’s a voluntary submission. Of course, this is one form of understanding, and it need not be the only or even the most potent in effecting spiritual change.

Put these formulations in Druid terms and you might have recognition that the natural order has a discernible flow, a direction, an energy that humans resist and abuse only at an accumulating cost to themselves and to every other being around them. (Some have called this Lady Sovereignty.  It’s possible also to see in this a version the Shekhinah, the presence of God.) Blessedness in these terms is fruitfulness, harmony, awareness, creativity — all arising from recognition of and concord with the underlying flow inherent in nature, and an ability to navigate life changes successfully. If we come in the name of spirit, or bring with us and our decisions and actions such blessedness or harmonious accord with the flow of nature, it’s often quite apparent to others. A yogi may do this while performing the Salutation to the Sun. Or the Druid sitting under a tree to rest against its trunk and watch the sunrise, may acknowledge the presence of something far greater than the human self in these things. A human on a “path with heart” already carries an awareness of spiritual presence of which he or she is an integral part of the whole.

It’s then that we recognize, at least in our better moments, the authority of those who act from love and wisdom, not from selfishness or shortsighted opportunism. And the sages among us, whether Druid or Christian, both or neither, may not always be those publishing the books and presenting at major Gatherings or Conferences. It may be the white-haired gardener praying in the neighboring pew, face aglow with reverence for the goddess in Mary, or Mary in the goddess, fingernails still darkened with the good earth under them. It may be the quiet young Christian woman calling the quarters at the next Equinox ritual, honoring the four archangels, or the four gospel evangelists, or the four creatures of Celtic or some other tradition, welcoming the presence of spirit in so many varied guises and forms permeating every quarter of the compass.

In the experience of spiritual abundance and presence, then, Christian and Druid may find another meeting-place.

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The LOVERS

06-LoversThe next Tarot image in our series is the Lovers. (The Matthews’ Arthurian image is of the White Hart, with the lovers Enid and Geraint in the foreground.) So much history and cultural change and commentary surrounds the myth or wisdom story of Adam and Eve that “It is difficult/to get the news from poems/”, as William Carlos Williams says in “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”, “yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there”. The story may simply not “work” for many of us as it once did.

We can read the card in one way as depicting the non-physical spiritual force that expresses itself in female and male, in all living things, both green and fruiting, and flaming with energy, as in the fiery-leaved tree behind the male figure. To get caught by stereotypical associations, or to balk at “masculine” or “feminine” attributes, is to miss the polarities inherent in the natural world that allow for manifestation — multiple polarities we all carry within each of us. In one sense, then, nature has always been “gender-fluid”: we know of species that can change genders at need, or at different points in their life cycle.

What do I really love? Does that love build or tear down my life? How does love help me manifest? What polarities work through me with particular force or energy? What ones might I beneficially welcome and work with in my life? Where else can I love?

The CHARIOT

07-ChariotThe Chariot in the traditional deck (or Prydwen, Arthur’s ship of journeying in the Arthurian deck) closes out the first of the three rows of the Major Arcana (if we lay out the cards in 3 rows of 7, with the Fool or Seeker as the one who moves through each on the Journey). And again, in one traditional interpretation, this first row has to do with the maturing self, the personal, the exploration and development of capacities and potencies of the individual.

The notes for Prydwen from the Arthurian deck: “the Otherworldly journey which is undertaken by all seekers, so that the inner life becomes the basis for a sound outer life” (pg. 36).

One applicable Biblical verse here comes from Luke 6:45: “Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their hearts, and evil people brings evil things out of the evil stored up in their hearts. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of”. I don’t know about you, but this is a useful barometer for where my attention is. And with luck, you have a friend or partner who calls you on your crap. “What did you just say?!” That’s when I learn, if I don’t already know, that I’m (once again) out of balance and have some work to do.

What is happening in my inner worlds? What is my foundation? Where can I continue to work to shore up that foundation for both my inner and outer lives? What cycle has ended so that I can finally see and account for its shape and influence, and now return to polish what was rough-hewn? How is my storehouse? What am I harvesting from the old cycle as I begin a new one?

STRENGTH

08-Strength“The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19). Or to be gender-fluid about it: “I honor Lady Sovereignty who strengthens me here on this Land where the deer runs, showing me how to walk the heights with sure feet”.

On this new octave, the second row of 7, Strength shares the infinity symbol with the Magician. You could say she is the Magician — renewed, re-imagined.

Is this coercion or forcing of our elemental and instinctual selves by our “higher” selves? Is it conscious awareness of the vitality of both, thereby making it our own more fully and completely — a union, where formerly there were two? The Lady here has greens and flowers for a belt — she is not separate from nature. Is she shaping and directing that animal strength?

Perhaps we can see one theme run from the prophet’s words that open this section to Whitman’s words in “The Beasts” in his Song of Myself:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid
and self-contain’d.
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of
owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands
of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in
their possession.

In some ways Whitman describes Paradise, a recognition of inner sovereignty that needs no one kneeling to another. The “self” that contains the beasts is the sovereignty of the Land, the Whole that cradles each individual in its arms, if we opt for the language of personification. Here it is animals leading the way in showing tokens of this “self”, already in their “possession”.

Is this what the Strength figure is trying to discover, or does achieve? Does Strength learn that strength unaided is insufficient — a realization that is the beginning of wisdom? It is our inner strength that issues forth in animals, too — our shared link, not one to dominate the other.

So I can do no better than end this post with words from U. K. LeGuin’s great Earthsea trilogy. Her magician or mage Ged learns from his own experience with beasts:

… in that wisdom Ged saw something akin to his own power, something that went as deep as wizardry. From that time forth he believed that the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things, whether they have speech or not, and in later years he strove long to learn what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees.

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IMAGES: Pexels.com — winter pictures.

Walking the Major Arcana, Part 2   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

INTERLUDE

Druids have grappled with Christianity since it first arrived in Europe. While today we might take St. Augustine at his word (“that which is known as the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist”*), exploring it in new and creative ways (tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine!), most people throughout Christian history have understood the assertion as narrowly as possible. That is, Christ started a new religion focused on belief in the divine power of his sacrificial death and resurrection, which saves the believer. Pairing this with a transformation in awareness, the convert takes on a new life in Christ.

For many, however, Jesus Christ, or least the religion that bears his name, is problematic at best. (To choose just one among myriad issues to explore, note that neither Druids nor non-Druids use the name Taliesin, for instance, as a “swear-word”!) Many non-Christians today have suffered from unloving and aggressive evangelism, family harassment, workplace tension, physical threats and social ostracism, whether they practice a non-Christian spirituality or simply remain “outside” the Christian church.

I’m addressing this series of posts, then, primarily to a vast “excluded middle” — neither the “born-again” believer nor the scarred (and possible tarred and feathered) “heretic”, but the people awake to the “magical and generous” possibilities all around us, because you’ve already experienced them, and they answer a deep hunger in you like nothing else can.

Or as Krista comments:

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!

One less-than-flattering label for this is syncretism. But religions and spiritualities, just like most human cultures, thrive by cross-pollination, as careful study of them across time will bear out. Similarly, in our genetics we’re mongrels, hybrids, blends, mixes. (Our sometimes uncomfortable surprise at recent DNA test-results illustrates one aspect of this.) Our current sensitivity to “cultural appropriation” is our heightened awareness of the violence behind forcible mis-appropriations. Or as John Beckett puts it bluntly in his The Path of Paganism, “Always credit your sources, never pretend to be something you’re not, and steal from the best”. It’s the lack of credit, the pretense, and the poor selection that make up most of our problems with shoddy cultural (mis)appropriation. The “weekend guru” offering workshops, intensives and retreats, and cashing in on an inferior grab of unacknowledged and imperfectly-mastered practices from another culture currently perceived as somehow more “authentic” or “powerful”, gives all borrowing and mixing a bad name.

[Lest you take issue with the possibly glib tone of John’s “triad of appropriation” above, let’s hear him at greater length from a recent post:

Are you being respectful to the traditions and cultures you’re drawing from, or are you grabbing whatever looks shiny to you? Are you working with them as whole systems, or as mix and match entrees on a spiritual buffet? And as a polytheist, my biggest concern: are you treating the Gods as holy powers and as persons with whom we can form relationships, or as objects to be used where and how you see fit?]

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Another under-explored overlap is Druid and Hindu practice | another link | a third link | which offers some very provocative insights into cultural similarity and preservation of ancient traditions over long periods of time, and at “opposite ends” of the Indo-European area of cultural and linguistic origins and influence. Everything from archetypal themes in stories, to names of gods, music and musical instruments, and spiritual practices, show common ground in the cultures of Celts and the peoples of the Indian subcontinent.

And so I write these posts partly in the spirit of “doing 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”. And as always, I’m exploring my own practices and perspectives as I go — one of the chief benefits of blogging.

The EMPRESS

03-EmpressThe Empress of the traditional deck, with her 12-star crown and sceptre, and the astronomical symbol of Venus next to her chair or throne, is another goddess figure. As an aspect or representation of the energies along the journey of the Fool or Seeker, she grounds us in the earth. The wheat growing at her feet, the waterfall to her left, the forest behind her, all place her “in the world” of both fruitfulness and change. Whether as Mother Earth, or Mary, or another goddess, or a living but impersonal archetype, or the fertile and fruitful energies within us, the Empress is a potent force and presence.

As Caitlin and John Matthews describe Guinevere in their version** of this card, as “the Empress of Logres (the Inner Britain), she creates the conditions for growth, establishing peace and contentment. She spins a thread of inner concord which is woven into the fabric of the land and its people. She imparts sensitivity to nature and harmonious awareness of all life” (The Arthurian Tarot. Thorsons, 1995, pg. 28).

What is the “thread of concord” between you and the land where you live? Only you can answer that: it can become a practice first to find out, and then to honor it in ways that you work out between you and the land. A grounding exercise of weaving or braiding a thread to carry with you as a reminder may help incarnate this awareness. Ritual can serve our need here, as in so many places.

What are the “conditions for growth” for whatever you wish to bring into your life? How can you begin to work them into your day to day work and awareness, so that they can manifest what you need? How can you serve others who are doing the same? Asking the questions can help the chance manifest, if I’m paying attention. If not, then next time around.

Archetypes, it should be said, aren’t something to “believe in”, and even less something to “worship” — though you certainly can if you choose to. (Let us know how it goes — you may discover something valuable to share.) Instead, and probably a better use of our energies and attention and time, they’re something to work with to see what they can help us do and understand about our lives.

The EMPEROR

04-EmperorThe Emperor in the traditional deck hews to traditional symbols and representations of patriarchal power: beard, crown, scepter, throne, armor, harsh and rather sterile landscape, rams’ horns adorning the throne’s arms and back. (It can be helpful for such reasons to consult other decks for different images and symbolism.) The fact that we’re experiencing the negative effects of imbalanced masculine energies in our lives simply tells us a piece of what needs healing and re-balancing. Scan most headlines and you realize many people haven’t a clue about how to begin to do this — itself a measure of how out of balance the energies have become for many. We’ve often jettisoned outmoded forms of spirituality, true — but neglected to replace them.

The Emperor’s number 4 is also represents the fullness of the human world, four-square in its founding on the four physical elements, before we shift our awareness to spiritual realities within and beyond them. The Pagan and Christian star alike points to the five-fold nature of all things, both physical and non-physical — a vital reminder of how the cosmos is constituted, which we overlook, and have overlooked, to our peril.

The spiritual, you might say, is what the physical *is* under its mask. Or to say it another way, the spiritual is always clear and apparent; it’s the physical that’s the mystery, the cloak, the concealer, the mist-filled branching off the path. We have simply forgotten to work our polarity magic, to walk a spiritual path of stewardship, to put it in Christian terms — we’ve thrown our planet out of balance over time, and now must spend at least as much time over the coming decades and centuries working to bring it back into balance and harmony.

The HIEROPHANT

05-HierophantThe figure in the traditional deck of the Hierophant, the “one who shows the holy”, may bring further associations of institutional authority and entrenched structures and imbalances.

Some decks re-order these first few cards, change their genders and assign them different symbolism, in an attempt to represent one or another version of a more balanced set of images. In the Matthews’ Arthurian deck the card depicts the bard Taliesin, the poet-as-way-shower-of-the-holy, especially of ways that stand outside formal structures and institutions. Today we find our bards and prophets among artists and performers, actors and politicians.

(Check out fansites and Facebook, Twitter and other social media, if you want to know how much the words and music and performances of artists matter to so many, if you don’t already have a deep appreciation for the power wielded by a multitude of visions and their visionaries. Again and again, people post how a performance or a lyric saved their lives, brought them down from suicide, changed their outlooks, gave them strength and courage and a vision to persevere through often impossible circumstances.)

Like the Hierophant, Taliesin is a guardian of tradition. We know all too well the dangers of distorted and abusive holders of traditional authority and power. Seemingly every other day, headlines trumpet the fall of another person — often a man — from a position of trust, authority and power. Such things have given tradition a bad name — except, again, in our modern reverence for everyone else’s traditions except our own. Traditional holders of wisdom, Native American or Tibetan or Mayan, still retain something of the original value that a tradition is meant to preserve.

For the other and often neglected face of tradition is that conserving function. We may conceive of tradition as “guarding from”, but more as “guarding for”. In his Elves, more than in any other expression in his fantasy works, Tolkien captures the sense both of preserving much wisdom and beauty through time, and of pervasive sadness at its seemingly inevitable loss. To cite just one example, even among the more hopeful, Gandalf addresses Aragorn in Book 6, Chapter 5 of The Lord of the Rings:

This is your realm, and the heart of the greater realm that shall be. The Third Age of the world is ended, and the new age is begun; and it is your task to order its beginning and to preserve what may be preserved. For though much has been saved, much must now pass away.

Our contemporary sense of loss and disorientation at our crumbling institutions, corrupt as some of them have become, is also an opportunity to reconnect with legitimate traditions, many preserved inwardly by their keepers, where we can recover them through vision, gratitude, ritual, and readiness and humility to ask for guidance. Taliesin, in the Matthews’ rendering, is one such preserver or conservator. He “sits in a firelit hall. He tells the story of his initiatory transformations to two children who sit at his feet listening intently. The golden links of tradition pass from his hands to theirs” (The Arthurian Tarot, pg. 30).

And our efforts in this quest (“lest any man should boast” as Christian scripture says [Ephes 2:9] of “works”, which by themselves can never be the only component of a quest) are part of our purification, our testing, a step along the path, not the sole key to growth. We are each one being in a cosmos of other beings, each with intentions and purposes, some which can align with ours. The hand of tradition, the wisdom of the Ancestors, the spiritual reality of the worlds, reaches out to grasp ours when we show we are ready.

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*Augustine of Hippo. The Retractions, ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari, trans. Mary Inez Bogan. Vol. 60, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1968), 52. [Book 1, Chapter 12, article 3.]

**Here are the names of the cards in the Matthews’ Arthurian deck: (0) The Seeker, (1) Merlin, (2) Lady of the Lake, (3) Guinevere, (4) Arthur, (5) Taliesin, (6) The White Hart, (7) Prydwen, (8) Gawain, (9) The Grail Hermit, (10) The Round Table, (11) Sovereignty, (12) The Wounded King, (13) The Washer at the Ford, (14) The Cauldron, (15) The Green Knight, (16) The Spiral Tower, (17) The Star, (18) The Moon, (19) The Sun, (20) The Sleeping Lord, and (21) The Flowering of Logres.

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